Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bon Voyage, Lady

From Dave Brigham:

My first job when I moved to Boston in the fall of 1990 was at the World Trade Center. Through an agency, I worked as a temp for Fidelity Investments, a financial services company that has only gotten bigger in the intervening quarter century. In 1991, the area of South Boston where the WTC was located was a wasteland of parking lots (which were referred to as the mud flats), vacant lots, old wharf buildings and scattered old-time restaurants (Anthony's Pier 4 [R.I.P.], Jimmy's Harborside [R.I.P.]) and odd theme bars (Polly Esta's, R.I.P.).

Now known as the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, the building where I worked sits in an area absolutely unidentifiable from the urban desert it was as recently as 10 years ago. The building that heralded the massive changes that have taken place was the John Joseph Moakley United States Courhouse, named for the late, long-serving U.S. Representative from South Boston. Built in 1999, the courthouse sits right on Boston Harbor and mixes classic brick with a very cool glass wall that looks out on the harbor.

Since that building was erected, countless other gleaming glass office buildings, hotels, condo developments, restaurants and bars have followed. I shouldn't be surprised at the scale of change in this area of Boston. While on a break one day from my temp job at the WTC in the early '90s, I walked past a glass-walled conference room with a scale model of the district on a table. From end to end the table was filled with skyscrapers. I didn't think too much about it then, but have come to realize in recent years that change of this sort doesn't just happen. People put a lot of time, money and effort into these projects, in order to, of course, make money and put their stamps on Boston, but also to keep the city fresh and economically competitive.

Over the years of driving through this area, to events at the WTC, concerts at the pavilion on the waterfront, to eat at the Barking Crab or go to the nearby Boston Children's Museum, I noticed a small church.

The crane in the background of that shot tells the story. As massive developments have risen, the land the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Voyage sits on became more and more valuable. The chapel was built in 1952 "specifically to meet the needs of longshoremen and their wives who come to pray for the safe voyage and return of their husbands," according to an article at, which also features some photos.

While there are numerous stories around the U.S. and other countries of building owners holding fast against mega-developments, in this case, the Archdiocese of Boston came to an agreement in which it would sell the property and receive a new chapel just up the street (for our own take on holdout buildings, see January 25, 2014, "Last Building Standing").

(A close-up of the chapel, with a faceless corporate behemoth rising next door. This site will soon be home to a 22-story office building.)

(I hope they'll bring this statue along to the new site. If not, I'm sure they'll find a new home for the Virgin Mary.)

I have a few mantras about blogging for this site: "Get out your car and walk around," is the primary one. The other one is, "I don't have ulterior motives, except when it comes to the Backside of America." So when my son asked a while back about going on one of our semi-regular subway rides in Boston, I said, "Sure, but we're going to take a detour." So we hopped on the Silver line, which is a bus line that goes underground briefly between South Station and the World Trade Center.

Things have changed so much in the Seaport in the years since I worked there that I got turned around for several minutes, walking up and down Seaport Boulevard before I realized I needed to get to Northern Avenue. My son quickly pulled out his phone and directed us to our destination, which turned out to be very close to where we'd come up from the bus tunnel.

I knew I had to at least poke my head inside the chapel, but I didn't want to interrupt a service or disrupt anybody praying there. I'm glad I popped in.

It was a few months before I got back to take pictures of the new chapel under construction. I hoped the building would retain some of the old charm of the one that will soon fall under the wrecking ball.

I don't think it does. Do you? The chapel isn't complete, so perhaps the builders will add some flair or detail to evoke the old place.

(A nicely shaped church window is glassed in and forced to look out at a mega-building next door.)

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