Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Downtown Crossing’s Silver Lining

Every cloud has a silver lining. When Historic Boston lost a major tenant from the Old Corner Bookstore retail space a few months ago, we were obviously very disappointed. The money that HBI earns from its properties supports the organization’s operations and projects. HBI is also committed to helping Downtown Crossing thrive in this otherwise lean economy. We’ve taken this less-than-ideal situation and turned into a positive outcome for us, for Downtown Crossing, for a few of our partners. With prospects for a new retail tenant few; HBI opened the Old Corner’s doors to the students of the North Bennet Street School for their annual student exhibit.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Genesis of a Revival: Suffolk University’s Modern Theater

Seven years ago, structural engineer John Wathne attached a video camera to his son’s toy remote truck and let ‘er rip across the second floor of the Modern Theater on Washington Street in Boston’s Theatre District. He wasn’t certain the floor would hold him. Wathne had been hired by Historic Boston to assess the structural integrity of a long abandoned building that had been open to the elements for decades and was now facing demolition due to public safety concerns. But how did this 1876 building, which contains Boston’s first purpose-built movie theater, get to this point? Let’s back up.

In 1876, architectural firm Levi Newcomb and Son designed the five story Ruskinian Gothic structure, known as the Dobson Building. The brownstone warehouse was home to a carpet showroom until 1913 when Boston philanthropist George R. White hired renowned theater architect, Clarence Blackall, to insert a theater into the first floor. Blackall designed a three story, 800 seat auditorium for the viewing of “high class photo plays” and adorned the exterior with a marble faced arched entry. The theater, which later became known as the Mayflower, showed movies into the early 1980s (though mostly in the adult category starting in the 1960s). As Boston’s Theater district fell into decline, so did the Mayflower. The building fell out of use and sat vacant for more than 20 years.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Congratulations, Chrystal!

Historic Boston congratulates board member Chrystal Kornegay for her recent selection to participate in the NeighborWorks "Achieving Excellence in Community Development" program in collaboration with Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Kornegay, who is the CEO of Urban Edge, a community development corporation (CDC) based in Boston's Jamaica Plain and Roxbury neighborhoods, will be one of 49 leaders from across the country that will participate in the program. For more information, see the article in Banker and Tradesman.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rising from the Ashes: Recycled Fire Houses around Boston

For obvious reasons, the Eustis Street Fire House is very special to Historic Boston. As the oldest extant fire house in the city of Boston and one of the few that was built to house human powered fire equipment, it is significant historically. It is the oldest remaining building in Roxbury's Dudley Square and together with the adjacent Eliot Burying Ground and nearby 1870 Owen Nawn Factory, form a historic district that anchors the northern section of the business district. With all it’s well-preserved architectural detail, we think it’s one of the most distinctive (and attractive!) buildings in the city.

So, we began to wonder about the fate of other historic fire houses in Boston and discovered many that have taken on new uses over the years. Clearly Boston is as dedicated to re-using its old fire houses as it was to building them. Once you start looking, for these fire houses, you realize that they are EVERYWHERE! We have profiled a few of these re-used fire houses below. Take a look and soon you too will be spotting fire houses everywhere you look!

Harvard Avenue, Allston

The village of Allston began to experience considerable growth in the 1870s and soon needed the necessary municipal infrastructure, such as a post office and a fire house. The first fire house, constructed of wood, was built in 1876. It was replaced by this more substantial yellow brick fire house in 1890, and was occupied by Chemical Engine Company 6. In 1914, the building’s front façade was altered when the fire department added a second apparatus door.

On April 5, 1916, Ladder Company 14 was reorganized at this firehouse. Ladder 14 had been in service at Fort Hill Square, Downtown from January 30, 1893 to April 23, 1915. Engine 41 and Ladder 14 remained at this firehouse until June 15, 1977 when the companies moved to a new firehouse at 460 Cambridge Street in the Union Square section of Allston. The firehouse at 16 Harvard Avenue was closed on that date.

The building was sold and converted into office space and retail uses on the first floor.