Anonymous Boston

Photo Courtesy of Joanna Marinova Jones

The last time I saw an exhibition that literally made me tremble was at the Institute of Contemporary Art during the Mark Bradford show (November 19, 2010 – March 13, 2011). This time around, it wasn’t Bradford that almost moved me to tears, but rather an exhibition at Fourth Wall Project on social justice and gun violence in Boston. Words could not even begin to describe the emotions I felt as I read every wall text, looked at every photograph and listened to the desperate pleas of families (a haunting audio piece was part of the show) in Anonymous Boston a multimedia exhibit that focused on life, rather than the devastating effects of gun violence.

Organized by media producer and human rights activist Joanna Marinova Jones, Anonymous Boston directly and indirectly brought to light many issues that have long been ignored by public officials, and people not directly affected by gun violence. Anonymous Boston aimed at empowering those families who have experienced devastating losses—by giving them a voice with which to tear down the derogatory comments left behind by anonymous bloggers on online news articles.

Newspaper clippings with stories on the victims made this exhibition not only interesting, but relevant on so many levels. The headlines are nothing short of sensational, they nurture the anonymous monsters that leave tactless comments that hurt victim’s families.

Fueled by the insensitive, inaccurate and superficial media coverage of violence in Boston, these anonymous bloggers further exacerbate the situation by relentlessly attacking not only grieving families, but an entire race. Their comments, some of which I have quoted above, are difficult to stomach.

It’s much easier to ignore the issue or point fingers and blame the victim’s family, rather than to take a stand to stop gun violence. It is also much easier to say “if it is not happening to me, then it’s not my problem— why should I care about all the violence that is destroying your community?”

Photo Courtesy of Joanna Marinova Jones

What happens in Boston is everyone’s responsibility. I could not help but feel mentally drained and spiritually devastated, but always remaining hopeful—as I was confronted with blatantly racist and ignorant comments left by these bloggers next to a victim’s photograph. It’s easy to hide behind a veil rather than to discuss the real underlying issues as to why these things are happening in our city.

To say that what happens in Roxbury, Dorchester or Mattapan isn’t my problem— is to be part of the problem, as a family member of one of the victims in Anonymous Boston was quoted saying.

Anonymous Boston communicated a powerful message and I sincerely hope that those who experienced it listened. Gun violence is the product of complex cultural issues. We as a culture are obsessed with guns and yet we wonder why there is so much senseless violence in this country. My only regret was not being able to experience this exhibition more than once, as I went on the second to last day before closing. 

All other uncredited images are by Anulfo Baez.

Review: Where I Live

Where I Live is an interactive sound installation featuring the voices of teens of The Urbano Project, a Boston based youth not-for profit arts organization. Under the guidance of Alison Kotin, the aim of this installation is to “promote civic engagement through works of art that address issues of our time.”

The installation does address pressing issues in our society. It addresses the crime and violence that are plaguing our streets and taking the lives of innocent citizens on a daily basis. In an indirect way, it also addresses the lack of attention paid by local officials to peripheral urban areas and the teens and adults that inhabit these.

Using motion tracking software and an overhead camera, the participant in this installation is confined to a square demarcated by four columns in the center of the gallery and black tape on the floor. It is within this space that we as participants begin to experience the effects that growing up in an urban environment have had on the teens behind Where I Live. More than anything, I believe the installation stresses the importance of arts education in lending a voice to those without political power or political awareness in our communities.

“We all need to support the arts” says Former U.S Attorney General Janet Reno in a report sponsored by the United States Department of Justice. “In doing so, we are telling America’s youth that we believe in them and value what they can be.[1]” Consistently throughout our educational history, arts education, in particular in public schools has been neglected and frowned upon.

Art classes offered in urban schools are seen as a waste of tax payers’ dollars, often leading to the partial or complete elimination of art programs in many of our nation’s schools. As a result of budget cuts, small community based youth arts organizations like The Urbano Project have taken on the role of bringing art education to inner city young adults, performing the work that schools, in my opinion, must do to better our society.

Studies sponsored by the United States Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, American for the Arts and other highly respected cultural policy and arts advocacy organizations, have demonstrated that community collaboration through the arts has had a more far-reaching effect on youth at risk than any other youth programs in the United States. These studies have consistently emphasized that participation in the arts by young people, in particular those living in poverty stricken inner city neighborhoods, brighten up communities and inspire and equip young people with the tools needed to make positive change happen in the world.

Organizations like The Urbano Project most often include participants who have never had any formal training in the arts and also come from families who have never been exposed to cultural institutions and related arts activities growing up. This is the case for most students who attend the Boston Public School systems as I did. Because most of these organizations are founded with the mission of serving inner city youth and other underserved populations in major cities, their impact extends far and beyond their participants, an impact that is often difficult to quantify for policy makers.

The gallery in which Where I Live is installed doubles as an office and reception space, detracting from the intensity and even more powerful impact that this interactive sound work could have had on participants who experience it.

Where I live is a perfect example where communities engage in the process of creating social change through art making. This installation demonstrates that kids are the heart and soul of organizations like The Urbano Project; they identify the problems in their communities and bond together to make change happen. This is exactly what Where I live has achieved. It has given a voice to teens “not heard or heeded by adult policymakers.”


[1] Pederson, Julie and Adriana de Kanter, et al. Safe and Smart: Making After School Hours Work for Kids, United States Department of Justice (December 1999). 1.

Review: In the Footprint

On Wednesday night I had the opportunity of seeing In the Footprint: The Battle over Atlantic Yards presented by The Civilians and Arts Emerson at the Paramount Theatre in Boston. The show is a combination of theatre, dance and music and “draws inspiration from interviews with the real life players in the story of a divided borough: residents both old and new, community activists, developers and politicos.”

I found the show inspiring and thought provoking, touching on race relations in America, community activism, environmental racism, political corruption among many other issues. “In the Footprint: The Battle over Atlantic Yards” will be performed until January 23rd at the Paramount. I highly reccommend it!

The Atlantic Yards development project in Brooklyn is one of the largest and most controversial projects in the country. It is very complex with many layers and players; this is a good site to learn more about it.

Opening night, @ArtsEmerson held a Twitter contest and my tweet appeared on the Paramount marquee. Check it out:

Review: Mark Bradford

Photo of Mark Bradford by Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy: theartnewspaper.com

When Nicholas Baume left his position as chief curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) in 2009 to join the Public Art Fund of New York City, the future of Boston’s contemporary art scene was questioned.  With Baume’s curatorial insight, the ICA organized the first major museum retrospective of artists Tara Donovan and Shepard Fairey, thereby breaking attendance records (and bringing in tons of dough) and shining a light on Boston’s contemporary art scene. Since Baume’s departure, the ICA has exhibited a retrospective of Roni Horn and Damian Ortega organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and Tate Modern in London respectively.  In its quest to continue breaking the blurred boundaries of the art world, the current exhibition at the ICA is the first museum survey of the Los Angeles born and based artist Mark Bradford.

Organized by The Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, Mark Bradford (November 19 – March 13, 2011) is one of the most powerful exhibitions I have seen in recent memory. Bradford is known for his large scale abstract paintings which resemble dense political and physical maps. These paintings are created out of carefully selected found materials which include, but not limited to, weathered billboard paper, permanent weave end paper, newsprint, carbon paper, and wrapping paper. In spite of their abstract qualities, Bradford’s works are filled with subject matter and intense social commentaries.

Experiencing the works in the exhibition, the phrase “silence is golden” constantly came to mind. The moment one is confronted with a work of art, in particular one created by a contemporary artist, “silence is golden” does not apply. But as I stood in front of Bradford’s larger than life paintings, I wanted to find words that would help me explain the emotions I was feeling.  I was struck speechless by the intensity of the materials, colors and images and texts in Bradford’s works.

Untitled (Shoe), 2003. Billboard paper, acrylic gel medium, and additional mixed media. 30 x 31 1/2 inches. The Speyer Family Collection. Photo: Bruce M. White.

Among the works that still resonate with me are Untitled (Shoe) 2003, Scorched Earth, 2006 and Black Venus, 2005. In Untitled (Shoe), Bradford has taken a billboard advertisement for Reebok sneakers and peeled away the image of the shoe leaving only its outline.  With this piece, Bradford is making a commentary on black identity and sneaker culture, “I feel black male masculinity, especially in the last 10 or 15 or 20 years has been narrowed based on a kind of popular culture. Popular culture has determined that [as] black males, we exist in about two or three different models, the sports figure, the gangster figure, or the reverend.” Mark Bradford employs stereotypes to break away stereotypes.

Scorched Earth, 2006. Billboard paper, photomechanical reproductions, acrylic gel medium, carbon paper, acrylic paint, bleach, and additional mixed media on canvas. 94 1/2 x 118 inches. Collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl. Photo: Bruce M. White

In Scorched Earth, Bradford uses a dramatic and unforgettable red and black palette to reference the moment in history when in 1921 35 city blocks in Tulsa, Oklahoma were burned and destroyed in the riots resulting from the tensions between blacks and whites. In Black Venus, Bradford “examines class-race, and gender based economies that structure urban society in the United States.”

“”I was always supported in the domestic realm, and I was always strong about standing up for myself, but there were still struggles in my life. Reading about the postmodern condition made me realize it was about independence, about doing your own thing. And that’s a state of mind. It’s not an art work or a book. It’s a state of mind. Fluidity, juxtapositions, cultural borrowing- they’ve all been going on for centuries. The only authenticity there is what I put together.” – Mark Bradford

Black Venus, 2005 Detail. Mixed media collage, 130 x 196 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Image taken from Art21’s documentary on Mark Bradford as shown on PBS.

Mark Bradford at the ICA has the potential of igniting a rich dialogue on the urban landscape and race relations in America (in particular Boston, since the exhibition is currently in the city). His grid-like paintings resemble physical, political and topographic maps, allowing the viewer to imagine the rivers, mountains, lakes, elevations, boundaries or the ideological differences that divide and unite people. I loved this exhibition! I loved it because it is powerful and unabashed in exposing the economies of urban centers and their impact on people of color living in America today. I loved it because Mark Bradford is one of the few contemporary artists of color dealing with these questions through abstract art.

Will you go and see the exhibition, contemplate Bradford’s works in silence (go on a Friday night) and start a dialogue of your own?

Roxbury: A Streetcar Suburb in Full Bloom

The Cochituate Standpipe, built in 1869

The more I explore Roxbury, the more I fall in love with it. Its colorful history is reflected in its rich architectural heritage, from the Georgian Shirley-Eustis House to the Heroic Modernism of Madison Park High School to the recently constructed Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the landscape of Roxbury could be read as a survey in New England architecture and planning. Roxbury, like Jamaica Plain and surrounding neighborhoods was once a streetcar suburb of Boston.

Cooper Community Garden with Tour Attendees

Sam Bass Warner, Jr. in Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 traces the development patterns of the two-mile radius city that was once Boston, to the suburban metropolis that we experience today. The development patterns, the arrangements of streets and buildings throughout Boston’s streetcar suburbs are a reflection of the nineteenth arrival of the street railway and people’s aspirations of home and land ownership (Sam Bass Warner, Jr. Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press and the M.I.T Press), 1962) 15).

In the nineteenth century, the idea of living surrounded by nature and open space drove the middle class to escape the crowded city and purchase land in places like Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and in other surrounding cities and towns like Brookline and Cambridge (14). On Saturday June 25th, I attended a tour co-sponsored by Discover Roxbury and Common Boston of the gardens of Highland Park, Roxbury. This opportunity allowed me to experience the urban gardens created by neighborhood residents and also pay close attention to development patterns within Highland Park (a theme I had explored in depth in a Boston Architecture course at Boston University).

Cooper Community Garden with Attendees

Highland Park is an incredibly culturally diverse neighborhood in Roxbury and its gardens embody the resilience, passion and collaborative nature of its residents. As one resident of Highland Park noted in her welcoming statement to the group, the gardens act as a forum in which real contact can be made and dialogues rich in multicultural, ethnic and racial points of view are nurtured and fostered.

Fostering and nurturing enriching dialogues is at the core of preserving the character and history of Highland Park. The gardens were all stunningly beautiful and the gardeners were highly enthusiastic and welcoming. Their passion and determination is not only reflected in their gardens, but in the fabric of the neighborhood as well. These gardens not only act as a forum in which dialogues rich in multiculturalism are exchanged, but are also avenues for educating community members and residents of Boston on pursuing a sustainable way of life.

If you would like to explore more of the gardens of Roxbury, Discover Roxbury will be leading a trolley tour of the Historic Moreland Street District and Mission Hill on July 10th from 10:00am-12:30pm. For ticket information click here.

Garden in Highland Park

 

Making a case for the ähts

As a student in the Boston Public School system, I felt deprived and envious of the things children in suburban schools enjoyed, especially in terms of the numerous fine arts classes.  As a student of Art History at Boston University and a professional working in the field of Historic Preservation, the career choices I have made speak to the detrimental effect the lack of exposure to the arts growing up have had on my life. My passion for breaking the boundaries and nurturing a dialog of multiculturalism in the arts and preservation has shaped me into a strong advocate for our cultural heritage.

As a personal and professional goal, I hope to aid in erasing the lines of demarcation that we has humans impose upon ourselves (and upon others). Whether physical, imaginary, social or even psychological, that theoretical red line suffocates the creative genius in all of us. Why must we restraint ourselves to doing only one thing, reaching out to a particular group of people, or working in a particular community and in the process excluding others? The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), founded in 1965 with the mission of bringing arts to all Americans has been pushing the boundaries that persist in the arts and culture.  

Not every citizen in America has access to the visual and performance arts and those that do most often possess a higher education and are politically savvy enough to make decisions that affect the needs of everyone in their community. Unfortunately, not everyone is this privileged and the lack of support for the NEA have also exposed its failures, in that marginalized people who live in the periphery of major urban centers or in cities where funding for the arts is lacking, have become battlegrounds for both critics  and supporters of the NEA. Because “a great country deserves great art,” I firmly believe that the NEA should not only remain an active organization, but its budget should not be cut. Many of the programs supported by the NEA are geared towards the education of every American citizen. These programs promote and foster a cultural exchange and understanding much needed in our society today and also inject millions of dollars into the local, state and national economies.

Artist for Humanity Building - South Boston

Fostering creativity in learning is at the top of the NEA’s mission. As a result of their initiatives in education, more and more children are being exposed to the arts in their schools and communities. At risk youth are nurtured in after school programs that promote confidence and self sufficiency through the arts. A local example of an organization supported by the NEA is the highly successful Artists for Humanity in South Boston, whose mission is to bridge the economic, racial and social divisions by providing underserved youth with the keys to self sufficiency through paid employment in the arts.

According to Safe and Smart: Making the After-School Hours Work for Kids, a research conducted by the U.S Department of Education shows that children who participate in after-school programs generally attain higher academic achievement, behave better in class, handle conflict more effectively and cooperate more with authority figures and with their peers than their counterparts who are not in after-school programs. The National Endowment for the Arts grants awards to state, federal and local non-profits who are making a difference in the life of many children through after school and summer programs in the arts.

In these historic times in our country, the role of the NEA matters today more than ever. The election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president has shed light on many issues of cultural identity, race and multiculturalism in the arts and in our society. A newly re-invigorated dialog on these issues has surfaced and I believe the NEA will be at the center of it in the following years.  In“A Ministry of Culture? Not in America,” published on February 23, 1995, Boston Globe journalist Jeff Jacoby calls for the abolition of the National Endowment for the Arts while ignoring the multicultural fabric of America. Jacoby argues that “the NEA isn’t the mainstay of art in America, the arts have flourished in America for 219 years, the NEA has existed for 30. Copley’s painting, Ive’s scores, Whitman’s poems, O’Neill’s plays, Melville’s novels, Saint Gaudens’ sculptures, Stieglitz photographs- the vast outpouring of art in the United States pre 1965 renders preposterous the notion that art would starve and shrivel without the NEA.”

Shaw Memorial, Boston Common - Augustus Saint Gaudens - Frame by Stanford White

What the author fails to mention is that photographer and champion of Modern Art Alfred Stieglitz grew up in a well to do family whose parents encouraged his artistic pursuits by giving him a monetary allowance, eliminating the need to earn a living by means other than photography. Jacoby also fails to mention that John Singleton Copley went on the Grand Tour, a pivotal moment in the life of some of the wealthiest citizens in our country or that Augustus Saint Gaudens was the son of a successful business owner who sent their son to study sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, one of the world’s most prestigious institutions of architecture and the fine arts.  The most penetrating fact that Jacoby fails to mention when calling for the abolition of the NEA is that the artists he praises as having made it on their own without the help of organizations like the NEA are all White, Anglo-Saxon males. This commentary is problematic because it fails in many ways to acknowledge the ever important multicultural point of view in the art world.

In times of economic difficulties, those who are affected the most tend to be the economically disadvantage people in our society. Can we really afford to further denigrate our society, our values, and our cultural heritage more than we have already done so by abolishing an organization that has broken and has yet to break many boundaries in exchanging dialogues rich in multiculturalism? I beg to differ.

Difficult economic times call for drastic measures and our cultural heritage is the first one to suffer. Recently, President Obama unveiled this year’s fiscal budget and in a surprising blow to those in the field of historic preservation and the arts, the Save America’s Treasures, the nation’s only bricks-and-mortar grant program has been proposed for elimination. The National Endowment for the Arts is in itself the best economic stimulus package there is. According to a recent study released by the National Governors Association titled Arts & the Economy: Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development states, the arts and culture-related industries, provide direct economic benefits to states and communities by creating jobs, attracting investments, generating tax revenues, further stimulating local economies through tourism and consumer purchases.

To further argue for the retention of the NEA, according to research by Americans for the Arts, nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion in economic activity every year, support 5.7 million jobs, and return nearly $30 billion in government revenue every year. Every $1 billion in spending by nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences results in almost 70,000 full time jobs. Without the NEA, many of these small nonprofit arts organizations would be unable to stimulate the economy and create jobs. Much debate is currently going on about the future of the NEA. Its budget is $160 million a year, this means that the government spends an outstanding .51 cents per capita (I hope you can sense my sarcasm here)!

Priority for the arts in America? What priority?

“The Finest in the State” The Architecture of Stickney and Austin, Part 1

Revere Beach Reservation

Revere Beach Bathhouse, Courtesy: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

In a review of Italian Gardens by Charles A. Platt, Landscape Architect Charles Eliot writes that “our public has still to learn that only by designing buildings and their surroundings as one harmonious composition can a happy result be secured in either the formal or the picturesque style [of landscape design].[1]” The review best captures and reflects the ideals of Charles Eliot and his interest in architecture enhancing and complementing the natural environment. Eliot believed that ordinary citizens were the guardians of natural scenery and that they should consider themselves true trustees of nature.[2] As a fierce advocate for open spaces for the enjoyment of everyone, Eliot believed that his work with a public commission should and would benefit all levels of society including ‘the common people’, ‘the ordinary people’, and the ‘crowded populations.’[3]  In 1893, as a result of his tremendous vision, the Metropolitan Park Commission was established, launching in local stardom the careers of two extraordinary architects, Frederick W. Stickney and William D. Austin.

The scholarship on the work of Stickney and Austin for the Metropolitan Park Commission is lacking. Their work in designing facilities for recreation in the metropolitan areas of Boston played a role in reflecting the ideals and social classes of the time. Through the examination of the possible driving influences behind the work of Stickney and Austin for Revere Beach Reservation, much light can be shed into the men behind the architecture and the people who sought leisure in these places.

The Metropolitan Park Commission originally consisted of 12 cities and 24 towns which comprised the metropolitan area of Boston.[4] In a letter written to Governor Russell in 1890, indicating a pressing need for open spaces and of the possibility of a metropolitan system of parks, Charles Eliot urged the governor to include remarks on metropolitan parks in his forthcoming address to the 1891 session of the General Court[5]. The eloquence and persuasiveness of Eliot led to the creation of the first metropolitan system of parks in America.[6]

As a landscape architect and consultant to the Commission, Eliot believed that one of the first goals of the Commission was to make the acquisition of ocean areas a priority.[7]Revere Beach, just north of Boston, became one of Eliot’s first successes with the Commission of which he commented “the present condition of this beach is a disgrace.”[8] The Metropolitan Park Commission not only did manage to protect and preserve the natural scenery of Boston, but also commission Stickney and Austin to design facilities which further enhanced and harmonized with the surroundings, reflecting the social classes of Boston for whom these public lands were set aside for.

For the architecture of Revere Beach, Eliot envisioned “a row of buildings which most eventually face the public beach throughout its whole length and should compelled to conform with exactness to this long and grand sweep.”[9]

Revere Beach Police Station, Stickney and Austin. Courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

Stickney and Austin designed eight bathing pavilions, a Bandstand, a Bathhouse, a Police Station, and the Superintendent’s House. The architecture of Revere Beach reflects the influence of the Italian Renaissance Revival which evokes “a Mediterranean flavor for this seaside reservation.”[10] One of the first buildings to be completed at Revere Beach was the Bathhouse which opened in time for the summer season.[11]  “The gigantic bathhouse to be put up for the accommodation of the bathers at Crescent Beach” soon became one of the grandest and most celebrated buildings on the reservation.[12] The first of three buildings planned by the commissioners for Revere Beach, it was constructed of brick with terracotta trim and terracotta tile roof topped with an elaborate, multistoried windowed cupola. It contained a central administration building, an office, a laundry, a steam plant, a toilet room, and a detention area. Unfortunately, the bathhouse was demolished in 1962 to make way for a more “modern” facility which was in turn demolished a few years later for a highway.

Superintendent's House, 1905, Revere Beach. Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

The Police Station at Revere Beach, completed in 1899, follows the Italian Renaissance Revival influence observed in the Bathhouse. Designed with an imposing 62-foot campanile bell tower used to survey the beach, the Station also featured an arcaded brick façade, a granite base course and molded terracotta tile caps for the roof.[13] The development of Revere Beach as a reservation for the people represents a change in America in the beginning of the 20th century which is reflected not only in the social class that frequented the Beach, but also in the buildings of Stickney and Austin. The result of “developing the public property for the advantage and comfort largely of the poorer classes” is in recorded in the large number of the working class who resorted to Revere Beach to enjoy the outdoors.[14]

The architecture of Stickney and Austin is best summarized in an article published in the Boston Daily Globe in 1895 in which the newspaper praises and refers to The Norman School Building in Lowell, designed by the firm as the “envy of all of Massachusetts.” The Globe writes that “Lowell will have one of the best equipped normal school buildings in the State.”[15] It is clear that the author was praising the school building as one of the finest in the state, even at its initial stages of design, but the artistic skills of the architects behind the building place Frederick Stickney and William Austin among the finest architects in the state of Massachusetts in the first part of the 20th century.

Both of these architects were graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and had been exposed to the works of Stanford White, Peabody and Stearns, Hartwell and Richardson, and Carrere and Hastings as well H.H. Richardson. As architects, Stickney and Austin not only managed to designed most of the structures for the Metropolitan Park Commission, but also for the City of Boston, shingle style houses in Maine and mansions for the wealthy in Long Island. They proved with their work for the Metropolitan Park Commission that they could design in a variety of architectural styles capturing the vision of Charles Eliot of designing buildings and their surroundings as one harmonious composition. Their architecture reflected the social classes of the time and at Revere Beach this is captured in the massing of the structures and the grounded “feeling” projected in the Police Station and Bathhouse. Revere Beach was the ultimate destination for the working and poor classes of Boston while Nahant Beach, another reservation acquired by the Commission became the destination of Boston’s upper class.

(Nahant Beach will be discussed in the next post)

This post was adapted from a research paper I wrote on the architecture of Stickney and Austin for the Metropolitan Park Commission. The seminar which inspired the topic was on the architecture and planning of Boston taught by Professor Keith Morgan at Boston University.


[1] Charles W. Eliot, Charles Eliot: Landscape Architect (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 549.

[2] Leah A. Schmidt, Images of America: Revere Beach (Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002), 11.

[3] Keith N. Morgan, Introduction to Charles Eliot: Landscape Architect, by Charles W. Eliot (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), xxxvi.

[4] Norman T. Newton, Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), 330.

[5] Ibid, 323.

[6] Ibid, 323.

[7] Leah A. Schmidt, Images of America: Revere Beach (Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002), 11.

 [8] Charles W. Eliot, Charles Eliot: Landscape Architect (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999)

 [9]Ibid, 535.

[10] Keith N. Morgan, “National Register of Historic Landmark Nomination Form Revere Beach Reservation,” (National Park Service and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, December 18, 2000), 19.

[11] Ibid., 19.

[12] “To Accommodate 1000,” Boston Daily Globe, March 12, 1897, 2.

[13] Leah A. Schmidt, Images of America: Revere Beach (Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002), 11.

[14] “Boston’s Park System,” Boston Daily Globe, June 4, 1895, 8.

 [15] “Finest in the State,” Boston Daily Globe, June 30, 1895, 24.

Multicultural Threads of Boston

Mission Hill Mural

Since its settlement around 1629-30, immigration has dramatically altered Boston’s built environment, shaping the city as we know it today. The impact of immigration on the development of architecture in the metropolitan region of Boston is reflected in the city’s distinct architectural fabric and planning patterns. The influence of immigration from abroad, migrations within the United States and the migration of populations across Boston from the initial settlement until the 21st century is not only reflected in the city’s unique development patterns, but also in the character of many of Boston’s neighborhoods. The aspirations and realities of the immigrants that arrived from abroad as well as those that migrated from other parts of the city and country are traced in the architecture of Boston.

Like the Irish who have migrated from one neighborhood of Boston to another, the African American Diaspora migrated from the Southern part of the country to the North where they settled on the north slope of Beacon Hill. The African American community succumbed to the economic pressures of Beacon Hill and relocated to the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, but not without leaving their imprint on the Hill. The African Meeting House which was built by free African American artists and the Abiel Smith School serve as testament to the powerful impact of cultures and immigration on the architecture of Metropolitan Boston.

Islamic Society and Cultural Center of Boston

The 20th century witnessed the fall and rise of neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan with the influx of immigration from other parts of Boston and the revitalization of Boston Main Streets. Although populated predominantly by African Americans, these areas of Boston have become increasingly culturally and economically diverse. As recent as 2008, the Islamic Society and Cultural Center of Boston opened its doors in Roxbury, standing as a symbol of Boston’s ethnically-diverse communities.

The Basilica of our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church)

Another example of an immigrant group who left their mark on Boston’s architectural heritage are the Germans who settled on Mission Hill in Roxbury.  Mission Hill gets it names from the architectural gem that sits on top of one of the hills, the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The church stands a testament of the impact of immigration in Boston.

Designed by two New York architects, William Schickel and Isaac Ditmars, “Mission Church” as it is commonly known, was built by the Redemptorist Fathers who were of a German Catholic order in 1874-1878. It is a handsome Romanesque Revival structure with Gothic elements on its exterior. The church is constructed of Roxbury Puddingstone, the official state rock of Massachusetts. Its interior is grand yet elegantly restrained, surrounding its users with a golden shimmer radiating from the octagonal cupola and the numerous stained glass windows.  

Mission Church - View looking West, Octagonal Lantern

Mission Church has been ‘rediscovered’ with the recent passing of Massachusetts’ Senator Edward M. Kennedy. On a tour of the church, sponsored by Discover Roxbury, a local non-profit organization, I learned that people have flocked from all over the country to experience its architectural grandeur and beauty.

Boston’s patterns of immigration have impacted the development of architecture and planning to the extent of evoking the aspirations and realities of those who have settled in the city and its metropolitan region. Neighborhoods like the South End and Jamaica Plain have witnessed an influx of new Americans coming from the Caribbean; in particular Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. These New Bostonians have already left their mark on the city’s built environment, most notably in Villa Victoria, a section of the South End whose architecture is a coherent compromise between American Modernism and Puerto Rican Vernacular.

A Building So Majestic…

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center

2008, Dr. Sami Angawi; Steffian Bradley Architects; Sasaki Associates. 100 Malcolm X Boulevard, Roxbury

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center

An iconic architectural landmark in Boston since its inception, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) incorporates traditional Boston architecture while adhering to the symbolism and traditions of Islamic design. Designed by a team of architects led by Dr. Sami Angawi, a former fellow of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and founder of the AMAR Center for International Architecture in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the ISBCC in Roxbury at a cost of $15.6 million and 15 years later remains an unfinished work.

Located in Roxbury, Boston’s largest predominantly Black neighborhood, the ISBCC is characterized by its massive proportions, towering over the campus of the adjacent Roxbury Community College and Roxbury Crossing T-Station. Its multi-cubic pyramid like composition, with the minaret at its western end and a dome to its east, visually and symbolically convey the journey every Muslim ideally goes on at least once in their lifetime to Mecca. Constructed of brick and sandstone, the mosque blends comfortably into its surroundings. A belt course borrowed from surrounding buildings emphasizes the mosque’s horizontality, while the minaret reaches for the heavens and makes a direct connection with the towers of The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church) which is seen at a distance from the mosque. The belt course, the intrados and the abutment of its pointed arches were meant to be adorned with colorful mosaic work and calligraphic inscriptions from the Koran; however, due to budgetary and legal constraints these details remain unfinished.

Considered one of the most controversial new buildings in Boston within the last 10 years, the officials in charge of building the ISBCC have been accused of sympathizing with Islamic extremists groups as well as obtaining funds from Al Qaida for its construction. In addition, the land which was valued at $401,187 was purchased from the Boston Redevelopment Authority for $175,000 with the requirements that ISBCC would establish a library accessible to the public and maintain two parks surrounding the Center. The sale of the land was a highly debated issue among several groups, and some community residents opposed the low price tag for the purpose of building a mosque. The controversies that surround the ISBCC have obscured the positive impact that the Center has brought to the community. It has revitalized a corner of Roxbury once in dire need of economic and cultural prosperity.

View looking east

View looking east

As it stands, the center can accommodate up to 5,000 users at one time and in addition to the library, it includes conference and office spaces, underground parking for 100 automobiles and facilities for washing and preparing the deceased for burial. What remains to be built is a school with 17 additional classrooms. The ISBCC has not only become an iconic building in the city, but also a symbol of Boston’s ethnically-diverse communities, a building so majestic that once completed will be considered the pride of Boston and New England.