Some Highlights of Preservation Month in Boston

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May is National Preservation Month and this year’s events in the Boston-area include quite a few walking tours and talks on the city’s built environment. The theme of this year’s city-wide event is “Buildings and Grounds” with a keynote speech on May 1st by Lyn Paget at the Taj Boston.

Here are some of the highlights:

2 | FRI | 6:30 to 8:00 PM | FILM
Jane Jacobs In Her Own Words
A film presenting three interviews with Jacobs followed by a discussion with the audience on how the film relates to the West End and the current exhibit at the West End Museum.

West End Museum, 150 Staniford St.
Free and open to the public.

3 | SAT | 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM | TOUR
Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the All Saints Ashmont Restoration Project

Visit Dorchester’s historic Peabody Square for a behind the scenes tour of the restoration project underway at All Saints Ashmont, the highly influential Gothic Revival church designed by noted architect Ralph Adams Cram.

3 | SAT | 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM | WALKING TOUR
Jane Jacobs in the West End: Could her ideas have changed the neighborhood?

To celebrate Jane’s Walk, the West End Museum will lead a tour focusing on Jane Jacob’s ideas and how they could have been implemented in Boston’s West End.

4 | SUN | 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM | WALKING TOUR
A Walk with Mr. Olmsted through the Back Bay Fens

Of course, what’s Preservation Month in the city of Boston without exploring the history of the city’s historic parks. Join Frederick Law Olmsted, as portrayed by Gerry Wright, and an Emerald Necklace docent as they lead a walk through the historic landscape of the Fens.

10 | SAT | 3:00 to 4:30 PM | WALKING TOUR
Modernist Urbanism: Paul Rudolph and Government Center

The New England Chapter of DOCOMOMO and Timothy M. Rohan from UMass Amherst, will lead an architectural walking tour explaining Paul Rudolph’s never fully completed Government Services Center.

11 | SUN | 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM | WALKING TOUR
Historic Gems of the Back Bay Fens

Another walking tour of Boston’s parks. This tour, which is repeated through the month of May, will explore Olmsted’s 19th-Century sanitary improvements as well as the many structures through the parks, including those designed by H.H. Richardson.

15 | THURS | 4:00 PM | WALKING TOUR
Christian Science Church Complex: In and Out of the City

A tour led by Elizabeth Stifel, the staff architect of the Boston Landmarks Commission, of the iconic (mostly) Brutalist complex.

To find out all the events coming up, click here. 

Photographs with a View of Her Own

For those of us with an interest in Boston’s Gilded Age, the Women’s Suffrage Movement or 19th century female photographers, the name Clover Adams rings a bell. Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams—Gilded Age socialite and portrait photographer, is currently the subject of a small but delightful exhibition at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  

A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams 1883-1885—traces the privileged life of “a fiercely intelligent Boston Brahmin.” Clover began experimenting with photography in the summer of 1883 while her husband Henry Adams—prominent historian, Harvard professor and novelist—was writing Esther, a novel loosely based on the making of Trinity Church in the City of Boston. Adams modeled the heroine of the novel after his wife Clover, whom he characterized in it as a “second rate amateur” painter.

“I’ve gone in for photography and find it very absorbing” wrote Clover on September 7 1883. “My wife does nothing except take photographs…” wrote Henry to Elizabeth Sherman Cameron on July 26 1883. Artistically dismissed by Henry, Clover continued to make compelling photographs that allowed for an intimate look at America’s Gilded Age. 

Clover’s photographs are marked by quotes or any information she recorded of the individual or place she photographed—often providing a glimpse into the personalities of highly respected figures. When photographed, Senator and future Supreme Court Justice Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar of Mississippi refused to have his photo taken until “he had rumpled [his hair] all up,” wrote Clover alongside his photograph on February 23 1884.

(Left) Henry Adams seated at desk in dark coat, writing, Photograph by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883 (Right)Umbrella tree at Smith's Point, Photograph by Marian Hooper Adams. Both Photographs courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society.

Clover’s ability to communicate the personality of her sitters is evident in the arrangement of her albums.  She paired a photograph of Henry Adams in his study room alongside a photograph of a lonely tree perched on a mountain top. One can arrive at numerous conclusions, but we can all assume that this arrangement speaks to the lonely life that Henry led.

Organized by the seasons of the year, the exhibition highlights Clover’s three albums and displays them in the context of letters, loose photographs and ephemera—including her personal sketchbook with a watercolor by John La Farge.

Having lived in the immediate surroundings of Trinity Church before moving to Washington, DC, Henry Adams became close friends with Phillips Brooks, Trinity’s then charismatic preacher; America’s premier architect Henry Hobson Richardson and artist John La Farge. Clover photographed Trinity Church and the people behind one of America’s greatest architectural treasures. These photographs, many of them iconic—also form part of this exhibition.

The photographs of Clover Adams are as heartbreaking as the life she led. On the morning of Sunday December 6, 1885 she wrote “if I had a single point of character, I would stand on that and grow back to life.” That same Sunday morning, Clover committed suicide by drinking potassium cyanide, the chemical she used to develop her own photographs. She was 42.

Henry Adams never spoke of her or mentions her in his masterpiece “The Education of Henry Adams,” but he honored Clover’s memory with the bronze seated statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens–placed over her grave at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC.  

 A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams 1883-1885 is accompanied by a biography of the same title by exhibition curator Natalie Dystra. The exhibition is on view until June 02, 2012.

Ashmont Hill: Exploring the Architecture and Beauty of a Boston Streetcar Suburb

Sam Bass Warner’s Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston (1870-1900) documents in great detail the process of growth in Boston, from the 2-mile radius city that it was once to the metropolis that it is today. Last
summer I explored the gardens of Highland Park, a small segment of the once streetcar suburb of Roxbury and felt this summer should be dedicated to Dorchester, one of the first streetcar suburbs of Boston.

The three (Roxbury, West Roxbury and Dorchester) streetcar suburbs discussed in Warner’s classic study were enormous in size compared to the old pedestrian city of 1850.

By 1900, the population of these suburbs (now neighborhoods of Boston) boomed to about 227,000 compared to about 60,000 in 1870. That’s an alarming growth rate! According to the building records Warner studied, between 1870 and 1900 22,500 houses went up: 12,000 single family houses, 6,000 two
family houses, 4,000 three-family houses, and about 500 larger structures (35).

Walking around these streetcar suburbs can be disorienting because “the shape of the land is buried under endless streets so filled with houses and so patched together that the observer cannot orient himself in a
landscape larger than a block or two (35).” The 22,500 houses built in these streetcar suburbs “were the product of separate decisions made by 9,000 individual builders” (37).

The houses we see today serve as examples of social class building patterns. Their style and size are testament of Boston’s rich immigration history. Some great examples of the Stick Style, Shingle Style,
Arts and Crafts Movement, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival among other types and styles can be found around Ashmont Hill in Dorchester.

For in depth information on Boston’s streetcar suburbs consult Sam Bass Warner’s book mentioned above. Douglass Shand-Tucci’s Ashmont: An Historical Guide to Peabody Square, Carruth’s Hill and Ashmont Hill and the Architecture of Edwin J. Lewis, Jr. and John A Fox complements Warner’s book very well.

Can We Save the Wheatley Elementary School in NOLA?

The Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. 2300 Dumaine St. New Orleans, LA Charles Colbert, architect. Frank Lotz Miller, photographer Idea: The Shaping Force. Photo Source: Flickr regional.modernism. Used under the Creative Commons License.

“If you tear down my school, a part of me dies with it,” were the words of Phyllis Montana-Leblanc before the Historic District Landmarks Commission of New Orleans at a hearing concerning the historic modern Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in New Orleans.

How could one not be emotionally affected upon reading these words? I am always affected upon learning that a historic building that is worth saving, is facing the wrecking ball.

The Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. 2300 Dumaine St. New Orleans,Frank Lotz Miller, photographer Idea: The Shaping Force. Photo Source: Flickr regional.modernism. LA Charles Colbert, architect;

I’ve known of the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School issue for some time now and felt compelled to dedicate a post on this Boston centric blog to shed some light on the issue of modern architecture in New Orleans and throughout the United States. The school was listed on the World Monuments Fund Watch in 2010 and is considered to be one of the top ten most significant Modern buildings in Louisiana.

Modernist buildings are in peril and before we realize, some of the best and most outstanding examples of modern architecture will be lost to demolition. This would just be detrimental to our culture and history.

I signed the petition. Will you JOIN ME?

31 in 31 of your Favorite Buildings in Boston: #30

Harrison Gray Otis House, 141 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02114

Charles Bulfinch, 1795-1796

I was inspired to highlight 31 buildings in Boston in 31 days after the architecture blog A Daily Dose of Architecture . Not only was I going to highlight 31 buildings, but 31 of Bostonian’s favorite buildings. This is the series.

About the Harrison Gray Otis House:

Designed by Charles Bulfinch for Harrison Gray Otis, a Massachusetts senator and third mayor of Boston, the first Harrison Gray Otis House is one of the finest and grandest Federalist houses in the city. The interior was restored to its original state using computer based paint analysis which revealed bright colors in the Adamesque tradition. The house is owned by Historic New England and is open to the public for viewing.

Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey

End of Summer Architectural Day Trip: The Architecture of the Piscataqua

The Architectural Heritage of the Piscataqua: Houses and Gardens of the Portsmouth District of Maine and New Hampshire by John Mead Howells is considered a classic book on the colonial architecture of the seacoast region of New Hampshire and southern Maine. No longer in print, the architectural monograph is replete with black and white exterior and interior photographs and floor plans of some of the most influential houses in American architecture. Two years ago, while browsing through the art and architecture section at the Brattle Bookshop in Boston, I came across a gorgeous used copy of The Architectural Heritage of the Piscataqua. I knew I would study the images in the book for years to come and had no other option but to buy it. During my New Hampshire vacation two weeks ago, my friend and I headed to Portsmouth (a familiar territory) on a day trip to explore the architectural heritage of the Piscataqua region. 

Located a stone throws away from the campus of the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Portsmouth offers an all-inclusive education in American colonial architecture. In fact, while a student at UNH, Portsmouth was my personal “on the field” classroom while I took a 17th and 18th century American Architecture course (we did not go on any fieldtrips considering Portsmouth is only about a ten minute drive from the UNH campus). This course not only introduced me to the colonial architecture of the East, South and Midwestern parts of the country, but also to the driving influences of pattern books and architectural treatises including Leon Battista Alberti’s De re aedificatoria (1452, Ten Books on Architecture) Sebastiano Serlio’s Il Settimo Libro Archittetura del Serglio (1575), Andrea Palladio’s  I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture)  to Inigo Jones, the English architect who fell in love with Palladio and gave us the first English translation of The Four Books of Architecture.  

The following are just some of the houses you’ll encounter in Portsmouth.

The Jones House, part of the Strawbery Banke Museum was built around 1790. The Strawbery Banke museum is Portsmouth most popular destination, an outdoor history museum containing more than 40 restored buildings spanding the 17th through the 19th century. For more information, visit http://www.strawberybanke.org

Goodwin mansion. Built around 1811, the Goodwin Mansion served as the home of civil war governor Ichabod Goodwin from 1832-1896. The house has a beautiful recreated Victorian garden. For more information, visit http://www.strawberybanke.org

The Governor John Langdon House was built around 1784 by the Governor himself. This house is considered to be one of the best examples of the Georgian style fully developed in the colonies and according to Howells “both interior and exterior show the mastery which our builders, joiners and carvers had achieved over their materials.” The house is owned by Historic New England and is open to the public for viewing. For more information visit http://www.historicnewengland.org

The MacPheadris-Warner House is considered to be one of the earliest extant brick urban mansions in the country. It was built in 1716-1718 for Archibald MacPheadris, a Scottish Captain. According to Howells’ The Architectural Heritage of the Piscataqua, the gambrel roof of the house is not original, instead there was a double peaked roofs running the entire length of the house with deep valleys between them. This beautiful example of an early Georgian house in New Hampshire is 2 ½ stories tall with symmetrically placed equal number of rooms on each side. The exterior door with its segmental pediment acknowledges one’s arrival both physically and symbolically, it builds up the anticipation for its lavish interior. As you can see from this picture, the segmental arch above the door is missing, the house has been under restoration for a number of years, proof that preservation is not only costly, but also a lengthy process as well. For more information visit,www.warnerhouse.org.

The Moffatt-Ladd House built around 1763 is a full three story house signifying the progression of wealth in the colonies. It is a refined Georgian house with a free standing Greek portico and a grand asymmetric plan. The house is owned and maintained by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of New Hampshire (NSCDA-NH) and has been open to the public since 1912. For more information visit http://www.moffattladd.org. Although I have photographed this house myself in the past, I cannot locate such images therefore I am borrowing this image from Birdgal5 on Flickr.

One of my favorite houses in Portsmouth is the Larkin-Rice House. Built in 1815 by Samuel Larkin, this gorgeous, understated and highly refined Federal style house has been attributed to both Benjamin Latrobe for its similarities to the Burd House in Philadelphia (sadly demolished) and to Charles Bulfinch, architect of the Massachusetts State Capitol. This image was taken by “Dan,” for more images of other historical places in New England, click on the image. I will update the image when I visit Portsmouth again in the future.

If you are ready to indulge in 17th and 18th century architecture in New England, Portsmouth is one of two distinct coastal destinations (the other being Salem, MA) to spend a weekend day trip exploring the fascinating architecture and gardens  of Colonial America. Grab your copy of The Architectural Heritage of the Piscataqua (it’s a big book!) or any other 17th and 18th century American architecture guidebook and head to Portsmouth. This seacoast town in New Hampshire has many historic house museums, great restaurants and shops all within walking distance from one another! It is the perfect day trip for all those architectural history geeks like myself or those interested in naval American history or historic gardens.  The houses discussed in this post are only a handful of the historic treasures waiting to be re-discovered by you.   

Have you gone to Portsmouth, if so, do you have a favorite house?

The Lantern Festival

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Forest Hills Cemetery was founded in 1848 as a rural picturesque cemetery. Every summer in July, the cemetery organizes a lantern festival inspired by eastern Asian Buddhist rituals. This year the weather was perfect for a night of honoring, remembering and celebrating the lives of those who have left this world. I love events like these because they bring people from all walks of life together in a beautiful setting.

For more information on Forest Hills Cemetery, click here.

For more information on the Forest Hills Educational Trust, click here.

 

The Pierce House: A 17th Century Boston Gem

This year, Historic New England (formerly known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities), celebrates its Centennial as the oldest preservation organization in the United States. To celebrate this landmark achievement, the organization opened the doors to all of their 36 historic properties for FREE this past Saturday.

Of course, who in their right mind would let this opportunity go by and not visit at least one of their properties? I visited the Pierce House in Dorchester, a First Period house and one of the last surviving examples of seventeenth-century architecture in the city of Boston.  The house was built in 1683 and was once part of a 20 acre farm in Dorchester which none of it remains today, but its rich history and relationship to the land have been recorded in its architecture.

Today, the house is primarily used for school groups, but it is open to the public on selected dates. If you’re in the neighborhood on July 22, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. and October 9, 1:00 – 4:00 p.m., consider taking a tour of the Pierce House and learn more about this important 17th Century gem in Boston.

Preserving Mount Auburn Cemetery

Preserving a place, building or object is no easy task. There are many parties taking part and all working towards the same goal: to leave the next generation a place or a building in which they can see their own history reflected upon its surfaces.

Last weekend I volunteered at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge assisting in deciphering monument inscriptions. For the last couple of years, the preservation team at Mount Auburn along with a dedicated group of volunteers has been surveying monuments and recording their inscriptions using various methods and techniques, which allow for a more accurate interpretation of these invaluable resources.

Techniques such as holding a mirror at an angle to reflect light on the inscriptions can help to better decipher the eroded and at times illegible names and phrases. I found the work extremely interesting and look forward to assisting in the preservation of Mount Auburn Cemetery for future generations to enjoy.

My School is a CVS

Boston University

No, I am not speaking for myself, or the fine university I attend here in Boston, but for the thousands of high school students in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the country whose historic, architecturally significant schools are being torn down and replaced with cookie cutter, strip mall like architecture constructed of cheap materials. One of my favorite things as a student has always been going on class fieldtrips. Visiting sites like Plimoth Plantation, Old Sturbridge Village and the Gilded Age mansions of Newport, Rhode Island sparked an early age interest in architectural history and preservation. I was fortunate to attend a beautiful historic school in Boston which has been adapted to meet the educational needs of the 21st century, in turn serving as a model for other historic schools across the state.

East Boston High School, the beautiful and historic school I attended

 As a professional working in preservation, the demolition of historic schools has posed a tremendous challenge for communities and tax payers all over the country. In Massachusetts, Tim Cahill, the State Treasurer and Chairman of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has been imposing upon every tax payer one of the most ludicrous ideas in the state’s fiscal history. Towns like Wellesley and Norwood have all jumped on Cahill’s bandwagon and voted to demolish their historic schools and construct new ones based on the Model School Plan.

 Mr. Cahill has made it his lifelong goal to “save” communities money by demolishing their historic schools. Of course, in the long run the costs of maintaining these schools will outweigh the benefits to communities further burdening the tax payer. According to the MSBA, the Model School Plan “effectively adapt[s] and re-use[s] the designs of successful, recently constructed high schools and incorporate[s] sustainable, “green” design elements when possible and will be flexible in educational programming spaces while encouraging community use.” Educational theories constantly change and what were once groundbreaking theories in one generation may be obsolete for the next. But really, is there a need to demolish a school simply because it may programmatically interfere with the needs of students in the 21st century?

Norwood High School, TO BE DEMOLISHED upon completion of the new high school

If you are wondering how the Model School Plan works, let us consider this scenario: The new and supposedly better school is constructed in the “old” school’s playing fields over a short period of time (usually summer). When the new school is completed, the “old” school is then demolished and either converted to surface parking lot or playing fields.

The Model School Plan has many faults, one of them is that it ignores the possibility of either finding a re-use for the historic school or incorporating new technology to improve the quality of education. Most likely, Mr. Cahill has never heard of the phrase “the greenest building is the one that is already built” coined by Carl Elefante of Quinn Evans Architects and Director of Sustainable Design and a Principal in the Washington, DC office. Preservationists, architects and those concerned with sustainability and architecture live and practice by this mantra and if Mr. Cahill has heard it before. Demolishing a “historic” school or an architecturally significant building to build a “green” one, is not being sustainable.

Auburn High School, DEMOLISHED 2006. I'm sorry, not only was the High School demolished, but any images of it have also seem to disappeared as well!

The success of the new Model School design is also debatable. While schools continue to fall one after the other, like a domino sculpture, studies on the effectiveness of the Model School Plan have yet to surface. Towns have been blindfolded and have voted to adopt Cahill’s absurd ideas without really knowing what they are getting themselves into. Do people really think that demolishing a building is done at no costs to the town, state, country or environment? Adopting the Model School Plan only spells many future problems for our towns and cities, not to mention the deep holes in our tax payer’s pockets.

The schools that have already been built in Massachusetts under the Model School Plan are NOT good models for other schools to follow. These schools are as architecturally uninspiring as a course in economics was to me back in college. The new buildings look like a CVS, Stop and Shop, Wal-Mart or a Target in contrast to the masterpieces that have been demolished or will be demolished in their place.

Wellesley High School, SOON TO BE DEMOLISHED

Shame on Wellesley for voting to demolish their International Style high school designed in 1938 by the internationally acclaimed firm of Perry Dean Shaw and Hepburn and shame on Norwood for voting to demolish their strikingly beautiful Colonial Revival school designed by the town’s leading architect. Massachusetts has already lost several architecturally significant schools including Auburn High School, but can we afford to lose one more?

The New Auburn High School, Uninspiring at its best!

Hanson-Whitman High School, another Model School based on a cookie cutter template! Source: Boston Globe

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.

The Silent City on a Hill: The Beauty of Mount Auburn Cemetery

mount auburn 4In its most primitive and pristine condition, nature has  influenced the course of art and architecture throughout history. The ancient Egyptians looked to nature and incorporated papyrus leaves as decorative elements in columns. William Morris, leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement, paid homage to nature through his use of vegetal motifs in wallpaper, book covers, furniture and even stained glass.

mount auburn

Fall at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Could you picture yourself going to a cemetery for a walk just like you take a walk in the park in search of inspiration? Although some of my friends find it bizarre that I would go to a cemetery to relax, one can learn many lessons in art, architecture, history and horticulture. Mount Auburn Cemetery, founded in 1831 became the first designed “garden” cemetery in the United States. Designated a National Historic Landmark for possessing significant historical and cultural value for all Americans, Mount Auburn became the “picturesque” role model for other 19th century cemeteries across the country. These cemeteries became thriving institutions for the cultivation of the arts, especially sculpture. Before there were museums, people would go to a cemetery to look at the sculpture and learn about the arts.

Internationally renowned for its outstanding examples of sculpture and architecture, some of the greatest artists of the 19th and 20th centuries including Martin Milmore, Augustus Saint Gaudens, Sarah Wyman Whitman and others, have all left their impression on Mount Auburn Cemetery.

mount auburn 3Mount Auburn is beautiful throughout the year and with all the programming that takes place, there is always an excuse to visit this inspiring place.  Whenever I need to stimulate my senses, I take a walk through the silent paths of Mount Auburn Cemetery, often stopping to sketch, meditate or simply listen to the many birds that make of the cemetery their home. To learn more about Mount Auburn Cemetery, you can take a self guided tour any day of the year or read Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery by Blanche M. G. Linden.

A Modernist Walking Tour of the MIT Campus

The Campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is rich in Modern architecture. Some of the most innovative and respected Modernist architects left their mark on this prestigious campus. The following is a walking tour of MIT’s Modernist buildings adapted from Robert Bell Rettig’s Guide to Cambridge Architecture: 10 Walking Tours.
Eastgate, 1965, Eduardo Catalano

Eastgate, 1965, Eduardo Catalano

100 Memorial Drive, 1949, Brown, De Mars, Kennedy, Koch, Rapson – Groundbreaking designed which takes advantage of the riverfront site.

100 Memorial Drive, 1949, Brown, De Mars, Kennedy, Koch, Rapson – Groundbreaking designed which takes advantage of the riverfront site.

Hayden Library, 1949, Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith; Anderson & Beckwith

Hayden Library, 1949, Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith; Anderson & Beckwith

Baker House, 1947, Alvar Aalto, Perry, Shaw & Hepburn – one of Massachusetts’ most famous buildings designed by Finnish architect Aalto, along with Perry, Shaw and Hepburn most famous for the restoration of Colonial Williamsburgh. The interior of this building feels incredibly amazing, very sensitive to the needs of those who occupy it.

Baker House, 1947, Alvar Aalto, Perry, Shaw & Hepburn – one of Massachusetts’ most famous buildings designed by Finnish architect Aalto, along with Perry, Shaw and Hepburn most famous for the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. The interior of this building feels incredibly amazing, very sensitive to the needs of those who occupy it.

Baker House
Baker House
Kresge Auditorium, 1953, Eero Saarinen – a shell roof supported on three points. Truly spectacular.
Kresge Auditorium, 1953, Eero Saarinen – a shell roof supported on three points. Truly spectacular.

 

M.I.T Chapel, 1954, Eero Saarinen – a brick cylinder set in a moat. So private and intimate that one undergoes a religious experience once inside the building. Bell tower by Theodore Roszak, bronze screen in the interior by Harry Bertoia. This building represents the unity of all the arts!
M.I.T Chapel, 1954, Eero Saarinen – a brick cylinder set in a moat. So private and intimate that one undergoes a religious experience once inside the building. Bell tower by Theodore Roszak, bronze screen in the interior by Harry Bertoia. This building represents the unity of all the arts!

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Julia Adams Stratton Building, 1963, Eduardo Catalano – “hovering planes of concrete”

Julia Adams Stratton Building, 1963, Eduardo Catalano – “hovering planes of concrete”

Metals Processing Laboratory, 1950, Perry, Shaw, Hepburn & Dean – brick, what Rettig calls “dignified, if unexciting structure.”

Metals Processing Laboratory, 1950, Perry, Shaw, Hepburn & Dean – brick, what Rettig calls “dignified, if unexciting structure.”

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Rockwell Cage, 1947, Anderson & Beckwith – Glass walled, clear span stylish building by the “pioneers of Modern architecture at MIT.” This building recalls Peter Behrens A.E.G. High Tension Factory in Berlin, Germany from 1910.

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West Garage, 1963, Marvin E. Goody; Carlton N. Goff

West Garage, 1963, Marvin E. Goody; Carlton N. Goff

Karl T. Compton Laboratories, 1955, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (New York)

Karl T. Compton Laboratories, 1955, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (New York)

East Garage, 1960, Marvin E. Goody; Carleton N. Goff – helical ramp. There are a few outstanding garages by Goody and Goff remaining around Boston. Look for them.

East Garage, 1960, Marvin E. Goody; Carleton N. Goff – helical ramp. There are a few outstanding garages by Goody and Goff remaining around Boston. Look for them.

Green Building, 1964, I.M. Pei, MIT’s first high rise structure with a sculpture by Alexander Calder.
Green Building, 1964, I.M. Pei, MIT’s first high rise structure with a sculpture by Alexander Calder.

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

H.H. Richardson: Celebrating an American Genius!

Trinity Church in Copley Square, 1872-1877

Trinity Church on Copley Square, (1872-1877)

This week marks the 171stbirthday of one of the greatest architects of all time: Henry Hobson Richardson.  Born on September 28, 1838 in Louisiana, H.H. Richardson gained international fame immediately following the completion of one of the most iconic buildings in the city of Boston; Trinity Church on Copley Square.

Considered one of the most important and visually compelling buildings in American architecture, Trinity Church gave birth to the style known today as the “Richardsonian Romanesque.” The Richardsonian Romanesque became the first style of American architecture to be copied throughout the United States, Canada and northern European countries. Characterized for its massive, almost fortress like appearance, thick rounded arches, heavy rustication, red clay tiles for the roof and for the most part the use of a central tower, the style dominated American architecture for the rest of the 19thcentury. Notable examples of the Richardsonian Romanesque in the area include the Cambridge Public Libraryand Cambridge City Hall and in Boston his influence is seen throughout the city, particularly in the Back Bay.

Richardson not only designed the buildings that we know of today, but also the furniture and the interior detailing of the woodwork that occupied them.  His influence as a furniture designer is traced in the current Greene and Greene exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which closes on October 18, 2009.

The Woburn Public Library (1876-1879)

The Woburn Public Library (1876-1879)

H.H. Richardson’s creative genius and influence on American architecture and design has been obscured through the years by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), considered to date the most powerful force in modern architecture in America. With the 175th anniversary of Richardson’s birth approaching in 2014 and the 130thanniversary of the Woburn Public Library marked in 2009, the legacy of H.H. Richardson will continue to live on for future generations of historians and architects alike who have witnessed the power of his designs on American culture.

Happy Birthday H.H. Richardson!

Many of Richardson’s buildings are open to the public including Trinity Church, Stonehurst in Waltham, the Converse Memorial Library and the Woburn Public Library among others. For more information on this American genius, consult the following books and monographs.

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Kenneth Breisch, Henry Hobson Richardson and the Small Public Library in America: A Study in Typology (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1997)

Margaret Henderson Floyd, Henry Hobson Richardson: A Genius for Architecture, (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1997)

James F. O’Gorman, Living Architecture:  A Biography of H. H. Richardson, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997)

James F. O’Gorman, ed. The Makers of Trinity Church in the City of Boston, (Amherst and Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts)

Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works (New York: Dover Publications, 1969)

Stonehurst (The Robert Treat Paine House, Waltham, MA 1883-1886)

Stonehurst (The Robert Treat Paine House, Waltham, MA 1883-1886)