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Old 09-11-2008, 11:08 AM   #21
tobyjug
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

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Philip Johnson's proposed project for the south side of Boylston between Berkeley and Clarendon. The original proposal would have had two side-by-side copies of 500 Boylston
I recollect that Johnson was pimping the exact same design for an office park in Tysons Corner, Virginia. I don't know if they ended up building it.

P.S. Ablarc, thank you for the magnificent post.
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Old 09-11-2008, 11:14 AM   #22
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

Wow, thank you so much for these incredible pictures, and the insightful commentary. I am on my way to 500 Boylston/222 Berkeley, the Newbry and the surrounding blocks to do some research for a project. I will try to snap some pictures from the same angles, if I can.

Also, I am curious about the bid to landmark the Colton building... do people generally only try to designate a building a landmark when it's scheduled to be torn down? To me, this seems like a cellophane-veiled tactic to stall development and not always an actual attempt to save a building.

Do people ever rally to designate a building as a landmark where there are no threats to it at all? Or is the process merely meant to save buildings from the imminent wrecking ball, and not a hypothetical one? Let's assume it's the latter, then shouldn't we be categorizing buildings worth saving now, and not waiting until some Druker-type presents a hunk of replacement garbage?

For example, was the SC&L building ever considered worth saving and making a landmark before there were plans for it's destruction? Or was its planned destruction the impetus to save it?

I feel a coordinated effort to landmark a building carries more weight when it is not undertaken in the auspices of halting a new development, but when it is undertaken merely to preserve a worthy building. It gets my mind thinking of "safe" buildings that maybe aren't landmarked.

The "landmark" designation is crazy anyway, after all the 1912 Fenway Park was denied landmark status, proving that the process is largely a political tool whose procedures can be bought and sold.
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Old 09-11-2008, 12:02 PM   #23
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

To some extent we can blame cable and VCRs, but not completely. Boston now has 32 movie screens, but they are all in two buildings instead of scattered all over downtown, Back Bay, Fenway/Kenmore, and Allston/Brighton. That's a major loss of street life.

In the 1970s, if you walked the length of Boylston Street, you would pass by or within a block of: the Pilgrim (porn), State (porn), Center/Pagoda (Chinese), Essex (Chinese), Publix (third-run exploitation), Astor (exploitation), Saxon (first-run), Garden (art/foreign), Park Square (revival), Paris (first-run), Cinema 733 (revival double-feature), Exeter (art/foreign), Pru (porn), and Cheri (first-run).

Walk a couple more blocks away from Boylston and you'd also find the Savoy (first-run), Stuart (third-run exploitation), Paramount (porn?), Mayflower (porn?), Music Hall (first-run and rock concerts), Gary (first-run), Cinema 57 (first-run). I'm probably forgetting some.

A few of these are now live stages (Savoy -> Opera House, Cinema 57 -> Stuart Street Playhouse, Saxon -> Majestic, Music Hall -> Wang), but most are just gone now as entertainment venues.

Last edited by Ron Newman; 09-11-2008 at 12:15 PM.
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Old 09-11-2008, 12:49 PM   #24
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

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To some extent we can blame cable and VCRs, but not completely.
I agree. What's your take on what the other factors might be?

Nationally folks are still going to the movies in droves. My sunbelt metropolis has way more screens than Boston. Is life so interesting in Boston that folks don't feel the urge to be entertained by movies, or are there simply fewer empty seats?

Last edited by ablarc; 09-11-2008 at 12:59 PM.
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Old 09-11-2008, 01:03 PM   #25
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

The merger and consolidation of movie theatre chains is one factor, as is the trend towards stadium seating.

How many movie screens are in your "sunbelt metropolis"? City limits only, no suburbs. If I had included Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville, there would be 34 more screens. (Also, I did not include screens associated with museums.)

The loss of lines on city sidewalks, waiting to get into movies, really does reduce 'street life'.
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Old 09-11-2008, 03:48 PM   #26
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

Ron, you say, "You'd walk by," all these theaters.

Don't you mean, "Walk into"?
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Old 09-11-2008, 07:06 PM   #27
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

If I walked into every one of those theatres, I'd never get to the other end of Boylston!
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Old 09-11-2008, 07:27 PM   #28
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

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Apart from PO Square and the redo of Copley Square, based on these photos the city has been on steady decline in its built form.
Oh, I dunno, I think it?s more of a wash. Some things are better now, some things are worse.

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"The city has been on a steady decline ever since"????

I take away a VERY different sentiment from that collection of pictures. In my opinion, the city of Boston was at its aesthetic nadir in the 1970s.
Aesthetic nadir? Maybe not. For starters, Boston?s greatest Modernist monuments date from this decade. Christian Science Center was completed in 1974 and John Hancock in 1977.

Also from the Seventies: the new Federal Reserve Bank, Johnson?s Library addition, Harbor Towers, Christopher Columbus Park, the waterfront reclamation and conversion of magnificent wharf buildings, the Kennedy Library, Design Research, and --most of all-- Quincy Market?s resurrection as Faneuil Hall Festival Marketplace. You cannot possibly imagine the stir and elation caused by this project. Here briefly could be found the apotheosis of good taste; why, folks trekked from tastemaking Denmark to behold it. Boston was on the map.

Actually, for architects, Boston had been the epicenter of the world since the late Sixties, when City Hall began to rise from the ashes of Scollay Square. Also just completed when the Seventies came along were Rudolph?s Hurley, the Aquarium, the Carpenter Center (Le Corbusier! In America!!), Design Research and a deliriously Modernistic Copley Square complete with berms. Sert had just graced us with the Holyoke Center, Science Center, Peabody Terrace, B.U. and a raft of lesser buildings.

Cutting-edge to a fault, all these buildings showcased the starchitects of their time. Brand-spanking new and basking in acclaim, Boston?s architecture drew pilgrims from the earth?s far corners. According to Wiki: In a 1976 poll of historians and architects, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, Boston City Hall was voted the sixth greatest building in American history.

These were heady times; never before in Boston?s history had so many magnificent architectural monuments been under construction at the same time. Construction cranes filled the sky after decades of stagnation. Bostonians were swept up in what they perceived to be a vortex of progress. With its fresh new look, Boston was on the go, and its people cheered it on. So far as the international architectural community was concerned, Boston was America?s Exhibit A.

It?s a testament to the fickleness of taste and the ravages of time that most of these buildings are now loathed. Let them survive the next quarter-century, and they?ll be back as the family jewels.

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The very worst of urban design and planning had set in.
Not the Seventies but the Sixties epitomized the worst excesses: Government Center and Charles River Park. By the Seventies, the errors of the latter had been fully recognized; and while the Government Center was not yet reviled, it was clear within the BRA that its principles would not be emulated. By this time, most BRA planners had a similar view of what constituted good urban design to what you find on this forum. They held reluctant Corbu-burbia-addled developers? feet to the fire to encourage streetwalls and ground floor retail.

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The streetscape didn't have the grace or dignity of earlier decades (hideous streetlamps, cheap paving materials)?
Truly, those lollipop lamps were visual noise. Fearing the dreaded charge of imitation, Modernists eschewed anything overtly traditional or decorative, though paraphrase in a modern idiom was reluctantly allowed; it?s not hard to see that those lollipops were old light fixtures dressed in mod. Anyway, now they?re gone. Sic transit?

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Originally Posted by sidewalks
?urban decay and neglect had worn down the city for well over a decade?
?Well over?, indeed; that had been going on since the Depression?s onset. Can?t pin this rap on the Seventies, when things were getting spruced up.

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and the preference for the automobile in urban design was at its apex.
I guess you mean the Turnpike. People thought it was needed. When it opened, it seemed like a godsend if you lived in Newton.

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Originally Posted by sidewalks
I far prefer the urban grit and street life of world war II era Boston or the cleanly prosperity and highrises of today's Boston to the Boston of the 1970s.
Wouldn?t surprise me if the former were before your time, and the latter ?to tell you the truth?is not that different from the Seventies. Parts of Boston were squalid or pristine then, and parts are one or the other today --though the parts move around a bit. The South End is much nicer now, and parts of Dorchester were better then. Newbury Street is a great success, and much of Roxbury seems forlorn as ever. Kendall Square is dreary and lifeless now, just as it was then.

I love what they just did on Commonwealth Avenue at B.U., but Kenmore Square is still a sick man. Downtown and the Theatre District are presently basket cases; they were both livelier then; the Combat Zone and Ben Sack kept the latter alive long after its time had passed, and Downtown used to have a selection of department stores. Chinatown is now and always has been terminally dull, with a core of parked cars on hoists.

Further out, Charlestown lapsed into somnolent irrelevance as an urban place when they tore down the El --and so for that matter did Washington Street out to Dudley. These places may not have been pretty, but they were certainly vital. They are now inner suburbia.

Though I?m glad they?re building on Bulfinch Triangle?s parking lots, I confess a guilty infatuation with the old Garden and yesterday?s Causeway Street under the screeching North Station El. I took visitors there when I wanted to convince them that Boston was a big city. Very noir.

Boston then and now? In my mind, it?s a wash. It?s nice now, and it was nice then, though for different reasons.

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Based on photos, I think Boston is so much better now.
Photo film gets gritty when it gets old, just like a city. You can enjoy the grit or not.

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I am sure there are plenty of small architectural gems that have been lost or clad-over?
Yeah, and you?d be surprised how quickly those small things add up. Or not ?if they?re not there.

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?but the city back then was a mess and at its post-war low, IMO.
?speaking from photographs.

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Originally Posted by Lurker View Post
If you had pictures of the South End, St.Botolph, Symphony, Back Bay towards BU, East & West Fenway, border regions of Roxbury, people here might have had a stronger reactions against the era.
South End is much improved, though it?s lost some of the ineffable character that comes from not being completely together; the other areas you cite haven?t really changed that much, have they?

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The 1970s were a rapid era of decline, many of the hideous development disasters Boston has now are a result of the city desperately trying to stave off impending financial doom.
Don?t really know what you?re talking about here. Elaboration, please.

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Originally Posted by pelhamhall View Post
I am on my way to 500 Boylston/222 Berkeley, the Newbry and the surrounding blocks to do some research for a project. I will try to snap some pictures from the same angles, if I can.
Hot dog! Can?t wait to see them.

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... do people generally only try to designate a building a landmark when it's scheduled to be torn down? To me, this seems like a cellophane-veiled tactic to stall development and not always an actual attempt to save a building.
That?s often the case in New York, and it very often comes too late. City Hall just failed designation, didn?t it? They said, ?Come back when there?s a real threat to it.? By that time it might be too late.

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?shouldn't we be categorizing buildings worth saving now, and not waiting until some Druker-type presents a hunk of replacement garbage?

I feel a coordinated effort to landmark a building carries more weight when it is not undertaken in the auspices of halting a new development, but when it is undertaken merely to preserve a worthy building. It gets my mind thinking of "safe" buildings that maybe aren't landmarked.
Amen, brother.


* * *

The photos that began this thread don't show buildings of the Seventies, they show buildings in the Seventies.

If buildings of the Seventies had been shown, you would have seen innovative structures for their time and a dynamic city re-inventing itself.

Posting today's buildings reveals caution and consequently a certain stagnation.

Going no place in particular. The best things are mostly old.

Boston has done better.

Boston can do better.

And it should.


.

Last edited by ablarc; 09-11-2008 at 11:00 PM.
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Old 09-11-2008, 08:18 PM   #29
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

"The 1970s were a rapid era of decline, many of the hideous development disasters Boston has now are a result of the city desperately trying to stave off impending financial doom."

Ablarc, Don't you remember the deaths of the downtown retailers thanks to the combination of economic and demographic shifts to the burbs with double digit inflation? Arson for profit used to be a competitive sport amongst slumlords during the decade as well. A lot of beautiful Beaux Arts buildings met the wrecking ball downtown for rectangles with stripes. Many of the 'modern' office boxes and the tour de force signature projects of famous architects in the city at the time weren't the result of some grand civic or academic vision. They, in a similar vein like previous government sponsored projects of the 1960s, were private projects promoted by the city to try and sell a 'new Boston'. Unlike disasters of the 1960s, the signature projects of the 1970s, along with the ugly yet effective class A office space, were successful in putting the city on the map and allowing the Massachusetts' miracle to happen.

Other than the Hurley Building and a lesser extent Copley Square, most of the projects in the 1970s, were successful. Aesthetically pleasing in the long term, perhaps and often not, but quite functional. They got the ball rolling into the 1980s, which barring some foolish demolitions, aesthetic "what were the thinkings", and the carnival of errors at Lafayette Place, were major steps forward.

The architecture of the 1970s within the City of Boston, was a start at atonement for the sins of the 50s and 60s.
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Old 09-12-2008, 08:47 AM   #30
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

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The architecture of the 1970s within the City of Boston, was a start at atonement for the sins of the 50s and 60s.
It was. And it seems the BRA has now forgotten the lesson. The present mayor seems like a dope.
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Old 09-12-2008, 09:56 AM   #31
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

Ablarc,

To be quite honest with you, I don't remember the 70s any more than I remember the 40s. I was born in 1975. When I say Boston was 'at its aesthetic nadir' I was really alluding to the feel of the place, and perhaps I'm mistaken. You rightly point out the architectural achievements of that decade. My point of reference is really the 1980s to the present day. It seems to me that the streetscape, which is enormously important from a 'quality of life' perspective, was completely neglected during that time. I'm talking about the 'feeling' of walking down huntington avenue or commonwealth avenue prior to their revitalizations. These revitalizations, it seems to me, harken back to a pre-war streetscape sensibility, with regard to the relationship of the car to the pedestrian and the use of materials employed in street furniture and paving. Boston of the 70s and 80s felt rundown to me- untended and uncared for. And few things were less appealing than the concrete streetlamps. (Robert Campbell rightly compared them to aliens walking the streets of Boston)

In any event, I think Boston is in better shape than it has been since the early 50s...(and yes, I'm well aware that the city was considered a decaying backwater- I wrote my senior thesis on the BRA during that era.) In spite of its decay Boston of the 50s still had the urban grit, the streetscape aesthetics of pre-automobile America, the in-tact web of streets that urban renewal and highway projects destroyed. While there were some wonderful architectural achievements in the years since, most of those structures act as urban sculpture and fail to integrate themselves into the life and pulse of the city. And while I am enormously critical of our civic leadership, I think we are in a better place than we have been in 50 years.
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Old 09-12-2008, 10:08 AM   #32
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

^ All true, imo.

BUT

Boston is losing its character at the same time that it gets improved.

Is the improvement the cause?
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Old 09-12-2008, 10:17 AM   #33
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

Just a couple of comments. When the city woke up in the 60's, I noticed that a huge influence was the New York World's Fair of 1964-65. The muti-colored panels, use of aluminum mullions, lollipop lamps, fountains, broad flights of open stairs with low risers, the use of concrete, etc., are all cues from the Fair, which was supposed to be a view into the future of the world of technology and science. The original Pru design could well have been a pavilion from the Fair, plopped down onto Boylston St., with a tower stuck in the middle for good measure.

In the seventies, with the help of Kevin White, the huge influence was two-fold: readaptive use of old buildings, such as Quincy Mkt., and the Bicentennial. I remember the crecendo of activity and buzz that focused on the latter, showcasing Boston to the world for the first time in a century. The visit of the tall ships and of Queen Elizabeth were coups pulled off by the political and business leaders of the time. Architecture at this time tooks its cues from New York, only on a smaller scale. Businesses were courted into the city; office space downtown became more attractive; tax incentives, the "world-class" city moniker touted by White, the "liveable city, walkable city" monikers described regularly in the Boston Globe Sunday magazine section, the increase in decent restaurants and chef-driven menues, as well as the huge influx of students (B.U. had 30,000, Northeastern had a similar or greater number), and the expansion of the medical community and facilities, and even the establishment of the "adult entertainment district (combat zone), all made Boston a popular destination day and night.

I remember the rush to build big, the leveling of whole blocks throughout downtown and the popping up of mid-rises, usually as headquarters for finance, investment, or insurance companies. It was indeed a sloppy time architecturally, with seemingly little regard for the long term affects of the sheathing and design of tall buildings. In my opinion the 1980's ended up producing many more attractive buildings as a reaction against this sloppiness and lack of concern for detail and human scale in the seventies. Indeed, many of these buildings are now redoing (some for the 3rd time) their streetscape and/or their lobbies for this very reason.
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Old 09-12-2008, 01:31 PM   #34
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

Seems like Boston's outlook is contracting.

Whatever happened to Menino's supertall?
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Old 09-12-2008, 02:08 PM   #35
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

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I took visitors there when I wanted to convince them that Boston was a big city. Very noir.
I used to do this too. In fact one of my first memories of Boston (and probably what made me fall in love with the city) was walking under the El at North Station. It really did feel like a real city.
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Old 09-12-2008, 02:41 PM   #36
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

I felt much the same way about North Station, and though I certainly wish Boston were a bit bigger, and even a bit grittier in areas, it is still very much a real city.
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Old 09-12-2008, 03:41 PM   #37
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

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I felt much the same way about North Station, and though I certainly wish Boston were a bit bigger, and even a bit grittier in areas, it is still very much a real city.
One of a small coterie of North American survivors. Besides Boston, these include New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore (barely), Annapolis, Washington, Charleston, Savannah (barely), Miami Beach, New Orleans, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec.

Did I miss any? Santa Fe?

The others committed suicide to provide convenient parking for their citizens, so they're no longer real cities.
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Old 09-12-2008, 03:46 PM   #38
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

Some parts of Los Angeles certainly feel like "real city", with densities approaching those of Boston and Chicago.

If you're going to include cities as small as Santa Fe, you could also argue for Portsmouth NH, Asheville NC, Burlington VT, and the like.
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Old 09-12-2008, 04:12 PM   #39
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

^ Those places don't meet our criteria for walkability, Ron. You can't conduct your everyday life in any of these places without a car. Santa Fe I don't know about, never having been there.
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Old 09-12-2008, 08:33 PM   #40
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Re: Boston in the Seventies

Burlington felt pretty self-contained when I visited, but that was a while ago. I think Providence RI also deserves a place on your list.
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