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

H.H. Richardson and the Arts and Crafts Connection in New Hampshire

Ever since taking my first architectural history survey at the University of New Hampshire, I became fascinated with the Arts and Crafts Movement and the architecture of Henry Hobson Richardson.  I wrote my first paper ever, in any architectural history class on the libraries of H.H. Richardson and I am a docent at Trinity Church, one of Richardson’s masterpieces.  What’s the connection between the Arts and Crafts Movement, H.H. Richardson and New Hampshire, you might be wondering?

See, every summer I’ve made it a goal of mine to explore a historic house in the New England region and learn as much as I can from my visit. The past few summers, I’ve gone to Salem, MA, Newport, RI and most recently, New Canaan, CT to visit the Philip Johnson Glass House. This summer, I traveled to New Hampshire and visited Lucknow or “Castle in the Clouds,” a 16 room Arts and Crafts Mansion situated atop one of New Hampshire’s mountains overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee.

Located a short driving distance from Wolfeboro, one of America’s oldest resort towns, to experience the architecture of “Castle in the Clouds” visitors must take a trolley from the Carriage House to the peak of the mountain.  At the sight of the Carriage House, I immediately started recalling certain characteristics of Richardson’s architecture and began drawing connections between the architecture of the Carriage House and Richardson’s buildings, most notably the estate for Robert Treat Paine in Waltham, MA.

Lucknow, completed in 1913-14 was the home of Thomas Plant (1859-1941), a businessman with very strong connections to Boston.  There is no doubt in my mind that Plant was exposed to the architecture of Richardson, not only those buildings in Boston, but in the suburbs as well. Thomas Plant made his fortune in the shoe manufacturing industry in Massachusetts and retired a millionaire at age fifty-one. Mr. Plant was allegedly the architect of Lucknow (one of the tour guides mentioned that his brother was the architect and that Thomas Plant himself had control over the drawings, but Thomas took the title of architect. Oh the gossip!) and the Richardsonian influences could not have any less visible. From the bold massing and the harmonious integration of  the building with its surrounding landscape to the “eyelid or eyebrow” windows made famous by Richardson and later architects, Mr. Thomas Plant was without a doubt influenced by Richardson as well as the ideas behind the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

The Arts and Crafts Movement (1830-1870) springs out of the Gothic Revival in England by emphasizing a strict design morality(1) and rebelling against the often uninspiring machine made objects by placing emphasis on hand crafted ornamentation and details. Spearheaded by artists and theorists like William Morris and John Ruskin, who collectively with their art and writings became the driving force that integrated social and moral ideologies into the art and architecture that was produced in America beginning in Richardson’s  time. To decorate his mansion, Mr. Thomas Plant commissioned the best artists and craftsmen working in the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. The glasswork found in the mansion was commissioned to Louis Comfort Tiffany, lighting by the Edward F. Caldwell Company of New York and custom woodwork and furnishings by A.H Davenport/Irving and Casson of Boston, Richardson’s furniture maker.

The prestigious furniture makers and carvers at A.H. Davenport and Company(2) who later in 1916 merged with Irving and Casson executed most of Richardson’s furniture commissions including the Court of Appeals in Albany, New York, the Crane Library in Quincy, Massachusetts, the Billings Library in Burlington, Vermont and the Converse Library in Malden (3).  A.H Davenport became one of the largest and most prosperous furniture makers of the time after purchasing The Boston Furniture Company in 1880. Albert Henry Davenport himself had been the bookkeeper at Boston Furniture Company until 1866 (4). Known for their exquisite craftsmanship and attention to the most inconspicuous details, Davenport and Company went on to make furniture for the mansions of the wealthy residents of the Back Bay, the White House under President Roosevelt and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City (5). The woodwork and furnishings at Lucknow are impressive and harmonize beautifully with the exposed joints  of the architecture.

Richardson died prematurely at the age of 48 (died in 1886) and did not live to see the tremendous influence his architecture had in America, Canada and Northern European countries.  The breathtaking mansion of Lucknow or “Castle in the Clouds” is a testament to the power of Richardson’s architecture and the exquisite craftmanship of A.H. Davenport/Irving and Casson masters of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America.

H.H. Richardson's Stonehurst; The Robert Treat Paine Estate in Waltham, MA

I’ve conducted an extensive research on Richardson’s furniture which culminated in a talk at one of his most ornate buildings. Perhaps, I can write a small post on the furniture of H.H. Richardson for all of you to enjoy. As long as you all want me of course!


1 Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan, The Arts and Crafts Movement (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991) 14
2 Marian Page, Furniture Designed by Architects (New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1984) 68
3  Anne Farnam, “A.H. Davenport and Company, Boston Furniture Makers” Antiques 1055
4 Anne Farnam.  Antiques
5 Anne Farnam, “A.H. Davenport and Company, Boston Furniture Makers” Antiques 1048

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