Story 06: The Big Move

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Blackstone Block (1973)

Written by Mike Spock

Boston's Haymarket comes to life each Friday evening and Saturday morning—as it has for the last 150 years. In the 1970s, when we were looking for yet another downtown opportunity, the Haymarket was the exotic "garbage place" that our kids and I visited on deserted Sunday mornings after the produce pushcarts had been wheeled away and parked under the nearby Central Artery for another week, leaving their trash on the cobblestones for the city to clean up. Across the street from the famous old Durgin Park restaurant with its communal tables and surly waitresses, the Blackstone Block housed the more or less permanent meat market storefronts behind the lively Haymarket chaos of shouting pushcart vendors hawking fresh and cheap produce for weekend and next week's meals.

Before the Big Dig, Boston's billion-dollar megahighway project, but well into the Waterfront Redevelopment, the BRA had offered six adjoining properties in the Blackstone Block as a single development parcel. Their idea was to preserve the snaggletooth profile of the old warehouses and the street-level meat market storefronts. After the Hancock debacle and following the Program Committee Report, we were still looking for downtown opportunities. In the abstract, the Blackstone Block parcel seemed like a possibility: it was about the right size; just around the corner from Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall Marketplace that was about to open (1976); parking was abundant; and it was serviced by several subway stops, Central Artery exits, and the harbor tunnels. Most importantly, maybe we had a chance to get it. Chuck Redmon was sent to scout it out.

In a triumph of creative accommodation, Chuck and his team figured out a way to shoehorn our program into a combination of existing buildings and new construction while preserving the outline of the old buildings. In addition, the penetration of the facade would allow public access to the 18th century streetscape now serving as back alleys. But C7A's studies revealed two negative issues: 1) there was no room for future growth and 2) even if we got a great deal from the BRA, construction estimates were much more costly than we could probably afford.

Yet again, we walked away.

After a few years a developer picked up the parcel to build a small boutique hotel. As built, the new complex followed the massing of the original cluster of warehouses and storefronts called for in the BRA's request for proposals. What a kick to see the hotel façade now looking almost exactly the same as if the Children's Museum had gone ahead with the Blackstone Block Project!

Next: Atlas Terminal Stores (1974) Another Collaboration?