Monday, April 18, 2011

Blog Post No. 2011-7: The last major gap in the Washington Street frontage in Roslindale Square... filled in...

1 - Looking south along Wasington Street.

2 - Same view, landscape orientation.

3 - Along the north side of the building,
access to off-street parking in the rear.

4 - View along the back facade.

5 - The Washington Street facade.

6 - View of the Washington Street facade showing the library next door.

...and an architectural black box is opened to the general public for the first time ever.

Interior of the former Trolley Power Substation.

Location: 4244 Washington Street, Roslindale, MA.

Year of urban fabric restoration: 2011.

Prior fabric view: Click here to see how this site looked before.

The story: On this day, Patriots' Day 2011, we return to Roslindale Square to see a major tear repaired and a street wall anchored. The specific location this time is 4244 Washington Street, in the block between Cummins Highway and Corinth/Poplar streets. Since your faithful correspondent moved to Roslindale in 2000, this particular address had been home to a dilapidated, underused, and, most recently, completely abandoned filling station and garage/car storage. Even if actively occupied and operated, a gas station use in the standard configuration (pumps out front, building in the middle of the site, two curb-cuts) was wrong for this location. This is a location of great importance that sees a good deal of foot traffic throughout the day. It was in desperate need of a strong, street-facing and -filling building to provide a real sense of enclosure to Adams Park. And in this building, we clearly have it.

One might argue that the massing is a bit boxy and the architecture could be a bit more interesting. But I would urge any such critic to appreciate what this building replaces and the still-constrained economic times we are experiencing. Indeed, this building's development was only made possible by the Social Security Administration's decision to move out of its current location on the same street, just to the north of Cummins Highway, and take a long-term lease at this location. I have not seen or heard anything definitive on users for the balance of the space in the building, including the ground floor storefronts. But for the new CVS further up Washington and prior battles over chain drug stores in the square, I might be tempted to think this made a perfect location for a new CVS or Walgreens. The floorplate would be about the size they seem to require for urban locations. However it pans out, we'll have to see what comes of this new retail space and how it fits into the square's broad mix of going concerns. And we'll also have to see how the finish details look at the ground level. You might note that I took the photos this time well in advance of completion of the building. Though this is not typically the RTUF pattern, this building has been so long-awaited an improvement that, spurred on by the slowly advancing spring weather, I couldn't help myself.

The photos of the new building were taken on the same day as the photo of the interior of the former trolley power substation at the corner of Cummins Highway and Washington Street. I am afraid that my photo is pretty poor and doesn't come close to doing the space justice. Victoria Groves, over at Wicked Local, has a much better photo and a nice write-up of the tour event, which had to be the first time the general public has ever been invited into the space since it was built -- until the late 1960s, it was a working substation owned by the city's transit operators powering trolley lines in southwest Boston, and since then it has been vacant and shuttered. There have been a couple different recent false starts on redevelopment -- the MBTA put the space out to bid early in the 2000s and ended up in a dispute with their selected designee and the BRA's RFP process two years ago yielded proposals that it viewed as non-starters. For what it's worth, we here at RTUF think the minimal-improvements-necessary-to-make-it-useable-event-space approach is the only one that has legs at the moment. The interim designee team of Historic Boston, Inc., and Roslindale Village Main Streets could form an entity to lease the space on a relatively short term basis (say, 3 years, and assuming a cooperative BRA that allows the lease on a nominal basis) and that entity could seek low-cost, even volunteer assistance for the required first round of improvements and then rent it out for events of all kinds. There is tremendous upside potential here. But the key is to get the space back into some kind of productive, community-based use along the lines of what good friend Mike Lydon (as served up by Russ Preston over at Life + Urbanism) calls "Tactical Urbanism."

RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: The new building quite clearly fills this site's frontage far better than the former gas/service station building that was set back from the street, had two very wide curb-cuts and was a general drag on the vitality of this busy block.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blog Post No. 2011-6: Archstone Avenir starts the ball rolling on Causeway Street...

...and we have hope for more to come

1 - Information on the now-departed elevated Green Line.

Photo 2 - Looking down Haverhill Street, back toward
downtown (with Custom House Tower in background).

Photo 3 - Looking up Haverhill Street toward TD Garden.
Photo 4 - From Valenti Way, looking across the corner at Canal Street.
Photo 5 - Looking up Canal Street (Avenir on the right).

Photo 6 - Looking from Canal Street down Valenti Way.
Photo 7 - Up close and along the Canal Street facade.
Photo 8 - Main residential entrance on Canal Street.
Photo 9 - Looking east down Causeway Street toward the North End.
Photo 10 - Looking across Causeway Street to the parking lot and TD Garden.
Photo 11 - CVS/Pharmacy to be first occupant of ground floor retail space.
Photo 12 - Looking down Haverhill Street with the next development parcel across the street.

Location: 89 Canal Street, Boston, MA.

Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2009.

The Story: So, here we are on Causeway Street, at the top of the Bulfinch Triangle, the area between the West End and the North End of Boston that once comprised the tidal Mill Pond and was filled in the early 19th century according to a plan developed by Charles Bulfinch. This new residential/retail building, developed by Trinity Financial (of Carruth and Washington-Beech fame, see Blog Post Nos. 2010-20 and 2009-10) and now owned and operated by Archstone-Smith, is the first of a series of mixed-use buildings that will fill in the gap just north of the Greenway and create a strong street wall on the south side of Causeway Street: Simpson Housing will be developing Parcel 1 (directly across Haverhill Street and appearing likely to start construction this spring/summer) and Trinity Financial (there they are again) has just recently been designated as the developer to move forward with a long-stalled project on Parcels 2A/2B (to the south of Parcel 1).

Once again this is a massive improvement from the old elevated Central Artery that was bulldozed through the heart of downtown in the 1950s and was finally submerged over the course of the last decade through the Central Artery/Third Tunnel (widely dubbed the Big Dig), not to mention the submerging of the old elevated portion of the Green Line that went on around the same time (more on that below). Avenir's retail has been relatively slow to fill up -- the CVS/Pharmacy shown in Photo 11 is the first of the ground floor retail spaces to be occupied almost 2 years after the building saw its first residential tenants -- but that has had more to do with the overall economy than the design of the building or its location. As the recovery takes hold in earnest and more residents arrive with the foregoing two buildings as well as the redevelopment of Lovejoy Wharf to the northeast, the ground floor space should eventually be occupied and active street frontages established. It will still take some time, but it will come.

Now, to return to the Green Line: This north-south corridor is essentially where the Green Line used to emerge from the downtown tunnel that starts west of Kenmore Square. After Haymarket Station, the trolley rose out of the ground heading north, turned sharply at Causeway Street, and then bent again around what is now the O'Neill Federal Buidling and crossed the Charles River near the Museum of Science. That same basic routing has been maintained, but it is now entirely underground until emerging just before Science Park Station. Avenir sits on top of the reconfigured North Station platforms of the Green and Orange lines that resulted. The result is a sun-strewn Causeway Street after nearly a century of living in the shadows of the elevated train structure and the Central Artery itself.

Of course, the other relatively recent makeover that occurred here was in the demolition of the old North Station/Boston Garden, which fronted directly on Causeway Street, and its replacement with what is now named the "TD Garden" (having been initially known as the Fleet Center), which sits behind a surface parking lot. Having been in the old Boston Garden myself a few times, I will attest that it was a cramped and highly idiosyncratic arena with many partial and fully blocked views because of its supporting columns. That said, if you had a seat with a good sight line, you had much more than that: you had a phenomenal, up-close-on-the-action view of the game. I mean, you were on top of the players and the action like no place else. The new building is decent, but the character of the old place was essentially irreplaceable. Now, if only that parking lot that sits between the new garden and Causeway Street could be filled in with an appropriate front door for the arena and the train station below...

Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: