Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blog Post No. 2010-15: The Liberty Tree Building

Ably Restored and Contributing Again








Location: The Liberty Tree Building, 630 Wasington Street (at Boylston/Essex Streets), Boston, MA

Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 1998

Photos: (1) Looking from the corner diagonally across Washington Street; (2) Same vantage point, but looking down the Essex Street facade of the building; (3) View of the upper stories; (4) the Liberty Tree plaque on the Washington Street facade of the building; (5) Longer view of the Washington Street facade; (6) Point of contact between the Liberty Tree Building and Archstone Boston Common building; and (7) Liberty Tree memorial across Washington Street from the building.

The Story: This is another building that Campbell/Vanderwarker covered in Cityscapes of Boston, chronicling its decline in the second half of the last century. When they wrote in 1992, the building was at perhaps its lowest ebb, with the upper stories and much of the ground floor boarded up, windows filled with cinder block, and the building highly deteriorated. The Combat Zone, which had dictated the building's use for the 20+ years before that point, was rapidly shrinking and the area was poised for a new wave of development seeking to capitalize on the very close proximity of Boston Common a block away and the Orange Line below. The restored Liberty Tree Building, tenanted by a relocated state Registry of Motor Vehicles office and the ubiquitous Dunkin' Donuts franchise, arrived almost simultaneously with the Millennium Partners development diagonally across Washington Street. That development, which produced a new multi-screen movie theater with its main entrance on Tremont Street facing the Common as well as additional high-end retail, a new Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and luxury condominiums, truly changed the face of this stretch of downtown Boston. Immediately on its heels came the building that is now Archstone Boston Common, which abuts the Liberty Tree Building in Photo 6. From my non-architect's perspective, the restoration to the Liberty Tree Building was ably done. The big RMV sign references in its style and location the old-style building facade signs that were a hallmark of Boston's commercial districts around the turn of the last century. There is a quiet dignity in the rhythm of the facade's windows and storefronts. The building looks better now than it has for at least a half century if not more.

As for the Liberty Tree itself, the Wikipedia treatment here hits the main points. The tree was around this location, on the southern end of the Town of Boston in the 1760s. Orange Street has now become Washington Street and the tree, chopped down by the British in 1775 when things really started heating up, is remembered in the facade plaque of the building as well as the memorial on the other side of Washington. One of the things I love about Boston is this kind of embedded history. There are just layers upon layers of meaning. To give just one example, I mentioned the Orange Line above. That subway line, in this area originally developed simply as the Washington Street subway, was given the name the Orange Line by the MBTA, our regional transit authority, in the early 1960s because the name of the street had originally been Orange Street. In closing:
Liberty 1776
Law and Order
Sons of Liberty 1766
Independence of Their Country 1776
RTUF Public Service Announcement: Between this post and last, we have now hit over 1,000 visits to the blog. Many thanks to everyone who has taken a look! - MJL

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