Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cambridge Tunnel, Cambridge

Why an Okinawan turtle shell tomb*  in MIT? That was my first impression when I saw this mysterious structure. Of course, there is no way such an indigenous structure (with a little Western twist) is in a traffic median in the middle of Cambridge. So I aborted the idea soon.  

*An indigenous style of burial in a southern island of Japan. The tombstone resembles to the shape of a turtle shell, and does look like an uterus, I admit.

Reference: Turtle shell tomb (Kikkobaka), from Wikipedia

After a closer look, I realized it's the Redline tunnel portal leads to the Longfellow Bridge. Funny, I've been through the tunnel many many times. But I always got carried away by the river view and the Liberty Hotel, and didn't even imagine how the tunnel portal looked like; only train operators can see it.

There is not much information available about the Cambridge Tunnel. The Red Line began its operation between Harvard and downtown Boston in 1912. If the railroad was totally new and hadn't been used by other railway services, the tunnel must have been built around that time. It sounds like a good material to be registered for historical significance, but I guess people are not so keen on the cement finish.

It's crumbling...

I know, I know. It's not curved stone or brick, but it's little sad to see crumbling. Because I like a little effort of decorating the portal with Corinthian (?) motifs. Wait, wait, it's not going to cave in soon, right? Only the facade is crumbling but structurally, it's all right, right?

Locate Cambridge Tunnel @ Google Map

Cambridge Tunnel, Structurae:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

O'Hara Waltham Dial Company, Waltham

This is one eccentric building. The Waltham Watch Company factory building  gave an impression of stacked, piling up structure due to its gradual expansion. But this one is different. It is sort of looking into a genius eccentric man's brain; each function of the structure is uncertain to us, but it makes damn sense to him. Each component is perfectly arranged like a good watch, symbolizing the order of the universe (at least in his sense) that cannot be disturbed one bit. Who are you, Mr. O'Hara?

As you can see, the building is no longer functioning as a watch factory, or it is not even performing the principal function of a building; it looks like an allegorical folly of Escher. But if I suppose a building reflects its original owner's character, the one of O'Hara is still oozing out...funky. I mean it is not because the building is nearby a dump but you know, funky in a cool way.

I didn't smell anything. But when I stepped onto a dog's leaving on the sidewalk, it smelled funky not in the way I see the building.

I immediately fell in love with this building when I saw it from a blog, The Backside of America.There are, or were,  numerous redbrick ruins in Massachusetts (especially in Waltham in my opinion) and some could be creepy, shady, or dangerous. But this one is like finding a treasure from a junk market.

Daniel O'Hara was a watch case maker trained in Kentucky. He came to Massachusetts in 1880 as a superintendent of the case department of the Waltham Watch Company. He then joined a small dial company in 1890 which would eventually become O'Hara Waltham Dial Company. A new factory here on Rumford Avenue was built in 1897.

However, only a year after moving to the new location, the business went down because a new watch dial maker was established in the upper state New York.

Mr. O'Hara then shifted his business to decorating stain marks.Wait, what are "stain marks"? Stein Marks are elaborately decorated beer mags, occasionally with metal lids on. I apologize my ignorance but this is a whole new world I've never been bothered to get to know before. Would it be a big deal in Antique Roadshow, maybe? Anyway, what a radical business change...

The trade mark of his stein marks was inspired from the fleur-de-lis. Inside of the fleur-de-lis, letters of "Paris France/ O'HARA DIAL CO./ Waltham Mass. U.S.A" were printed. I don't know Mr. O'Hara's upbringing very well, but "an Irish named American man making goods originally from Germany and suggesting his operation is also in France" sounds very random, sorry, cosmopolitan. You can see the company's products from; I wonder why he made lots of stein marks with not-so-handsome or even grumpy looking* middle aged men. A precursor of made-to-order "the bestest [sic] dad" coffee mags?

*He reminds me Father Jack from Father Ted (a mid-90's UK situation comedy set in a parochial house in a remote Irish island).

Mr. O'Hara died in 1912 at the age of 57, and the factory closed its door sometimes around 1926. Before completely abandoned like now, it was functioning as a canvas factory. A screw factory used to be across O'Hara but it is now converted into an office complex. But the industrial character of the neighborhood is still there; a punctual mechanical sound, probably the one of a press machine was heard from one of the surrounding buildings.

Click picture for detail

The inside of the abandoned factory looks like a total mess, but one detail caught my attention. Look at the curving on the red door in the above pictures. Love and pride of Mr. O'Hara is present even from an old door. Would you expect such a decoration from a contemporary factory? It's not really a factory, it's an atelier!

According to a article in 2007, a condo development plan was proposed and expected to complete in the fall of 2008. But as you can see, nothing is happening!

Locate O'Hara Waltham Dial Co. @ Google Map

What a dump, the Backside of America:
MACRIS database:
O'Hara Dial CO., Stein Marks:
The Mettlach Tapestry Steins:
Factory to anchor condos, on Aug. 5, 2007:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hood Milk Bottle, Boston

Somewhat oxymoron, but it's a familiar oddity in Boston.

You already know about that? Well, I wanted to try my brand-new polarizer filter out. If you don't know, good!

Located by the Boston Children's Museum, the giant milk bottle is an obvious favorite of happy children and parents alike. This 40 ft (12m) tall giant milk bottle was built in 1930 by the Hood milk company. I thought the structure is made of aluminum but actually, it's wooden. The bottle had moved here in 1977, two years before the museum relocated to the current location. I've been thinking the milk bottle was installed with the museum, because it looks so, how should I put it, kid-friendly.

Currently Au Bon Pain, another Massachusetts based company, resides in the bottle.

Locate the Hood Milk Bottle @ Google Map

Weird Massachusetts by Jeff Belanger

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Waltham Watch Company, Waltham

Waltham used to be a watch making town. I knew it used to be a mill town where Francis Cabot Lowell established his first factory in 1814, but I didn't know as "the watch city". Recently, The Backside of America, a blog covers awesome curiosities in New England and beyond, reported about an abandoned watch factory in Waltham (See What a dump). The long deserted small factory nearby a landfill fascinated me. Also it was a rather eye opening experience because Waltham topics in my blog have been about abandoned psychiatric hospitals and its cemetery, not industrial facilities like that. I think now is the time to investigate a different aspect of Waltham.

After shopping a bottle of coconut oil, packet of coriander powder, and bag full of 99¢/ lb plum tomato at a Moody St. Indian grocery, I decided to venture out for the watch city tour. First, I'll show you the Waltham Watch Company.

The precursor of the Waltham Watch Company was founded in 1850 in Roxbury, MA. A new factory in Waltham was built on the Charles River bank in 1854 as the American Watch Company. The gradual additions over next 50 years resulted a huge factory complex with 22 factory units totaling  approx. 400,000 square feet. The company's watch became the choice of President Lincoln and various American railway companies.

The Waltham Watch Company went bankrupt in 1949, but the building remained functioning as a multi-use factory and warehouse complex until 2004. Since private developers acquired the complex in 2007, it has been renovated to office space/ apartments, a usual procedure. 

I said the factory was on the river bank, but look. It's VERY close to the river! Isn't it little too close to the river? Did the soil erode over the years? What happens if the river floods? Anyway what was the merit of building a factory this close to the river?

Did they use the river for transportation? Well, railroad would be the mode of transportation in the mid 19th century. Anyway, they would have used a canal along the river if there was any around here.

How about using the river current to generate power? The neighboring Lowell's Boston Manufacturing Company mill was also built by the Charles to make use of the river drop for the operation of the power looms. But look, the river current by the watch factory is very placid.

Did they use the river water to cool the metal? Well, it's easy to release the waste to the river as well...I should add I don't know they really did it but quite possibly.

To begin with, why was Waltham chosen by the company? I assume the arrival of the Boston Manufacturing Company in 1814 had established the infrastructure for the mass production of industrial goods. While the Waltham Watch Company is the biggest, there are a handful of other watch companies and watch tool factories in Waltham (the majority of them are converted to other uses like the Waltham Watch Company). As a future reference, a visit to the Charles River Museum of Industry  may well answer my question.

Speaking of the museum, there is a little museum open to public. It is located at the main entrance of the converted factory. In addition to displaying the products and tools used, there is a series of description about the company, building, and workers. For example, there was a nursery for the employees' children, and their eyes were frequently examined because a good vision is crucial for the good watchmaker...Today is the day I learned that I would be a crappy watchmaker! 

Next, I'm heading to O'Hara Waltham Dial Company, a small watch factory discovered by the Backside Gang.

Thanks for reading, as I always appreciate. Before closing this post, I'd like to ask you a big favor as a Japanese living abroad. Please donate to any charity organizations that you trust for the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. I'm from Hiroshima, and the old folks always told us about the severity of the nuclear bomb and its after effect.

Even a small sum helps. No country can handle this crisis without a help from other countries.

Locate Waltham Watch Co. @ Google Map

Click picture to enlarge

The Backside of America: What a dump
MACRIS Database:
Waltham Watch Factory:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Working Boys Home, Newton

Since I discovered the site armed with historical maps of Massachusetts and beyond, I have been browsing them constantly, imaging the landscape some fifty or even hundred years ago. For example, the number of TB sanatoriums is striking in the maps surveyed right after WWII.

In addition to now disused railroads, I am particularly interested in institutions, a kind of institution that we don't expect to see in present day America because some practices or concepts are long gone. Quarantining a mass of TB patients to sanatoriums would be a good example.

Today, I'll show you some of my little findings from old maps. The below is a 1946 map of the southwest Newton.

1946 Map of Newton from MyTopo Historical Map

Look at the lower right section of the map, do you see "Working Boys Home"? "Working Boys Home", what a Dickensian sound in it. We rarely associate the word "working" with "boys" in the context of contemporary American kids; we think of child labors in sweatshops in some countries. I mean kids working like 16 hours a day.

My image of working boys, from eRiding media library
My another image of working boys, from eRiding media library

A lodging for boys who were separated from parents and working some places like factories... This is enough to make me fascinated, and I decided to investigate further. 

 1903 Map of Newton from MyTopo Historical Map

The above is a 1903 map of Newton. I can recognize something like the precursor of the WBH. Wow, the area is really desolate, hilly, and swampy. I searched the place with my another favorite, the MACRIS database. Oh, I've got it! It's still there!

Imagine such an imposing redbrick tower on a remote woody hill. According to the MACRIS, the building was planned by John and William McGintly in 1896. I couldn't find any more historical information about it, and I wonder what kind of organization did build this institution. It is usually by a Christian one, but it could be by a municipal or nonreligious philanthropic group, too.

The building is currently housing Newton Highlands Jewish Community Center. I should check this place out.

And I went.

It's been beautifully preserved. I have to say it's a lot more cheerful than the black and white picture I saw at the MACRIS. I guess because a part of the building is utilized as a day care center.

Looking at the cheerfully colored playground equipments and toys, I couldn't help thinking how much the view on children has changed in last hundred years. Would the working boys who used to be there imagine a part of the building would become a thing called "pre-school"?

Let's examine the clock on the tower; it's in Hebrew! I'm impressed with the attention to such a detail.

I gotta think, who were the "working boys"? Where did the boys work? And who did build the institution? Information is so limited.

Well, solution is always simple. I should always check the homepage of the current occupant. According to the Leventhal-Sidman JCC, the WBH was operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. So my initial guess about a Christian organization was right.

But where did the boys work? There must have been farms around the facility. Like many Poor Farms, the WBH could have been a self supporting community. The Boston Manufacturing Company (Francis Cabot Lowell's mill in Waltham) is 7 miles (11km) away from the Home. But those mills usually provided boarding to their employees. How about newspaper companies?  There is a relatively big textile machine factory only a mile away, too.

My questions deepen.

Locate Working Boys Home @ Google Map

Also read the follow up article: Faces of the Working Boys Home

Historical map of Newton from Mytopo:
MACRIS detail of Working Boys Home:
MACRIS detail of Saco-Petee Textile Machine Shop:
Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center: