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Thread: Medieval Boston (photos and commentary)

  1. #1
          ablarc's avatar
    Nov 2003
    East Coast

    Medieval Boston (photos and commentary)

    Moderator note:
    (Dan) 11 October 2009: Images now hosted in the Cyburbia Gallery. See http://www.cyburbia.org/gallery/show...y.php?cat=6528

    In the Fifties and Sixties Urban Renewal came to Boston in the form of the draconian Central Artery, Charles River Park and Government Center projects. Together, these efforts were heralded as The New Boston. The next phase in Boston’s evolution is now unfolding in the guise of the Big Dig. This is partly a rollback and partly a further evolution of the ideas that underlay The New Boston.

    Here is what Urban Renewal replaced.

    Medieval Boston

    Most people think of Boston as a dense city, and it is, especially by American standards. Today’s city is, however, a pale shadow of the medieval maze that was Boston before large-scale modern planning and spatial concepts entered the picture.

    First the Central Artery elevated expressway project (1959), then the infamous West End clearance (1961) described in Herbert Gans’ Urban Villagers, and finally the Government Center (1963ff) introduced the modernist concept of infinite space into the form of the city.

    Medieval Boston survives in the crooked street patterns and canyonlike spaces of the North End and Financial District, but those who do not remember Scollay Square, the West End, the Waterfront and Haymarket from before Urban Renewal are rarely prepared for the reality that survives today mostly in photographs:

    Hancock Tavern, 1900

    Creek Square, 1896. This street survives in the heart of what is today referred to as the Blackstone Block, though the buildings that fronted it are now gone.

    Elm Street, 1920. Faneuil Hall in foreground and the beaux-arts skyscraper Custom House Tower beyond. These two historic monuments are still with us; everything else, including the street, has vanished into infinite space. Faneuil Hall: before it was revered as historic, Pillsbury thought of it as good billboard space.

    Faneuil Hall Square, 1925. That is the apron canopy of Faneuil Hall at lower left—needed because the ground floor was a functioning wholesale food market. Both canopy and the function that required it survived until about 1975. Every single thing in this photograph has now vanished.

    Coca Cola at Faneuil Hall. The building that hosted the sign would now be in the roadway of a widened Congress Street.

    Bowdoin Square, 1929, gateway to the doomed West End beyond.

    Faneuil Hall Square, 1860. The Feather Shop was a genuine English medieval building dating from the 1600’s. The reconstructed Paul Revere House has similar lines.

    Dock Square, 1900, looking towards Ames Building, an early skyscraper (1889). Note the sign hawking rooms on the left-hand building; people used to live here.

    Quincy Market, 1920. Though cars were more common by this time, horses were the preferred conveyance of produce peddlers. Quincy is still a market of sorts; the Rouse Company, prodded by architect Benjamin Thompson, turned it into the first Festival Marketplace (1976); the above building functions today as a vast food court.

    Blackstone Street, Haymarket, 1933. Buildings on the right demolished for Central Artery ramp, ca. 1957; buildings on left mostly cut down to one story, some with basement retail when Haymarket in session. The bend in the street is still there, of course, as is Haymarket, though it looks a little different.

    North Street was a major link from Dock Square to the North End in 1885, and is poised to become so once again now that the elevated Central Artery is coming down. The artery cut North Street in two; it is discontinuous but it can be found both north and south of the highway. Buildings on the right are all gone, victims of an Artery ramp; a hotel gobbled up most of the ones on the left, but guiltily mimicked them in general form.

    Atlantic Avenue, 1905. Loitering menacingly down by the waterfront, these guys seem like the spiritual forebears of coke dealers. This area is now a waterfront park.

    Medieval Boston survives in the crooked street patterns and canyonlike spaces of the North End and Financial District, but in the West End, Scollay Square, Waterfront and Haymarket, the Middle Ages were bulldozed into oblivion by Urban Renewal, the New Boston and most of all, the Central Artery:

    Before Urban Renewal, as now, one epicenter of the city was Dock Square, site of Faneuil Hall, built as a produce market with public meeting hall above. Here the Continental Congress met and took steps toward American independence. Here also, before landfill, the residential North End met downtown for commerce and public activities. The Waterfront was the third participant in this colloquy, but it has since been ordered into the distance by landfill and other large-scale planning gestures.

    Dock Square, 1928, Faneuil Hall at right middleground. If the present City Hall had existed in 1928, this would approximate the view from the mayor’s office. (Faneuil Hall’s first designer was the portrait-painter, Samuel Smibert, 1742. In 1805, Charles Bulfinch enlarged the structure and added a third story). A statue of Samuel Adams has displaced the premium ham.

    Faneuil Hall, 1923, with Quincy Market beyond. The Harbor—fully connected to the city—appears in the background. In true medieval fashion, mansards and additional stories are beginning to appear on what is today called North Market Building—really numerous buildings until 1976, separated by party walls and property lines, but intended by architect Alexander Parris to be unified by identical façade treatments to create the illusion of a single vast structure. The owners had their own ideas.


    Visually, Quincy Market’s South and North Buildings were conceived by their architect to appear unified, much as they do today, after their “restoration”. Functionally, however, these were dozens of near-identical buildings separated by party walls and property lines. They were developed in small increments over time, and hence they never actually achieved the unified appearance they have today, because by the time the last unit was built numerous variations, modifications and individual designs had cropped up to disrupt the overall order. Thus the intended Baroque unity was organically medievalized.

    The effects of this process of individuation are clearly visible in the depression-era photograph. Most owners have added mansards, extra stories, alternative façade treatments or otherwise modified the basic unit design, so that “North Market Building” and “South Market Building” can not clearly be discerned as entities. By mid-Twentieth Century, one or two units had even evolved into miniature deco skyscrapers of seven or eight stories, complete with elevators.

    These were all re-regularized and re-clad by architect Ben Thompson when the Rouse Corporation converted Quincy Market, the wholesale meat market, into Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the retail shopping mall. Internally, Thompson and Rouse unified the buildings with corridors piercing the heavy party walls, at the same time as they also unified the exteriors.

    You could say they restored the market buildings to their original historic condition (although before 1976 this condition was only fully realized in the original architect’s mind and drawings). Or you could say with equal justification that Thompson and Rouse really erased the effects of history by restoring the buildings to an appearance that they never actually had.

    Which approach, in your opinion, is more faithful to the muse of history?

    In the other direction, the view from the Custom House Tower shows Quincy Market in the foreground and looks past Faneuil Hall toward Scollay Square:

    Striking is the medieval way space runs in the streets as rivulets defined by buildings. From the standpoint of figure-ground, this is the exact opposite of suburbia, where individual buildings sit objectified in infinite space that extends from here to Nepal and beyond.

    The streets look like canyons eroded into the city’s relatively uniform-height roofscape. This uniform height was set by how high people were willing to tromp up stairs. Buildings erected after the elevator’s invention are clearly identifiable; they are the ones over five stories.

    Aside from Faneuil Hall, the three market buildings and a few diminutive structures in the Blackstone Block, all buildings in all above photographs are now gone. They were removed wholesale in the 1960s according to a Government Center master plan drawn up by I.M. Pei at the direction of Redevelopment Director Ed Logue, creator of the New Boston. Here is a 1975 view of the same scene, also from the Custom House:

    Brobdignagian Fortress Boston hulks sculpturally in its vast brickyard, where formerly teemed hundreds of tiny buildings. In Modernist guise, Baroque absolutism has displaced the fine grained human scale of the medieval city. Where there had been trickles of space there is now spatial infinity, stretching to the far reaches of the Universe. Within this ocean of space, all objects must be seen in the round as sculpture, and they had better be big, to stand up to all that emptiness.

    A lengthy (five pages) and interesting thread on City Hall,its plaza, and efforts to replace both:

    Renewed Boston

    Another centerpiece of Logue’s clean sweep was the clearing of Scollay Square, which was then noted for burlesque. The old buildings survived until Logue’s giant demolition derby. This was conceived as a one-shot silver bullet to simultaneously cure social ills, physical decay and economic stagnation—all by removing offending buildings. Here are the offenders in their less racy days:

    At the end of the street you can see the Old State House (1713), in front of which occurred the Boston Massacre (1770). The Chicago School skyscraper to its left is the Ames Building by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge (1889). When built, this was the tallest office building in the world outside New York, even taller than Chicago’s loftiest. These two buildings survived Logue; everything else was cleared.

    Scollay Square, before and after.

    Logue abolished not only buildings but streets. Superblocks were all the rage, and Boston got maybe the super-est block of all: the Government Center. Two hundred and seventy-something tiny buildings were replaced by three. An aerial photograph tells you about their scale. These three buildings are not very tall, but their footprints are huge. It is the increment of development that determines scale, not height. And the idea here was to create a zone of monumental scale:

    To City Hall’s right, wedged between a small park and a highway ramp, survives the Blackstone Block (really the Blackstone Blocks), where about fifty ancient one, two, three and four story buildings huddle together in about the same footprint as leviathan City Hall.

    City Hall and part of its Plaza: bigger than Siena.

    Across the expanse of brick lies the yawn-inducing John F. Kennedy Federal Building by celebrated Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus and self-proclaimed inventor of Modernism:

    The red-brick plaza of Government Center was to be the pivot of Boston, Hub of the Universe. It was strewn with huge buildings. Unlike the equally huge buildings in the Financial District to its southeast, these were not interspersed with small, old survivors clinging to a medieval street pattern. Therefore (if you should want to) you can get plenty of unobstructed view of them to appreciate their monumental grandiosity:

    Until the advent of giant containerships, Boston was a bustling cargo port and home to a large fishing fleet. The Waterfront connected seamlessly to the rest of downtown Boston; it was simply where the city met the sea. You often didn’t notice when a street sneaked onto a wharf. Here State Street becomes Long Wharf:

    Long Wharf, 1930

    Long Wharf, 1927

    There was, however, a Chinese wall of sorts: the Atlantic Avenue El.

    Atlantic Avenue with El and Fishing Fleet. The magnificent granite wharf buildings date from the 1840s, and survive as luxury housing. You can clearly see that though unified compositionally they were actually numerous buildings separated by party walls and property lines. Over time, owners raised their roofs and otherwise modified their exteriors to suit their needs, thereby organifying the streetscape.

    Atlantic Avenue, 1937. Giant wharf buildings on the right.

    Atlantic Avenue El at Street Level: not nearly the obstacle of an elevated highway

    Atlantic Avenue, 1942.The car takes over: gas station on the right, and a big notice announcing the El’s impending demise.

    The El came down later in 1942. Here only the stanchions survive. Mussolini would have capped them with big globe lights, and maybe gold-plated eagles.

    The El fell to the wreckers, but some of its genes were passed on to the Fitzgerald Elevated Highway, aka the Central Artery. The elevated road replaced the elevated train in 1959.

    Like the Government Center, the Central Artery was conceived to propel Boston’s moribund economy into a shining future through a huge infusion of government money. The idea was that a truly progressive place had superhighways, not rickety old streetcars and subways. And as in the case of the Government Center, here was a chance to demolish some buildings that looked ugly and unprogressive. In all, 1000 buildings were taken down, and 20,000 residents displaced. The city was sundered:

    The Central Artery provided Boston with its biggest-ever Civil Engineering project. Burying it has been bigger still: touted as the costliest public works project of all time. In inflated dollars, the Big Dig cost more than the Panama Canal, built when money was money.

    The newborn highway was named for John F. (“Honey Fitz”) Fitzgerald. He is perhaps best known as the father of Rose Kennedy, for whom in turn is named--fittingly enough—the highway’s successor, the soon-to-be Rose Kennedy Greenway.

    Being deceased, Honey Fitz couldn’t show up for the 1959 dedication, so he sent a pair of doubles:

    The Urban Village Bites the Dust

    The automobile’s campaign to widen Boston’s medieval streets had begun in the 1920’s. Well before the Central Artery was proposed, Boston greatly enlarged Cambridge Street, thus severing the West End from Beacon Hill:

    Cambridge Street widening, 1926.

    If they had been linguistically punctilious, they would have renamed it Cambridge Road, or perhaps Cambridge Highway. But it still had to do double duty as a pedestrian route for Beacon Hill and the West End to get downtown. Truth is, it never made a good highway because there were too many cross streets, and after widening it ceased to be a good street for pedestrians because there were too many cars:

    Cambridge Street, 1930, after widening.

    Cambridge Street never recovered. It was the gate through which they hauled the Trojan Horse. Gas stations and parking lots began to appear, and it’s been a disheveled mess ever since, neither quite city or suburb, the edge city stranded in the urban core, Tyson’s Corner transported to Georgetown:

    Cambridge Street, 1955

    Cambridge Street, 1956

    Cambridge Street, 2003

    Separated from the cachet of Beacon Hill by widened Cambridge Street, the West End teemed in picturesque shabbiness. The shabbiness masked a vital, healthy working class community, knit together by social ties and a medieval physical closeness.

    West End, July 1958. Cambridge Street is the broad thouroughfare at right, marking the boundary of West End and much tonier Beacon Hill. If you are familiar with Beacon Hill, you know it to have a medieval density and diminutive scale. You can see from the photograph that the West End possessed these traits in even greater measure. The streets were canyons.

    This place bred, among others, movie stars. The planning authorities, offended by its resemblance to medieval Paris, said it bred crime.

    Leonard Nimoy, of Star Trek fame, third row right.

    Ruth Roman, second row, second from right.

    Italian-American social club.

    By March 23, 1959, the West End was disappearing rapidly, receding like a hair line:


    By September 1960, it was gone. Expunged. Annihilated. Erased. Cleared. Ready for Urban Renewal:


    “An Obsolete Neighborhood,” declared the Boston Redevelopment Agency literature, displaying a figure-ground to kill for, “And a New Plan”:

    Actually, not so new. Here was the Ville Radieuse, Corbusier’s revenge on the city. Remember, his proposal was to tear down Paris and replace it with skyscrapers in a park. That’s exactly what the planners did in Boston. The West End became Charles River Park. Hundreds of small buildings were replaced by fewer than a dozen big ones:

    A traffic-clogged expressway cuts off the project from the river, but nobody minds. As the sign on the expressway famously taunts commuters stuck in traffic: “If you lived here, you’d be home now.”

    Suburban living in the city, without a lawn to mow. A doorman, a parking space, security, peace and quiet, and a pool. What more could you want?

    Two scales:

    Last edited by ablarc; 29 Feb 2004 at 9:04 AM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
    Aug 2001
    Rustbelt Incognito
    You get around on some interesting message boards. Now I know why you don't post as often here on Cyburbia.

    Neat boards:

    Boston's Skyscraper Guy

    cafe l'urbanite


  3. #3
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
    Nov 2002
    Thanks for sharing. Its amazing that Boston is still one of the most historic, pedestrian friendly big cities in the US despite all of its urban renewal demolition. Some of your pictures look like Berlin after the war.

  4. #4
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
    May 2003
    Staff meeting

    Great photo essay!

    With the aid of 20/20 hindsight, what happened in and to Boston and all other major cities the urban renewal, or mass destruction went way to far. I'm sure that many of the structures in Boston's West end were outdated in terms of plumbing and electrical, but that is no reason to completely demolish an entire neighborhood. Rehab the structurally sound ones

    I'm in Chicago and we definitely have experience with large-scale urban renewal: bad and not-so-bad.

    Everyone, I'm sure knows about the problems with the Robert Taylor Homes and all the other Chicago low-income projects and their eventually demolition, but the interesting flip side of the urban renewal coin are the market-rate developments to be built on the 'renewed' sites.

    Close to my neighborhood is Sandburg Village:

    This development in approximately 5 blocks along North Clark St. and one block deep on either side of Clark, and was built to be market-rate. It is not decreipt like the low-income projects elsewhere in the city and was not designed in the superblock method. It pretty much follows the original street grid, and has not de-valued itself or the surrounding area.

    Is the West End a market-rate development?

    I think the problem of urban renewal is one of scale and lack of understanding.

    What Boston did to Scollay Square and the West End and for the Central Artery was horrid. They thought medevial Boston was useless, well central Florence, Italy is very similar to the 'before' Boston, and it is very livable and healthy.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
    Apr 2003
    Philadelphia, PA
    unfortunately urban renewal is not dead. Sure it's not wholesale destruction like in the pictures above but it's ruinous none-the-less.

    we have a lot of streets like this in Philly (that's a 5ft. cartway in case you couldn't tell) aren't in the best neighbors. The idea for revitalization is always to tear down, vacate the street. These streets most often form a ╬ inside the larger block. They build suburban style condos around the outside of the block and use the middle of the block for parking. Sometimes the facades look urban - like this

    I don't know if you can tell from the picture but it looks more like a prop from Universal Studios in real life. They look like there's nothing behind them. I watched them go up. Absolute crap. Brick façades but wrapped with vinyl in the back. Giant parking lots at the center.

    Voila - urban renewal with a different name. The "Neighborhood Transformation Initiative."

  6. #6
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
    Apr 2003
    Philadelphia, PA
    sorry about the pics not coming out - i'm trying to figure that out.

  7. #7
          ablarc's avatar
    Nov 2003
    East Coast
    How it was before the Expressway and Urban Renewal:

    1946, North End at top, West end at left:

    Click here to see a larger version of this image. Wait a few seconds until the enlarge button appears in the lower right, then scroll around. Lots of res.

    1946, West End at bottom, Quincy Market at top left:

    Click here to see a larger version of this image. Wait a few seconds until the enlarge button appears in the lower right, then scroll around. Lots of res.

    1923, North End at top, West End in lower left:

    Click here to see a larger version of this image. Wait a few seconds until the enlarge button appears in the lower right, then scroll around. Lots of res.

    1934, West End at right, North Station at center:

    Click here to see a larger version of this image. Wait a few seconds until the enlarge button appears in the lower right, then scroll around. Lots of res.

  8. #8
    What is your source for this statement:"The planning authorities, offended by its resemblance to medieval Paris, said it bred crime".
    Not valid without corporate seal

  9. #9
          ablarc's avatar
    Nov 2003
    East Coast
    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    What is your source for this statement:"The planning authorities, offended by its resemblance to medieval Paris, said it bred crime".
    Gedunker, please don’t take offense, but I’m a little surprised you need a source for a matter that is so widely accepted. That is like saying, “What is your source that the Earth is round?”

    Still, if you must have a source, you might be amused by this one from an unexpected quarter: the Thoreau Institute, dedicated to opposing Smart Growth and promoting the survival of Suburbia. A surprising source, indeed, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here they are bashing planners, and using Jane Jacobs to do it [!]:

    Fifty years ago, urban planners applied the term "blight" to areas where property values were falling due to crime, pollution, and/or lack of investment. Planners promised to end blight through urban renewal, which usually meant completely replacing existing neighborhoods with high-priced housing and/or urban monuments.

    In 1961, Jane Jacob's book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" showed that many of the so-called blighted areas that the planners wanted to clear were in fact healthy, vibrant neighborhoods. The book helped kill urban renewal programs. But while she wrote her book as a warning against the hubris of planners who think they know how to fix urban problems, few people heeded this important message.

    In 1961, when Jacobs published "The Death and Life," the "saints and sages" were saying that high-density urban centers were dangerous slums and should be torn down and the people in them moved to low-density suburbs. Jacobs showed that the households and shops in these urban villages were thriving, diverse, and healthy. Though they were dense, the people in the shops and housing above the shops kept "eyes on the street" to make sure they were safe.

    Planners’ myopic blunders like the West End renewal, are regarded by these guys as so much a matter of common knowledge and agreement, that here they use it in defense of—of all things—strip malls [!], which they feel are currently under unjustified attack from the benighted planning profession.

    (Believe it or not.)

    See for yourself; here is the link: http://www.ti.org/vaupdate42.html

    "Resemblance to medieval Paris" is an observation of mine, and not a particularly original one. You can verify the resemblance by looking at quite a few of the photos in this thread and comparing them with your memories of say, the Latin Quarter or the Marais, in both of which medieval Paris survives. Ironically, at about the time they tore down the West End, there was a movement afoot in Paris to demolish the run-down Marais. The most persuasive reason given: crime.

    Blame Le Corbusier; his planning ideas were in vogue at the time. In the West End, he triumphed (it is now a Ville Radieuse); in the Marais, greater common sense prevailed and that is now a beautifully-restored, dense neighborhood --but full of yuppies.

    At least the buildings survived.

  10. #10
    Thanks, ablarc. The link is amusing to me personally: we do not discourage strip development here (if we did we'd have no comercial development whatsoever) although we do require internal connections from development to development as well as sidewalks and transit facilities.

    The city I grew up in in New Jersey embraced urban renewal, demolishing a super-block of Italianate three- and four-story commercial fronts in the belief that if the lot was cleared, the developers would line up to build there. So, in 1964, the brick, limestone and cast iron fronts were smashed to bits and replaced with a gravel parking lot. When last I visited, in August 2001, it was still unbuilt, although the gravel had morphed to aphalt and a few lonely trees and weeds were interspersed here and there. A sad sight indeed.

    I'm glad urban renewal didn't take hold in the Louisville area as it did elsewhere.
    Not valid without corporate seal

  11. #11
    Wow, thanks for posting this thread and the work you put into putting this story together. I think the most impressive thing about these photos are the almost total lack of automobiles in the pre-1942 neighborhood photos. I don't think there is anywhere you can go in North America and experience this these days.

    The closest thing that I have seen to pre-urban renewal Boston are the cities in Japan, where there are many neighborhoods where it is not possible to even drive a car through.
    Last edited by metroboi; 30 May 2004 at 9:23 AM.

  12. #12
          ablarc's avatar
    Nov 2003
    East Coast

    West End


    Mike at SkyscraperGuy located some street level photos of the West End from the Bostonian Society. http://p217.ezboard.com/fskyscraperg...art=41&stop=60

    The West End was a mixture of row houses and tenements:


    At the close of the 19th Century it was in pretty good shape, not being very old:

    The population was also mixed, and in pretty good shape:

    Town houses, some of wood:

    By the 1920’s, some houses had been augmented both vertically and horizontally, sometimes in a fairly perfunctory manner, reflecting their conversion to tenement use. The usual fetid air shafts began to appear, but clearly the area was still in pretty good shape, not run down. People were glad to be here rather than Sicily or County Galway:

    In the Fifties, the West End greatly resembled the North End, which was allowed to survive, and which is today much lionized:

    The West End was actually a bit less dense than the North End:


    By 1956 the wide open spaces were beginning to appear, in the form of parking lots:

    These made the area appear more run down, setting off a downward visual spiral, and with it, the plausible (though perhaps false) perception that this was a slum. Visually it had certainly become chaotic, which is invariably the case when you shred urban fabric with parking lots:


    It becomes a small step to this:

    The ethnically-mixed community, meanwhile, remained cohesive and safe. But not safe from the planners. They had big, modern ideas that would demonstrate Boston’s new-found progressiveness. Naturally, they called for big, modern buildings on a cleared field.

    Trouble was, there were all these little old buildings in the way, full of people. There was only one thing to do: remove both the buildings and the people. So they did. Incongruously, they left a few “significant historic buildings”:


    By eminent domain, the public had a clear and overarching interest. Which public? Certainly the public that moved into the replacement buildings, a Ville Radieuse full of yuppies. To sever the link to the bad old past, the new complex was renamed Charles River Park. It entered the driving public’s consciousness via a famous billboard mounted facing a well-travelled expressway famous for its traffic jams. The billboard read: “If you lived here…you’d be home now.”

    Charles River Park under construction, 1960:

    The people in the community never knew what hit them. All of a sudden, they found themselves living in the suburbs. Where there kids had played yuppies now walked their dogs. When they went back to see the place where their childhood home had stood, they couldn’t find it. The very streets had disappeared.

    Modern planners had no use for streets. Instead they produced superblocks and arranged within them buildings in a park. Corbusier’s revenge was complete, not in Paris but in Boston. Charles River Park is the swath of blocky apartment buildings between fine-grained Beacon Hill (right) and the fine-grained North End (far left). How it looks these days:

    (Cambridge in foreground.)

    A small segment of the old West End survives as the Bulfinch Triangle:

    Ronwell Pudding photo.

    Now that the elevated highway and light rail are down, this has emerged as the hot, new development zone. Developers vie to convert old industrial and office buildings to residential, often adding several stories atop the brawny structures:

    photos by Justin.

    This one turned out especially well. Not just the top three stories, but also the little polygonal corner turrets, are new. Photo by Poolio.

    And even brand new buildings are springing up in a new-old style, such as the tallest building in this pic:

    Added to the mix are hotels:

    In next to no time, the parking lots will be gone. But chances are the West End will never be back.

    * * *

    Posted on the Boston forum, this thread received a really cogent reply from someone who lived through all this. It represents a different perspective:

    “Great thread... Being born in1929 it brought back many memories. Some good and some bad. I left Boston in 1950 thinking Boston was an old, dirty and corrupt city (AKA Curley) with no future. I was right for the time. Scolly Sq. with its tattoo places, burlesque houses, taverns, prostitutes and drunken sailors made me ashamed of the city. It made the combat zone of the 1970’s look like a haven. I remember Atlantic Ave .with its El. as an old street with nothing very attractive. Full of horse crap (as was Washington Street) along with all the freight cars in the middle of the street. I often remember riding the El with my Mom as a young boy. The only thing I remember with any fondness at the time was arriving at South Station and seeing the trains. Quincy market (see picture) was a dirty mess with lots of flies and more horse crap and garbage. The old cobble stone streets were impossible to walk on for any women with high heels and very dirty and difficult to clean. (Again look hard at some of the photos)

    …There wasnt much worth saving. I guess you had to live it to understand. Im glad much of it is gone…

    Today Boston has changed and is a new and great city. All of the above is gone and I am happy to see it that way despite the criticism I see sometimes see on this form. Scolly Sq is gone. Atlantic Ave should be renamed something like Great Atlantic Ave. Quincy Market is a delight. Yet much of the old worth saving has been saved and I love it.
    Although I have not lived in Boston for many year I have often visited the city and marvel at the great changes. I would move back but can’t handle the weather at my seventy-four years. Yet I never hesitate to brag on it. I now live in San Antonio TX and it is worth bragging on but so is Boston. Remember to do it. I check out this form every day an wish to thank you…and others for tis great site Keep it up!!!”—pwsmith

    A link to the “great site” is posted at the top.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
    Apr 2003
    Somewhere between the mountains and the ocean.
    If you wrote a history book on big cities, I would buy it. I am always impressed with how much thought that you put into these threads.

    It is a shame that so many great buildings where taken down for stupid reasons... Depressing...
    If you want different results in your life, you need to do different things than you have done in the past. Change is that simple.

  14. #14
          ablarc's avatar
    Nov 2003
    East Coast

    Some folks never learn. The good people down at the Boston Redevelopment Authority have approved another Corbusian slab:

    This is their way of densifying the ill-conceived West End: towers in a park. They could have restored much of the old street pattern instead and treated the residual space as infill lots for restoration of much of the West End’s original development pattern: row houses and small apartment buildings. They could do this without demolishing the existing Corbusian slabs; in fact the resulting scale dichotomy might actually be interesting.


  15. #15
    jimi_d's avatar
    Oct 2004
    Birmingham, England
    Interesting how they claimed vandalism to be "urban renewal". Maybe "urban renewal" should join the words to ban thread. And Government Center really looks like a candidate for ugliest building ever.

  16. #16
          ablarc's avatar
    Nov 2003
    East Coast
    Quote Originally posted by jimi_d
    Government Center really looks like a candidate for ugliest building ever.
    And yet this building won every prize there was to win at the time. For a decade or two it was the most imitated building in the U.S. Virtually every city or town has one or two watered-down replicas.

    Sic transit gloria mundi.

    The style thrived in London: Southbank Arts Center's a prominent instance. How is it regarded in London, jimi_d?

  17. #17
          abrowne's avatar
    Jan 2005
    I've come into this thread a bit late, but I had a question that I hoped some light could be shed upon.

    How the hell did Europe survive the urban historical apocalypse of the twentieth century? Why did they end up KEEPING a lot of their cities intact, and not amputating them at the knees? Are there any writings on this?

    The Government Ctr building, I believe City Hall ( ? ), is finely imitated by the Math and Computer Science building at the University of Waterloo. I'd post a photo, but I looked and seem to only have photos of it at night - when you could actually look at the thing without feeling sick to your stomach. Truly, at night I found it spectacular, mostly because of the lighting.

    Another thing - those buildings have working shutters! *shock and amazement* :-P
    Last edited by abrowne; 07 Jul 2005 at 12:58 AM.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
    Mar 2005
    London, UK
    Criminal. Just criminal.

    I would liken all postwar architects to a 'dentist' who, upon seeing a cavity or indded a mouth ulcer removes all your teeth and repalces them with cheap plastic dentures that do not fit.

    The PLANS for London, to answer your question, Ablarc, were unbelievable. But the Brits are world-class nimbys (not always for teh ebst) and so all you get are numerous, putrefying brutalist atrocities but embedded in a vibrant and attractive urban fabric.

    If anyone cna dig up clsoe-up pics of paternoster square (next to St PAul) before the recent redevelopment, you'll get an idea of just how bad it got. The new development re-establsiehd several medieval streets that ahd been 'superblocked', looks muuuuuuch better and was, of course, bashed by Foster and the other SOBs who raped our cities.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian PlanBoston's avatar
    Mar 2005
    Boston, MA
    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    How the hell did Europe survive the urban historical apocalypse of the twentieth century? Why did they end up KEEPING a lot of their cities intact, and not amputating them at the knees?

    I would speculate that Europe managed to keep their cities intact by accident. The ravages of WWII kept the modernists busy for decades rebuilding the bombed out parcels. They didn’t have time to bulldoze intact neighborhoods like Boston’s West End.

    Luca has referenced Paternoster Square in London. It was heavily damaged in WWII and rebuilt with modernist garbage. I had the opportunity to walk through the site while the buildings were boarded up, prior to their demolition – incredibly eerie. The new development there is wonderful comparatively. It fits into the historic context of the area and is worthy of its site adjacent to St Paul’s.

    As for Boston, the autocracies continue. Across the river from Charles River Park is the proposed North Point development (beginning at the bottom left of the above aerial photo). This 45 acre parcel is adjacent to 2 transit lines and the East Cambridge neighborhood, which is rapidly redeveloping itself. It could have been designed with a dense urban street pattern and a texture similar to Paternoster. Instead, the site plan looks like it was done by Le Corbusier himself. Truly an opportunity lost.

  20. #20

    Oct 2001
    Solano County, California
    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    And yet this building won every prize there was to win at the time. For a decade or two it was the most imitated building in the U.S. Virtually every city or town has one or two watered-down replicas.
    Sic transit gloria mundi.

    The style thrived in London: Southbank Arts Center's a prominent instance. How is it regarded in London, jimi_d?
    Hmmmmmm. Who does this sound like? Frankie G, the GENIUS WHO KNOWS MORE ABOUT URBANI DESIGN THAN ANYONE ELSE?

  21. #21
          ablarc's avatar
    Nov 2003
    East Coast

    Nobody imitates him.

    He's probably inimitable.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian silentvoice's avatar
    Nov 2004
    thanks for sharing. I've always been interested in the CA/T and its history. Thou I agree in many instances compelte tabula rasa might be un-necessary, i disagree with the statement about "Corbusier’s revenge on the city." and indeed planner's generally negative opinion of him.

    As an architect and a planning student, I think his intentions are frequently misunderstood by (esp) american planners (because corbusian-ish projects in the US invariably failed). This failure however, was brought about by the lack of "software" to complement the hardware architecture intentions, as well as blind copying by city planners. If social engineering and more contenxtual thought were given, the result would have been different. There are places that stand testament to this, esp in east and southeast asian cities.

    Also, some food for thought: If we didn't build "corbusian slabs", would the tiny and cramped town houses still be relevant? If there were no skyscrapers, what would the city have become? Nothing is permanent except change. To blame the legacy of the BRA is unfair, they did what they thought was best at the time, same as what we all are doingto our cities now. (in less ambitious ways.. to be frank, not that we don't want to - but we can't anymore. I think the big dig is probably the last citywide mega-project we'll ever see in our lifetime.)

  23. #23
          ablarc's avatar
    Nov 2003
    East Coast
    Quote Originally posted by silentvoice
    As an architect and a planning student, I think his intentions are frequently misunderstood by (esp) american planners (because corbusian-ish projects in the US invariably failed). This failure however, was brought about by the lack of "software" to complement the hardware architecture intentions, as well as blind copying by city planners. If social engineering and more contenxtual thought were given, the result would have been different. There are places that stand testament to this, esp in east and southeast asian cities.
    You're right that Ville Radieuse works better elsewhere than here, but not by much, and mostly because until recently we've had more severe social problems than the other places you mention.

  24. #24

    The Old West End and the Sterile Results

    I just stumbled onto this website while looking for pics of urban Boston before the Central Artery was put in. This subject is one of endless fascination to me, partly as a history nut and a political junkie. In this town, you sometimes can't have one without the other.

    If you look closely at the pics of the West End once all those streets were demolished, you'll see a building (one of the few left) with a wide porch and Corinthian columns. That's the only church to have survived the wrecking ball in the entire neighborhood - St. Joseph's. I got to know a great number of displaced West Enders as a parishioner there, and to hear their stories was heartbreaking. Some of those older folks never recovered. There were lucky ones who were able to move up to the North Slope of Beacon Hill, which itself always had a bad rep, but it wasn't the same.

    The problem with this endeavor was that it involved a huge amount of collusion and back-room shenanigans to make it happen. Eminent domain was invoked to assure no slowdowns in the name of 'progress'. And we will be doomed to watch history repeat itself with regard to the proposals for the new space opened up by the Big Dig. Honey Fitz may have gotten an expressway named after him, but his daughter Rose won't get her park. Boston politics has a lot of little Neros and they are running around playing 'keep-away' while Rome decays.

    If you walk through the Charles River Park Complex now the first thing you notice is the landscaping. It's beautifully done, always pleasing. But then you notice other things like the small signs admonishing you to keep off the grass, directional signs which take you deeper into the complex without a sense of visual reference and then the most glaring one: no children. No neighborhood. No schools. Perhaps it was coincidence, but wasn't this also around the time when many families started leaving for the burbs? The busing issue hadn't come to a head yet, but I'm sure it had begun to be discussed.

    The thing I heard over and over from those former West Enders was that the street - using the environment as the playground - was the thing that kept the neighborhood cohesive. That and being self-contained within one's neighborhood, like the North End. This is what makes the arrondisements of Paris function - everything you need for daily survival is within walking distance. It is rather medieval in some ways, but that's not a bad thing.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
    Mar 2004
    Where Valley Fever Lives
    Blog entries


    I guess its like they say....you don't know what you have until its gone....
    Great old pics and background

    A good read on this topic from a U. of Colorado at Denver Associate Professor of Planning and Design, Michael Holleran (great teacher also ):

    Boston's "Changeful Times"

    “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    - See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-ph....r7W02j3S.dpuf

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