From trains to cars: The evolution of Park Square

Old Boston train station

The Boston Public Library's posted this ad for the Providence and Boston train station that once sat where Columbus Avenue today enters Park Square - and which replaced an even older station. Note on this map that its tracks crossed the line of the Boston and Albany just before the station.

Here's a photo from sometime after its construction in 1872 - note the Lincoln statue, which remains in the square, although not in the same prominent location:

Old train station

Back then, of course, trolley lines ran through the square.

The station didn't last that long - here's a photo of Park Square in 1905, as the future home of Paine Furniture (note Trinity and Old South churches in the upper left; also see the square in 1900):

Park Square in 1905

Park Square eventually became dominated by cars, as shown in these Leslie Jones photos from sometime before the construction of the Motor Mart building (note the Lincoln statue's prominent location in the square and that the second photo shows the Hotel Statler, later renamed the Park Plaza):

Park Square with cars

Park Square and cars.

Also see: Lightning striking near the hotel in 1930.

Eventually, the parking lot (Another view) was replaced by the Motor Mart, which was the largest parking garage in the world when built in 1927. Here's a Jones photo from 1932 (here's an aerial shot from 1928):

Motor Mart

The roof of the Motor Mart briefly doubled as a helicopter terminal.

Park Square once had a Trailways bus depot.

More Park Square photos from the BPL.

BPL photos posted under this Creative Commons license.



Free tagging: 


You forgot the benches behind the Four Seasons

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I would love them to add a photo of the male and female junkies / prostitues passed out on benches in various states of undress behind the Four Seasons in the early 1990's after swiping sugar packets from me at Ben & Jerry's to string them along a little longer. The Four Seasons had had enough and had them (the benches)taken away. Good times.

Please don't wax nostalgic about Park Square based on these photos. What is there now is vibrant and productive. My mother and then I worked in there for years. It was "gritty" and not in the romantic way people sometimes like to pine. Lets put it this way. If there you were holding an iPhone up to your ear at night there up until about 1995, your would iPhone would be stolen, along with your ear.

Three cheers to the people who helped squash the Park Plaza development proposals of the early 1980's. The row between Arlington and Charles would have been one long block of glass and steel 500 feet high lording over the Public Garden. Cheers to Jack Fallon of R.M. Bradley for holding out against Mayor White and the New York money trying to replicate Detroit's Ren Center on Boylston. This is a better city for it.

Nice sequence

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Most of this is visible from my office window - so of personal interest.

couple of things:

1) the parking lot Adam mentions was turned into the Motor Mart - if I'm not mistaken and understanding the captions correctly that's Berkeley in the foreground and the Park Square building to the left - not the Hotel? If so the front of that parking lot is what became the Liberty Mutual building and the far end of that block is the Paine Furniture Bldg. In between was the bus station which has been replaced by 10 St. James office building. I believe all three are now owned by Liberty Mutual and many of their employees here will be consolidated into the new office building around the corner which is nearing completion (which by the way - is a very handsome structure now that that scaffolding has been removed with lots of curved facade etc.)

2) The Lincoln Statue is still in the same place as in the photo - but the location is indeed a lot less prominent. Lincoln used to look out to the Boston common and Beacon Hill. Now he mostly looks at the back of the One Charles residences.

3) I believe the Boston and Providence is now the end of the Northeast corridor from NY to Boston(or as we call it from our Boston perspective - the Southwest Corridor) the crossover is roughly where it merges with the B&A at Back Bay Station.

4) The Gas building pictured west of the Motor Mart was most recently the Rennaissance Charter school and is now being converted to 100 units of housing. Thanks to some generous contributions by the businesses in the square - the park next to that building has recently been renovated and looks fantastic. Nice place to grab lunch if you are in the area - which you can buy cheap at Viga across the street - cool old building which I fear is not long for this world.

Boston & Providence

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I believe the Boston & Providence actually ran along what is now the Needham Heights commuter rail line but, obviously, at some point in the past continued on to Providence. I think the Boston, New York, and Hartford line is what is now the Northeast Corridor.

I remember going to the Park Sq. bus station to pick up my grandmother who would sometimes ride the bus down from Maine. It seemed a little sketchy even as a kid, but the black and white coin operated TVs attached to the seats in the waiting room were always a fun diversion.

Kind of I think

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If Wikipedia is correct

Oh the tangled genealogies of railroads

Looks like Needham was a branch of the main line cutting off at Forest Hills and they also had a much more concentrated service in and around Dedham/128/Readvill Canton. Apparently the Bussey Bridge disaster almost killed the B&P and I'm guessing eventually the NY, NH and H was able to gobble it or its descendents up.

"The first branch was the Dedham Branch to Dedham from Readville, opened in 1834 with the first section of the railroad. The Norfolk County Railroad opened in 1849, continuing from Dedham to the southwest. In 1850, a second branch to Dedham opened from Forest Hills, forming a loop through Dedham. Another outlet for the Dedham Branch opened in 1906, with a connection west to the New England Railroad at Needham Junction. The Dedham Branch from Forest Hills to that connection is still in use as the Needham Branch of the MBTA Commuter Rail, but the rest of the Dedham loop has been abandoned."

One Dedham line branched off

One Dedham line branched off the Needham line at Spring street in West Roxbury (where Shaw's is now), went through what is now the Dedham Mall to the station at Dedham square, where the parking lot is now. The other line branched off at Readville, running behind the current location of Dedham High.

Boston & Providence RR

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The Boston & Providence Railroad went in an almost straight line between its namesake cities, starting at Park Square in Boston. You can still see that straight line on a map today.

In Providence the railroad ended up on the east side of the river, across from the main part of the city. So, not long after it opened, they built a branch that split off in Attleboro and went to downtown Providence. This also allowed the line to be extended south of Providence, towards New York. This is the route that Amtrak and MBTA Commuter Rail use today, except for some minor relocation in Providence itself. (The old Union Station is still there, now a restaurant, about a block from the new Providence station.)

Engineers (designers, not train drivers) for the original line were George Washington Whistler and William Gibbs McNeill. As a result of their working together, G. W. Whistler met and married W. G. McNeill's sister Anna; their son James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in Lowell while McNeill and the older Whistler were working on the Boston & Lowell Rail Road. J. A. M. Whistler is of course the famous painter known for the portrait of "Whistler's Mother".

The railroad station pictured here was the 2nd or 3rd on the site. It remained there until South Station opened in 1899, resulting in elimination of the track northeast of Back Bay Station. It was also at that time that the first Back Bay Station was built on that site.

The B. & P. R.R. had a branch to Dedham that split off at Forest Hills, going through Roslindale and West Roxbury and then south to Dedham, behind the current site of the Dedham Mall and on into the square. It was on this branch that the Bussey Street disaster occurred.

Trains serving Needham originally entered Boston through Newton and Brookline along the current routes of the Riverside Line, and of the Worcester commuter rail line that parallels the Mass. Pike. Around the 1890s there was a massive consolidation of rail lines into the New Haven Railroad, formally the New York, New Haven, & Hartford RR. Included in this consolidation was the line through Needham (but only the part southwest of Newton Highlands) and the line to Providence. In 1906 the New Haven built a connecting line from West Roxbury to Needham Jct., which allowed its Needham trains to use its own tracks into Boston, rather than paying to use the lines of the competing Boston & Albany RR (New York Central RR).

So until 1906 there was no connection from Forest Hills to Needham. In other words, the station portrayed in these photos never served any trains from Needham, since that connection wasn't built until after this station was closed.

The station shown in these photos is on the site now occupied by the Statler Office Building (20 Park Plaza) and the Boston Park Plaza Hotel (formerly the Statler Hotel, then the Statler Hilton). The street in front of that hotel, between it and the Four Seasons, was called Providence Street before it was renamed as part of Park Plaza.

Bus depot from hell

Ate many a burger at the Greyhound bus terminal Burger King. Very sketchy place.

Don't forget, that area was also home to Boston's own Playboy Club, where the Four Seasons rises now.

Old Park Square

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Ah yes, the Greyhound Terminal and Burger King attached to it. I rememebr the little coin operated TVs attached to the chairs in taht pre-digital era. Quite a bit of male prositution took place at the terminal and outside on St. James in the 70s. There was the Playboy Club, and don't forget the Hillbilly Ranch. And that pizza place which was a gathering place for hookers where the high rise condos are now.

Unnecessary story follows

I spent the summer of 1985 on Martha's Vineyard. I took the bus home from Hyannis to Boston and was picked up by my parents on St James Ave. My mother looked frightened.

Several years later after I came out of the closet, she said to me, "Remember that time you came home and we picked you up at the bus station? If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have been so worried."

Because I was apparently a male prostitute???

Male Prostitution

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Although male prostitution took place on St. James Ave. in the 70s and 80s, the lion's share of it took place on what was referred to as "The Block", Marlborough, Arlington, Beacon and Berkeley, or thereabouts. Residents used to complain about it. Male prostitution was never quite as obvious as female hookers, who could always be spotted a mile away.

Needs a re-do

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Anyone else think that Park Square needs a re-do today? In my opinion there's far too much space dedicated to asphalt and parking (e.g. what rationale is there for perpendicular parking by McCormick?) and far too narrow and bare sidewalks. Pedestrian access is confusing and dangerous all around.

I think they can pedestrianize Columbus Ave between Lincoln Square and Arlington/Stuart except for local access to the hotel/restaurant - make it a shared space like Winthrop Street in Harvard Sq.

Pedestrian access is

Pedestrian access is confusing? Maybe a seeing eye dog would help - they seem to do just fine.

Documents of the City of Boston

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See also Documents of the City of Boston

Update: An enquiry about how are Precincts officially delineated?

Ward boundaries were created under the authority of Acts of 1924 Chapter 410

The Municipal Register is online through Boston Public Library

Family Search has an excellent page which describes all of the iterations of Boston’s Ward boundaries through the years,...

Precinct boundaries are determined by the Election Commission. Ask for the definitions of the boundaries and the Minutes of the Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Boston at

and the library at the Office of the Boston City Council

WTF, dude?

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A bunch of old photos of train stations and garages has absolutely nothing to do with precinct lines. Do I really need to tell you that?