Thursday, February 8, 2018

Casual Abandonment

From Bust Duster:

You would be forgiven if, at first glance, you thought this place was a preschool or an art gallery. I suppose in a way it's both.

Located at 482 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston's Kenmore Square, this circa-1899, 4,210-square-foot apartment building was assessed at $1.3 million in fiscal year 2017. It sits on a 2,625 square-foot lot. So why, with so much development in recent years around Kenmore Square, and the city of Boston in general, is this place plastered with graffiti and murals, instead of overflowing with Euro-trash Boston University students?

Good question! I'm not sure I have much of an answer, though. But let's see what we can cobble together/make up.

First, given what the outside looks like, let's try to imagine the interior of this place, which has been this way for perhaps 20 years, based on what I've found in online forums. Obviously people have been inside over the past two decades, because homeless people, urbex types, drug addicts and other curious folks always go into places like this. So that means people have done all the gross things that people do: gone to the bathroom (Nos. 1 and 2); had sex; ate and drank and spilled and vomited; burnt incense; read porno mags; shot up; jazzercised -- just everything bad you can think of.

Second, think what creatures enjoy the fruits of all bad human behavior: cockroaches, centipedes, rats, raccoons, lawyers. Per the City of Boston 311 web site, there have been numerous complaints over the years for graffiti, unshoveled sidewalks and rodent sightings at this address.

Now imagine being a real estate developer looking at the exterior of what was most likely once a very nice building where very nice people lived, loved and did all the gross things that people do (see above). You don't want to deal with hosing out the detritus of human existence, or risking a nasty case of scabies.

So you just let it sit there, with its celebrity-themed murals. Coco Chanel, Biggie Smalls, Michael Jackson, some other guy who could be Snoop Dogg or William Shakespeare. And like the rest of us, you may ask yourself: Well, how did I get here? And you may ask yourself: How do I work this? And you may ask yourself: Where is that large automobile?

Sorry, got a bit off track. Maybe I should be quoting from "Burning Down the House" instead.

"I think the last I've heard is that it's tied up in probate or something" -- some guy whose quote I found online.

OK, now maybe we're getting somewhere.

Nearly 10 years ago, TexasJake987 asked on the Ask MetaFilter web site: "This building @ 482 commonwealth ave has been boggling my mind. Its your typical brownstone, but its been abandoned and boarded up. On the boards, there's a bunch of artwork and murals done by some JP students. What gives? what is this place? Why is prime realty abandoned in kenmore square? Anybody know anything about it?"

So you see, it IS part art gallery and part preschool. Or some sort of school. Probably high school, but you know, kids back 10 years ago were so immature compared to the geniuses of today with their smart phones, that it was like preschool. Sorry, digressing.

In answering Jake's question, a guy named "Phil" (Collins? Silvers?) provided us with a tantalizing clue in 2008: "And continuing the cyber-sleuthing... I assume "MARGOLIS CALVIN ETAL" is actually "Margolis, Calvin, et al." Whether it's the past fashion designer or not, I have no idea. (But he does seem to be from the Boston area.)." This is in relation to the building's owners on the City of Boston web site.

Calvin Margolis co-founded a fashion retail chain called Designs in 1976. Based in Massachusetts, the business eventually grew to include 29 stores in the Eastern United States. Margolis retired as chairman and CEO in 1993, and died a year later, according to this Funding Universe history of Casual Male Retail Group, the company that Designs, Inc. acquired in 2002 and subsequently changed its name to.

Unfortunately, the online trail goes cold here. Margolis passed away in 1994, and this Kenmore Square address has been an eyesore since at least 1999. So who bought the property and then just let it go to seed?

Currently the property is owned by Four-82 Commonwealth Avenue, a trust overseen by a woman named ______ __________ (I don't want to drag somebody into this without knowing the full story). So, in the spirit of David Letterman's old "Brush With Greatness" schtick, in which audience members would relate the tale of meeting someone famous and then be asked to embellish the story, I present to you what I suppose happened with this building:

Harold Madison, Jr. was born in Worcester, Mass., in 1951. By all accounts (read: Wikipedia) he loved music from an early age. By the mid-'70s he had moved to Boston, where he studied at the illustrious Berklee College of Music. A drummer and guitarist with a big personality, he played gigs at infamous Kenmore Square club The Rat, as well as the late, lamented Channel Club in South Boston. He lived on the streets, enjoying the hospitality of friends and fellow musicians.

His father had dubbed him Butch, and eventually around Kenmore Square he became known as Mr. Butch. A tall dude with shoulder-length dreadlocks, Mr. Butch was gregarious and friendly. I saw him many times in the '90s as I made my through Kenmore Square to eat, drink, shop for records or go to nearby Fenway Park for Red Sox games. He was instantly engaging and non-threatening, despite his leather jacket that said "Goddamn Motherfucking Mr. Butch" on the back. He loved to drink and smoke weed, by all accounts.

So Mr. Butch was a fashionable guy, as evidenced by his bespoke leather jacket. In YouTube videos from the '80s and '90s he is seen wearing natty sport jackets, stylish purple down vests and a Superman t-shirt, all while rattling off original poetry.

(Editor hands this writer an embellishment and instructs him to write down what it says.)

One day while panhandling and entertaining the crowds passing through the square, Mr. Butch bumped into Calvin Margolis, the fashion retailer and designer whose stores specialized in Levi's jeans. Margolis had seen Mr. Butch around. Margolis owned a building just steps away from the busy hub of Kenmore Square where Mr. Butch hung out.

"I like your scarf," Margolis said to the bard of Kenmore Square.

"Thanks, my good sir," Mr. Butch replied.

And so was born a friendship. The couturier and the rocker were spotted eating Lord Worsley sandwiches at Cornwalls or a slice at the Pizza Pad, and were even seen once harmonizing at The Rat while the Ramones thrashed away on stage. Nobody was more heartbroken than Mr. Butch when Margolis died. But the dreadlocked one's heart was lifted when the fashion mogul's will was read, and Mr. Butch realized that his friend had bequeathed him a brownstone in the square.

Mr. Butch didn't take up residence at 482 Commonwealth Avenue, but he opened the doors to anyone and everyone for parties and raucous sleepovers. Bands turned their amps to 11 for the blowouts, artists covered the walls -- inside and out -- with crazy murals and graffiti. And supermodels and socialites flew in from London, Ibiza and Krakow for Mr. Butch's soirees. The children of the artists and musicians and the supermodels baked cookies in Calvin Margolis's old stove and scribbled on the floors and ceilings.

Ah, but it couldn't last, this grand good time. It never does, does it? Unless you've entered into cryogenic suspension, or you're one of the Gabor sisters.

The neighbors complained, the cops showed up and the party moved on -- to the Gabors house. Mr. Butch vacated Kenmore Square and took up residence on the streets of Allston, Boston's rock and roll address. The building got tied up in legal scraps over title, ownership, probate, clean-up, squatters rights, you name it.

As for Mr. Butch, he lived happily in Allston for many years until he died in a scooter accident in 2007.

Rest in peace, Mr. Butch. Rest in peace, Calvin Margolis. Let the world figure out what to do with your crazy preschool/art gallery brownstone.

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