What if Storrow Drive had never been built? Imagine if it were just removed?
After posting about a Cambridge debate over keeping Memorial Drive shut to traffic on Saturdays, some folks on Twitter argued it shouldn't have been a highway to begin with.
One could make the same argument across the river, where, in fact, the banks of what we now call the Charles River Basin were originally a tree-lined promenade right up to the houses and buildings along Bay State Road, at least until the state built Storrow Drive in the 1950s, forcing pedestrians to use one of several pedestrian bridges to get to the river - and then further cemented the auto-primacy of the area by building the Bowker Overpass over Charlesgate in the 1960s.
The idea for a Charles River Embankment - today's Storrow Drive and Esplanade - dates to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the state constructed a dam across the mouth of the Charles, turning what had been an estuary into more of a large lake (in large part to keep smelly sewage pouring out of Stony Brook and the Muddy River covered by water, which kept the odors from wafting into the tony Back Bay). The result would be a "water park" with an esplanade along the river, backing up to the homes of the Back Bay.
The dam was completed in 1905. Charles River Embankment as seen from the Harvard Bridge in 1910 (source):
Swimming near the old Charles Street jail, sometime in the 1930s or 1940s (source):
The Hotel Sheraton, 91 Bay State Rd., used to be right at the water - compare to today (building is now a BU dorm, source):
Storrow Drive was built in 1950 and 1951. In the postcard, note how peaceful and uncrowded it looks - and how it doesn't have a complex overpass system at Charlesgate (source):
The state built the Bowker Overpass atop Charlesgate in 1965 and 1966 (source):
Photos posted under this Creative Commons license.