Exploring the ladder blocks of downtown

The Boston Preservation Alliance takes a look at the side streets between Tremont and Washington, which face danger from developers who just want to tear down buildings to put up bigger buildings - but which also has new development in the form of reuse (such as the Godfrey Hotel).



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They're full of it.

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If there are two blocks that are in desperate need of revitalizing it is the West street and Bromfield St. blocks.

Their examples of architecture on those streets are ridiculous. They shouldn't be allowed to stand in the way of projects that would continue to make the neighborhood better.

The Modern and Paramount theaters and the Godfrey are examples of sites that were preserved and are better than before,

However the dilapidated buildings they refer to are not remotely like those other structures and were never referenced to in the 30 years I've been here.

Suddenly the "ladder" streets are historic?

That is a very recent and questionable conclusion.

As is the term ladder district.

Mostly agree

The buildings are mostly unremarkable, and except for the Brattle Bookshop (which has only survived because Ken Gloss owns the building) the useful little shops that used to inhabit these streets have been priced out. But please, new building heights and/or setbacks have to respect the narrowness of the streets.

How is this ridiculous,

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How is this ridiculous, dilapidated, or not historic? https://goo.gl/maps/bgJS6bctJkG2 https://goo.gl/maps/dgotmvYyz6u

I consider these some of the most pleasant and interesting parts of downtown.

The only issues I have with the streetscape are the insensitive 70s facade on the corner of West and Tremont, and the mid-block surface parking lot. But both of these can easily be fixed.

Anyone who thinks it's preferable to tear down the whole block and replace it with a giant glass box, with the entire streetscape devoted to valet parking staging, garage entrances, and ventilation louvers, should stay the heck away from making planning decisions for a historic walkable city. https://goo.gl/maps/RFoWuvQy9GM2

I'm with you on this

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Buildings on Temple and West are barely hanging on.
Why put a glass box and garage entrances on these streets. I agree.
Even 660 Washington Street blows my mind with that garage. (the old combat Zone)
I don't know, I'm already ready to cave in on the new real estate coming in.
I was a long time shopper at Winter and Washington back in the day.
As long as they keep the beautiful old buildings as much as they can......

Modern and Paramount theatres

weren't really preserved -- they were torn down and replaced by new theatres behind the old façades. In the case of the Modern, the façade was carefully dismantled before the old theatre was demolished, then was re-assembled in front of the new replacement.

Do you know why?

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The Modern had extensive water damage and rot. It was in danger of complete collapse. At great expense and painstaking work the facade was restored and Emerson's use of the new theater has been universally applauded.

Not sure where you are geting your info

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But the ladder streets have been looked at as historic by preservationists (the profession, not nimbys) for a few decades at least.

There are some really handsome buildings there with a lot of the character that people like about Boston. And they are great opportunities for serious renovation, vertical additions and all sorts of ways to add business to the city without tearing it down and building cheap fiber-cement clad boxes.

Gradually improving DTX gives me hope that some of the really awful ground floor storefronts will go away and we'll get some real money invested in that part of town. And then I see what Forever21 just did and get depressed again.

Let's infill the empty spaces and replace what doesn't deserve saving but tearing down good buildings so some developer can make more money doesn't seem like a good thing for the rest of us.

Cool location for restaurant row

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When we lived in Singapore, they had taken a bunch of old warehouses along the river and converted them into restaurants in the small, old buildings. HUUUUGE success. I've often thought that would be a cool thing to do here - perhaps with some sort of shared back of house facility because these are small buildings. Best idea might be to close the streets and have al fresco dining perhaps later hours or in summer at least - but guessing that wouldn't work for the traffic patterns in there - plus I know there are issues with street life if you close to traffic.

In Singapore you would just go down to the area, walk by all the restaurants until one suited your fancy and that was your choice for the evening - it was fun and because you often didn't know which restaurant you would choose on any given night - a modest "urban adventure".


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Did you see the building Forever 21 replaced? The roof had partially collapsed and like the old Modern, had water pouring in. They rebuilt a new structure and absolutely added to the neighborhood. The old building even in its glory days was horribly ugly.

Replace handsome architecture with bland flat glass?

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I disagree about the architecture of these streets. It is handsome, modest, sometimes fancy but by and large generally easy to grasp and comprehend at a human scale. While more activity on the streets would be beneficial there are still excellent retail businesses such as the Brattle Books and the Watch Hospital.

Tearing the buildings would be an outright net loss. They represent a high point in Boston economy and commercial architecture. These buildings were built to last hundreds of years and to carry their promise and potential for countless generations. They are proud architectural statements from the past that continue to profit the present with their beauty and strength.

Modern architecture is built to be cheap, look cheap, last 60 years at most (2 or 3 generations instead of 10) and to look as though it could be torn down as soon as it finished without anyone noticing.

Old buildings have a spirit to them. The intellectual souls of their builders remain alive. Modern buildings are generally without any sense of soul or human touch. They are cookie cutter structures that look like a machine designed and built them.

Tearing these buildings down would enrich developers, add a few temporary construction jobs and leave the rest of the city poorer for loosing yet more of its architectural soul. Replacing handsome structures with bland flat glass structures adds a few dollars to the present but destroys the future by destroying the past.

The Godfrey was a PITA

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The Godfrey construction was a pain in the ass for years. The sidewalks were blocked off, construction vehicles screwed up traffic, etc. Now there's a snooty hotel with a snooty cafe and a pretentious restaurant. Big win.


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Construction has a tendency to do that and just because it's out of your price range doesn't mean it's snooty.

Having sidewalks blocked off

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Having sidewalks blocked off is a pain, but Boston needs more hotels. The prices are sky high. On certain weekends there is nothing available. Imagine someone coming to Boston for the first time and staying at the hotels near Methadone Mile because they don't know the area and those are the only affordable hotels. That tourist is never coming back and they are telling others not to spend money here.

And what kind of restaurants should nice hotels have? Another Dunkin Donuts and a generic sub shop? I'll take whats in The Godfrey over that.

On certain weekends...

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On certain weekends there is nothing available.

Am I alone in thinking that that's just a thing when you're talking about a city? Particularly one that has big events around certain weekends, like graduations?

The issues

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Are less about the architecture and more about the drug addiction which is still rampant in this neighborhood. There is a drug highway running through downtown. Winter Street, Tremont, Bromfield, Temple, West and in every alley there is drug activity. This needs to be focused on.

In addition, the ladder streets have lots of empty space that needs to be filled. That is also an issue as the rents are disproportionately high. So the Forever 21's and Old Navy's will come but the unique, interesting, eclectic retailers can't afford it which is too bad.

West Street

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West Street--remember it when (and Stearns and Filenes and Jordan Marsh and Gilchrists, Raymonds, Krey's Record store--Tower Records...Charlies Diner in Kenmore etcetera!). I recall West Street historically associated with the Peabody Sisters and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Boston. Always evolving. See Erica Hirschler MFA presentation "At Dusk, Boston Common at Twilight". (Available via You Tube) Excellent analysis of Hassam painting showing changes in that one small section of Tremont Street from residential to commercial back to residential today. See also 'Dirty Old Boston' by Jim Botticelli. Is the city better or worse? Who can afford to live in it? What makes a city vibrant? I hope 21st Century Boston will be as fondly remembered as I remember my Dirty Old city.