Alliance Archives

About AllianceViews

This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

We want to hear from you — so start a conversation, share a thought or comment, and let us know what you think.

Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: The Verb Hotel

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: The Verb Hotel

October 3rd, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven winning projects over the next several weeks. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

Situated just a block from Fenway Park in the heart of old Kenmore’s once vibrant car and music scenes, The Verb Hotel pays homage to not only mid-century design, but to 1950s-1960s Americana. The Verb Hotel is a tribute to the Fenway experience of decades past, when gas stations, car dealerships, music venues, radio stations and music magazines were the lifeblood of neighborhood’s energy, particularly on non-game days.

The Verb Hotel before restoration. Photo credit: Mike Diskin.

The Verb before restoration. Photo credit: Mike Diskin.

The Verb marks the rebirth of the former Fenway Motor Hotel originally designed by Irving Salsberg and Ralph Leblanc. Built in 1959, the motel was among the first in the city after World War II, and abutted not only Fenway Park, but Boston’s famed alternative rock station, WBCN. Eventually the original developer sold the building to Howard Johnsons, an emerging power in the motel business. As the popularity of motels declined, the site’s owner sold it in 2013 to Samuels and Associates. In partnership with Weiner Ventures and Spot-On Ventures, the firm hired Elkus Manfredi Architects to lead the restoration, interior design, and architecture of the new hotel. Elkus Manfredi elected to keep the building’s footprint and height, and retained and restored exposed brick original to the 1959 interior, school-house style blue brick, and the unique, irregular Mondrian-like pattern of solid color stained glass on the building’s façade.

The Verb’s decor includes archival records, Boston Phoenix covers and other ephemera curated by rock and roll memorabilia and former Phoenix Director of Special Projects David Bieber. Bieber, who started working WBCN in 1978, collected show posters, set lists, photographs, magazine articles surrounding Boston bands and shows for almost thirty years. Part of his archive is now housed at Northeastern University, while part of it rotates through The Verb. Beiber’s posters, magazines, and photographs, are alongside pieces such as a Modernica saucer light pendant and cigar table lamp, designed by George Nelson in 1947.

The Verb after restoration. Photo credit: Adrian Wilson.

The Verb after restoration. Photo credit: Adrian Wilson.

“I could tell right away that this was meant to be a celebration that came out of the community, and an opportunity to talk about Landsdowne Street, Allston and Central Square,” says Bieber about bringing his collection into The Verb. “I was always the intermediary, taking possession of posters and things before they went to the dumpster.”

This funky, boutique hotel, gushing with mid-century styling, a generous smattering of whimsy, and unsurpassed local music-scene memorabilia has been a huge hit. It demonstrates that unique historic character, even when it isn’t all that old, can be a winner.

The Verb lobby. Photo credit: Adrian Wilson.

The Verb lobby. Photo credit: Adrian Wilson.

Do you think The Verb is the best of the best? Then vote for it for this year’s Fan Favorite! Vote once per day until October 24. Join us that evening at the Paramount Theater to find out if your favorite won, and to celebrate the preservation of Boston’s vibrant built environment. Tickets on sale now!

Why Save the CITGO Sign?

June 29th, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Last Thursday, the Alliance started an online petition in support of designating Boston’s iconic CITGO sign as a protected Landmark. Since then, we’ve received significant support for saving the sign from people around the country. With over 3,000 signatures in a matter of days, it is clear the sign means a great deal to the people of Boston and beyond.

“I’m signing because anytime I’ve traveled to Boston the CITGO sign welcomes me to the city,” commented Olivia from Dallas, Texas. “The CITGO Sign is as much a part of Boston as Faneuil Hall,” said Bryan in Brookline.

We’ve heard from others, however, who think that it’s time for the CITGO sign to come down. “Why save an aging advertisement?” they ask. Others wonder what makes a sign for an oil company worth preserving. All that aside, say a few others, the sign is downright ugly.

We’d like to answer some of these questions here, and to explain a bit more about how we are working to save the sign.

The sign in 1970. Via Boston Magazine.

The sign in 1970. Via Boston Magazine.

“Why save an advertisement?”

The sign’s emblematic “trimark” was part of the 1965 CITGO marketing campaign, and its primary colors and simple geometric design is characteristic of 1960s pop art. The sign is therefore an artifact of mid-century marketing. In 1983, architectural historian Arthur Krim called the sign “one of the finest examples of corporate neon art in America.”  Since the graphic design remains from the 1960s, generations of Bostonians have grown up with it. Visible beyond Fenway Park’s Green Monster, it’s a part of Fenway Park’s iconic landscape, and has been emblazoned on post cards, posters, T-shirts, mugs, and featured in books, magazines, newspapers, and films. It was called an “Object d’Heart” by Time magazine, and in 1983, appeared in a Life Magazine spread.

Measuring 60 x 60 feet, the current sign underwent a major energy efficiency and technology upgrade in 2005 and is now completely reliant on LED bulbs and entirely computer-operated. The sign is visible for miles, advertising not only a company, but the whole city. Along with images of Boston such as the Swan Boats and Old North Church, the Citgo sign has become one of those sites that people from around the country see and, in an instant, know they are watching something about our city.


Citgo at night via Globe

“Is the sign historic?”

The original sign included 5,878 glass tubes of neon and was lit by 250 high-voltage transformers controlled by an automated mechanical system. With bold graphics, neon illumination and animation, the sign represented the cutting edge of advertising when it was installed in 1965. The mechanism lighting the sign now is today’s cutting edge. That, coupled with the sign’s visibility through its brilliant placement within the Boston skyline, makes the CITGO sign a truly historic icon of the city. It is a landmark in the most literal sense of the word.


“But the sign advertises an oil company with ties to a Venezuelan dictatorship.”

The sign’s long contribution to the city skyline has made it a feature that transcends its original intent. More than saying “buy CITGO gas” it now says “Boston.”  In fact, there isn’t even a gas station at the sign! It’s no longer about advertising CITGO.

What happens next with the online petition? How does a site become an official Landmark?

The next meeting of the Boston Landmarks Commission is on Tuesday, July 12. There, the panel of 13 architects and experts will decide if the process should move forward: is there sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the sign is likely to meet the criteria for becoming a landmark – and that further study is warranted to prove the case.  The commission will, we hope, formally accept the petition for further study. After that study report is completed and reported out to a future Landmarks Commission meeting, and assuming the report and staff recommend landmarking, the Commission members will vote to make the sign an official Landmark . If the landmarking is approved by two-thirds of the commissioners, the designation will go to the Mayor and City Council.

The Mayor has 15 days to disapprove of the designation or to transmit it to City Council. Council will have 30 days to overturn the designation with a 2/3 vote.

The Alliance will attend the July 12 meeting and convey the remarkable enthusiasm to designate the CITGO Sign an official landmark as represented by the thousands of signatures we’ve collected on our online petition. Your vocal support for designating the sign a landmark will powerfully demonstrate that the sign is part of what makes Boston, Boston, and should remain part of the city and skyline.

The Boston Skyline.

The Boston Skyline.

The Future of Downtown Boston Is …. Its Past!

June 22nd, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

A remarkable thing happened to me yesterday. I attended Bisnow’s morning gathering on “The Future of Downtown Boston.” Bisnow is a company that facilitates online and in-person discussions about real estate. Their morning meetings are typically healthy networking among, maybe, a few hundred real estate and development professionals followed by presentations and panel discussions for folks in this professional space.

While the Alliance holds good relationships with many people in development and real estate I wouldn’t say that they are necessarily a crowd I would characterize as inherently pro-preservation. In conversations, I typically have to remind them why Boston’s character is so important to the city’s continued success. With a little poke like that, they usually come around.

However, yesterday was different. Panelists time and again, really from out of the gate, extolled the benefits of the historic building stock in downtown:

Scott Pollak, Arrowstreet Architecture and Design, and working on Congress Square’s redevelopment of the 1906 Shawmut National Bank in addition to six other early 20th Century buildings, commented on the importance of “context and authenticity” that come from the historic buildings, and a character of these buildings that is enticing to the creative-economy businesses and their employees. Given the ecology of these businesses, many starting very small and growing, the variety of office spaces in the downtown neighborhood provides healthy support for growth within the same neighborhood.


The Godfrey Hotel.

Projects such as the Godfrey Hotel–1904 and 1908 office buildings recently converted into a thriving boutique hotel within the historic building envelope–were noted as indications that, as Larry DiCara of Nixon Peabody noted, Downtown Boston now has “cache.” It’s a place with more lattés and craft beer and fewer suits and ties.

Maura Moffitt, Synergy Investments, who own several historic buildings Downtown, noted that smaller, historic buildings provide branding and self-identity to small start-ups moving from incubator space into their own offices and that the retail of the neighborhood is changing to reflect their influx. The employees of these businesses value opportunities to “collide and collaborate” and that means first floor retail of lunch and happy hour opportunities, which are popping up in many older buildings. Rosemarie Sansone, , Downtown BID, said the young people flowing into the neighborhood embrace its historic vibe.

Placemaking in Downtown is an evolution driven by efforts of schools like Emerson College, noted Lee Pelton, Emerson’s President. Pelton discussed how the college helped drive and continue to push with their projects, what he described as “people development” as much as “real estate development.” Emerson continues to invest in its historic properties including plans to restore and rejuvenate the Little Building (1917) on the corner of Boylston and Tremont.

Over and over again we heard about the fact that the historic buildings in Downtown have good bones that provide flexibility and desirability in today’s market. Scott Pollak even reiterated a point preservationists have been making for years: renovating existing buildings is far more environmentally responsible than demolishing and building new ones. And he noted that Boston isn’t a museum, but a living, breathing ecology in which the buildings that exist form a central component.

When asked about the introduction of new construction and significant height, the group agreed that there is a delicate balance, an ecosystem that we need to monitor and foster. New construction and some height could be ok but in the right places and right doses. Historic fabric shouldn’t be destroyed without very careful consideration of its impact on that balanced urban ecosystem.

Even John Usdan, President of Midwood Development who is proposing a 700′ tower at Bromfield and Washington Streets, a project which we have opposed due to its impact on the historic Ladder District, and in particular Bromfield Street, noted that design is so important to Boston and why Bostonian’s feel so passionate about the city. He said the sense of place and history anchors the city and is “integral to its vitality.” Usdan acknowledged a challenge in Downtown is how to integrate the demands of a modern city with the historic context “of an almost sacred place.” How to engage and enliven the street without overwhelming pedestrians … how to make sense of a large tower only a few hundred feet from the Old South Meeting House.

Usdan concluded by noting that figuring out how to manage these challenges of balancing old and new are “essential to what makes Boston, Boston,” a phrase we often use at the Alliance.

See our video on that very topic!

Even the preservation regulatory process was portrayed in the positive light we try to shed. Steve Faber of Related Beal said as clear as day something I should put on a bumper sticker, “Don’t be afraid of historic preservation and development.”  He shared a story about their project at Congress Square and their initial concern when they learned that the Boston Landmarks Commission planned to Landmark the building:  “We thought the process would be stifling to rejuvenation and exactly the opposite took place.”

The Boston Business Journal (Catherine Carlock, 6/20/16) recently noted that the desirability for office space high in towers has weakened, with people wanting to move from the clouds “back into the fabric of the city.”  In May Carlock similarly wrote “Why tech companies have left the Innovation District for downtown Boston” (5/6/16) quoting Carbonite’s VP and General Council Danielle Sheer, “I really hope that Downtown Crossing doesn’t lose any of its grit anytime soon. That’s a huge part of why we want to be here. We need to make sure landlords understand that if it becomes commercial, I think you’ll see companies like us find another space.”

It’s always nice when a position for which you’ve been advocating for years makes its way into the dialog and lexicon of others in the community, particularly a group that isn’t always the first to support what they believe to be your cause. I’m glad they’ve seen the light and we look forward to working together to make Boston shine.

Boston’s own High Line?

Share your vision for the future of the Northern Avenue Bridge

April 14th, 2016  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance


The City of Boston, in partnership with the Boston Society of Architectsrecently announced an Ideas Competition for Bostonians to submit ideas for the future of the historic Northern Avenue Bridge, which has been closed since November 2014 and requires significant restoration. The official competition website states the following:

With the continued growth of Downtown and the South Boston Waterfront, Boston needs a Northern Avenue Bridge – one that enhances our mobility, celebrates our history, and creates a destination for the next 100 years.

We agree, and are enthusiastic about ideas for a preservation-friendly solution that maintains the historic character of the bridge while reconnecting Boston’s Financial District and the Greenway to the Seaport District.

As one of Massachusetts’ last remaining swing-span bridges, the Northern Avenue Bridge is a rare asset to our city. We’re encouraging broad participation in the competition and are hopeful that the competition will produce several submissions that focus on the unique historic characteristics of the bridge.



While the bridge needs serious work, repairing this century-old icon presents us with the opportunity to celebrate Boston’s past and future. Imagine it as a functional sculpture, a new home for boating on Fort Point, a gathering place, or whatever you can dream up with the historic bridge as the core of your plan.

The City has made it clear that statements from the general public will influence the final decision, so your continued engagement and vocal support is essential!

Goals of the Competition
Or in other words…successful entries will achieve the following:

  1. Improve mobility between downtown and the South Boston Waterfront
  2. Honor the history of the current structure
  3. Create a destination on the Fort Point Channel that unites neighborhoods and celebrates Boston’s connection to the sea

This contest is free to enter and open to all – ideas can be submitted in either essay or graphic format. Submissions will be accepted starting April 22, 2016 through 5:00 p.m. on April 29, 2016.

For additional information about submission requirements and prizes, as well as maps, reference reports and information on the bridge’s condition, download the official competition packet.

Ever wonder about…the Transcript Building?

April 8th, 2016  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

The Transcript Building in

The Transcript Building in 2014. The Claire’s on the ground floor is no longer there.

If you work in or commute through Downtown Crossing, there’s a good chance you’ve passed by the Transcript Building. Currently vacant on the corner of Milk and Washington Streets, this French Second Empire DTX staple is one of the last remaining buildings of what was once known as Boston’s “Newspaper Row.” In its heyday, the area was home to the Boston Globe, the Boston Journal, the Boston Post and the Associated Press, among others. It was also home to the Boston Evening Transcript, for whom the Transcript Building was built in 1873.

Transcript Bldg_KimballsThe Boston Evening Transcript first ran in July 1830 – by 1873 it was the largest circulating daily in New England and hailed as having “for years sustained the reputation of being the favorite afternoon paper of cultivated Boston” by the King’s Dictionary of Boston in 1883. The paper also claims the distinction of being the first major American daily to hire a female editor, Cornelia Wells Walter.

The Transcript Building is the work of one of Boston’s most noted 19th century architects, Gridley J. Fox Bryant, one of Boston’s most celebrated nineteenth-century architects who was known for designing large-scale granite Italian and French Second Empire buildings throughout New England, including Old City Hall on School Street.


The “D” that tops the “Transcript Building” engraving on the building’s Washington Street façade stands for James Dutton, one of the paper’s two original publishers. The granite in the façade includes reused stone from a previous site of the paper’s offices that were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1872, with a mansard roof and walls of cut stone that features granite and cast iron pilasters – though the storefront has modernized and the original cresting removed.

The building has outlived its namesake; publication of the paper stopped in 1941 after 111 years. Since the paper moved out of the building, it’s been home to a jewelry store, a staffing agency, a dental clinic, a restaurant and a bank.

Downtown Crossing has undergone increased commercial revitalization in recent years – the most highly publicized project is certainly the construction of the Millennium Tower, executed in tandem with the rehabilitation of the Burnham Building. We’re eager to see what’s next for the Transcript Building!

Urge City Hall & key agencies to preserve the Northern Avenue Bridge

Now is a critical time for you to call for a sustainable preservation solution.

February 18th, 2016  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance


The City of Boston has taken its first steps toward taking down the century-old Northern Avenue Bridge, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard have warned is in a state of severe deterioration. Though key decision makers at City Hall have expressed interest in considering a preservation-oriented solution, the City has not decided on the bridge’s long-term future. Moving the bridge to East Boston may remove the threat of collapse but does not provide assurance that it will be repaired and returned as a functioning bridge.

Now is a critical time for YOU to call for a preservation solution that returns the bridge to Fort Point.

From now through Tuesday, March 1st, you have the opportunity to share your opinions and concerns about the future of the Northern Avenue Bridge with key decision makers, including City Hall. Before any work on the bridge can begin, the City must obtain several federal, state and local authorizations, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Each of these agencies have issued official correspondence and are seeking public comment.

Public input is an essential component of this process. We’ve included proposed language below, but feel free to modify it and send to the addresses below as you see fit.

Your correspondence will be received by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Massachusetts Historical Commission and filed as part of the required public comment period associated with both federal (Section 106) and state (950 CMR 71.07(3)) review. Your input matters!

Voice your support for the preservation of the Northern Avenue Bridge:

Dear Mr. Kevin Kotelly, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Ms. Brona Simon, Mass. Historical Commission,

I write today regarding Boston’s Northern Avenue Bridge in response to both the U.S. Army Corps’ “Public Notice” (and associated Section 106 Review) and Mass. Historical Commission’s “State Register Consultation” (950 CMR 71.07(3))and your invitations for public comment.

I feel strongly that the Northern Avenue Bridge is an integral element of Boston’s culture and environment which should be preserved. The bridge is an important, character-defining feature of the Fort Point District and the city as a whole. Its loss would mark a significant degradation of the historic neighborhood and the historic features that are so important to defining the City of Boston. A repaired bridge is the best solution to the city’s needs. It can continue to be a city icon while supporting transportation needs to the growing Seaport area and would be a far preferable solution to a new bridge. A restored bridge would represent the city’s unique character of blending old and new and can become a revitalized city feature.

I urge both the U.S. Army Corps and Mass. Historical Commission to require a Memorandum of Agreement that places the proposed disassembly and move of the bridge within a larger framework for the reconstruction, repair and return of the historic bridge. Placing the bridge in East Boston with no additional steps would not meet the requirements for treatment of a historic structure of this significance.

I request to be considered a “consulting party” and informed of future meetings, discussions, and actions on the bridge. We urge your agencies to hold public hearings on the matter.


[Your Name]

Send your letter of support for the Northern Avenue Bridge to the following addresses, or via email to, and

Massachusetts Historical Commission
Attn: Brona Simon
220 Morrissey Blvd
Boston, MA 02125

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Attn: Kevin R. Kotelly, P.E.
New England District
696 Virginia Road
Concord, MA 01742-2751

The Sip & Spoke Bike Kitchen: Preservation & Economic Development in Upham’s Corner

February 9th, 2016  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

Last week, we were honored to host a community forum at the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Dudley Square that explored the central role of historic preservation in maintaining vibrant neighborhoods and the impact of gentrification on Boston’s communities. The topics discussed included preservation projects that directly contribute to the revitalization of the surrounding communities.

Residents often welcome the rehabilitation of historic structures that have been vacant or derelict for years, but may have concerns about the long-term impact of these projects. When a building’s future tenants are people and businesses with deep roots and longstanding connections to the neighborhood, however, such projects have the potential to bring about significant positive changes.



The Upham’s Corner Comfort Station in Dorchester is one such preservation project with the potential to be a powerful force for community revitalization. Built in 1912, the Mission-style historic building abutting the Dorchester North Burying Ground has been vacant for nearly 40 years. But not for long. Come spring 2017, it will be home to The Sip & Spoke Bike Kitchen, a full-service bicycle shop and café. This project is the result of a collaborative model between Historic Boston, Inc. (HBI), The American City Coalition (TACC) and Noah Hicks, a Dorchester native and founder of the Bowdoin Bike School, a nonprofit bicycle repair and teaching center.

The Comfort Station has long been on the City of Boston’s and the community’s agenda for thoughtful preservation and reuse. HBI also identified the building as an opportunity for preservation. More recently, as part of the city’s ongoing planning and investment along the Fairmount Corridor, residents of Upham’s Corner met to discuss their preferences for the reuse of the structure, which included a café and community space. When the Department of Neighborhood Development released an RFP for the building in July 2014, TACC and HBI collaborated on a proposal for a community hub, joining forces with Noah Hicks who was eager to create a business that responded to community preferences and need.


Noah Hicks, a 28-year old bicycle mechanic, activist, and entrepreneur, will launch the Sip & Spoke Bike Kitchen in 2017.

There’s ample evidence to support the wisdom of choosing the Comfort Station to serve as Sip & Spoke’s new home – small historic structures are prime locations for locally-owned small businesses. A recent study from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab found that older, mixed-use neighborhoods with a variety of architectural styles are more walkable, conducive to restaurants and nightlife, and viewed as desirable by younger residents. Particularly compelling is the study’s finding that neighborhoods with a smaller-scaled mix of old and new buildings host a significantly higher proportion of new businesses, as well as more women and minority-owned businesses, than areas with predominantly larger, newer buildings.

If you’re as inspired by this project as we are, you are in luck! TACC and Hicks are in the final week of an Indiegogo campaign to raise the money to fill a critical funding gap and demonstrate broad community support for the project. In addition to crowdfunding, they are seeking corporate donors.

At the Alliance, we believe that thoughtful preservation projects have the power to facilitate positive transformation in communities throughout Boston. Sip & Spoke is no exception. What has been an eyesore for decades will soon be home to a mission-driven business and community gathering place. Its presence will in turn help to reactivate a key portion of Upham’s Corner’s commercial business district. It’s a fantastic example of the potential for thoughtful adaptive reuse serving as a catalyst for community revitalization.

A postcard depicting a view of historic Upham's Corner. Image courtesy of the Dorchester Atheneum.

A postcard depicting a view of historic Upham’s Corner. Image courtesy of the Dorchester Atheneum.

What You’ve Been Wanting to Ask About the Northern Avenue Bridge

January 22nd, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Northern Ave Swing Bridge

There has been significant media coverage recently on the historic Northern Avenue Bridge – first reports that GE’s arrival has triggered funding for the bridge’s repair, followed by reports that the bridge is in fact coming down as early as March. There seem to be as many questions as there are answers.

The Alliance has been engaged in efforts to preserve the Northern Avenue Bridge for decades (literally) and in conversations with the City since it was closed to pedestrians in December 2014. We do have some answers – although we have some questions ourselves.

Does Boston need a bridge at this location?

Yes, we do. With the development boom in the Seaport District, we need another way to move people in and out of the neighborhood. The inability for anyone to cross the bridge in the past year has been a pain point for local businesses and the growing number of people who now live and work in the neighborhood.

It makes sense that a major employer like GE would want this transportation link restored; walkability is a major draw to Boston, but has been a struggle for this area. Northern Avenue is an ideal route for pedestrians and cyclists – flat, direct and of human scale. While the Moakley Bridge has absorbed vehicular traffic since 1997, the need for an additional throughway at Northern Avenue remains.

The reality of traffic flow suggests that the alignment of the bridge with the entrance to Route 93 makes any bridge here of only minimal relief for car traffic. However, as an incentive to remove cars by creating a preferred non-vehicle route, there is great benefit.

By Dan McNichol

What’s special about this old bridge and why should we keep it?

Built in 1908, the Northern Avenue Bridge is a rare survivor of an industrial age central to the growth and success of Boston and our nation – one of a few remaining swing bridges in the state. It represents a period of time when industry dictated development and defined the city’s built environment.

That a century-old design is able to swing such a huge structure is a remarkable and elegant engineering feat. This bridge had a particularly unique aspect: it was powered by compressed air! While restoring that element isn’t on the table, and modern methods will be needed to drive the bridge, preserving the operation of the bridge provides the open channel and a unique experience for Boston residents and visitors.

Finally, the visual impact of the bridge – its steel trusses, and cross-bracing have become iconic and integral elements of Boston’s waterfront and the Fort Point neighborhood. The Seaport District, though successful in many ways, is lacking in character and personality. The Northern Avenue Bridge serves as a literal gateway between the city’s industrial past at Fort Point Channel and the Innovation District. The bridge is more than a thoroughfare; it’s a cultural experience that isn’t replaceable by a YouTube clip.

What has the City been doing about the bridge?

Mayor Walsh convened over a dozen key environmental and neighboring stakeholders in early 2015 for guidance after the bridge’s closure, including the Alliance, WalkBoston, Friends of the Fort Point Channel, and the Boston Harbor Association, among many others.* For three months the group met regularly, along with the City Engineer and other city officials to discuss options for the bridge – which included new versus restored, moveable versus fixed (and raised enough to allow boat traffic). When a vote was taken, there was overwhelming consensus that the historic structure should be repaired , based on the historic nature of the structure, the surrounding community’s need for increased mobility, and the overwhelming desire for a span which contributes to the character of the neighborhood.

Would it be cheaper to demolish the old bridge and build a new one?

The City has examined and had presented to the advocacy group the costs of many different scenarios. At an estimated $44-49 million, rehabilitating the existing bridge is actually one of the cheaper options. Demolition alone is estimated at $15 million, which doesn’t even include the price of constructing a new bridge (which ran from $29 to over $70 million).

And what does the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers have to do with this?

While the City of Boston owns the bridge, the Army Corps and the Coast Guard are responsible for assuring the access and safety of the federal navigable waterway of Fort Point Channel. The City has failed to heed demands by Army Corps and Coast Guard to repair the bridge since 1997, allowing the bridge to continue to deteriorate.

In October 2015 the Coast Guard wrote the Army Corps to insist that action be taken immediately, because it was feared that heavy snows could cause the bridge to collapse. They demanded immediate repairs or demolition of portions of the bridge, particularly the center swing span. The news you have read about the pending removal of the bridge is the City responding to these serious demands about public safety.


It’s a positive sign that the bridge is finally receiving some long overdue attention. However, in the rush to arrive at a solution, the Army Corps and City of Boston are circumventing a required review process, the result of an agreement drawn up in 1989 when the Moakley Bridge was built using funds from the Federal Highway Administration.

Because federal funds were used, the Highway Administration was required to adhere to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This federal law requires that any activity that impacts historic resources – in this case the Fort Point National Register District of which the Old Northern Avenue Bridge is a part – must undergo extensive review.

By accepting federal funding for the Moakley, the City of Boston, Massachusetts Department of Public Works and the Federal Highway Administration agreed that any circumstances that adversely affect the Northern Avenue Bridge would require public consultation with state and federal regulatory agencies.  Clearly what is being proposed now – removal of the Northern Avenue Bridge – will have an adverse effect.

At present, neither the Coast Guard nor Federal Highway Administration has begun the required public, Section 106 consultation process, yet they continue to move forward.

What happens next? Why hasn’t the decision been made?

It’s hard to say for sure. We appreciate the City’s need to address safety concerns and efforts to keep a preservation solution on the table, but we are angered that the City didn’t act a year ago to move forward with the clear preservation alternative that was enthusiastically supported by many diverse constituent groups. If the City hadn’t delayed action for decades, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

In addition, we are urging federal agencies to follow the requirements of Section 106 and immediately open the required discussion about how to address the Northern Avenue Bridge. We believe they are overreaching the intent of the emergency provisions of Section 106 in time frame in the amount of the bridge they are insisting be removed to address the current public safety threat.

Where can I express my opinion about the Northern Avenue Bridge?

 The Alliance would love to hear your thoughts about the bridge and any other historic preservation projects in the city. You can contact us here, or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook. You can also contact the City directly.

The story isn’t over yet — stay tuned for additional updates about the future of the Northern Avenue Bridge.

 *Additional participants in 2015 meetings include: U.S. Courthouse, Barking Crab, James Hock & Co., Seaport TMA, Livable Streets, Boston Cyclists Union, Friends of the Northern Avenue Bridge and A Better City.

Ever wonder about…the Winthrop-Carter Building?

December 16th, 2015  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

The Winthrop-Carter Building sits on the edge of Water, Washington and Devonshire streets between the Financial District and Downtown Crossing. It’s well-loved for its cast iron storefronts, yellow Roman brick, beautiful detailing and cool compact entrance to the State Street MBTA station. It also has the distinction of being Boston’s first steel frame sky scraper – which is a bit of a story in and of itself.

If you love this building, you’re not alone! This January the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) will likely vote to landmark the Winthrop-Carter Building, which will give the structure increased protection so that its character-defining features will be preserved.


Built in 1894, the building was designed by Boston architect Clarence Howard Blackall of Blackall and Newton. It wasn’t always intended to be a steel-framed skyscraper.  Blackall initially submitted a design for a seven-story brick building, but changes to the nearby streets and revised building codes ultimately led him to scrap the first design and propose a second, this time with a nine-story steel frame building.

Steel, stability and the “wild west”
The use of the steel frame stirred up public attention – both positive and negative. There were concerns about the structural durability of the material. At one point, Blackall was walking on the Boston Common when he was approached by a well-known architect, who offered this charming insight:

I understand that you are about to erect a building at the corner of Washington and Water Streets and in that you are about to use that abominable steel skeleton construction which has come to use from the wild and woolly west. Don’t do it; you are sure to have trouble.

The wild and wooly west, indeed. The use of steel framing can be credited to the Chicago School, which pioneered the method in the early 1880s. So when Blackall brought steel frames to Boston just a decade later, the response was mixed. Media coverage noted that passersby often stopped during construction to question the stability of the building. Upon its completion, however, the building was considered one of the most prominent in Boston.

Over 120 years later, the steel speaks for itself – the building remains a gem. The entrance to the T was established in 1907 and remains largely unchanged today. Since its construction, it’s remained in use for commercial office and retail purposes. Though plagued with high vacancy levels in the 1970s, a restoration project completed in 1978 revived the building. Subsequent interior and exterior projects have continued to ensure that the building remains a vibrant space downtown.

Why landmark the building, you ask?
While the Winthrop-Carter Building is by no means under threat, designating the building as a Boston Landmark is a proactive way to provide additional protection, such as guidelines for future work on the building’s exterior. In Boston, landmark designations are given to cultural resources of outstanding architectural and/or historical significance. Following the upcoming vote, any proposed physical changes to the Winthrop-Carter Building would require extensive review by the BLC. In other words, there’s no chance of you walking down the street one day to find that the building’s been drastically changed or demolished. The landmark status gives the City of Boston the tools to maintain the historic buildings that we love.

If you want to learn more about the Winthrop-Carter Building, you’re in luck. In preparation for the designation hearing, the BLC prepared an exhaustive report about the building’s history, defining characteristic and options for landmarking. It’s also the source of the beautiful photos featured in this post. See the entire report here.

6 preservation events you won’t want to miss at ABX 2015

November 17-19, 2015

November 16th, 2015  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

CaptureHave you registered yet for ABX 2015? If not, don’t delay! The conference kicks off tomorrow. There numerous panels and discussions for you to choose from, including several focused on existing buildings and historic preservation. Take a look at some our favorites:

1. The Restoration of St. Mary’s Hall: Boston College recently completed the restoration of St. Mary’s Hall, which is the second-oldest structure on campus. Hear from the owner and project team members about the challenges and opportunities associated with this stunning historic restoration and adaptive reuse. More info.

2. Industrial Strength – A Miraculous Transformation at Ames Shovel Works: The project’s development team will present the story of how a threatened and beloved historical landmark, the Ames Shovel Works, was saved and revitalized. More info.

3. The Ins and Outs of Historic Designations: Historic designations vary in purpose and in restriction – learn which are best for which type of project and property with a panel of experts, including our Executive Director, Greg Galer. Discover how some can affect funding, expansion, and use and how they can be your friend in development. More info.

4. Resiliency Planning for Historic Building – Impacts and Choices: How will changes in temperature, humidity, precipitation and extreme storms affect brick, wood and other historic materials? Two case study assessments will be presented: The 1713 Old State House and c. 1800 Fowler Clark Farm. More info.

5. Reviving the Modern – the Preservation of the Modern Houses: Today modern houses are routinely demolished, deemed out-of-date and often stylistically unpopular. Yet, at the same time, modern houses are being preserved and restored as symbols of well-designed “minimal dwellings” that use limited resources, often occupy small sites, and respond sensitively to their natural settings. More info.

6. Burnham’s Last Stand – Revitalizing the Filene’s Building: In 2011, a major restoration of Daniel Burnham’s Filene’s Building begun as part of the Millennium Tower mixed-use complex. The design and construction team will present an overview of challenges and solutions devised to restore this iconic linchpin of Downtown Crossing. More info.

We’ll be hosting a booth in the Exhibit Hall for the duration of the show. See you there!