Sunday, January 22, 2017

Little Ado About Shakespeare

From Dave Brigham:

So, yeah, that's William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, in high relief on a side street in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood.

I spotted him recently while on one of my win-win walks with my son, Owen: he vacuums up Pokemon on his phone and I snap photos of random buildings, graffiti-scarred walls and oddities like this bust. So what's the story with old Bill peering out from this building on Beach Street?

I found two blog postings (this one and then this extremely long and incredibly detailed one) that indicate the plaque was most likely related to the old Globe Theatre around the corner on Washington Street. Built in 1903 and also known as Loew's Globe Theatre, the place has long been the Empire Garden restaurant.

According to the above-noted blog post from The Progressive Democrat blog, while the Shakespeare bust is located on a building separate from the Globe, the theater's business office was located in that spot on Beach Street. And the shorter blog post from the Uncomely and Broken blog digs up information that the Beach Street building was formerly known as the Shakespearean Inn.

I couldn't find any more information about when the bust was created, or by whom, but I take great pleasure in that. Life is filled with these types of little mysteries, and I for one don't always want to know the answers. Finds like the Shakespeare high-relief bust are what keep my head on a swivel wherever I am....

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Beautiful Duckling

From Dave Brigham:

Like the sad main character in Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling," the building above has been neglected and abused over the years. Known as the Agassiz Road Duck House, this place has been boarded up since a 1986 fire.

I came across this building, in Boston's Back Bay Fens, while hanging out with my son, Owen. He's pretty into Pokemon Go, so every once in a while we pick a spot in Boston to check out. The Fens is a great area, with three war memorials, Victory Gardens (one of only two remaining in the U.S., according to Wikipedia), a soccer field, a few small ponds and nice walking paths. The area is also a well-known gay cruising spot, but I didn't feel the need to tell Owen about that.

The Duck House was built in 1897, and its exterior has not changed significantly since then, according to the Fenway Civic Association. The association, the City of Boston and other groups have discussed renovating and reopening the Duck House for years, tossing out ideas for reuse such as a ranger station, public bathroom and a cafe. The building was used as a restroom prior to the fire.

Turning a former public bathroom into a cafe might sound disgusting, but the City of Boston has done it before. A little more than four years ago, the city signed a 15-year lease with the Orlando-based restaurant chain Earl of Sandwich to run a shop in a long-abandoned former restroom on Boston Common.

So will the Duck House, like the title character in Andersen's fairy tale, become a beautiful swan? I'm betting that it will, with some money, elbow grease, civic vision and thinking outside the box.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Brigham in Waltham, Part II

From Dave Brigham:

Sometimes I think I should change the name of this blog to The Backside of Waltham.

This is the second in a three-part series about Waltham, Mass., a one-time mill city that in recent decades has become known for restaurants, colleges, biotech companies and high-tech industries (see November 9, 2016, "Brigham in Waltham, Part I"). I live in Newton, which borders Waltham. I've done a lot of posts about Newton, but find Waltham more interesting, architecturally and historically.

Before I get to the photos and attendant write-ups, I want to address the Fernald School. Known initially as the Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded, and then as the Walter E. Fernald State School (and later Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center), the facility is perhaps Waltham's best-known urbex exploration spot. I've had a number of fans of the blog who say, "You need to check out Fernald!"

Believe me, I would love to. But when I drive by the long-shuttered facility, I see gates and signs and security. I'm 51 years old; if I were in my 20's I'd do it no problem, confident that I could outrun any security guard. But I have two kids; I can't risk getting caught somewhere I shouldn't be and either fined or tossed in jail.

"Dad, you were supposed to pick me up from school at 3:00!"

"Yeah, sorry kiddo. I'm in the hoosegow!"

I've certainly done some minor trespassing over the years of writing this blog, including one time when I had my toddler daughter with me (see August 23, 2010, "You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Live Here, But It Helps," about the former Gaebler Children's Center in Waltham. I received so many gut-wrenching comments on that post, which is about a facility very near Fernald. I cringe every time I see the headline I wrote.)

To see some fantastic photos of Fernald, check out this woman's Flickr album.

Alright, let's get to the good stuff.

(Former Waltham Water Works building.)

I took this photo a few years ago. The building is the former Waltham Water Works shop, located on Felton Street, a hardscrabble place with small industrial buildings, antique shops, auto body shops, markets and multi-family houses. Built in 1894, this building was used as a dog pound in more recent years, according to Wikipedia and the Waltham News Tribune. For a while now the place has been vacant, although I'm guessing the city uses it for storage.

(Random house I know nothing about.)

Not too far away, on the corner of Charles and Prospect streets, sits another abandoned building. This type of house -- with a storefront protruding from the front or tacked onto the side like a motorcycle side-car -- intrigues me. Every once in a while I see an active business in this type of house. But most often the space has been converted to an apartment or, as in this case, gone vacant along with the rest of the house. I like to imagine that at some point there was a busy little market here, or a barber shop or some other small business. This place was under renovation when I snapped this picture a few months ago, but not much is going on with it lately.

(Wilson's Diner.)

Wilson's Diner has been in this Main Street spot since 1949, according to Wikipedia. Built by the famous Worcester Lunch Car Company, the diner is on the National Register of Historic Places. I ate there once with my son, many years ago, and found the food to be just OK. But I love that this place has been in the same location for nearly 70 years and is still going strong.

The rest of this post is going to focus on railroad stuff.

(Waltham Interlocking Tower.)

Located steps away from busy Moody Street, the Waltham Interlocking Tower at one time controlled the junction with the Watertown Branch Railroad, which operated passenger service until 1938, per Wikipedia. The tower was put into action in 1928 and operated until 2013, according to this very thorough blog posting. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) operates commuter trains on this line, between Fitchburg and Boston.

Back in the early days of this blog, I posted about a long-abandoned trestle in Waltham that was part of the long-defunct Watertown Branch Railroad (see May 12, 2010, "Dead-End Tracks, Part I"). Below is the trestle.

(Watertown Branch trestle over the Charles River.)

I learned just recently that the trestle had been torn down. I do my grocery shopping just a stone's throw from the bridge, but hadn't noticed. Sure enough, I checked it out, and while the view is better, I miss the old trestle.

(No more trestle.)

The bridge was at least 140 years old, and was unsafe although when I checked it out a few years ago there was evidence of homeless people sleeping on and under it. Sad that yet another reminder of our industrial past has been taken down.

The remaining photos are of remnants of the Central Massachusetts Railroad (aka the Massachusetts Central Railroad), which ran from North Cammbridge to Northampton, Mass., by way of Watertown, Waltham, Weston, Wayland and other towns starting with letters other than "W." Seemingly ill-fated from the get-go, the railway ran for nearly a century, until about 1980.

A guy named John Rezuke has been working on a documentary about the Central Mass Railroad, with plans to include historical photos and remembrances, as well as footage of himself walking the 104-mile length of the railway. Here's a trailer of his work-in-progress:

I'd only walked a small portion of the old railway before working on this post (see August 1, 2016, "I Rail Against Trails (Not Really, But I Don't Want Every Set of Train Tracks Converted for Cyclists and Roller Bladers"). Only in the last few months did I become aware of just how much of the old Central Mass Railway tracks were accessible in Waltham.

(Just west of the Linden Street bridge sits this trestle over Beaver Brook.)

(Steps away from the trestle is this section, which begins the railway's run through the massive Gardencrest Apartments complex.)

(Just south of the Lyman Estate I found two cool reminders of railroading's past. My son took the bottom photo.)

(A little further west, at the intersection of Hammond Street and Elson Road, sits the nicely restored Waltham Highlands station. There is also a short length of track here. The building and landscape were done over by Regan Insurance, which has occupied the old station since 1965.)

(The tracks run for just a little longer west of Prentice Street, behind some super-ugly office buildings on Main Street. This section is very cool, if a little creepy.)

The tracks have been torn up from just before Border Road, which is the entrance to a new shopping area, and Route 128. There is a train bridge across the highway and then the tracks continue on into Weston and beyond. As with countless other former railway right-of-ways across the country, the old Central Mass rail bed has been turned, in part, to a rail trail. The folks behind the Mass Central Rail Trail would love to connect all 104 miles of the former railway for walkers, cyclists and roller bladers. To date, there are approximately 25 miles open.

Four years a go I explored another former railway right-of-way in Concord, Mass., that may one day be a rail trail (see December 11, 2012, "Concord, Part III: New Haven rail bed").

In the future, I plan to check out other sections of the old Central Mass Railway west of Waltham.

Make sure to check back soon for the third and final installment of my Waltham series, which will focus on ghost signs, cool old buildings and a few odds and ends.