You want ugly buildings? I'll show you ugly buildings


On Sunday, the Globe Magazine posited that Bostonians who object to City Hall, the JFK Building and that mental-health building with the staircases to nowhere are simply stupid, plebian dunderheads unable to grasp the magnificence and brilliance of these 1960s and 1970s edifices and their role in restoring Boston's luster after decades of decline. Or as writer Sarah Schweitzer (of course), put it:

Resentment of modern buildings was bound to be acute in Boston.

Oh, please. Does anybody resent the Hancock Tower? People resent structures like City Hall not because they are different but because they represent a deliberate attempt to stamp a giant boot on the face of the people who paid for them forever (John Collins was, I'm sure, a perfectly grand fellow, but that Orwellian homage to him on the side of City Hall fits the building perfectly). The JFK Building is decried not because it is new (or was when it was built) but because it's insipid and bland - just like those skyscrapers for which an entire vibrant neighborhood was torn down a few blocks away. Damn right people resent having the "old" taken away from them when that represents their homes.

In any case, in her inability to walk more than a few blocks from City Hall, Schweitzer missed some really ugly structures in Boston, ones that do little to bolster her case that the architects of the 1960s and 1970s are gods among men.

Take the bank buildings in the Financial District that dealt with those messy setback requirements by having their structures balloon out a few stories up like giant, pregnant alien invaders. Or take (please!) the building at the top of the post, a stupid, annoying thing on Harrison Avenue in Chinatown that looks exactly like a jail plopped right in the middle of the neighborhood - an ugly eyesore with gun ports that basically screams to onlookers "You suck and if you touch me, I'll cut you!" Ironically, the weird enclaves at the bottom provide a handy place for the homeless to get some brief respite from the wind.

Spaceship from Independence Day, right?Spaceship from Independence Day blots out the sun



Free tagging: 


City Hall

You'll be hard-pressed to convince me that anything's uglier than that upside down ziggurat we have in Center Plaza. If anything, the inside's even uglier because you can't hide from the exterior ugliness.


Or take (please!) the building at the top of the post, a stupid, annoying thing on Harrison Avenue in Chinatown that looks exactly like a jail plopped right in the middle of the neighborhood - an ugly eyesore with gun ports that basically screams to onlookers "You suck and if you touch me, I'll cut you!"

Adam, don't knock the Harrison Ave Central Office. That's where the Time and Temperature for Boston (aka the "NESTLE" number) is located! Also, it's not supposed to be pretty, any phone company building designed post 1960s is form-after-function. Look at the COs on Belvidere St, or the extension built onto the NET&T building near City Hall.

Phone Phreaks Represent! :)

Back in the day...

Yeah, if you look at the building immediately to the left that it's connected to, it's Verizon.

As for NERVOUS... My mom taught it to me as "NESTLES" which I guess is how they rolled where she grew up in Manchester. I believe the "official" name by Ma Bell was "MERIDIAN."

Personally, now I just dial NERDSEX.

Odd trivia fact for UH folks, if you get two or more people on it at once, you can shout and hear each other in the silence. This used to be a big thing (and a lot more common) back in the 60s and 70s. The recording unit is one of the last devices in the country you can still do this on.


In The Berkeley To Boston Forty Brick Lost Bag Blues, a novel concerning dope and dope smuggling, co-written by Michael Crichton (but nobody ever mentioned that one in his obituary, which is a shame because it's extremely entertaining, and...)

(Would you please get to the friggin' point?)

One of the characters says that the easiest way to tell the difference between Boston and Berkeley is that in Boston you dial NERVOUS for the time and in Berkeley you dial POPCORN.

(OK, it wasn't really worth the wait, but I really love that book and was thrilled to have an opportunity to jam something from it into any conversation.)


But those are office buildings, right?

As opposed to switching stations. It is possible to make switching stations look less like docked battleships - there's one on Belgrade Ave. in West Roxbury that looks more like a brick apartment building than a cube from outer space (then again, we are talking about a neighborhood with a police station that looks like a large colonial house, so maybe it's the exception to the rule).

Back in the day it was about 50/50...

You can tell where the office space is (it has windows) versus the distribution frames (little to no windows). While nowadays they have a large amount of unused space, ever since the central offices moved from electro-mechanical switches to computer-based ones, a lot less switchmen and operators were needed.

Comparing the offices between each other, Post Office square had more equipment as it was the toll center for most of New England's long distance telephone calls. It had two 4A Crossbar Tandems (617-2 and 617-3). This was one of two offices in the US with this kind of set-up (two 4As) the other being Chicago.

Bowdoin just had a single #5 Crossbar(?) system that was used for local calls and providing dial tone.

Still awake? Wow. I'm impressed.

Post Office Square

I am /so sad/ that Verizon is selling that building. It is a beautiful piece of architecture. The giant Bell Telephone logo in front of the building is a work of art. I really, really hope they save it.

My New Year's resolution was

My New Year's resolution was not to take the bait with Sarah Schweitzer stories. I'd decided, you see, that her entire purpose on the Globe's staff was to drive site traffic. Her articles reliably number among the most visited and e-mailed, because they're consistently outrageous. Bloggers post rebuttals. Friends post them to Facebook. People gawk, they scream, they shout their dissent. But they pay attention.

I figure it's like living with a toddler. Ignore them, and they may give up their antics, and start to behave.


I used to work across the street from the Pregnant building, on the floor right where it juts out. It took me quite a while to stop panicing ("Oh My God! The building is falling over!") every time I glanced out the window.

It is a good landmark, however. "Yeah, meet me by the Pregnant building. "The wha?" "Just get to the street, and you'll know what I'm talking about."

I like....

...City Hall (outside), City Hall Plaza (though it could be more inviting) and JFK Center (so, it is a bit bland, big deal). The Government Center complex and other immediate surrounding buildings is really pretty decent.

No argument as to some of your other candidates for scorn.

Ah, yes...

The link is busted, but I know (as does anyone else who frequents that intersection...ever) which building you're talking about. It's all the more lovelier for the storefront window which has been broken and unrepaired for at least a year now. I have been tempted to call the real estate company which has all the signs plastered on that front to point out they might have a *wee* bit more luck renting the place out if they gave potential lessees at least an iota of assurance that the landlord gives a damn.

Ex-BU dorm

I don't know how it started its life and I don't know if BU still has any claim to it or sold it off, but for quite a few years it was a BU dorm. The first floor was a lobby/study area for the students.

It really has fallen apart compared to the area around it in recent times though.

What a great article. Have

What a great article.

Have you ever been inside the Lindemann (aka stairs to nowhere) building? I have and I feel sorry for anyone who works there. It's all concrete and blank walls. Whoever designed it seriously had it in for social workers and the mentally ill. It's a hateful, despairing interior.

What an awesome building

It almost looks alive.

Project Pride is, I think, the city's attempt to shame owners of derelict properties into cleaning them up. You see the signs on all the more fashionable condemned buildings around Boston.

crazy building

I've always been convinced that if you weren't crazy before you went to that Piranesi inspired mental health building you would be after.