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

Making Boston Awesome One Community Garden at a Time

As an urban dweller, there are many things that make me happy to live in a city. One of those many things is being able to talk to people tending their plots in community gardens. According to the Boston Natural Areas Network, there are nearly 200 community and school gardens in the City of Boston and its surrounding towns. These gardens are cared for by more than 10,000 urbanites working towards making Boston a more sustainable, healthier and greener city.

Boston’s community gardens are thriving, but is evident from this sign that people are eager to garden more. The current demand for more community gardens is pushing city planning officials to re-consider zoning in Boston.

Empty, unattended land parcels are eye sores in many of the poorest neighborhoods of Boston.

These empty sites are uninspiring and promote among many other things, blight. In contrast, community gardens promote safe and healthy communities, they nurture good neighbor relationships, promote exercise, healthy eating habits, and many other benefits.

Bostonians are eager to make this city an even more awesome one, one community garden at a time. Are city planning officials listening to the people?

One on One: Exploring the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists

The best way to get to know a city or a neighborhood is by walking its streets. Earlier this summer, I set out to explore the area of Roxbury roughly bounded by Seaver Street, Walnut Avenue and Crawford Street. I headed down Walnut Avenue and walked around the grounds of Abbotsford (Oak Bend), one of the finest stone mansions in Boston.

Abbotsford, designed in 1872 by Alden Frink in the Gothic Revival style is home to a gem known as the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists.  The grand mansion has served many purposes in the past which include a disciplinary school for boys in the Boston Public School system. It was purchased in 1976 by the National Center of Afro-American Artists and is now the largest independent black cultural arts institution in New England. Its collection exceeds 4,000 works of art which include well known artists such as Charles White, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence as well as living contemporary black artists from around the world.

John Wilson’s Eternal Presence (1987) greets viewers upon entering the museum. Wilson drew inspiration from various cultures including Ancient Olmec and Buddhist works to represent the African Diasporas dispersed throughout the world (also represented in the museum’s collection). Once inside, visitors can expect to experience “Aspelta – A Nubian King’s Burial Chamber” one of the museum’s most notable and delightful exhibitions.

Apart from looking at the art currently on display, my experience at the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists also included a 45 minute long conversation with Ben Alleyne, a painter and sculptor who has been the caretaker of the mansion for more than twenty years. His monumental sculptures can be seen on the grounds of the museum.

For an off the beaten path museum experience in Boston, the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists is an excellent choice. The museum is easily accessible by public transportation. The MBTA Bus Routes #22 from Ashmont, Jackson Square or Ruggles Station and #29 from Jackson Square or Ruggles stop at Walnut Avenue. The museum is roughly a ten minute walk from the bus stop.

31 in 31 of your Favorite Buildings in Boston: #31 Grand Finale – with a Plea to Mayor Menino

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.

Grand Finale – These two buildings were written in by people who visited my blog during the open poll. Because people feel an emotional connection with these buildings, it is only natural that I include them in the 31 in 31 of your Favorite Buildings in Boston Series.

About these two buildings: 

Ferdinand Building, Dudley Square, Roxbury, MA 02119

I’ve blogged about this building in Dudley Square before, and if you like you can read my post here.  The Ferdinand Building obviously means the world to the people of Roxbury and it is no surprise to see it in this list. Anyone who has taken a bus out of or into Dudley Square, has witnessed the sad state of decay that this sector of Roxbury has been going through. The last time I blogged about the state of decay in Downtown Crossing, I managed to upset some people, and to this day, that post is one of the most viewed on The Evolving Critic.

Mayor Menino, can we do something about the Ferdinand Building and Dudley Square in general? Can we revitalize the area and inject capital the same way you’re planning on doing with Downtown Crossing? Broken promises, always lead to broken dreams and I do hope that if you plan on getting re-elected, look back to your “Moving Boston Forward” slogan and reconsider the degree to which you have applied it, in particular to many of Boston’s decaying neighborhoods.

Stuff Magazine featured the Ferdinand Building on the cover of their “One Night in Boston” edition. You think that would have been enough to get the ball rolling with Dudley Square?

Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115

Guy Lowell, 1907-1909, Additions: Hugh Stubbins and Associates, 1966-1970; The Architects Collaborative, 1976; I.M Pei, 1981, Foster & Partners with Childs Bertman Tseckares, 2008; Tenshin-En Japanese Garden: Kinsaku Nakane with Halvorson Design Group Partnership, 1988.

I think it’s safe to assume that people are referring to the main building of the Museum of Fine Arts, since I doubt that the Art of the Americas wing opening in a few weeks has already carved out a space among the most favorite or beloved buildings in Boston. I love the Museum of Fine Arts and do visit as much as I can, I’m excited for this new wing which promises to transform the way American art has been looked at for centuries.

Photo: Museum of Fine Arts

31 in 31 of Your Favorite Buildings in Boston: #15

First Church, Roxbury (John Eliot Square)


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  First Church in Roxbury:

To be honest with all of you, I know nothing about this building, but thanks to the latest volume of the Society of Architectural Historians Buildings of the United States Series: Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, I was able to read up on this beauty of a building.

The author of the entry on First Church considers this building to be an architecturally outstanding Federal-style church which was built according to church records by William Blaney, a carpenter and member of the Roxbury building committee. The church is based on one of Asher Benjamin’s pattern book designs.

First Church in Roxbury. Photo: Brian Corr

31 in 31 of Your Favorite Buildings in Boston: #4

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, 100 Malcolm X Boulevard, Roxbury, MA 02120

Dr. Sami Angawi; Steffian Bradley Architects; Sasaki Associates (traffic study), 2008

 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 Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center:

Given the tremendous media coverage of the “Ground Zero Mosque” in New York City, everyone from the money starving real estate tycoon of Donald Trump to my next door neighbor has formulated an opinion on this issue. Unfortunately, the mosque has drawn out the worst in Americans, it has exposed the insensitivity and religious intolerance that persists in the United States, but worst of all, it has targeted Islam as the enemy. Why can’t we move beyond this? Are we not better than this?

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury was no different than the project proposed for New York City in terms of negative media coverage. In spite of the opposition, the Islamic Center in Boston was able to revitalize a corner of Roxbury once used as a loitering field. The building has truly become a shining gem in the city. Every morning while on my way to work,  I go past the mosque and I’m reminded that hard work and perseverance always pays off in beautiful ways.

This building is not only significant for many people in Boston as you can see from this poll, but also to me since I wrote an architectural guidebook entry for a seminar I took on Boston Architecture at Boston University taught by the amazing, Professor Keith Morgan. I’ve visited the mosque on many occassions and spoke with those who use the building as well as those who work in it and I have nothing but praise for their hospitality and tremendous help. To read my entry, you can do so here.

On a side note, I should also mention that Discover Roxbury, a local not for profit organization caught on to this poll and posted a link to their Facebook profile, hence the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center making the 31 in 31 list.

View looking east

Primary Colors

The more I explore Boston the more I’m noticing patterns and trends in new architecture, such as the use of bold primary colors on the exterior of buildings. The example below is the Orchard Gardens Pilot School in Roxbury. Completed in 2003 by the Boston architects Todd Lee of TLCR Architecture and David Lee of Stull and Lee, the Orchard Gardens Pilot School was selected among the top 10 new buildings of the last decade by the Boston Herald for breaking away from the “puritanism” observed in much of the city’s architecture. I think it’s a stunning building and adds a punch of color to this area of Roxbury. 

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


Multicultural Threads of Boston

Mission Hill Mural

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

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

Islamic Society and Cultural Center of Boston

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

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

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

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

Mission Church - View looking West, Octagonal Lantern

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

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

A Building So Majestic…

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center

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

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center

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

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

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

View looking east

View looking east

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