Thursday, March 5, 2020

A midcentury maverick

Pop quiz:

Where is this?

(a) Charles River Park, Boston

(b) Beacon Street, Brookline

(c) Memorial Drive, Cambridge

(d) New York, NY

(e) Co-op City, Bronx

(f) LeFrak City, Queens

(g) The Churchill, White Plains, NY

(h) On the streetfront of the Greenwich Village apartment block in Alfred Hitchcock's movie Rear Window


None of the above. 

If you answered (b), you weren't too far off — because it's actually on Beacon Hill. 

But before my comment box gets deluged with how-did-that-get-there or there-goes-the-neighborhood gripes, I want to let you know that this was one of my favorite buildings in Boston when I moved there from New York City at age 10, from the moment it caught my eye at the end of Brimmer Street the day I started fifth grade at the Advent School half a block down from it.
Built in 1952, River House at 145 Pinckney Street readily recalled the midcentury modern apartments I frequented when visiting classmates or my dad's design clients in New York, which I wasn't ready to renounce as history became my home. 

That's why I was awestruck by how the seven-story structure's clean lines, buff brick, terrace balconies, corner exposures, Chicago windows, flat roof, sweeping courtyards, superblock supremacy, and horizontal emphasis in all of the above sharply contrasted the small vertical rowhouses and sash windows, red brick, curved bowfronts, slate hipped or mansard roofs, ornamental accents, hidden gardens, brownstone stoops, and cast-iron railings and bootscrapers for which Beacon Hill was historically renowned and revered for centuries.
Reluctant to haunt the dark corners, cramped halls, hardwood floors and steep steps of the Federal-style rowhouse we moved into, I longed to make River House's oversized windows, open floor plans, wall-to-wall carpeting, cocktail terraces and elevator/ concierge services home again. For the streamlined simplicity of its image of easy living and creature comforts echoed the slogan of its contemporary, Charles River Park: "If you lived here, you'd be home now." But unlike the latter, River House did not wreck a neighbor- hood to make a statement.
It was built on primarily open land occupied by one building called the Old Ladies' Home, where the vast acreage allowed its occupants ample light and air to maximize the health of their senior years. River House's unique L-shape, with a linear or angular "ell" extension on each leg, allows its residents similar benefits: a grassy back yard for recreation, a tree-and-shrub-planted garden patio for neighborly socializing, and generous light, air and balcony space for general good living in the units, as an "antidote" to the Hill's narrow and shadowy (but charming) alleyways. The street views of the historic Hill architecture aren't bad, either.

In short, River House is a prime example of how modernism and historicism can be cozy bedfellows, each enriching the other by a contrast of styles.

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

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