Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blog Post No. 2009-1: The Saltonstall Building

Curing a Building's Ills, Outside and In

Location: 100 Cambridge Street, between Bowdoin and Somerset Streets, Boston, MA (Map LINK)

Photos: Views as you walk along the opposite side of Cambridge Street from Bowdoin Street to Somerset Street.

Year(s) of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2004/2008

The Story: Technically built outside of the Government Center Urban Renewal Area that razed Scollay Square to make way for the new Boston City Hall, the Saltonstall Building as originally designed and constructed was still of a piece with that redevelopment: a 22-story state office building in the Modernist style set well back from Cambridge, Bowdoin, and Somerset streets, and surrounded by a sterile public plaza on the back side of Beacon Hill. The Saltonstall occupies one half of a superblock with the One Ashburton Place office building just up Beacon Hill. Although it might make a better story (at least for this fledgling blog) if the restoration of the urban fabric on Cambridge Street and up Bowdoin Street had been undertaken for urban design purposes, its actual genesis was in indoor air quality concerns. Indeed, the building was long known as a "sick building," ultimately requiring massive overhaul and renovation by the early 2000s. The Saltonstall's landlord, the Commonwealth's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, turned to the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency to gut renovate and cure the building. In the process, MassDevelopment came up with an urban design that solved the surrounding public plaza's sterility by filling it in with low-rise 4-5 story buildings with retail and a new extended lobby at the ground level on the Cambridge Street frontage and residential entrances on the side streets. One can argue with the style of architecture and detailing. But the resulting redevelopment, completed in 2004 and significantly enhanced by a protracted but ultimately well-worth-it reconstruction of the fronting portion of Cambridge Street completed in 2008, is a decided and welcome improvement in the streetscape in this part of town.

[Added November 13, 2009]: RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: The below is a hand-sketch of the extension of the Saltonstall to meet its frontages (as shown by the hatching). The base map was created from the Boston Redevelopment Authority's helpful online Boston Atlas mapping function.


  1. Excellent debut! I'm looking forward to future postings!

    Is the Saltonstall fully leased?

  2. Thank you Jessica! Our first commenter here at RTUF ("Are-Tough"). The ground floor retail IS fully leased with a Rite-Aid, a day care provider, and a CitiBank branch. I believe the Commonwealth still occupies most if not all of the office space in the building.

  3. If you can establish an RSS feed, I'll subscribe and link to you occasionally. I like your concept.

  4. Thanks, Kaid. Much appreciated.

    In response to your query, I think I've now added RSS feed functionality at the top right. Let me know if it doesn't work. Thanks again.