Monday, April 30, 2012

Blog Post No. 2012-07: Hayward Place takes its place on the High Spine...

And a long-empty hole in the urban fabric is finally restored

Photo 1: Looking south on Washington Street, with Modern, Opera House, and
Paramount theaters in view.

Photo 2: Looking across Washington Street from
the front of the Opera House, with foundation excavated.

Photo 3: Looking north along Washington Street,
Lafayette Place in the background.

Photo 4: The project advertising board, showing a rendering
of the competed building.

The Location: The block bounded by Hayward Place, Harrison Avenue, Avenue de Lafayette, and Washington Street, Boston, MA.

Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2013 (scheduled).

The Story: We're back on the High Spine, previously discussed here at this weblog some time ago in a post about The W Hotel over on Stuart Street. We've come around the Hinge Block at this point, and are looking at another long-vacant parcel a couple blocks up Washington Street - Hayward Place. Like the W Hotel's site, this was a surface parking lot for many years, even after the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which owned the property, put it out to bid and selected Millennium Partners as the redevelopers in the early part of the last decade. Millennium, having just completed the massive residential, hotel, and commercial complex across Washington Street that is now know as the Ritz-Carlton Towers, somewhat surprisingly proposed an office tower. That plan ultimately gave way to a residential condominium proposal before the downturn, and then finally last year to the residential rental project now under construction. You've got to be patient when you're thinking and talking about relatively large projects in central locations. They take time to come together, and Millennium is now onto an even bigger test further down the street at One Franklin, the spectacularly failed redevelopment of the former Filene's department store site that has left a yawning pit in the very heart of Downtown Crossing.

But let's don't turn our attention up the street too quickly. This is a very nice piece of work that Millennium has underway. The Boston Globe piece by Casey Ross from last fall ("Construction begins on another residential tower in downtown Boston") gives the statistics and a higher quality visual of the completed building. Washington Street is Boston's Broadway, the street that ran from the heart of the old town at the top of King Street out to the Neck of the colonial period, when the Shawmut Peninsula on which Boston was built narrowed down to a finger of land that was just wide enough for what was then "Orange Street" to be built atop it. From there, it ran through Roxbury toward points south. Despite this high level of symblic importance, the downtown section of Washington Street suffered along with all of urban America as broad economic and cultural shifts at the middle of the last century collectively pronounced it obsolete and irrelevant and then dangerous and suited only to the adult entertainment trade. But the good buildings and walkable street patterns that make up worthwhile urban fabric have a way of surviving - or maybe there were just so many good buildings and such a dense street pattern, and the tidal wave that was urban renewal and auto-oriented transportation planning and infrastructure didn't last as long as it seemed. Thankfully, the Paramount, the Opera House, and the Modern theaters, along with the old Boylston Market building (now the China Trade Center) and H.H. Richardson's Hayden Building, among others, all survived, albeit sometimes in dramatically altered forms, in this stretch of Washington Street. And the streets and blocks themselves were left largely intact. Thus, what has come after, including not only the Ritz-Carlton Towers but also Archstone's development as well as the Kensington Place building now under construction a couple blocks down, has something worthwhile and comprehensible to fit into.
The RTUF Sketch: It's really a whole city block in a symbolically important part of town.
Figure 1: The new building will provide desperately needed reciprocating
urban fabric on all 4 of its sides.