Friday, November 6, 2009

Blog Post No. 2009-5: Charles River Plaza

The Evolution of an Urban Shopping Center

Address: Charles River Plaza, 175 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA (MAP)
Year(s) of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2003/2008

The Photos: Walking up Cambridge Street from Massachusetts General Hospital heading toward the Harrison Gray Otis House and Old West Church.

The Story: For a period starting in the 1960s up and through the early 2000s, Charles River Plaza behaved much like a garden-variety suburban strip center dropped into the heart of a major city. A supermarket, some smaller stores (including a pharmacy and bank), and a movie theater (closed in the early 1990s) were arranged in an L shape facing the corner of Cambridge Street and Blossom Street in Boston's West End (whose demolition to pave the way for urban renewal in the late 1950s/early 1960s is a story all its own) with below-grade and surface parking entered from Cambridge Street and a mid-rise hotel at the corner itself. The early 2000s redevelopment of the center, completed in 2003, added new building area on top of the former movie theater space to create a mid-rise office building and also infilled a new 5-story addition along the Cambridge Street frontage with office space above and retail stores below. All of the office space was taken by nearby Massachusetts General Hospital as clinical and medical office space for its doctors and staff. The surface parking level atop the garage structure remains and is generally hidden from the Cambridge Street frontage. So, instead of walking past a blank parking structure wall and street level garage roof parking, you walk by retail stores and a building that does a much better job of enclosing an important and historic street. As with the Saltonstall Building described in Post No. 2009-1 of this blog, the reconstruction of the streetscape along Cambridge Street that was completed in 2008 was long and drawn-out. But the end result is a very substantial improvement over what existed before and works well with the evolution of Charles River Plaza.

[Rev. November 18, 2009] RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: See below. The filled in portion is effectively a full block along this portion of Cambridge Street.

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