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. 

Boston’s Oldest Remaining Fire House Gets a Facelift

The Eustis Street Firehouse in the Summer of 2010. Photo Credit: Anulfo Baez.

Boston’s oldest remaining fire house; the Eustis Street Fire House in Roxbury has been fully restored and is now the headquarters for Historic Boston Incorporated. Built in 1859, the 2 ½ story, brick Italianate Style building was designed by the Roxbury architect John Roulestone Hall. A wood addition was added to the rear in 1869.

The fire house remained vacant for more than 40 years, but thanks to the vision of Historic Boston Incorporated, a preservation organization in the city; the building was bought, restored and re-purposed as their headquarters. Not only has this important piece of Boston history been preserved, but it has also been breathing new life to Dudley Square. Let’s hope this is just the beginning in the revitalization efforts of the other “heart” of Boston.

Eustis Street Firehouse in 2011. Photo credit: Boston Fire Historical Society

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.

Summer 2011 – The Potential “Death” of Modernism

UPDATE: THE WHEATLEY SCHOOL WAS DEMOLISHED ON JUNE 17, 2011.

 

This past March I blogged about the Phyllis Wheatley School in New Orleans which is under the threat of demolition. I feel compelled to share a wonderful short documentary by Evan Mather which highlights the architectural and cultural significance of the Wheatley School, because I care enough about modern architecture to ignore the fact this is a Boston centric blog.

Another important piece of modern architecture under the threat of a possible demolition this summer is Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital for Women in Chicago, IL. If you did not know, there is a connection between Prentice Hospital in Chicago and the city of Boston, in that Goldberg had attended Harvard University and opened a branch of his design office here in 1964. Learn about the architect’s project here in Boston.

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?

Can Twitter Save this House?

Copyright © Preservation Massachusetts. Used under the Creative Commons License.

UPDATE: This house has been demolished. We fought a good battle, unfortunately, we lost it. Read more here:

 

In the last few weeks and days, we’ve witnessed the power of Twitter and other social media outlets in spreading democracy to many parts of the world. I didn’t really believe much in Twitter because I didn’t understand how it worked, but now that I do, I believe that Twitter and those who use it have the power to influence people and make change happen.

How cool would it be to use Twitter to not only promote our cultural heritage, but to also save it. Could social media be the next most effective tool in preservation advocacy? Have you ever heard of the power of ten? That is, I get ten friends to give ten dollars towards a cause. Each of those ten friends then asks ten of their friends to give ten dollars towards the same cause. The cycle continues. If you subscribe to my blog could you forward this post to ten of your friends? Who knows, maybe we’ll find someone who is interested in preserving our cultural heritage by halting the demolition of this house:

The house is a 1780 Federal-style house in Dudley, Massachusetts and was home of Abiel “Priest” Williams, who was a minister in Dudley for 32 years. The house is historically and architecturally significant and was once considered “one of the most magnificent dwellings in Federalist Dudley” according to the Dudley Historical Commission. The current owners are willing to sell the house for $1 to anyone willing to relocate it, but if no one buys it, then it will fall to the wrecking ball and that would be really sad. Who do you know that may help save this house? The house was listed in 2010 as one of the Most Endangered Historic Resources in the state of Massachusetts by the statewide preservation organization; Preservation Massachusetts. That says a lot about this resource.

More information here and here and here.

A New Year, A New Boston

Here’s to a new year, a new Boston!

Source: Emerson College

More than two decades in the making, the Paramount Theatre is breathing new life today thanks to dedicated organizations like the Boston Preservation Alliance, institutions like Emerson College, the  Boston Landmarks Commission and Bostonians whose vision aided in the revitalization of many of the theatres on Washington Street. Two weeks ago, I went on a tour of the Paramount Theatre organized by the Boston Preservation Alliance with the Boston Society of Architects and was thrilled to see Downtown Crossing finally reaping the benefits of historic preservation.

Sorry, these images don't do any justice to the recreated interior of the Paramount.

Perhaps the Paramount can serve as an example to the Filene’s Basement fiasco? Let’s hope that 2011 is the year that this stalled project resurrects from the ashes of Downtown Crossing.

Decaying Downtown Crossing

And what about Dudley Square? Many promises were broken in 2010, but maybe,  just maybe we’ll see a commitment from the city to finally give it the attention this area deserves.

The gaping hole in Dudley Square and the scars of the Ferdinand Building

Finally, I must commend the Boston Landmarks Commission for their outstanding work in completing the Christian Science Center Study Report. This was a tremendous, but extremely important undertaking which will give a voice to Modernism in Boston and beyond. Now the Boston Landmarks Commission will consider the petition for the  potential designation of the Christian Science Center Complex as a Boston Landmark on January 25, 2011. Let’s hope that this petition is approved!

Christian Science Complex, Nicholas Nixon, 1957. Source: Columbia College of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Photography

Looking forward to a year filled with many preservation successes and fewer losses!

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

31 in 31 of your Favorite Buildings in Boston: #25

The Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA  02108

Thomas Lamb, 1928

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 Opera House:

The Opera House is considered to be one of Boston’s grandest theaters and recently underwent a massive restoration which brought it back to its most glorious nights. The Theatre District in Boston has been the focus of massive revitalization efforts over the years, re-injecting life into this once dilapidated neighborhood of Boston. Most of the theatres are in the process of being restored to their original grandeur thanks in part to investors like Suffolk University and Emerson College.

Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey

Memories of Modernism

Christian Science Monitor Plaza and Fountain, photo taken by John Michael Garcia.

Looking back to my years growing up in the Dominican Republic, I can vividly recall the memories of the sights, sounds and smells that shaped me as a child.  As young as I was when I left my country to join my parents in the United States, the power of the places I experienced have molded me into a passionate advocate for the preservation of history and architecture.

My first few years living in this country were extremely difficult. Everything felt strange, from the language and culture to the weather and food.  However, with time, I managed not only to adapt to this new land, but also keep my childhood memories alive. Growing up in Boston allowed me to witness firsthand many changes that were taking place in the city, all leaving a powerful impression on me.

One of my first experiences interacting with architecture in the city occurred on a field trip as a student at the Hurley Elementary School in the South End.  On our way back to school from the Mapparium located inside the Mary Baker Eddy Library; founder of Christian Science, my classmates and I strolled around the iconic modernist space and jumped into the fountain to cool off from the scorching summer sun.

That was my introduction to Modernism. I have never been able to forget how emotionally intense and powerful this experience was.  One, it happened just a few months after leaving the little rural town I was born in and two, I had never seen an enormous pool nor a fountain where kids ran around and played in. The moment was magical, so magical and powerful I often see myself reflected in the lives of the kids who play in this space today.

According to Dolores Hayden in The Power of Place, “[memory] is the key to the power of historic places to help citizens define their public pasts: places trigger memories for insiders who have shared a common past, and at the same time places often can represent shared pasts to outsiders who might be interested in knowing about them in the present” (46). Places have the ability to evoke visual and social memory and the Christian Science Center Complex along with its reflection pool and fountain has not only formulated my understanding and appreciation for Modern architecture today, but was my first introduction to the power of modernism and the role it plays in our lives (of course, this statement I only realized a few years ago while studying art and architectural history in college).

Photo taken by John Michael Garcia

The Plaza is truly one of Boston’s grandest spaces and the emotional attachment I feel is also felt by many friends and colleagues. When hearing of the possible fate of the Plaza, a friend of mine also traveled down memory lane to the days when he was a child playing in the fountain.  I sensed the beginning of an emotional void as he perhaps contemplated on the future of this site, a future which everyday seems more uncertain to me and hundreds of people. Designating the plaza as a Boston Landmark will assure that memories are kept alive for many generations of Bostonians whose lives have been touched by this Complex.

Memories last a lifetime.  Not designating the plaza as a Boston Landmark is an opportunity to shatter the dreams and memories of those who have experience the magic of the reflection pool, the fountain and its buildings.

If you’re reading this and you have also been touched by the Christian Science Complex, I urge you to send a letter to the Boston Landmarks Commission advocating for the designation of the Complex as a Boston Landmark.

To learn more, you can view the study report here.

You can send your letter of support or comments by August 16th, 2010 to this address:

The Boston Landmarks Commission voted to designate the Christian Science Monitor Plaza as a Boston Landmark! Thank you!!!!

Trusting Modernism

20th century Modern buildings are not exactly what people think of when they think of New England, yet amidst its colonial architecture, the landscape of New England is dotted with spectacular architectural examples of regional Modernism. On Wednesday June 30, 2010, architects, preservationists, landscape and architectural historians, students and modernism enthusiasts convened at Paul Rudolph’s addition to the First Church in Boston’s Back Bay to engage in conversations focusing on Modernism in Greater Boston. Trust Modern, an initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Modernism + Recent Past Program, selected  the City of Boston as one of four cities to be part of the Modern Module Program aimed at increasing public support for and engaging in discussions focused on the study and protection of America’s modern architectural resources.

 According to Susan MacDonald of The Getty Conservation Institute and a panelist at the Boston Modern: The Spirit of Reinvention module “modernism tells the story of change, a story with the goal of creating a better world with equal access to healthcare and education.”  Selling the story of modernism has proven to be one of the biggest challenges facing preservationists and architectural historians today, a challenge that becomes more difficult as more and more Modern buildings and landscapes fall to the wrecking ball. Engaging in conversations like the one at the modern module is key to taking a proactive role in preserving modernism.

The city has taken a proactive step in the preservation of modern architecture. The Boston Landmarks Commission has been conducting an inventory of 20th century buildings and local preservation organizations have been leading tours of modern buildings in Downtown further introducing modernism to the general public.

Boston is home to some mighty and heroic modern buildings which speak to the legacy of notable architects like Walter Gropius, Eero Saarinen, Jose Luis Sert, Le Corbusier, Eleanor Raymond and many others who have all left their mark on this grand city. The opportunity for young people to become more involved in the preservation of modern architecture is wide open and ready to be explored in depth!  

The module on Boston’s modernist architecture proved to be intellectually stimulating thought provoking and inspiring. With over 300 attendees, my hope is that each one of us present on Wednesday night will in turn educate others on the value and significance of the city’s modern architectural resources before it’s too late to save our recent past.

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

 

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.

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?

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

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.

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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.

To Build a House

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The Gropius House

Last week I had an opportunity to tour the house Walter Gropius designed for himself in Lincoln, Massachusetts.  Fleeting from Nazi Germany, Gropius immigrated along with much of his personal belongings to Boston, a circumstance that eventually led him to become Professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and established the architectural firm The Architects Collaborative (TAC), which forever changed the story of Modern architecture in Boston.

Gropius became the founder and first director of the Bauhaus, one of the world’s most important and influential design schools established in 1919 in Weimar, Germany. The school takes its name from Bau meaning “to build” or “building” and haus meaning “house.” Having attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for a short period of time, I realized how much of an influence the Bauhaus had on other design schools in the world.

The curriculum at RISD and the Bauhaus share many similarities, including the “six month trial period” whereas those who were not “destined” to become true artists were weeded out of their respective program. Although I made it past the six month weeding out period and continued on to the winter session to take classes in film studies, I left RISD for personal reasons, but enough about me, and let’s learn more about the Bauhaus and the Gropius House in Lincoln.

Teachers at the Bauhaus consisted of masters like Wassily Kandinsky, Joseph Albers, Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, Marianne Brandt and Marcel Breuer among others. Its principles were drawn from the Arts and Crafts Movement, but whereas William Morris and his circle rejected the machine, the Bauhaus embraced it in order to provide everyone in society with access to art and good, affordable design. There is no such thing as a “Bauhaus style,” each and every one of the masters at the school encouraged the experimentation in all the arts.

The influence of the Bauhaus still resonates with us today. The furniture we see for sale in stores like Target, Walmart, Ikea and others have all been influenced by the school. The Gropiuses owned an important collection of furniture designed by Marcel Breuer, Saarinen, Aalto, Marianne Brandt and others. Some of the artwork was created by artists like Spanish Surrealist Joan Miro, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy (whom I’ve fallen in love with), Henry Moore and Ati Gropius Johansen; Walter’s daughter.

 This semester in my seminar on Boston Architecture, I have been learning that Massachusetts was a hot bed for Modernism. This was somewhat surprising to me because when I think of Modernism I think of New York City, California or the Midwest.  The Gropius House speaks to the eloquent vocabulary of modernism created in the New England region.  Lincoln is home to a few outstanding examples of Modernist houses as are the surrounding towns of Lexington, Arlington, Belmont and Cambridge. Sadly, these modernist treasures are threatened by demolition on a daily basis and as recent as last year, we lost an excellent modern house by Eleanor Raymond, one of Boston’s leading modern architects.

The house is owned by Historic New England  and is open to the public for tours.

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.

Moving Boston Backward…

Daniel H. Burnham's Filene's Building

Daniel H. Burnham's Filene's Building

If you live in Boston, you’re witnessing history unfold right before your eyes. This November, Bostonians head to the polls to elect a new City Mayor. For the last 16 years, Boston has had but one Mayor, Thomas Menino, who is running for re-election with the slogan “Moving Boston Forward.”

Mayor Menino, correct me if I am wrong, but shouldn’t your slogan read “Moving Boston Backward”?

The Mayor’s plans to revitalize the city have gone bust! Development projects here and there have stopped completely and the demolition of buildings continue to move forward. “Urban Removal” anyone?

Downtown Crossing, known as the “heart of Boston” has seen its share of a poorly implemented plan to revitalize the area. Daniel Burnham’s only building in Boston, the Filene’s Building has been at the center of this plan.  The heart of Boston has stopped beating to the rhythms of a vibrant city shopping life with the recent demolition of the addition to Burnham’s masterpiece. This has been the declivity of Downtown Crossing. Storefronts after storefronts remain vacant, announcing to the world the end of a once thriving shopping district.

The streets in Downtown Crossing are flooded daily with high school dropouts or soon to be dropouts yelling obscenities at each other, showing off their latest Air Jordan and Nike sneakers as if to pretend they can afford to buy them.  Even tourists are staying away from Downtown Crossing.

Downtown Crossing is decaying.  Around the corner from this disaster, a new high rise, very expensive condominium tower was recently completed, but from what I hear, sales are down. Who knew? Who wants to live in an area where there isn’t much happening especially in this gloomy economy?!

To the future Mayor of Boston: Please move Boston forward, eradicate the word demolition off your agenda, and stop demolishing  buildings to construct new ones for expensive condominiums that the middle class cannot even afford.  Stop creating more blight, Boston does not need any more of it!

Decaying Downtown Crossing

Decaying Downtown Crossing

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