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Full text of "Reviving Boston's marketplace"

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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 



more. 



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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 

Property Of 

BOSTON REDEV£LOPWiJ>ir AUTHORITY 

Library 




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 



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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 
Rotunda lobbv. 





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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 
the country. 

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 
good weather. 

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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