Sunday, March 3, 2013

Revisiting Boston Garden (or the memories thereof)

Photo by John Lord, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Talking about a building that's no longer standing has its challenges — both for me, as a Super Duck Tours first mate, in terms of inculcating images of the history it made and the space it created in my passengers' minds, and for them, in terms of imagining such high- energy happenings when the real image-maker has gone to meet its Maker.

Photo by Autistic Psycho2, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
It's especially challenging when I’d rather talk about the goner than the thing that replaced it. Whenever my duckboat passes by the bare-walled parking lot where Boston Garden used to stand and which TD Garden now blandly abuts, I naturally talk about what’s there — I'm supposed to — but if we’re stopped at a traffic light, I sometimes find time to elaborate on my memories of what was there from 1928 to 1998. With limited time and nothing right before the passengers’ very eyes (at least nothing very interesting), I am often loath to find the right words to describe the architectural and social impact Boston Garden had on generations of Americans — even on American history itself — that made it worthy of preservation and reuse, not just memories.

Photo courtesy of
But now that I have the images to manifest the memories, I can speak volumes about this sacred shrine of sports, politics, circuses, concerts and train travel that brought hero and herd together under one intimate roof. Though it was the second in a succession of replacements of public palaces with inferior complexes, Boston Garden was far superior to its successor, because of how history defined and shaped it, and vice versa.

Grand Union

Arguably, Boston Garden was architecturally a cut below its predecessor, North Union Station, the 1893 national train terminal for the Boston & Maine Railroad, designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge in the neoclassical style of the City Beautiful movement inspired by the grand Greco-Roman pavilions at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. An expansion of the High Victorian mansard-roofed Lowell Station (1878, left), North Union was distinguished by a monumental coffered center-entrance arch flanked by colossal Ionic column pairs and Roman arcades connecting it to Lowell Station on one side and its office tower on the other. A "grand central" station, to be sure, though it predated New York's real thing by 20 years, as well as the Big Apple's Pennsylvania Station (another goner) by 17. As architecture critic Vincent Scully put it about Penn Station, "you entered the city like a god" at North Union.

Yet, unlike its New York and Boston successors, North Union Station was no union architecturally. Awkwardly massed, its entrance's classical symmetry was knocked lopsided by its office tower, which stuck up like a smokestack to give all four sides direct views of the trains and the pedestrian/auto traffic
to and from them.

Yes, the practical compromised the beautiful in that regard. However, North Union's diversified tripartite composition did make a vibrant visual variety along Causeway Street — albeit in the form of a Hollywood stage set that emphasized the facades but gave little sense of the volume and space of the great public waiting hall the way Penn Station, Grand Central and Boston Garden did.


Boston Madison Square Garden (its original name) was a more unified composition, both in itself and in tandem with the concurrently built Hotel Manger (later Hotel Madison) and office/ warehouse structure when dedicated November 17, 1928, albeit a plainer design. 

Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library
And it unified multiple purposes —  train station, sports arena, hotel — as one homogeneous block uniformly clad in tan-yellow brick, a city center of afternoon arrival, evening entertainment, night nesting and dawn departure, convenient for visiting boxers, sports teams and entertainers to nighty-night next door to their arena.

Though train station and sports arena were under one tent, diverse architectural elements expressed each separate function. The covered walkway arcade (taking a cue from North Union's arches, but putting them to more practical use) signified the shelter of the station. The tall blue-glass windows articulated the vertical volume and sheer space of the interior like stained-glass windows in a Gothic cathedral, while their opaqueness presented the arena as an escape from the stress and strain of the outside world into fun, relaxing entertainment inside. Art Deco flagpole towers bookended the center of attraction, bringing banners of patriotism, pomp and pride to the big events and their neighborhood.

North Station's waiting room in the 1930s.
Yes, Boston Garden, North Station and the Hotel Manger brought Art Deco into the city
just three years after
the 1925 Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris introduced the style, a fusion of streamlined classicism, flat geometric ornament, and Egyptian and Aztec influences.

The result: a sleek look that reflected both the machine age and a continued taste for visual refinement. Sublime yet simple, Art Deco appealed to tastes across the economic spectrum, thus perfectly suited a station/arena combo meant for the masses.

Boxer's big top

Boxing promoter Tex Rickard built Boston Garden as a boxing arena. It pandered to the sport's mass appeal by opening it up to bigger crowds with a larger volume of stadium seating all around. Yet Rickard placed every seat close enough for fans to see the "sweat on the boxers' brows."

Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library
Which they certainly could see, as shown in this image of Jim Maloney beating Con O'Kelley in a ten-round bout in 1929. Of course, the vast contrast between the tiny boxing ring and the big arena made one think Rickard had other uses in mind for the Garden — which was confirmed when the Boston Bruins faced off against the Montreal Canadiens there three days after its opening.
Photo by Troy Parla, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Indeed, Rickard's seating plan made for more intimate interaction between the Bruins and their fans, as well as a resounding acoustical effect when the chants and screams of sold-out crowds rebounded with the hockey puck throughout the space — especially after Bobby Orr's overtime goal winning his team the Stanley Cup in 1970.
Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library
Rickard's layout also put Boston Celtics fans closer to the action, as seen in this shot of Bob Cousy taking a shot over two of the Atlanta Hawks in 1957. The legendary parquet floor was not installed until 1952, when it was moved from Boston Arena (now Northeastern University's Matthews Arena), the Celtics' old stomping grounds. Legend has it that the Celtics knew the direction the basketball would bounce off any particular part of the parquet floor—perhaps a factor in their world record number of world championships.

Tennis, anyone?

Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library
The space proved ideal for indoor tennis matches, too, allowing anyone to follow the bouncing ball from serve to backhand to volley to fault (except those poor souls who were stuck behind the obstructed views that were a factor in the Garden's ultimate return to dust). Here, Lew Hoad of Australia returns 1958 king Pancho Gonzalez' shot in the forecourt in 1959 (Hoad was the winner).

Political arena

Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library
The Garden's in-the- round oval configuration made it ideal for political speeches and rallies. It enabled Sir Winston Churchill to vigorously address MIT's Mid- Century Convocation at the Garden in 1949, and John F. Kennedy to reach thousands of supporters intimately when he made his speech there on the eve of his presidential election on November 7, 1960:

"I run against a candidate who reminds me of the symbol of his party, the circus elephant, with his head full of ivory, a long memory and no vision, and you have seen elephants being led around the circus ring. They grab the tail of the elephant in front of them." [Applause.] "That was all right in 1952 and 1956, but there is no tail to grab this year."

The circus comes to town

Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library
Elephants were led around the Garden's circus rings (the oval was a perfect fit for a three- ring circus) in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (right, 1960) and in Frank Buck's "Bring 'Em Back Alive" animal fest in 1936 — where monkeys got loose, and one was still perched on a roof truss after the show. (Monkey bones were discovered during demolition of the Garden.)

The Beatles come to Beantown

Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library
Here, Beatles buffs bunch up at the box office for their tickets to ride to the Fab Four's sole appearance at the Garden on Sept. 12, 1964, as part of their first U.S./ Canada tour. Given the reverberations of Bruins and Celtics fans in that echoic enclave, I can imagine the Beatles having a hard time hearing themselves, or being heard, with throngs of screamers getting their yeah-yeahs out all around them.

(Actually, Paul McCartney got a second chance to be heard at Boston Garden when he landed there on his 1976 “Wings Over the World” tour. This time the audience hushed up to Listen to What the Man Said, to hear his Band on the Run’s Rock Show of Silly Love Songs. Maybe he was Amazed at this! He was certainly grateful: “Good evening, Bostonians. Nice to be here.”)
Purple mountain majesty

Minus the Budweiser billboards and cigarette smoke signals, Boston Garden commanded a majestic presence in the North End and West End, unifying the two as a city center for people of all nations, niches and neighborhoods to "come one, come all" and enjoy all kinds of events for all kinds of tastes.

Thus it loomed over both areas like a mountain range, its deep purplish- blue windows piquing curiosity about what would be happening next inside, its tan-yellow skin spreading the spirit of amber waves of grain throughout the cityscape, its flagpole towers soaring into spacious skies. In these ways it conveyed a far-reaching folk patriotism that inspired awe but invited all.
  Going, going...
Image courtesy of David Kruh,
The Hotel Madison (where the Beatles held a much-publicized press conference just before their Garden gig) was imploded on May 15, 1986, for the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Federal Building. This signaled a similar fate for Boston Garden, which was now outdated for its under- regulation size arena with obstructed views and no air conditioning.
I favored a new facility for those reasons, but this image of TD Garden (then the FleetCenter) built behind Boston Garden shows that preservation of the old Garden was possible and viable, as an alternate arena for smaller-crowd events such as school sports and/or as the New England Sports Museum.

Thanks for the memories...
Photo by Tom Miller
...but no thanks. Memories cannot be truly relived when their maker is mortalized. Simon & Garfunkel put
it better in their song "Bookends": "Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you." So did Joni Mitchell, in "Big Yellow Taxi": "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." (Yes, they did.)

Ramped up

Photo courtesy of the University of Haifa
My memories of Boston Garden include writing a retrospective piece on it for the short-lived Entertainment Northeast Lifestyle Magazine when the arena's demolition was announced. I remember walking up the great ramp that wrapped around its main hall, assuring all, from hardy to handicapped, equal access to the action.

Photo by Steve Nuccia, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
This was a concept ahead of its time. It predated the innovative spiral ramps in Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye in France (above) by three years and in Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York (right) by 31. And now, of course, it is a standard for universal accessibility.
I remember thinking how appropriate that large, continuous space would be for the Sports Museum of New England, taking visitors through Bruins and Celtics history with Bob Cousy’s jersey here, Bobby Orr’s winning puck there, period souvenirs and ticket stubs, fragments of the old parquet floor, archival photographs of legendary hat tricks on the wood or the ice, etc., etc., just as the Guggenheim's ramp provides a journey through the evolution of an artist's oeuvre. And the Sports Museum's residence in the shell of the old Garden, where it all happened, would have given it more commercial appeal—and certainly more street visibility—than it now has, tucked away in the incredible hulk that replaced the museum's history-generator.

TD = Tyrannical Dinosaur
Photo by Groupe Canam, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Designed by Ellerbe Becket, an AECOM company based in Minneapolis with offices all over the globe, TD Garden looks as anywhere-in-the-worldish as any recent arena, and as corporate as its sponsor (which stands for Toronto-Dominion Bank, for more lack of local Bostonian flavor).

Boston Celtics vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, Feb. 1, 2009.
Photo by Kevin Rutherford, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Stylistically, this big, bland box has dated already, saved from total visual vapidity by colorful accent lighting and a blue-lit lookout tower (a memento of Boston Garden's blue windows?) that shares the spectacle with the periwinkle illumination of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge at night. The mammoth interior faithfully follows the old Garden's oval scheme.
TD Garden prior to an NHL game between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal
Canadiens on Nov. 13, 2008. Photo by AEJ, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
(What sports arena doesn't?) But in that Garden, you were part of a community. In TD land, you're but a blip on the radar screen — no thanks to its state-of- the-art HDTV screens that don't let anyone miss anything. Yet, despite its contemporary comforts (including AC, of course!), for all its flaws I still miss old Boston Garden.
Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A beanstalk grows in Beantown

The "sliver" building — the real estate developer's attempt to eke out as much square footage as possible from a little footprint — has been a bumper-crop staple of New York City real estate for decades, owing to the overdevelopment on the tight little island of Manhattan that forces developers to build up when they can no longer build out. Hence the sliver building's tendency to sprout like weeds wherever the parcel-pollen happens to land, with a there-goes-the-neighborhood kind of shadowy dominion over whatever it happens to be dwarfing. Nonetheless, it has garnered certain mass market appeal for the city views it inevitably commands so high up, despite its ensuing vulnerability to high winds, seismic activity, and close encounters of the Sept. 11th kind.

But who would have thought these New York Neanderthals would invade Boston's historically low landscape? Then again, the Hub's winding and narrow streets and rising real estate values yield pretty dinky parcels too — which makes them fertile ground to grow giant beanstalks in Beantown for those with the jack to live in their luxury. Yet 45 Province, one of the choicest of the crop, isn't such a half-baked idea. Bruner/Cott Associates and The Abbey Group carefully designed and developed this 33-story, 137-unit residential tower to avoid the sacrifice of historic structures (only a dismal parking garage) and to fit in with its old neighborhood as best as possible. The facade's variety of materials, surfaces and forms alludes to the area's architectural diversity. The terra cotta paneling jibes agreeably with the old brick buildings...

...particularly the no-longer-standing Province House, a majestic colonial brick mansion that was home to royal governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1716 to 1776. Since its demolition in 1922, its sole remnants have been the granite steps and lanterned cast-iron gateway arch that led up to its gardens (now to Bosworth Street), which The Abbey Group took care to preserve during construction, paying heed to Nathaniel Hawthorne's warning about the Old Province House's decrepit state in his Legends of the Province House (1838-39): "...any jar or motion was apt to shake down the dust of ages out of the ceiling of one chamber upon the floor of that beneath it." 

Not anywhere near that condition, 45 Province's spacious, high-ceilinged, high-end-finished units bring Province House grandeur back into the neighborhood in condominium form, complete with stunning vistas of old and new Boston. In this way, 45 Province is to 21st-century Boston what the Province House was to Colonial Boston: the height of luxury.

Provincial propriety
Historical image courtesy of the Boston Public Library
Memorialized by The Abbey Group with a pair of bronze plaques on the old garden steps wall (one of which lists all Massachusetts governors to date), the Province House was first built in 1679 on the present site of the Jewelers' Building on Washington Street in Downtown Crossing as the private home of wealthy London emigrant merchant Peter Sergeant. Like 45 Province's developers, Sergeant built high, wide and strong, hiring the best of local English artisans and builders and embellishing his Jacobean mansion with "the latest stylistic refinements of houses of the English gentry," according to historian Fay Campbell Kaynor. Its three-story height, high basement and gable, and distinctive cupola, topped by a copper Native American archer weathervane now exhibited at the Massachusetts Historical Society, made it the beanstalk and giant of its time, the ultimate in upward mobility. Its high tower gave Sergeant a privileged perspective on Boston's landscape, as well as his own vast landscape of gardens, orchards, and a 75-square-foot front lawn.
Governors' grandeur
Renting his house to the colonial governor, the Earl of Bellmont, as early as 1699, Sergeant died in 1714. Royal Governor Samuel Schute moved in two years later, beginning the Province House's succession of gubernatorial dwellers — including Gens. William Howe and Thomas Gage, chief commanders of British forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 — until the British Army evacuated Boston at the hands of General George Washington on March 17, 1776. (Thomas Hutchinson, governor during the Boston Massacre of 1770 and the Boston Tea Party of 1773, did not live there, however.) And the house was gussied up aplenty for royal ceremonies and aristocratic balls and receptions with lavish cast-iron railings, sentry-attended front-entry gates, drawing-room tapestries, Dutch fireplace tiles, window seats, paneled wainscoting...

A tavern in the town
Province House, drawn by Peter Orlando Hutchinson, 1837
After the British left Boston, the Province House was put to a smorgasbord of government and private uses — the Committee on Accounts office, the state treasurer's office, the state council's office, a boarding house, a tavern, a theater — and naturally went through umpteen overhauls over time, including the beheading of its tower when the king was dead from the scene. Rechristened the Old Province House tavern in 1835, it inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's Legends of the Province House (later published as Twice-Told Tales), where he takes us through its wainscoted, paint-peeling ballroom darkened by neighboring building shadows, up its bridal staircase ("a feature of grandeur and magnificence"), into its formerly grand rooms "cut up by partitions and subdivided into little nooks" for lodgers, and along its garret's "ponderous white oak framework so much more massive than the frames of modern houses... although the timbers are said to be as sound as ever... it is contemplated to gut the whole." 

It was gutted in the 1850s to become Ordway Hall, which attracted throngs to minstrel shows, burlesque circuses, Professor Harrington's magic acts, Signor Di Carlo's virtuoso violin, and much more... until a fire gutted it down to the studs on Oct. 25, 1864, leaving its old brick walls standing, which later enclosed a cluster of lodgers' quarters and tradesmen's shops.

From royal ball to wrecking ball

Despite historian William Sumner Appleton's efforts to preserve the Province House because it "is one of the most remarkable houses of which there is record in America" and "must have been as satisfactory in its own way to a visiting Englishman of quality as a home in England," it was razed in 1922 for a movie theater and office building (now the Jewelers' Building). 

The demolition revealed rows of rare colonial brickwork, fireplaces and other unique features, including large brick quarter-circles Appleton had never seen in any period house, and an uncommon third-floor fireplace, "an added touch of luxury proving Sergeant to be a man of great wealth and position whose house might well differ from all others in ostentation and comfort."
Wealth, position, ostentation, comfort

Bruner/Cott and The Abbey Group did just that with 45 Province, which won the American Institute of Architects' 2009 New England Merit Award for Design Excellence. They punched in, bumped out and broke up the facade with such touches of luxury as window walls, glass corners, projecting balconies, steel-railed terraces, and, of course, the great glass canopy at its street entrance. 

Though functional rather than ornamental, these elements make the building dance with delicacy and dignity on the skyline, lighten up the dark alley, and, in this way, differ from other Boston skyscrapers, especially the blandly boxy, dully dark One Boston Place (1970) in the background. 

The upward swoop of the blue-green frosted-glass canopy heightens the drama, signifying the building's upscale, valet-attended, full-service luxury, and presenting it as a spectacle of soaring space, beginning with the light-filled lobby atrium...

  A space odyssey
Let us follow in Hawthorne's footsteps and take our own odyssey through the space of 45 Province, which works magic unseen since Professor Harrington in Ordway Hall: making a new world of vast, sunny spaces appear out of an old-world alley.

Like the Province House's tapestries, Dutch tiles and fine finishes that welcomed home the royal governors, the lobby's marble-paneled concierge desk, captivating artwork and glass mosaic tile-inlaid mahogany floor give residents a royal reception. The butterfly sculpture reiterates the building's recurring theme of lofty lightness.

The library lounge's designer furniture (with a cloverleaf coffee table separable into four small tables for individual placement beside chairs and sofas), marble fireplace, attention-commanding artwork and book-filled shelves rekindle the old flame of the Province House's drawing room for the new millennium.

The resident dining room's orbs-in-space lighting, drapery-framed window-wall and high ceilin give a light, airy feel and provincial primness to a dinner party, corporate luncheon, wedding reception, or daily coffee and continental breakfast.

As a token tribute to Ordway Hall and the movie theater that replaced it, this is as luxurious as a screening room can be: stadium seating, drink-holder armrests, patterned carpeting, dimmable house lights, good- sized screen, and state-of-the-art video projection for movies, TV, PowerPoint presentations, etc.

Picture-watching passivity is balanced by abs-building activity in the gym of the in-house Exhale® Mindbody Spa, where professional trainers guide residents from couch potato to iron-pumper with the Life Fitness® weight-training equipment.

The Exhale® relaxation lounge with tea bar and window-wall looking out to the alcoved lap pool and patio is a seamless transition from outside to inside, from recreation to relaxation, from activity to passivity, as an antidote to the typical "locker room" effect. The continuation of the wood floor out to the pool and onto the alcove wall eases the transition.

It's also a transition back into the city. The 40-foot pool creates a broad sweep of a patio, the rail picks up the frosted glass of the entrance canopy, and the cramped alley gives way to the first of several open-sky vistas that take in panoramas of architectural history.
On the 33rd floor deck, the furniture organically adapts to the body's contours as a soft, sculptural contrast to the hard edges and planes of neighboring skyscrapers. From this comfort zone, the sweep of the city is at your command, and the deck's command point, like the royal governors' Province House lookout tower, makes you master of all you survey...

...from the historic Boston Common, Beacon Hill, Back Bay and Charles River...

 the "New Boston" mystique of Government Center, City Hall Plaza and '70s skyscrapers... the Old Corner Bookstore, Old South Meeting House, and the Province House site...
...from Filene's yet-to-be-filled crater out toward Blue Hill majesty...
...from the thicket of towers to the open, free expanse of Boston Harbor.

Provincial penthouse

As Jack struck gold at the top of the beanstalk, the lucky buyer of PH3002 on the 30th floor staked a giant claim to the sky. The 3,000-square-foot penthouse's great room combines living, dining and kitchen spaces (with marble counter and sycamore/lacquer cabinetry!) in one fell swoop, for home entertaining worthy of Province House royalty.
The great room's immense floor sweep takes in 180 degrees of boundless Boston panoramas through its widespread walls of windows and terrace balcony, supplying dinner-party guests with conversation pieces unlimited, sparing the owner the expense of buying art to put on the walls as a boredom-preventer.

But if art is the resident's vision, the broad, plain wall in the master bedroom cries out for it, with cove-lighting on the side to accent a painting, poster or print, or to add a little chiaroscuro to a sculpture, bas-relief or mobile. A king-size bed with designer headboard and night tables wouldn't make a bad wall-filler here, either.

The master bath's freestanding egg tub, marble floor, dual-sink vanity, designer pendant lighting, and marble shower with sliding door of frosted glass in the spirit of the entrance canopy is the height of lavatory luxury, especially since the resident won't lose sight of the city while relaxing in the bath or primping up for the day.

"45 Province brings together the best of old and new Boston. Glass and brick come together in a cutting-edge 21st century building that is thoroughly modern, while retaining the warmth and charm of the old."
— Simeon Bruner, Bruner/Cott Associates

"We call the building a modern classic. 45 Province exudes a warm modernism that respects the historic location and offers elegant services reminiscent of the classic New York Park Avenue buildings of the thirties, while utilizing the most modern materials, appliances, fixtures, lighting and building systems currently available."  
— David Epstein, The Abbey Group

In short, 45 Province brings New York to Boston the way the Province House brought London to Boston, each adapting its style, building technique and materials, and appearance to local tradition and exemplifying Boston life at its loftiest.

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!