Boston in the Seventies

ablarc

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BOSTON IN THE SEVENTIES

Not so long ago, and yet eons.


Federal Reserve.

With the miracle of digital processing you can now turn old slides into JPGs (even black-and-white ones). As I rummage through mine, I?ll post some from time to time.

MARLIAVE



I used to regale foreigners and Bostonians with walking tours. I loved taking them to hidden places; Boston used to have a lot. And the Marliave?s steps were first among them.

The steps always worked; they never failed to amaze. They drew unsolicited and rhapsodic little wows from the blas? world?s cosmopolites and globetrotters. When you first arrived at this enchanted spot, you found that after all --till now?maybe you hadn?t really seen it all.

?How could I have missed this?? puzzled many a lifelong Bostonian. Well, it?s tucked away.

Well truth is now, it?s also been trucked away --along with the Littlest Bar.

Will it be back? Will they repeal some provisions of the wheelchair code?

Will Boston ever recover its number one most atmospheric locale?



BATTERYMARCH



If you visit the BPL?s blueprint collection, you can find the drawings for this building. You?ll encounter about a dozen piffling little sheets at 18x24. Today it would take 300 sheets at 30x42.

Architect Kellogg: did he know how great he was? Did he crawl into a bottle?

This building has been converted to a hotel. The entrance has been moved to the rear and you now enter through the anus.

Eternal Batterymarch!
Babylonian vastness
Upper reaches lost in heaven?s door.
Where mist meets sky your bricks bleach out,
like Vinci?s backdrops, to atmospheric pallor
--the better anon to counterfeit sun?s rays
upon the lofty heights.
Skyward thrust. Futile to resist.



PREGNANT



No point trying to hide
This hulk will stalk you through the canyons
And hunt you down
Like Godzilla
From time to time its name may change
But it will always be the pregnant building



POST OFFICE



Proof positive that thirteen stories can actually soar.
These days they can?t, because we?ve lost the knack.

Small park in front contains a Peabody and Stearns fountain, an eagle on a pole, assorted bronze fauna for animal lovers and a dedication to its guardian Angell.



FEDERAL RESERVE MERIDIEN

Though Boston gained perhaps its nicest park in 1991, it simultaneously lost its finest square. That square could be found on the roof of the Post Office Garage, from which you could survey three walls of architectural gravitas and the forced perspective of Congress Street slip-sliding away towards City Hall.

You could only do it undisturbed on weekends, and you had to know it was there (few did), but it rewarded you with an eye level panorama of limestone business suits --and this bosom-level view of a lithe French decolletage in a shimmering gown of the same material grown gossamer:



Federal Reserve Bank when the picture was taken, this too has become a hotel. The insensitive Jung Brannen jammed a gauche glass mansard on her head. The outcome is Deneuve wearing a lampshade.


Grave, sober, yet breathtakingly pretty, like Jean Simmons.

Feminine Fed enjoyed the company of a butch and brawny companion. And then there was that obscene parking garage, like a public toilet:


The parking was interred and Boston?s best park sprouted on its roof, but Mr. Fed was replaced by a truly awful high-rise by the taste-challenged folks at Jung/Brannen.


Once, Mr. Fed had oompahed martial tunes with his sober neighbor across Milk Street, with whom he shared an interest in eagles.



WHEN SHOES WERE KING IN BOSTON?

?architects wove bronze allegories into their buildings? fabric:





DEAD KENNEDYS



Dead Filene?s.
Dead Downtown.

All the king?s horses and all the king?s men?



SACK SAVOY

Opera House
BF Keith


Now clean but still stagnant.



QUINCY MARKET UNIMPROVED

How it was when it sold meat:


Famous restaurant upstairs once served men in bloody aprons.



READ AND WHITE


Waiting for ?improvement.?




BOYLSTON STREET

It may have been a little ragged, but it was a place you could go and drink. If you concentrate on the sail/net, you can read this establishment?s name: the Half Shell. Their clam chowder was out-of-this-world thick ?even if it was mostly done with guar gum:





HEAPS, CRAGS, LAYERS AND GEOMETRY?

?on the medieval street grid:







SUAVE BEAUX-ARTS ELEGANCE


The understated limestone Appleton Building (1922), one of Boston?s finest in detail.




CAST CONCRETE

Precast structural expressionism, much appreciated in the 1960?s, now much hated:





CAST IRON

The same idea in a different material:





BETON BRUT


Didn?t think it could wow with slender elegance, like Fred Astaire, huh?

And the elegance extends all the way to the two-tone patent-leather pumps:


A careful and caring assembly of diverse aggregates: smooth, gravel and giant river pebbles. Obviously someone in Stahl?s office loved concrete, but it?s like loving Schoenberg. Does anyone still love Schoenberg?

Brut, but not Beton: bush-hammered limestone yields a similar effect and contrasts with the smoother keys and windowsills:



And yet more in a similar vein:


Another very good year. Agrippa fecit?

Or you can do your inscriptions in nice green bronze and polish up the limestone a little until folks call it marble:






A BOSTON TRAGEDY

To my mind, Boston?s greatest unnoticed tragedy of recent years was loss of this magnificent building:



A few years before it bit the dust, Mr. Philistine, the owner, replaced most of the oh-so-slender black mullions with the tawdry, standard glitter of raw aluminum. But when he got to that faceted corner, the octagons foiled him; Sweet?s Catalog failed to provide a standard piece with such geometry and he had to leave them alone. You can imagine the frameless butt-joined ground floor tempered glass before Liggett?s moved in. Josephine Baker in silk stockings.

These days a graceless lump by Stern occupies its footprint, and a grotesque bronze teddy bear may or may not loll witlessly outside. Unknowingly I mentioned my admiration for this building to Stern at the very time its replacement was on his drawing boards, but he failed to divulge that he was in the throes of replacing it. Embarassed, perhaps? The man knows Twenties elegance when he sees it.



TWENTIES ELEGANCE

Check out the octagonal corner and click to enlarge. Those bay windows seem full of architects? furniture:


Click to enlarge.

On the opposite corner, a lesser building (imo) recently got tarted up for a new lease on life, courtesy of steam cleaning and a bunch of pennants:






THE PRUDENTIAL CENTER IN 1929


Find the Mother Church and Copley Triangle. (Click to enlarge.)



BIG PLANS

Heeding Burnham?s dictum, Collins, Logue, Pei, Gropius and Kallmann proposed a collection of very large parts --not really bigger than the ones in the Financial District, but because these behemoths were surrounded by space of equal gigantism, the overall effect was stupendously out of scale with the pedestrian. You had to be Godzilla to appreciate it:



Most ambitious of all, was Rudolph?s superblock, like a tautly coiled spring. But since it never achieved release through its tower, it rapidly lapsed into ruin ?like the similarly corrugated and fortified bunker at Yale:



What everybody willfully ignored is here poignantly illustrated by the BRA?s own drawing of the area prior to its wholesale clearance: the web of tiny, teeming properties with their minuscule footprints defining miniature streets and mixed use:



The various hatch patterns in each lot?s outline represent BRA-recognized use categories (commercial, office, residential, etc.). Note that the jaggedy-shaped property on the North corner of Hanover and Union Streets had no fewer than five (5!) uses. Since the Blackstone Block survived this debacle, it?s not hatched in (outside the Urban Renewal Area, praise God). Where is the circle of Haymarket Square today?



DOWNTOWN

Courtesy of young Turk architects Arrowstreet, an already dying downtown was treated to this bizarre plexiglass awning treatment meant to make it competitive with weather-protected malls. Needless to say it didn?t work any more than renaming this perennially sad area ?Downtown Crossing?, and it was removed a decade or two later. Still etherized upon a table, will this patient ever revive?



Check out its belching and farting presence beside the outr? elegance of J.J. Fox?s fur emporium, another remnant of a bygone era (1929) dressed all in black, like Cary Grant in a tuxedo. (Or maybe Wallace Beery?)

At the same time that Downtown was being vandalized by Arrowstreet?s sophomoric gestures, some much better architects treated it to its finest building and best square:



Five Cents Savings Bank and Square by Kallmann and McKinnell. Structural expressionism again, combined with traditional building-line-holding streetscape. This building makes the sweetest possible music with its ancient neighbors, the Meeting House and Old Corner Bookstore (while Old City Hall plays obbligato in the background.

Also suave and also curved, the last remnant of once-elegant Jordan Marsh. Forties classicism: Bauhaus meets Beaux-Arts. Quite a satisfactory mix:



Bauhaus a little more pure (or is it DeStijl?):





MONUMENTS

South Station only partly amputated:


A curve, a piano nobile colossal-order colonnade, a rusticated basement street level, and an eagle triumphant.

Federal Reserve Bank, amputated in toto:


A curve, a piano nobile colossal-order colonnade, a rusticated basement street level, and an eagle triumphant. Almost Mussolini (dated from the Forties).



A failed modernist Square much like City Hall Plaza, but even worse: with berms. The inexplicably admired Hideo Sasaki was the perpetrator. The church is magnificent, and Hancock?s now legendary shadow clearly cast.


MCMXII. A piano nobile colossal-order colonnade, a rusticated basement street level, and an eagle absent.



RED BRICK


19th Century.


My favorite Boston Building, can?t you tell?



PEACE



In the background, one of Boston?s two cathedrals ?though it doesn?t even much look like a church. The inside conceals a surprise which is revealed when you look up at the ceiling:



Hare Krishna.
 

JimboJones

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This totally gave me a hard-on.

The Opera House always looks as if it's crying, to me.
 

el raval

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This is amazing. I'd love to see a then-and-now comparison.
A then-and-now comparison will make us all start drinking even more heavily than we already do.

Apart from PO Square an the redo of Copley Square, based on these photos the city has been on steady decline in its built form.
 

JimboJones

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Okay, let the questions begin.

The only location I can't figure out is the "Sager" building - is this Essex Street or thereabouts?

What a shame about the Federal Reserve building. This predates me, but I remember the parking garage next door, very well.

I had no idea about the building on Boylston, where 500 Boylston stands now. It looks to be a sister / twin to the one that remains on the other corner, at Boylston and Berkeley, no?

And, anyone notice how the new building tries to mimic the old with the windows?

These are wonderful photos.
 

Beton Brut

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Astonishing.

Many thanks.

I feel like a child again, looking at a half-remembered landscape.
 

ablarc

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The only location I can't figure out is the "Sager" building - is this Essex Street or thereabouts?
That one stumped me too. Since you don't recognize it, it must be gone. For some reason, I place this somewhere not too far from the Chadwick Lead (Iron?) Works. Could this have been replaced by International Place?

What a shame about the Federal Reserve building.
Yeah, that would have made a nice contribution to Post Office Square, the park.

I had no idea about the building on Boylston, where 500 Boylston stands now.
There was no one to defend it. It had arrived precisely at the age of a building's nadir of popularity: 40-60 years --like City Hall and Hurley now.

It looks to be a sister / twin to the one that remains on the other corner, at Boylston and Berkeley, no?
Obviously. It's a riff on the other one. They made a great pair: one a jazz age version of the other:

And, anyone notice how the new building tries to mimic the old with the windows?
 

Ron Newman

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Are you referring to the Colton building? Some people did want to save it, but not enough.

BACK BAY PANEL REJECTS PETITION FOR LANDMARK STATUS FOR 2D TIME IN 2 YEARS, 1910 COLTON BUILDING FOUND UNSUITABLE FOR BOARD'S SPECIAL PROTECTION

that's from 1987, so it was a bit older than you thought.

A well-organized Back Bay group called "Committee for a Better New England Life" tried to prevent, or at least modify, Philip Johnson's proposed project for the south side of Boylston between Berkeley and Clarendon. The original proposal would have had two side-by-side copies of 500 Boylston. The committee was unable to save the Colton but did force the developer to build something different at that corner.
 
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Boston02124

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Philip Johnson's proposed project for the south side of Boylston between Berkeley and Clarendon. The original proposal would have had two side-by-side copies of 500 Boylston
.
 

ablarc

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Are you referring to the Colton building?
I guess so. I never heard it named. (Trust you, though, to come up with that tidbit.;))

Some people did want to save it, but not enough.
Glad to hear I wasn't the only one with a high opinion of this building. For most architects and "experts" it didn't fit neatly into their lexicon of currently approved styles.

BACK BAY PANEL REJECTS PETITION FOR LANDMARK STATUS FOR 2D TIME IN 2 YEARS, 1910 COLTON BUILDING FOUND UNSUITABLE FOR BOARD'S SPECIAL PROTECTION
See? The experts...

it was a bit older than you thought.
That made its preservation even more urgent. Think how modern it must have struck people when it burst upon the scene in the Ragtime era! It makes this building an American outpost of European Art Nouveau. Crystalline. Think avant garde. Think Art.

The "Back Bay Panel" evidently didn't know where to pigeonhole it in a familiar file, or they were in somebody's pocket.

A well-organized Back Bay group called "Committee for a Better New England Life" tried to prevent, or at least modify, Philip Johnson's proposed project for the south side of Boylston between Berkeley and Clarendon. The original proposal would have had two side-by-side copies of 500 Boylston. The committee was unable to save the Colton but did force the developer to build something different at that corner.
A small victory, but better than none.
 

ablarc

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Philip Johnson's proposed project for the south side of Boylston between Berkeley and Clarendon. The original proposal would have had two side-by-side copies of 500 Boylston.
Frightening.
 

statler

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^^ True, but just think someday there will be people rallying to save 500 Boylston from the wrecking ball.


Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough. -Noah Cross
 

sidewalks

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"The city has been on a steady decline ever since"????

I take away a VERY different sentiment from that collection of pictures. In my opinion, the city of Boston was at its aesthetic nadir in the 1970s. The very worst of urban design and planning had set in. The streetscape didn't have the grace or dignity of earlier decades (hideous streetlamps, cheap paving materials), urban decay and neglect had worn down the city for well over a decade, and the preference for the automobile in urban design was at its apex. I far prefer the urban grit and street life of world war II era boston or the cleanly prosperity and highrises of today's Boston to the Boston of the 1970s.
 

aquaman

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"The city has been on a steady decline ever since"????

I take away a VERY different sentiment from that collection of pictures. In my opinion, the city of Boston was at its aesthetic nadir in the 1970s. The very worst of urban design and planning had set in. The streetscape didn't have the grace or dignity of earlier decades (hideous streetlamps, cheap paving materials), urban decay and neglect had worn down the city for well over a decade, and the preference for the automobile in urban design was at its apex. I far prefer the urban grit and street life of world war II era boston or the cleanly prosperity and highrises of today's Boston to the Boston of the 1970s.
I agree. I didn't grow up around Boston so I don't have an emotional attachment to the Boston of the 70's. Does that make me ignorant or more objective?

Based on photos, I think Boston is so much better now. I am sure there are plenty of small architectural gems that have been lost or clad-over, but the city back then was a mess and at its post-war low, IMO.
 

Lurker

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The pictures of Boylston remind me how it used to be fairly lively from Copley Square to Arlington Street until fire, abandonment, and mega block development killed much of the street life.

If you had pictures of the South End, St.Botolph, Symphony, Back Bay towards BU, East & West Fenway, border regions of Roxbury, people here might have had a stronger reactions against the era. The 1970s were a rapid era of decline, many of the hideous development disasters Boston has now are a result of the city desperately trying to stave off impending financial doom.
 

Ron Newman

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I don't recall fires on Boylston Street -- can you say more?

In the 1970s, the New England Life building was a solid office block with no retail frontage whatsoever. Surely its transformation into the 'Newbry' is an improvement, on both the Boylston and Newbury sides.

One very notable change from the 1970s to today is the disappearance of movie theatres. Today there are only two within the entire city limits of Boston. In the 1970s we had at least 25 -- and that's not even counting the porn and kung-fu cinemas.
 

sidewalks

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There is plenty of streetlife from Copley to Arlington. I don't recall the addresses of the building that you refer to as 'megablock' (500 Boylston comes to mind though I'm not sure that is correct) but I think those buildings do a serviceable job with groundfloor retail (SC&L, Aquascutum, Marshalls). Granted it could have been better, but those sidewalks are anything but dead. Without doubt, we have a few megablock highrises that don't add much to the city, but I would take Boston of 2008 as compared to Boston of 1975 every day of the week.
 

Lurker

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Fires burned out the blocks (ABC rugs, Tannery, offices) directly adjacent to the Berkley building down to where the Bigelow Watch company used to be (where Rattlesnake is now), if you walk down Providence Street you can look in the backs to see how badly damaged the buildings are. Men's Warehouse and the offices above are the only rebuilt occupants.

The fugly over-scaled postmodern big block that runs opposite of the Berkley building used to be a retail stretch similar to Newbury Street and some of the smaller footprint buildings near Copley Square and the Philip Johnson's fascist bunker for books.

While the Newbry modification to the NEML building is beneficial to street life, across the way Johnson's and Stern's work replaced a wider variety of smaller economically diverse stores. Although, I must say getting rid of the IBM building was a good idea, even if it was replaced with only a mediocre tower. I feel bad the old Hotel Brunswick was torn down in the first place for any of this dreck.

However that was also around the decade we lost the two Gothic buildings at the corner of Claredon and Boylston for 'modern', along with the JHT going up, so it was the trend. At least Trinity church wasn't 'improved' with a Paul Rudolph, Jung Brannen, or Gund modification. So many beautiful churches were burned, modified, or outright razed from the 1970s up until the 90s in this city.

"One very notable change from the 1970s to today is the disappearance of movie theatres. Today there are only two within the entire city limits of Boston. In the 1970s we had at least 25 -- and that's not even counting the porn and kung-fu cinemas."

Blame VHS, BetaMax, and cable TV.
 

JoeGallows

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That one stumped me too. Since you don't recognize it, it must be gone. For some reason, I place this somewhere not too far from the Chadwick Lead (Iron?) Works. Could this have been replaced by International Place?
Not a bad memory, ablarc! It actually is part of the Chadwick Leadworks on High Street, right across from IP. The "Sager" banner is covering the Chadwick name. The dead giveaway are the figures on the columns.
 

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