Planks a lot

Plank road

Where would you have seen a wooden road in Boston? See it larger. From the Boston City Archives.



Free tagging: 


    In the distant background...

    The building with hipped (I assume copper) roof with the glass transom beneath. Is that Mechanics Hall? Dudley Station? The planks appear to be over something, maybe a railroad right of way. If that's the case, I would guess maybe it's West Canton St, looking towards Huntington Ave, where the Southwest Corridor is today.

    my guess is somewhere around

    my guess is somewhere around back bay station, and the planks are acting as a lightweight paving on top of a structure spanning rail lines where the mbta/mbcr lines currently are. I can't find any streets that have quite this relationship to the BPL bldg as in this photo, so i'm guessing it's some long vanished street under Copley Place or one of the neighboring behemoths


    That building way in the back is the racquet club on the corner of Boylston and Hereford St. To the right in the photo is the rear pointy thing on the Boylston St Fire Station, opposite Dalton St. I put this on Newbury St, on the "other side", between the Muddy River and Massachusetts Ave, looking towards Mass Ave. The planks are possibly over the Muddy River, or depending on when the photo dates from, due to construction of the Green Line subway tunnel. The building on the left with the awnings is there now, but is currently gutted and being converted to other use. The townhouses on the right are now gone, the Mass Pike in their place. The view today.


    I think you're right.

    I think you're right.

    But step back a little further in your Street View link.

    The buildings with the metal or wood barricades on their roofs, at the top left, are still there. The buildings in the left foreground are now the Harvard Club parking lot.

    The subway tunnel under Newbury here opened in 1914, so I'm guessing the planking is from the subway construction below.

    The building formerly housing Tower Records was built in 1918, and is not in this photo.

    The before-and-after views really drive home how, even 50 years later, the Pike extension turned parts of the core of Boston into an urban wasteland.


    Those Curious Barricades

    Those roof barricades look like something that OSHA would require, but I can't imagine what their purpose would be 100 years ago. The windows of the buildings show signs of occupation, so they're not under construction. My only guess is a roof garden grape arbor, but there's not enough beams across the top for that. Does anyone know what they are?


    The Answer!

    Thanks for playing everyone! This is Newbury Street, looking east, on Sept 9, 1912. The photo was taken by the Public Works Dept and so the planks were almost certainly put down as part of one of their projects.


    Definitely subway construction

    The Green Line runs under Newbury Street between Mass. Ave. and Charlesgate East. It then makes an S curve under where the Bowker Overpass is now, and goes under the center of Comm. Ave. to Kenmore.

    Here's yet another Google Street View: You'll see that the building at far left of the photo is still there today.

    As for the roof barricades, they were probably there because the landlord permitted tenants to use the roof for some purpose and you had to have a railing near the edge.

    The building that used to be Tower Records and Best Buy was originally called the Transit Building and was designed with the subway station entrance in the ground floor and basement. At one time it housed offices of the Boston Elevated Railway Company.


    Um... I Don't Think So

    As for the roof barricades, they were probably there because the landlord permitted tenants to use the roof for some purpose and you had to have a railing near the edge.

    The "barricade-like" structures are several feet tall, higher than a protective railing and with too many large gaps to be effective for that purpose. They are made of heavier timbers than a railing would be, and look to have been built temporarily and/or hastily. Can't imagine what special rooftop activities would be going on, but there weren't strict safety regulations back then anyway. I thought; maybe solar clothes dryers, but there's no ropes or laundry visible. I also thought of pigeon coops, but there's no sign of netting or screening, let alone pigeons.

    Whatever they are, if this was a common practice, it'd be something seen on other old photographs here and there. But I've never seen anything quite like these before. They certainly are curious, which just makes these old Boston photos all the more interesting to look at!