Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Architecture of Charles Bulfinch

Charles Bulfinch
Image from
Few people have left as great a mark on the architectural landscape of Boston as Charles Bulfinch has. Thought by some to be the first native-born major American architect, Bulfinch helped to singlehandedly shape the face of the city and its buildings in the late 1790s and early 1800s.

Born in 1763, he attended the Boston Latin School and later went on to study at Harvard College. While on a tour in Europe, Bulfinch was struck by the design of planned urban areas in France, inspiring him to become an architect. When he returned to the States, he began his career first by designing mansions and residences in and around Beacon Hill, later moving on to the larger structures for which he is most famous for. 

He took his interest in urban planning back to Boston as well, creating innovative housing complexes and other real estate developments. One such development was called Tontine Crescent, a set of sixteen interconnected townhouses on Franklin Street, the first of its kind in the city. Soon after, he built a similar development called Colonnade Row, named for the Doric Colonnade it had on it, on Tremont Street overlooking the Common. 

Bulfinch's buildings follow the Federal style of design, built with red bricks, simple angles, and having arches as a common feature. By taking a stroll through Beacon Hill on any given day, almost all the buildings one would see would be in the Federal style. Many of the buildings he designed helped propel him into fame. He built many churches, including the Hollis Street Church, the first Catholic church in Boston. 

Although most of the buildings Bulfinch built are no longer around, a good few remain standing today and still play important roles in the life of the city. Some are still actively used for their original purposes, while some have been turned into museums and historical sites. Read on for an exploration into some of the great buildings that Charles Bulfinch created.

Massachusetts State House
Bulfinch is probably most famous for his design of the Massachusetts State House. (He also built the Connecticut State House in Hartford.) In 1795, the (then) town of Boston purchased the pastureland of John Hancock, who died two years earlier, for the site of the state house. In 1797 construction was finished, although Bulfinch had begun designs for this project as early as 1787. The distinctive golden dome that has become a trademark for the city is sheathed in copper and covered in 23-karat gold, but it was originally made of wooden shingles.

First Harrison Gray Otis House - 141 Cambridge Street, Boston

This house was completed in 1796 for Harrison Gray Otis, a lawyer, real estate investor, and prominent politician of the time. He was a US Senator from 1817 to 1822, and also held many other offices throughout his life. The house has been designated as a US National Historic Landmark and is currently owned by the Historic New England organization.

Second Otis House - 85 Mount Vernon Street, Boston

Bulfinch built a total of three houses for Harrison Gray Otis and this is the second one. It is currently listed on the National Register. Otis lived here until 1806, when he moved into the third house designed by Bulfinch, located on nearby Beacon Street. 

Third Otis House - 45 Beacon Street, Boston 

This house was completed in 1806 and is the largest of the three. Otis resided here until his death in 1848. The structure was originally freestanding, yet is now surrounded by other buildings on both sides. The house is currently home to the American Meteorological Society.

87 Mount Vernon Street

#87 is on the right.

This house was built in 1805 and for a time was home to General Charles J. Paine, a Civil War general and yachtsman. At present, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts calls this building home. 

Faneuil Hall Expansion

Boston wouldn't be Boston without Faneuil Hall. This iconic Boston landmark has been an active marketplace and meeting hall since 1742. It gains its name from Peter Faneuil, a wealthy merchant who provided funding for its construction. Faneuil Hall played a huge role in Boston's political life in the Colonial Era, serving as a meeting place and forum for all political matters. 

In 1806, Bulfinch was charged with designing and building the expansion of the hall, making it wider and adding a third floor. Today, it is still used for city debates and has become Faneuil Hall Marketplace. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

St. Stephen's Church (New North Church)

Located in the North End, St. Stephen's is the last remaining Bulfinch church in Boston, dedicated in 1804. It was originally built for a Congregational group, but in 1813, it became a Unitarian church. In 1862, it again changed hands when it was sold to Bishop Fitzpatrick and became St. Stephen's, a Roman Catholic church, reflecting the large amount of Irish immigrants settling in Boston. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Davey's first year as GM

A year ago this past Monday Richard Davey took over the reigns of the MBTA system. Since his takeover the T has been faced with many ups and downs. Here are a few things that Davey had to deal with this year:
* Failed Commuter and Subway trains
* Delays and cancelations
* Subway tunnel fires
* An aging and neglected Orange and Red line fleet along with the commuter rail locomotive fleet
* The MBTA website crashed and burned
* Fare evaders
* Commuters and cars being hit by trains

Although Davey had many difficult situations to deal with throughout this past year and having to also deal with a plentiful amount of negative criticism, he still brought new and invigorating programs and equipment to the MBTA system. In my humble opinion Rich Davey has been one of the best things to happen to the MBTA system in recent years.

Here are just a few of the things that he has added and upgraded in the system:
* Introduction of the first new commuter rail locomotives in over 20 years
* New parking management system
* Real time phone applications
* Improved communication with commuters
* 75 new commuter rail coaches on order
* Station renovations
* Re-introduction of 3-train Green Line trollies
All of these things have really helped to strengthen the MBTA's heavily deteriorating back bone.

Many people blame Davey for the T's horribleand I mean horriblewinter.  The truth of the matter though, is that none of it is really his fault. Rich Davey entered into an organization that has seen many years of neglect, especially to its equipment, by its previous leaders. It was just a matter of time before everything hit the fan. After seeing what he has done over the past year, though, I believe Davey is the man who is going to fix many of the MBTA's lingering problems. He really has his work cut out for him, but if he continues at the pace he is already running at, then the MBTA can definitely be a transportation system on the rise. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Parade

Spring Break has come and gone and I'm back in Boston now with fresh material. On Sunday, the city of Boston celebrated Saint Patrick's Day in Southie with the annual parade. Lots of floats, area marching bands, and drunk college students could be found on one of the biggest party days in the city. 

Parade-goers flooded the Red Line for the hours before and after the parade, clogging up the stations in and around downtown and South Boston. To get to the parade myself, I took the Red Line from Downtown Crossing to Broadway. What normally would be around a 5 minute trip took over a half hour. People were packed onto the trains just like sardines. This is the scene from inside Broadway station. 

Spectacles in the parade included a float with St. Patrick, lots of tricked-out cars, marching bands from area high schools, green Duck Boats, and people dressed in period-clothing shooting off muskets, just to name a few. Take a look.

Boston Common Renovation!

If your regular commute brings you by the Boston Common, like mine and Aaron's does, then you're probably wondering why there is suddenly a huge fence that stretches from the head houses at the Park Street station up through the liberty mall to the edge of Beacon Street and closes off everything in between.
When I first got back from Spring Break I was very annoyed that these fences were impeding my morning walk to class. When I found out what they were for though I figured I could deal with them for a little while. Well here's whats happening!

Thanks to the Friends of the Public Garden the Common will be getting a well needed, 1.5 million dollar facelift. The 1.5 million will pay for a lot of great upgrades. All of the cracked concrete and pavement in the Liberty Mall will be replaced with new granite pathways and edges. Old decaying trees will be cut down and replaced with new ones. The amount of green space in this area of the Common will be almost doubled. An extensive sprinkler system will also be installed in order to keep the lawns looking lush and beautiful.   Much like the Rose Kennedy Greenway, 80% of the common will have access to free WI-FI service. The largest advancement for the entire project though, is the addition of a stand/building that will serve as a reading room and a rental station. The building will hold magazines, newspapers, and about 400 books, along with rentals of checkers and chess sets. There will also be lots of moveable tables, umbrellas, and chairs to give people a nice place to relax. Visitors of the common may also be able to enjoy free music which will be played by a professional pianist on a custom built piano for the Common! Another thing that is in the works for this project is to get a high end gourmet food truck that will serve this new revitalized area. 

This is a little blurry,  but you can get the gist of it.
The Common isn't the only thing that is getting a facelift though. The MBTA is also funding a large elevator installment and renovation at the Park Street station. This $8.7 million project will install two brand new elevators in the station. One will go from the Common to the Green Line westbound platform and the other will go from the Green Line westbound platform to the center platform of the Red line. 

All of of the renovations to the Common and to the Park Street station are said to start by the end of this week and hopefully end by the beginning of August. If all goes according to plan college students and tourists alike should have a very nice and relaxing place to spend their time!

Real time displays?

While I was on my way to Harvard Square on the Red Line today I noticed that there was a LCD monitor that had been recently installed on the center platform at Park Street Station. As I was about to board my train back to Park St. I also noticed there were 2  monitors hanging at Harvard Station. When I got back to my dorm I tried to find out what the MBTA might be using these monitors for but I came up with nothing. The only thing that I think the MBTA would be using these screens for would be to finally provide us with real time information for the Red, Blue and Orange lines.

A few months ago the MBTA initiated a pilot program like this at Back Bay and Ruggles Station on the Orange line. They used big LCD monitors, like the ones I saw, to show passengers down to the minute Bus and  Commuter Rail information, and also to show the position of trains on the Orange line. Another interesting fact about the screens and software used at Back Bay and Ruggles is that they cost the MBTA little to nothing. They made the monitors by using repurposed MBTA screens and all of the software costs were picked up by the company that made it. 

Hopefully these monitors that I see popping up all over the Red Line will be just like the ones that the T is piloting on the Orange Line. It will be nice to finally know where the next train is and when it is going to arrive. 
I will keep you all informed when I find out more!

Monday, March 14, 2011

At a glimpse: Commuter Rail Stations in Southern MA

So since I'm on Spring Break this week and stuck in Plainville, I can't do any posts featuring pictures and events from currents happenings around Boston. Instead, I did as best as I could to find something to write about that is Boston-related while I'm out of the city, so behold this post about stations on the MBTA commuter rail line.
I took a few hours yesterday to drive around to all of the commuter rail stops in my area and take some pictures showing the different types of architecture (or lack thereof) of the different stations. I visited six stops in total; three are on the Providence line: South Attleboro, Attleboro, and Mansfield; and three are on the Franklin Line: Walpole, Norfolk, and Franklin/Dean College. As you'll be able to see from looking at the pictures, most of the actual station buildings are closed and in various states of dilapidation, except for one of Attleboro’s and the one at Mansfield, which as far as I can tell are still open for the purpose of selling tickets.
Click on the thumbnails below to view the photo albums for each stop.

The Attleboro station was originally built in the early 1900s as part of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. Later in the 20th century, the MBTA and Amtrak came into ownership of the tracks, and currently, the southbound station building is closed, being rented out for office space.

The South Attleboro station is the southernmost station located in Massachusetts, and is located right off of I-95. It was opened in June of 1990 on the former site of a Holiday Inn Hotel.

Mansfield station was rebuilt in 2004 and was originally the south end of the former Old Colony Railroad line.

Norfolk station is at grade level and has a single track. There is no station building and it only has one boarding platform.

Formerly called Walpole Union Station, now just simply called Walpole station, it used to be a part of the Old Colony Railroad and also the New York and New England Railroad. The head house closed on September 1, 2009.

The Franklin/Dean College station used to be the terminal station on the Franklin Line, until the Forge Park/495 stop was built in 1988. There is a coffee shop inside this station house, serving all the weary commuters who come through the station at the beginning and end of the day.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The voice of the MBTA

For years now, MBTA subway and bus riders have been hearing sayings like “Next stop: Park Street,” “The next red line train to Ashmont is now arriving,” and “No smoking please.” To many, the bellowing voice that comes over the speakers of the MBTA vehicles seems like it may be computerized, however, it is actually in fact one from a real person. Believe me, Aaron and I were surprised when we first heard about it too.
For the past decade, that prerecorded voice has belonged to Frank Oglesby, a 19-year MBTA veteran who, as deputy director for customer service training, is the primary voice of the T, announcing stops on the Red, Green, and Blue Lines and, more recently, the Silver Line buses.

If you ride the T as much as we do, you begin to find yourself hearing differences in the recordings on each line. For instance, Oglesby's voice on the Green line is a lot deeper than it is on the Red line. Also, when you're on the Silver line he kind of sounds like Darth Vader. The new Blue line trains, however, have been giving us some trouble. Some of the trains we have been on have Oglesby's voice as their recording, but then others have a different voice which kind of sound like George Clooney hosting The Price is Right. After some research I found that the voice that we heard was the original voice Siemens had recorded for the trains when they delivered them to Boston. The MBTA just hasn't changed those few cars over to Oglesby's voice.

Oglesby primarily does the recordings as a fun side job, but this job does a lot for people who ride the T. This is especially true for those riders who are physically disabled. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires the T to implement recorded messages on all of their transit vehicles and I feel that Oglesby does a wonderful job in making these recordings.

Special thanks: Amanda Andrews!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Restaurant Week in Boston

This week and next, a plethora of fine restaurants from all over the city and its surrounding areas are participating in Boston’s Semiannual Restaurant Week, where each establishment follows a prix fixe menu for one low price. A two-course lunch goes for $15.11, a three course lunch for $20.11, and a three course dinner at only $33.11. Some notable restaurants include Top of the Hub, Toscano’s, Mooo, Aquitaine, KO Prime, and Capital Grille.

Dan and I took advantage of the low prices and hit up Market by Jean Georges at the swanky W Hotel in the heart of the Theatre District. We both had amazing three-course meals for lunch this afternoon and were extremely satisfied with what we ate. Take a look at the food:

Appetizers: Mozzarella, Tomato, and Basil Pizza & Caesar Salad

Entrees: Slowly cooked salmon, sweet and sour carrot broth & steamed shrimp salad

Desserts: Cookies and confections & salted caramel ice cream sundae

Restaurant Week continues March 13th -18th so be sure to check out a full list of participating restaurants on the Restaurant Week website!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sarah Jessica Parker Spotted on Boston Common Today

Sarah Jessica Parker was spotted on the Boston Common today, filming for her new movie I Don't Know How She Does It, set to release in 2012. The comedy, based off the novel by Allison Peterson of the same title, also features Christina Hendricks from Mad Men, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Munn, and Kelsey Grammer, along with other well known actors. SJP stars as Kate Reddy, the main character, who is a big-shot business woman and mother of two children. Check out the awesome shot my friend Caroline Thorpe captured of Parker and Hendricks:

And here's a pic that my friend Malorie got that shows more of the set:

According to an article by the Boston Herald, the crew finished filming in New York and now moved on to Boston to shoot the outdoor parts. Scenes were filmed in the Common, the Public Garden, Post Office Square, and Faneuil Hall Marketplace, where they will be wrapping up on March 10th.

So if you're out and about in Downtown Boston in the near future, keep your eyes peeled for these stars!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

MBTA taking an interesting step towards debt relief

MBTA General Manager Rich Davey recently introduced his new and very minimalistic approach to help ease the MBTA's rising debt, which is now estimated at over 8 billon dollars. Yea thats right you read it right BILLION! His idea, which is swiftly becoming a reality, is to set up an MBTA online merchandise store that will feature T-shirts, coffee mugs, bags, posters, and even the famous MBTA shower curtain.

Although this site will hardly solve the MBTA's debt and budget woes it will help to bring in a little bit of revenue and also have a place where T fanatics, like myself and Aaron, can go and buy stuff with the T logo on it. I got my hands on a few of the T-shirt designs that the T will be putting up for sale in the new store (below) and I also made a few of my own.

Special Thanks:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Street Art in Chinatown

Last week I learned that nestled on the outskirts of Chinatown there’s a piece of graffiti by the famed British street artist Banksy. I recently saw his documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, so my interest was piqued. Armed with my camera phone, I went out Essex Street to go find it.

The quality isn’t too good because my phone sucks and it was dark. I went out a few days later though with a real camera and here’s what I shot:

The angle’s a bit odd because there was a car in the way, but as you can see, it’s definitely a real Banksy piece. It’s been here for a while now, as you can tell from the other taggers piggybacking off of this piece and spraying their own stuff. According to an article from the Boston Globe, it’s been here since last May, probably done to help promote his documentary that was showing in Kendall Square, released around the same time.

Whether it was Banksy himself who tagged this or one of his assistants is up for debate. People who know Banksy reportedly confirmed the artist really did come to Boston to create it.

After I found this gem, I was inspired to find more street art in the Chinatown neighborhood. Check out my findings:

I found this one near the on-ramp for I-93. Its from the OBEY campaign by Shepard Fairey, another famous street artist, also known for the Obama Hope poster.

This one's a mural near the Chinatown gate (technically not grafitti, but still cool.)

The last two are on Essex Street, near the Banksy piece.


Welcome to our blog "Boston to a T!" We're Dan and Aaron, two friends going to college smack in the middle of downtown Boston. On our humble little collection of articles you'll find lots of ramblings about our rides, observations, and news about the T and Boston in general. If you have a love for this city and its culture, then you'll definitely find something to like in this blog. Happy reading!

--Aaron and Dan
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