Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's really way past time to reduce the amount of space allocated to cars on Franklin Street near Downtown Crossing...

...a.k.a. the long-awaited Installment No. 2 in your humble weblog's series on Targeting New Urban Fabric Restoration

The Photos:

View 1: Looking down Franklin St. from Otis St. toward P.O. Square.

View 2: Looking up Franklin St. toward Washington St. and the Filene's site construction.

View 3: Looking back down Franklin St. from Hawley Pl.
The Location: Franklin Street, near Downtown Crossing, Boston, MA.

The Back Story: We'll get to the main course soon enough, but for starters the building on the right in View 2 and just to the left in View 3 was featured in Cityscapes of Boston as an example of shifting tastes in architectural style. It seems this buidling, built in the early 1870s in the post-great fire period, was covered in the late 1950s with Shea Stadium-style multicolored panels by its then-owner, First Federal Savings Bank, as a symbol of hip modernism. Thirty years later, that era's hip modernism was rejected when the successor financial institution, Northeast Savings, scraped it back off and restored the facade. So, a nice story there and a happy ending.

But this is downtown Boston, friends, and there is almost always more than one layer to consider. As Robert Campbell noted in his Cityscapes write-up, this is also where Charles Bulfinch established the "Tontine Crescent," a legendary grouping of Federal rowhouses that included a widened Franklin Street and a small enclosed garden with a "classical urn." Constructed in the 1790s, Robert reported that this assemblage was demolished in 1858 and the classical urn moved to Bulfinch's grave in Mount Auburn Cemetery. The following image, taken from wikipedia, doesn't seem to have the detail required to do the project justice -- per Robert, inspired, as it was, by "the crescents of Bath, England, [it] must have been one of the great urban groups in Boston's history."

View 4: The Tontine Crescent pre-demolition.
All that's left of this historic development and its small green space today are the cylindrical planters and forlorn modernist sculpture in View 1. It ain't pretty.

The Bottom Line: And what's even less pretty is the way there is just way too much space devoted to the automobile and way too little space devoted to us humans on foot, particularly here in the pedestrian heart of Boston. Maybe part of the problem is that this has long been the transition space between the Financial District centered around Post Office Square and the historic commerical core at Downtown Crossing. But that's all in flux now. Both districts are changing, especially Downtown Crossing, which has been steadily adding housing units and will experience another significant jump in the number of residents when the residential high-rise on the non-historic half of the Filene's site is completed and occupied sometime in the next couple years.

Franklin Street at this location in its present state is simply not pulling its weight. There's really hardly any automobile traffic, certainly not enough to remotely justify all the pavement, running, as it does, into an effective dead-end for everyone but taxis and buses at Hawley Street. So, here's your proposal -- give this street a road diet, reduce it by at least a lane of traffic and give that lane (I vote for the right-hand side of the street in View 2) to a much wider sidewalk that would allow for sidewalk dining at the adjacent restaurants. Franklin Street lies in Boston's pedestrian heart. It's time to give more space where space is due.

And here's an RTUF sketch (a little late arriving) of the proposal:

(Blog Post No. 2014-6)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Jacob Wirth's gets a new neighbor...finally

View 1: The parking lot that was for many years. (Credit: John A. Keith)
View 2: Now under construction, same location.
View 3: View from across Stuart Street.
View 4: Aerial view, completed project (Credit: Boston Advanced Realty).

View 5: Finished front facade at street level (Credit: BRA).

The Location: 45 Stuart Street, Boston, MA.

The Story: And the South Hinge Block (on the High Spine) is filled completely out. This location has been a parking lot (still, for those keeping score at home, the ultimate urban no-no) for as long as your faithful correspondent has been resident in the Boston area, which is to say since at least 1997 and probably a good deal before that. So, it's rewarding to see it finally returned to being a contributing piece of the urban fabric on the Stuart Street edge between the old town's theater district and Chinatown. Jacob Wirth's, which is more or less the preeminent German restaurant in Boston, can be seen in the top photo in its classic 19th century Boston row buidling, gable turned to the side and curved bay on the right. This will be an interesting juxtaposition if the front facade really looks entirely like View 5. We shall see.

RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: This one definitely induces tetris flashbacks...

(Blog Post No. 2014-5)