Buildings Tell a Story

In Boston, there are two buildings that tell the greatest success story of all: The Achmuty “Dainty Dot” Building in Chinatown/Leather District and the former Shreve, Crump and Low Building in the Back Bay. The stories, aspirations, goals and dreams of those who commissioned, designed and built these structures, as well as the workers who experienced their interiors, are all reflected in the exquisite details of these buildings.

The Achmuty "Dainty Dot" Building

The Achmuty "Dainty Dot" Building (1889-1890)

The “Dainty Dot” Building takes it name from its last occupant, the Dainty Dot Hosiery Company, however throughout its history, it has been the home to several of Boston’s textile companies. The physical scars of the Achmuty “Dainty Dot” Building tell the story of Boston in the 1960’s and the construction of the Central Artery Tunnel, a massive urban infrastructure project which demolished two of its façades.  This handsome Romanesque Revival building tells the story of the rebuilding of Boston after the devastating fire of 1872, which destroyed a large section of downtown Boston. The “Dainty Dot” also tells the story of Winslow and Wetherell, one of the largest architectural firms of the time whose works reflected the influence of Henry Hobson Richardson, in particular the bold Romanesque arches and nature inspired architectural decoration. Last but not least, the building also tells the story those immigrants who worked long arduous hours in hopes of claiming a piece of the “American Dream”.

The "Dainty Dot" Building

The "Dainty Dot" Building

The “American Dream” also plays a role in the development of architecture in Boston, especially in the former Shreve, Crump and Low building in the Back Bay. The story of one of Boston’s most celebrated Art Deco buildings is told through its highly ornate façade, designed in 1929-1930 by William T. Aldrich, a classically trained architect at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology[1]. An outstanding example of Art Deco in Boston, its façade incorporates Art Deco and Neoclassical motifs in the form of half shells, flowers, leaves and knot designs. These details allude to the history of America’s oldest jewelry company. The building also tells the story of countless men and women who have created memories and special moments with the purchase of a piece of jewelry from this prestigious firm.

Shreve Crump & Low Building

Shreve Crump & Low Building

 

Another common thread  that these two buildings share is the threat of demolition, which will silence and erase their stories and rich contribution to Boston’s urban fabric. The Achmuty “Dainty Dot” Building and the former Shreve, Crump and Low Building are both slated for demolition in spite of the efforts of preservationists and citizens who fought a tireless battle to designate these two structures as Boston Landmarks. The petitions to designate such buildings as landmarks were denied but thanks to the worsening economy, further plans for demolition have been put on hold, allowing their stories to continue to be told.

Shreve Crump & Low Building - Detail of ornamentation

Shreve Crump & Low Building - Detail of ornamentation

Shreve Crump & Low - Iron work

Shreve Crump & Low - Iron work

 


[1] Robert B. MacKay, Long Island Country Houses and their Architects, 1860-1940 (New York: W.W. Norton and Company 1997) 48

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6 Comments

  1. Allen — As President of the Art Deco Society of Boston, I want to thank you for this article. As you say, the battle to save the Shreve, Crump and Low building is not over until the wrecking ball swings. We received letters Art Deco Societies and architectural historians from around the world — Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, and across the United States on behalf of saving this building. The Miami Design Preservation League, which has been responsible for the Art Deco district there wrote a very strong letter. The Boston Landmarks Commission would not allow these letters to be entered into the record as testimony, only as letters of support, even though some were written by architectural historians and experts with more than 20 years of experience in the Art Deco field. We might have prevailed in Superior Court with the lawsuit we undertook to reverse the BLC’s decision, but the developer managed to get the suit transferred to Land Court, where we did not stand a chance. Not only did we lose in Land Court, but the ruling was made in such a way as to say that private citizens do not have the right to appeal a case where the BLC votes against designation — a terrible precedent. As reported in the Herald : ” The judge ruled the residents had “no right of appeal” under state law because the commission had never made a “designation” or “determination” for the 330 Boylston St. building overlooking the Public Garden. “The court was very clear that the Landmarks Commission acts to protect things, and if we don’t, there’s nothing really to appeal,” said Bryan Glascock, director of the city’s Environment Department, who was speaking for the commission.” This comment is reflective of the imperious attitude of City Hall under this administration when it comes to matters of development versus preservation.

    Now, we are fighting to have the Dean Cornwell mural restored to the Art Deco 1947 New England Telephone and Telegraph building in Post Office Square. I hope you and all of your readers will follow and help support us in this effort.

    Tony Fusco, President, Art Deco Society of Boston

    Reply
  2. bill schultz

     /  November 16, 2009

    Hi,
    I enjoyed the articles and am sorry to learn that these buildings may/will be destroyed. I have a personal interest in the Shreve Crump and Low building as my grandfather, Lewis Ridman Schultz, Sr., was involved in the design and/or casting of the original bronze doors in the main entrance. Does anyone know anything about these doors or where I nay find a photograph of them?

    Sincerely,

    William H. Schultz

    Reply
    • Dear Bill,

      Thank you for your comment! I am not aware of any photograpghs out there of the bronze doors of the Shreve Building. It is always interesting to learn of people who have a personal connection to this building and in your case it is just as important as the architect who designed the building. Thanks for sharing your story.

      Reply
  3. Peggie Anteblian

     /  November 24, 2009

    It is great to see from the replies that there are people still interested in saving Boston’s landmarks, whether or not the Boston Landmarks Commissioin believes it deserves that designation. The Shreve, Crump & Low Building on Arlington and Boylston is important to so many people. I have, as well as several others, stood on the corner of Arlington and Boylston taking names of hundred who feel the building should have been landamarked and preserved for future generations. I have given champagne flutes to members of my family and friends that have the design from the cornice on their rim. Please keep writing and lets try to save it.

    Reply
  4. Thanks for your comment Peggie,

    The Shreve Building is quite the building and I am sure it means so many things for so many people! I sure hope that it remains where it is, but from what I hear, its days are counted!

    I am working on another piece dealing with the current Art Deco crisis in Boston… I just hope that the Shreve building remains as a testament to others of our culture and as proof of our ardent preservationists who advocate everyday on behalf of history!

    Thanks for reading!

    Reply
  1. Goodbye Dainty Dot…

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