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.

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