Reviving Boston's Marketplace
I by Benjamin Thompson and Jane McC. Thompson
fringing fiew life to Boston's Fauenil Hall Market requires a fine balance between historic restoratiofi and urban
* 'vitality . The Rouse Company's development plan pro?nises just that.
I Famous Faneuil Hall and its three block-long
market annexes — Quincy, North, and South A-lar-
kets — stand at the exact center of Boston's urban
core. The Mayor looks down on the Markets from
New City Hall; motorists look down from the
Southeast Expressway; workers look up as they
hurry from nearby Haymarket to State Street and
Government Center. Once the heart of harbor ac-
tivity and the city's wholesale food industry, the
Markets have been called one of the principal orna-
ments of America's Athens — indeed, its Agora. Yet
for almost a decade the aging granite buildings have
stood empty and neglected. Since the wholesale
foodsellers moved on to a more sanitary suburb, the
Markets have been active no longer, ornaments no
Looking down or looking up at these dilapidated
landmarks, Bostonians over the years asked the
questions that must haunt every historic building
still standing: Could the market buildings serve
some useful purpose in a renewed downtown?
Should antiquated low-rise buildings continue to
occupy six acres of prime city real estate? If renova-
tion were physically feasible, what purposes would
make it economically viable? What ne\\- patterns of
self-sustaining use, serving the changing needs and
conditions of the city, could be found to save the
treasures of our architectural past?
This is the prologue to the complex story of the
Faneuil Hall Markets project — the name now given
to the three-block area built by Josiah Quincy in
BOSTON REDEV£LOPWiJ>ir AUTHORITY
Quincy Markets in 1828, built on landfill brought directly to the edge of busy Boston harbor.
1825-26, as extensions of Bullfinch's Faneuil Hall
(which remains under city management). It is a
larger landmark redevelopment than most in the
country so far, but the principles of its rescue and
rehabilitation are those that must affect most such
historic projects in the future.
Basically, the issue is this: Among the old build-
ings hereafter worth saving, very few will or should
be museums. In seeking a realistic future life, an old
structure that is historically, socially, or architec-
turally interesting cannot become economically in-
valid, forever dependent on grants and doles, on
government and personal largesse. Adaptive uses
must be found which intrinsically provide means —
and motive — for continued use and maintenance.
Almost inevitably, this means that the uses must be
vital ones, geared not to "pure preservation" but to
the dynamic urban needs of their communities.
Buildings, to survive, must go on living.
In other words, to preser\-e is imperative but it is
not enough. It is only the first step, usually aimed at
saving old buildings from the path of bulldozers —
harbingers of dubious public or private "progress."
In the case of the Faneuil Hall iMarkets, saving the
structures from mass clearance, scheduled for the
new Government Center in the 1960's, was a for-
tuitous rescue. It came about from policies that
evolved late in the administration of Edward Logue,
head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, when
it acquired the North and South blocks for demoli-
tion — which was what "urban renewal" was all
about in the last decade.
Everyone intuitively loved the market area as a
very special place, even the planners who assumed
it would have to make way for a daring new master
plan. Even as it reeked of litter, the area also exuded
memories of fresh eggs and aging mutton, gleaming
cheeses and succulent chops; of predawn bustle and
the compelling frenzy of keeping a city well fed.
After much soul-searching and pressure from local
citizens and architects, the BRA saw the value of
trying to preserve the complex. Studies were made
in 1967-68; in 1969 federal money was granted to
encourage a future developer to take on this bizarre
Quincy Building after upper story fire in 1971. photo: Allen McCullough
, - 1 ■ -
Roof of Quincv Building, Faneuil Hall Markets, as it looked in 1925, a century after its opening.
project, by subsidizing the abnormal expense of re-
pairing worn granite and slate to a condition com-
patible with the surviving whole.
But what then? Who would and could make
business sense of this rambling, atypical 400,000
square feet of space? The Quincy Building, built by
Mayor Quincy as the city market, was a 535-foot-
long open arcade which would be spoiled by normal
subdivision. The two adjacent blocks, following the
scheme of Quincv's architect, Alexander Parris,
were 45 individual units each privately built by
merchants as warehouses and offices. How could
so much space in such small units be put to a viable
new purpose, not just as an architectural museum
but as a source of needed revenue for the city and
pleasure for its populace?
The remaining story of locating a suitable devel-
oper, one who could meet all the requisites for
handling this sophisticated urban project, reads like
an Ian Fleming script. 1970: Redevelopment speci-
fications were issued, and bids entered by develop-
ers; while decisions were delayed by personnel
changes, fires attacked the empty buildings. One of
the three bidders, a young developer, was finally
chosen (July 1971) under deadline stipulations
which, given the legal complications of multiple
property ownership, proved impossible to meet.
The developer was dismissed (January 1972) and
the BRA petitioned for the use of HUD restoration
funds to begin its own work on the exteriors. Funds
finally granted, exterior work was begun on North
and South blocks (Fall 1972), as a second devel-
Market area, before removal of buildings originally occupying Dock Square.
Familiar cheese vendor of the
Quincy Building will remain
as part of the revitalized open
bazaar-like food market.
photo: Allen McCullough
Architect's model of Faneuil
Hall Markets area with Dock
Square as a pedestrian park
and central flower market.
North and South Streets are
also closed to traffic. (Benja-
min Thompson & Associates.)
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Floor Plan of Quincv Building by Alexander Parris, 1825, showing layout of inner arcade.
oper was being considered. Finally selected, for its
unique combination of commercial, financial and
urban planning expertise, was the Rouse Company
of Columbia, Aid., in March 1973. From the time of
the BRA studies to the Rouse Company's designa-
tion — six years — estimated costs of the project had
doubled, from 10 million to 20 million dollars.
As architects and planners for both the first and
final developer, Benjanun 1 hompson and Associates
have been actively involved in the evolution and
testing of ideas to make this project an economic as
well as historic reality. Through a series of hard
decisions, we have faced issues that have helped the
developer determine his ability to keep these valued
buildings in our urban heritage, helping to achieve a
dehcate balance between the demands of history
and high finance.
First decision: A concept of building utilization.
The key to our initial 1970 proposal was to maintain
the open Quincy Building as a market — a full-scale
downtown food. center offering all manner of vict-
uals in individual retail concessions; not only meat
(the honest Boston beef for which the area is fa-
mous) but fish, produce, daily goods, cheeses and
wines would be sold in colorful bazaar-like abun-
dance. The indoor street would be kept; the per-
sonal merchant-to-customer contact would be kept.
A chance to expand the food center with ready-to-
eat offerings was found by opening up the entire
lower level as a Market Cafeteria with international
food specialties. The whole market area would again
vibrate with the abundance and vitality, the com-
munal sense of festivity and human contact, that
has historically made the marketplace a magnetic
focus in cities everywhere. In retrospect, retaining
the market as a food market seems an obvious idea,
but at the time it was quite outside the conventions
and expertise of most retail developers. It was not a
preservationist but an urbanistic concept, defying
the supermarket syndrome and chain-store credo, to
again make marketing a social and esthetic experi-
ence within the city. Three years ago, no qualified
developer in the East had done that.
This went along with another sweeping idea
that was contrary to the usual approach of mass
leasing to major institutional tenants, with heavy
emphasis on office use. This three-block area would
be designed, leased and operated as a single market-
place with maxlvmvi retail space on three levels,
assuring a full range of shops, restaurants and enter-
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photos; Allen McCullough
South canopy along Quincv Building. Remaining food vendors will become part of the new market.
Model of Quincv Building
"indoor street" of individual
food stalls: a major restaurant
will be located under the
dome, looking down on the
^trr^ip^T-l^^ :^sf M.J .
In 1 891, horse-drawn wagons were part of the lively confusion of North Market Street. In the automotive age, the streets
deteriorated into parking lots, leading to the decision to close streets to traffic.
tainment integrally balanced to provide the com-
plete mix of activities that comprises a healthy down-
town. Again, a true (not imitated) Agora, where
numerous small businesses mingle and compete. The
idea, as one critic put it, eschews glittering restora-
tion for some of the chaos of true historic continuity
and honest Boston beef. Genuine sounds of human
enjoyment in a place of genuine character.
The Rouse Company plans, which are now mov-
ing toward an April 1975 opening, carry these con-
cepts to the realm of exciting reality. With courage
and determination in the face of rising costs and a
shrinking time schedule, the developer is challenged
— precisely by the critical inner city location — to
make the market the busiest and most important in
Plans call for a marketplace that will be a center
of year-round and 'round-the-clock activity. Cir-
culation flows through traffic-free streets of cobble-
stone, with trees, benches, kiosks, play areas, and
information centers laid out to make the whole area
agreeable for shopping, resting, eating, or people-
watching. Flanking the long Quincy Building, under
protective canopies, there will be a mixture of retail
stalls, cafes, and eateries, with tables in the streets in
The Quincy dome, the major architectural fea-
ture of the design, will become a special focal space
in the new plan. By creating openings through both
floors to the roof of the dome (revealed at last as a
later sub-ceiling is taken away) a "rotunda" will be
created as a Great Room and gathering place; here
people can congregate, and enjoy glimpses of ac-
tivity on all levels. On the second floor a major
Bicentennial Exhibition will be presented through-
out the Boston 200 celebration of 1975-76. Under
the dome itself, on balconies around the circular
openings, a restaurant will overlook the markets
below, giving an intensity of use that will make
this area the crossroads of the marketplace.
Along North and South blocks, retail activity will
be organized into zones bringing together shops of
Cutaway of the Quincy arcade and Dome restaurant.
Sketch of the restored market area shows a variet\' of ac-
tivity in and around the buildings — outdoor performances,
sidewalk cafes, street vendors and kiosks, a flower market,
play areas for children, shopping on three levels for a
complete urban mix.
BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
similar emphasis or character. There will be, for
instance, a group of "discovery" and fine craft
shops, and an area for special imports representing
the best work of Greece, Ireland, Mexico, Iran,
India, Finland, and other countries. There will be
quality shops for men and women, as well as casual
clothing; house\\'ares, sporting and marine goods,
galleries, and antiques. Under consideration is an
Antiques Bazaar occupying a large segment of one
block, with many exhibit stalls in an intimate ar-
rangement created by opening up buildings into a
continuous multi-level arcade.
Rejecting the mass-production mentality of most
American commercial areas, emphasis in the Faneuil
Hall markets will be on high quality and unique
character in varied price ranges. The developer will
bring together enterprises that are native, owner-
managed, and distinctly appropriate to the needs of
Boston's own large consumer constituency of resi-
dents, business, and government employees. Thus
the true spirit of the restoration will emerge by
making this area once again a thriving, colorful city
market with people as the center of the action.
Preservation, in the words of Ada Louise Hux-
table, is finding ways to keep those buildings that
provide the city's character and continuity; and of
incorporating them into its living mainstream-
original buildings on origmal sites that remember,
but do not re-enact, an earlier time and a different
way of life. At Faneuil Hall Markets, there will be
no historical play-acting, no costumed atmosphere,
no phony olde period pieces. These would only con-
fuse and devalue authenticity. All that is usable and
real will be kept and used, without denying the flow
of the past into the present and the evolvino- future.
3 9999 06314 957 7
Blending of styles in the market area: Quincv Building
(1825), Faneuil Hall cower (1742), New England Mer-
chants Bank (1970).
As the noises and smells of today's eateries mingle
with memories of wagons in the streets, so the flavor
of past styles blends with today's need to build, try,
change, and adjust. The market will be a genuine
place - neither historic nor modern but simply the
conrinuation of a special place in the city - to the
extent that its physical form continues to orow
tastefully out of genuine urban commerce that is
answering honest human needs.
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