Monday, September 13, 2010

Blog Post No. 2010-17: One Charles finally fills out Park Square

Over thirty years after the area's urban renewal plan was adopted

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The location: One Charles Street South, Boston, MA -- in the vicinity of Park Square/Park Plaza, a block from Boston Common and the Public Garden (Map link here).

The photos: Moving clockwise around the building: (1) view from Columbus Avenue/Park Plaza; (2) cornerstone (credit going to Handel Architects for the building's design); (3) , (4), & (5) the Charles Street South facade; (6) rounding the corner onto Stuart; (7) Stuart Street facade; and (8) the Eliot Street/Park Square alley between the building and the Motormart Garage.

Year of urban fabric restoration: 2004 (see cornerstore in Photo 2).

The Story: So, yes, RTUF Nation, we're back after the August hiatus. We did have a refreshingly hot and dry summer this year, so the opportunities to get out of town and enjoy the weather were more attractive and more often taken than in the recent past. I am especially thinking of last year's "Lost Summer" in which June was an utter wreck and July and August didn't do nearly enough to make up for it. If you add the increased running-around to the fact that the pace of business in the part of my life that pays the bills showed some signs of real life last month, you're left with precious little time to do blog postings.
In any event, we're back now with a prime example of urban fabric restoration in one of downtown Boston's most critical areas: Park Square/Park Plaza. Our subject this month is the 17-story combined retail/residential building known as One Charles, located in the block bounded by Charles Street South, Park Plaza, Stuart Street, and the Park Square/Eliot Street alley. As discussed in the blog entry from last year regarding the rear addition at the Four Seasons Hotel (Blog Post No. 2009-7, "The Back of the Four Seasons Hotel: Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference (The first in a series...)"), the broader area around One Charles, taking in the Heritage on the Garden building, the Four Seasons Hotel, and the State Transportation Building across Charles Street South (affectionately known as the "Big Brick Building"), has been redeveloped over a 30+ year span under the auspices of the Park Plaza Urban Renewal Plan.
That plan was just one of many urban renewal plans adopted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in the 1960s and 1970s across much of central Boston, stretching from as far west as the Fenway neighobrhood all the way to the waterfront. As is well known, urban renewal plans from that era in Boston and elsewhere in the U.S. were not without controversy and many, many lessons learned. That it took several decades to fill out the central redevelopment area is also emblematic of the long timeframes involved in urban redevelopment, even in an effort as successful overall the Park Plaza plan. It is helpful for everyone typically involved in major urban redevelopment efforts to bear that timeframe in mind: patience and an ability not to lose focus over the long haul are the keys to ultimate success. And One Charles is an excellent example of the positive results that are possible if those two ingredients are present. It fills its block out to the very edges, as required in such an urban setting. Even so, however, and despite the building's height, it does not feel imposing. To me, the pass-through continuation of Eliot Street at the ground level (you can see the entrance from Charles Street in Photo 3) and the way the building pays close attention to the Park Plaza/Charles Street intersection and the visual axis along Columbus Avenue are just a few of the details that allow the building to read as a careful insertion into the urban fabric rather than something that was helicoptered in and intended to obliterate everything below and ignore everything around.
RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: One Charles fits its site virtually perfectly.

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