Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mercantile Wharf Building, Boston

Mercantile Wharf Building is one of the creations of Gridley James Fox Bryant. Prolific in the mid 19th century, he represented the Boston Granite Style thorough Charles Street Jail (1851), Washington Tower at Mt Auburn (1854), and the Cambridge Poor Farm(1851).

Completed in 1857, Mercantile Wharf Building is in an once busy dock area. The building stored goods for the adjacent Quincy Market.

1946 Map of Boston, Blue * indicates the loc. of Mercantile Wharf Bld: From Mytopo
Upper Balloon: Mercantile Wharf Bld, Lower Balloon: Quincy Mkt: From Google Map

Currently, the Quincy Market and Mercantile Wharf Building are divided by two busy through ways. But it used to be a stone's throw distance; upon the construction of the much dreaded elevated I-93 (John F. Fitzgerald Highway) in the 50's, the building was "chopped into a half" to make a way for the the highway. If you look below pictures of the both sides, it is quite noticeable what happened to the south side.

North side
South side

I always thought the bare brick side is sort of cool, but I didn't realize it was a scar the urban renewal had left to this building; it torn the fabric of the community and the forcibly particled space would never be united again as a coherent neighborhood (For more about the division caused by the elevated I-93, please refer to my previous post).

The building was converted to a multi-use commercial space and apartment in 1976. On a sunny weekend, the area is filled with people. Looking over a waterfront park with a carousel, Mercantile Wharf Building has sure not only changed its purpose but witnessed the neighborhood transformation.

Locate Marcantile Wharf Building @ Google Map (1946 Boston South, Northeast)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hoffman Building, Boston

Hoffman Building, Lovejoy Wharf, Submarine Signal Building, Schrafft's Candy Factory Quincy Cold Storage... I don't know which name rings a bell to you, but it's that abandoned loft just before you go deep under the Big Dig. When you are on I-93 south, maybe you are preoccupied by being on the Zakim Bridge or by the sight of TD Bank Garden on your right. If you turn your head opposite from the Bruins... that's the one I'm talking about. If you still don't get it, forget about it. Just drive safe.   

TD Bank Garden and Zakim Bridge

The way you can get to this loft as close as possible is from a foot path under the Charleston Bridge. On a weekend day, the ducky amphibious mobile and the green-orange trolley bus with happy tourists constantly pass on the Charleston Bridge. No one would be talking about this abandoned loft. You cannot beat the magnificent sight of the bridge and the Bruins, I understand. 

The jetty has been left to collapse. How long has it been abandoned? From the billboard on top of the roof, there seems to be a plan to convert this wharf to a condo or something. But I don't think this will happen any time soon.

Am I the only one thinking the walkway is "temporarily" closed due to "repairs"?

The sign on North Washington Street entrance says this is "Submarine Signal Building". The Submarine Signal Company was founded in 1901, and later acquired by the American Appliance Company (which became a guided missile company Raytheon) in 1945.

The building itself is constructed in 1907, so it is relatively safe to assume the building had been occupied by the Submarine Signal first. Later the building became a storage for the local candy company, Scrafft's ice cream division. The last major occupant seems to be the DMV under the name of the Hoffman Building. I know, the list of occupants sounds totally random.

Now the jetty that must have loaded or unloaded mechanical instruments for the Submarine Signal Company or the ice cream (yummy!) for Schrafft's is left abandoned.

After the Big Dig was finally dug in 2007, the area that had been isolated by the elevated I-93 became the prime target for redevelopment. The Hoffman Building was no exception; in the summer of 2007, a plan to convert "Lovejoy Wharf" into a residential complex with an automated garage and retail stores was launched. But the conversion was blocked by the residents at a nearby condo who showed a concern that the Lovejoy's plan with a partial 14-story unit would block their view of the Charles. Things came to a halt here.

So the brief history of that abandoned wharf ends here. But I still don't know why the developer named the building as "Lovejoy Wharf". Is this Mr. or Ms. Lovejoy's property? To be honest, it does sound like this is the wharf where the Love Boat docks.

Locate Hoffman Building @ Google Map

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Irish Round Tower, Milford

Why are there so many stone towers in New England? Because Rock is abundant in the region? While I was in the Midwest for a few years, I didn't come across a single stone tower... Now my guess game starts here: when the European settlers cultivated the land they needed to clear chunks of rock. Creating a mound after mound of rock pile was way too boring and impractical. Instead of doing so, they piled rocks up for boundary hedges. That's practical, but it's not quite a fun yet.

Yet Puritans didn't fancy the concept of fun, after zillions of boundaries they might become "creative" with the use of the cleared rock: "Why don't we create some watching towers? We need to keep our properties free from intruders!" Ok, it does sill sound full of practicality sans fun, but you can at least tweak the design to distinguish one tower from another. And then it became a part of vernacular architectural style... That's my complete fancy.

(I'm not the only one fantasizing about New England towers' origins; take a look at the case with Newport Tower in Rhodes Island!)

One day, my Irish husband B. said: "those towers look like medieval towers in Ireland. Maybe there's something to do with Irish." Huh, good point. Come to think of it, the Irish field is as rocky as the New England counterpart. Not surprisingly, our state Massachusetts has the only Irish Round Tower in North America!

The Tower is in a Roman Catholic cemetery in Milford. St Mary Cemetery of Milford was established in 1839, and the tower was built in 1894 to commemorate Irish immigrants of the town. Milford is notable for its Milford Granite. The pink granite stone become fashionable during the 1870's, and the business trend supplied employment to the immigrants.

The supply of stone (nice one!) and Irish masons were plentiful, why not build an Irish round tower, right?

This cemetery is serenely quiet. I know, cemeteries are the synonym of quiet, but there are different tones in it. For example, state hospital cemeteries are sadly quiet. Well maintained cemeteries are peacefully quiet. Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge is lively quiet... I know it sounds strange, but the cemetery is always filled with birds and animals!

The Irish Tower sits on the edge of a pond. There is a huge rock by the tower. Under the rock, there is a man made cave of which entrance is furnished like a catacomb. The entrance is sealed with blocks of stone, and there is no way to peek inside. What's inside? Why is it sealed like that?

Wait a second, a tower and a catacomb... that sounds kinda symbolic doesn't it? I mean the motifs of man and woman are next together...

Immaculate conception?!

A cemetery is a great place to pick up interesting motifs and symbols. This cemetery is filled with Gaelic motifs. In addition to the Virgin Mary, many gravestone had a Celtic cross, serpentine, shamrock, and that tangled vine like thing (excuse my crude knowledge).

Needless to say, many gravestones are curved Milford Granite. I forgot to mention, the tower is made by Milford Granite blocks, too.

Close up of pink Milford Granite

I found a few pauper graves in the cemetery. I recently learned that many cemeteries in the country have pauper sections. Surrounded by non-pauper Milford granite gravestones, what fate drove them to such a numberless, austere gravestones. There may be no clues to tell their life story from a mere number, but we all have to keep in mind that even they have been labeled as "paupers", each person had a history as important as the rest of us.

After finishing my investigation, I was heading back to my car parked on the edge of the cemetery. The north side of the cemetery was next to a woodland of which ownership was not certain to me. There was newish wires in the woods which seemed to show the boundary between the cemetery and the rest of the forest.

As I walked by the woods, I was wondering who is the owner of that part of property. I was scanning for some nature trails, and suddenly mysterious wooden crosses jumped into my eyes.

The height of the cross was about 3 ft (a meter) high. From a quick observation, there were total 13 crosses on the edge of the cemetery property. (I have to say I don't like the number "13" in this context...) The plot seemed to be cleared recently as I noticed some sawdust on the ground.

As you can see from the pictures above, there were numbered plates on the crosses, indicating there seems to be an effort to distinguish one from another. Are those crosses pauper graves? Or are those recently found burial spots that their existences were somewhat forgotten from us? 

Locate Irish Round Tower @ Google Map

St Mary Milford:
MACRIS database:
MACRIS database: 
 A towering mystery, the Greater Grafton Blog: