Tag Archives: National Register of Historic Places

Restoration vs Development in South Boston

After viewing the unique property at 928 East Broadway in South Boston recently, I started thinking about the line separating historical preservation and new development. The client who was interested in the property is an investor whose intent was to tear down the existing structures and build a new condo development on the land. It is not as though the developer could not appreciate the charm and significance of the Second Empire mansion built in 1867, but the land would be worth more to him with a new building than with the existing structure. He’s not alone as most of those who have shown interest in the property have had similar plans.

South Boston mansion at 928 E BroadwayAs a single-family home of over 6066 square feet the mansion with a mansard roof offers a significant amount of space for any neighborhood in Boston’s downtown neighborhoods. The current price of 2.3 million dollars looks good considering any other property in Boston’s central neighborhoods with over 6000 square feet is asking for over 4 million dollars. But once you factor in an adjustment for location (the competing properties are all in Back Bay or Beacon Hill) and the need for a total renovation the perceived savings disappear. Consider a middle of the road 250 dollar per square foot renovation and you are looking at a 1.5 million dollar restoration project.

The cost concerns are one reason most potential buyers have been looking at the property for development, but the other reason is the half acre of land located on East Broadway a block from the beach and Pleasure Bay. Only one property on the market in Boston’s central neighborhoods offers as much land and it is a parcel in New Market Square zoned for commercial use.

“Given the investment potential of a half acre corner lot a block from the Atlantic Ocean, why has it not sold?”

Good question.

Part of the answer has to do with two parcels existing on one deed, each with encumbrances on each other, but the biggest potential hurdle may be resistance to leveling an historic residence. The property is not listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places or any other list of protected property, but it is an historic property.

928 East Broadway was built in 1867 for James Collins, a wholesale liquor distributor and a real estate investor who developed much of the City Point area of South Boston during the late 1860’s to late 1880‘s. The remaining large scale frame mansard residences in Boston include the Manning/Johnson House at 69 Thomas Park and 928 East Broadway. The home features an unusually deep set-back, in part because Colins owned the entire block now bordered by East Broadway to the South, Farragut Road to the East, East 3rd Street to the North, and P Street to the East. Before Day Boulevard was constructed, the plot of land owned by Collins was oceanfront property.

Collins built brick homes at 936-942 East Broadway for his children

The Queen Anne brick row houses Collins built for his children

In 1884, Collins hired architect Patrick W Ford to build the Queen Anne brick row houses located adjacent to his residence at. Collins built these homes for his children and in 1890 he built the more utilitarian row houses at 823-833 East Third Street for his employees.

The recent history of 928 East Broadway is more humble as it served as a boarding house as recently as 2006.

I assume, as have most of the potential investors, proposals to tear down the existing building will be met with objections from abutters and the neighborhood association.

I can see the argument for historical preservation and love Boston for its sense of history, especially when it comes to its wide-ranging examples of different architectural styles. The problem is when those with no financial stake have the ability to restrict progress and affect the finances of a landowner. It is a fine line, one that must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and in better ways than I have seen recently.

Personally, I would love to see the mansion at 928 East Broadway restored to the elegant single-family home it once was. But without the checkbook to see it through, does what I want matter?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I would like to know what you think about 928 East Broadway and regarding restoration vs development in general.

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Posted in Boston Property, Investment Property, Property for Sale, Real Estate Development, Renovation, Restoration, ROI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Brief History of Fenway Park on its 100th Anniversary

One hundred years ago tomorrow, the Red Sox, Boston’s most beloved sports franchise, moved into its current home. Over the span of the past century, Fenway Park has served as an entertainment center for the people of Boston. The park is referred to by many as a “cathedral of baseball” is the oldest stadium in use by a Major League Baseball club and is considered one of the most well-known sports venues in the world. The Red Sox are hosting a free open house at Fenway Park today from 9am-7pm with fans having access to the warning track, the inside of the Green Monster, and other areas inside the park not normally available to fans. Current and past Red Sox players will be on hand for autographs as fans are allowed to tour the historic building at their own pace. The following history of Fenway Park is a brief primer to get you ready for today’s Fenway Park open house.

100th Anniversary of Fenway ParkAnd do not forget Friday’s 100th Anniversary game against the New York Yankees has a 3pm start time with a nod to the time games started before the days of stadium lights and night games. The pre-game ceremony will feature 1912 throwback jerseys, over 200 past players, and a stadium-wide toast that will attempt to break the record for largest ever toast. The Red Sox ask for everyone to be in their seats by 2pm to take part in the toast.

Opening Day at Fenway Park

Fenway Park hosted its first game on April 9th, 1912, an exhibition between the Red Sox and Harvard, a game won by the professionals. The regular season opener was scheduled for April 17th, but the game was rained out. Three more games, including the traditional morning and afternoon game doubleheader held to concur with the Boston marathon, were also cancelled. After the rain subsided, at least one of these games could have been played, but fans were turned away amid sunshine and clear skies because the field was declared unplayable, left uncovered during the storm because a new tarp had yet to arrive.

After the delays to Opening Day, Fenway Park hosted its first Major League contest on April 20th, 1912. Navin Field in Detroit, which was later known as Tiger Stadium, also debuted on the same day, and the two ballparks shared the distinction of the oldest stadium in MLB until Tiger Stadium was demolished in 2009. This leaves Fenway Park as one of only two “classic” ballparks in use, the other being Wrigley Park in Chicago.

Fenway Park grass painted to commemorate 100 year anniversaryWith ongoing coverage of the Titanic disaster, the enthusiasm for Boston’s new stadium was somewhat dampened in the days leading up to its opening. Two days after the Titanic survivors arrived in New York, Bostonians showed up in force for Fenway Park’s official opening. John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, mayor of Boston and grandfather of future president John Fitzgerald Kennedy, threw out the first pitch, as he would also do at one of the World Series games held in Boston in the fall of 1912.

The 24,000 fans in attendance for Opening Day went home happy as the club defeated their rival New York Highlanders (renamed the Yankees the following year) 7-6 on an 11th inning single by Tris Speaker. Among those in attendance were the Royal Rooters, considered the rowdiest fans in baseball. The club was led by a man named “Nuf Ced” McGreevey, who has the distinction of tending America’s first sports bar, The Third Base Saloon. This establishment where “you went before heading home” was a museum of Red Sox memorabilia McGreevey obtained from his friends on the Red Sox roster.

Although praised for its intimacy today, fans in 1912 were not used to seats as far from the action as those found in the right field of Fenway Park. Despite this criticism, overall reception at the time was positive. Fenway Park solidified its place in Boston that first season when the Red Sox won 105 games and captured the World Series. By winning three more championships in the next six years, this dynasty further ingrained Fenway Park into the city’s identity.

The Real Estate Behind Fenway Park

The Red Sox moved to Fenway Park from the smaller Huntington Avenue Grounds, which sat on what is now the site of an indoor athletic facility on the Northeastern University campus. As with most real estate transactions, money played a role. The Huntington Avenue Grounds had hosted approximately 10,000 fans for its largest crowd ever even though the official capacity was much less. Along with Fenway Park’s additional seating and the increased revenue from more fans, a new park in an attractive area would increase the club’s value, an important consideration since owner John Taylor was entertaining thoughts of selling the Red Sox.

Yawkey Way, home to the Red Sox, Boston's American League Baseball ClubIn early 1911, Taylor’s family, which earned their fortune through real estate, was involved with several real estate entrepreneurs in forming a committee focused on developing the emerging Fenway neighborhood. Two weeks after the forming of The Fenway Improvement Association, Taylor’s father bought the future site of Fenway Park at public auction. The Fens were largely undeveloped at the time, but the location was only a few blocks from growing Kenmore Square and the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street, major thoroughfares at the beginning of the twentieth century much as they are today. After the site was secured, Taylor decided to relocate and not to renew his lease for the Huntington Avenue Grounds. With plans to develop a new ballpark underway, Taylor sold half the club with the contract naming him the overseer of construction and landlord of the new ballpark. John Taylor claimed the name Fenway Park came from the stadium’s location in the Fenway neighborhood, however, considering Taylor’s family owned Fenway Realty Co. the ballpark’s name could be the first example of stadium-naming rights in North America.

Design and Construction of Fenway Park

In the preceding years, the MFA, the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum, and Symphony Hall were all built roughly a mile from the site that would become Fenway Park. While those buildings were built by the city’s Irish working class, they were intended for the enjoyment of the Brahmins and the other members of Boston’s elite class. Fenway Park, by contrast, would be built for the people of Boston.

Fenway park plaque commemorating construction in 1912 and remodeling in 1934Fires had destroyed a number of wooden ballparks in the previous two decades including the double-decked South End Grounds, home of Boston’s National League club. One result a the fires was a move toward steel and concrete stadiums, a new wave which began in 1909 and included stadiums such as Ebbets Field, Comisky Park, and Wrigley Field.

For Boston’s first steel and concrete ballpark, Taylor hired James McLaughlin as chief architect and the civil engineering was done by Osborn Engineering, a large firm based in Cleveland. Osborn Engineering was a major player in the stadium boom of the early twentieth century, designing Navin Field simultaneously, a few years later involved in the construction of Braves Field, Boston’s other modern major league ballpark, and then designing Yankee Stadium in the early 1920’s.

Ground was broken on September 25th,1911, the day permits were granted for construction of Fenway Park. The total cost of the project would be $650,000 which at $15.7 million in 2012 dollars is an amazing real estate value, especially when you consider the current ownership group spent $285 million on renovations over the last ten years.

Fenway Park was built on the lot John Taylor’s father had purchased at auction, an irregular-shaped parcel of 365,308 square feet. The field could have been built in a more symmetrical shape by only using part of the parcel, but Taylor instructed the architect to use the entire lot. The result was a field much larger than required by the game as it was played at the time, an era known as the Dead Ball Era. Prior to the 1920’s, the preferred style of play consisted of line drives and hit-and-run plays. In fact, the year prior to Fenway park’s opening saw Frank Baker lead the American League with 11 home runs and entire clubs hit less than 20 home runs over the course of the year.

Survey of Fenway Park lot in 1917

Because no one hit the ball that far, it was not an issue for the left-field fence to be placed against Landsdowne Street, only 300ft from home plate. The architect was instructed to maintain the alignment of the Huntington Avenue Grounds with the 3rd base line pointing almost due north, which kept the sun from batters’ eyes during games that began at 3pm, the standard start time of games in the era. If distance had been a concern, Landsdowne Street could have been acquired and incorporated into the design. By 1958, this was not the case as owner Tom Yawkey tried unsuccessfully to annex Landsdowne Street for expansion and renovation of Fenway Park.

Along Landsdowne Street, a wall was built that would be the precursor of the Green Monster, Fenway Park’s signature feature. The wall was 25ft high, a wooden wall plastered with ads and was built for a couple of reasons. The parcel of land the park was built on was sloped and after being graded, the field was lower than the surrounding streets. The wall served to both hold back Landsdowne Street and kept nonpaying fans from watching the game for free.

1918 version of Monster Seats were in the field of play on Duffy's CliffA slope of dirt on the field side of the wall was used to further support the wall. This slope became known as Duffy’s Cliff after star Red Sox left-fielder Duffy Lewis, who became adept at playing the unusual feature. Although technically in play, many fans watched the game seated in the field of play on the 10ft embankment because it provided a good view of the action. To maximize seating for the 1912 World Series games bleachers seating a thousand fans were built on the embankment. Duffy was spared from navigating the crowd since any hits into the fans were ruled a ground-rule double.

The wall has seen a number of changes over the years before becoming the Green Monster we know today.

  • In 1934, a manual scoreboard was added and the wall was covered in concrete and tin.
  • In 1947, the ads were removed from the wall and it was painted green to match the rest of the park.
  • In 1976, the wall was covered in a hard plastic.
  • In 2003, seats were added to the top of the wall. These seats, known as “monster seats,” are among the most popular in all of Fenway Park and are sold on a per game basis to winners of a lottery instead of in season-ticket packages. In 2012, over 300,000 people applied for the roughly 30,000 seats available over the course of the season.

The wall at Fenway Park known as the Green MonsterBefore the seats were added to the top of the Green Monster, a net on top of the wall caught balls, protecting cars on the street below. Groundskeepers would climb a ladder built onto the wall to empty the net, and the “ladder to nowhere” remained attached to the wall. The “ladder to nowhere” is another quirk of Fenway Park, but it is an urban legend that the ladder is the only ground-rule triple in major league baseball.

The original plan for Fenway Park was for a double-deck park like Navin Field and the South End Grounds to allow for more fans and the revenue that would come with them. The plans for a second deck were put hold with the home opener only six months away. The final design used for construction called for a single uncovered grandstand surrounding the infield and bleachers in right field, but the plans left open the possibility for a second deck to be built in the future. However, not until an auxiliary press box was added for the 1946 All-star Game did Boston have its first double-decker ballpark since the South End Grounds were closed in 1914. Without the second deck, Fenway Park’s seating capacity was around 29,000, which was less than most other ballparks built around the same time, but Fenway Park was nearly three times the official capacity of Huntington Avenue Grounds.

After 84,000sf of grass was removed from the Huntington Avenue Grounds and transplanted in Fenway Park, baseball was ready to be played behind the new park’s depression-style red brick facade. The Kenmore Square area features buildings of similar architecture and height, allowing Fenway Park to blend in to its surroundings unlike other major sports venues. Unlike these structures imposing over their environment, Fenway has a markedly utilitarian appearance and the lack of bulk is also attributable to the field sitting below street level. A famous story tells of Roger Clemons to Boston in 1984 and taking a cab from Logan Airport to the ballpark. Once they arrived at Fenway Park, Clemons said to the taxi driver, “No, Fenway Park, it’s a baseball stadium. This is a warehouse.” Not until the driver told him to look up at the lights did Clemons believe he was outside a major league stadium.

The red-brick depression-style facade of Fenway Park

Changes to Fenway Park Over the Years

Fenway Park took its current shape in 1934 when new owner Tom Yawkey took over with the capital allowing him to spend lavishly toward rebuilding the park. Three months prior to opening day, a fire leveled much of the improvements and Yawkey redoubled efforts, hiring an army of workers during the height of The Depression. The project consisted of a seven month stretch of construction and after two fires set back progress Yawkey instituted an around-the-clock schedule. Yawkey’s improvements and renovations to Fenway Park were one of the largest depression-era construction projects in Boston, second only to the Tobin Bridge, and Yawkey’s use of union labor endeared him and his version of Fenway Park to Boston residents. The major changes Yawkey made to the ballpark in 1934 included:

  • Leveled Duffy’s Cliff.
  • Covered wall in concrete and tin. Yawkey also had his and his wife’s initials painted in Morse code on the wall where they remain today.
  • Installed a manual scoreboard in the base of the wall, which is the last hand-operated scoreboard in the American League.
  • Replaced wooden bleachers with concrete structures.

Changes continued over the years as seats were added and the outfield wall was moved to increase capacity. The last change to the playing field was when Yawkey built bullpens inside the right-field fence. Yawkey’s reasoning for the relocation of the bullpens, was to aid new star Ted Williams by pulling in the fence 23ft and making it easier for the right-handed hitter to hit ball out of the playing field. The area became known as Williamsburg, but Williams hit less than three dozen of his 521 home runs into the bullpens.

Fenway Park media box behind home plate

In 1999, plans were announced to demolish and rebuild Fenway. The public voiced stiff resistance despite ownership and Boston media (including Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan) considering it inevitable. In 2002, a group led by John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucciano bought the Boston Red Sox and began engineering studies toward renovating Fenway Park. The group decided renovation was preferred over rebuilding and over the next ten years they spent $285 million on renovations and improvements. The result is a critically-acclaimed restoration project that succeeded in modernizing and expanding capacity without compromising the intimacy and character that make Fenway Park what it is. After renovations were declared complete in 2012, engineers estimated another 40-50 years of useful life.

Despite the current owners not planning for any additional major renovations, any future changes to Fenway Park will require a thorough permitting since it was announced in 2012 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Another recent accolade for Fenway Park was when the American Institute of Architects placed Fenway Park on its list of 150 buildings that defined “The Shape of America.” One member of the AIA noted, “The odd thing about Fenway is that probably of the top 150 buildings that we’re dealing with on the list, this one exhibits the least sense of intentional design by one hand.”

Miscellaneous Fenway Park Facts

  • Fenway Park currently has over 700 consecutive sellouts and counting. The streak began on May 15, 2003 and in 2008 the Red Sox organization broke the Major League Baseball record of 456 consecutive sellouts.
  • Fenway Park leads all MLB stadiums in hot dog sales by selling 1.5 million Fenway Franks a year.
  • Fenway Park once housed a candlepin bowling alley below the ballpark. The bowling alley was removed during the recent renovations so management offices could be expanded, but wood from the lanes was repurposed for the countertops of a bar built on the right-field pavilion.
  • At one point, the owner of the New York Yankees held the mortgage on Fenway Park as collateral for a loan.
  • Prior to 2004 reengineering, heavy rains would cause Boston’s sewage drains to back up to the point where fish would be able to swim from the Charles River to the field at Fenway Park. Once the water drained, fish as big as a foot long would be left on the field.

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The South End: Why I Call It Home

As I was walking through the South End on my way to work, I was thinking, “Why do I love this neighborhood?” I walked past groups enjoying coffee on the stoop of their brownstone, I saw people out walking their dogs, moms pushing strollers stopping to say hi, and there was a warmth in the air that has been missing for months. Spring is finally here and the South End seems to shine brighter to me.

So why do I love the South End?

Food and Entertainment: The South End has some of the best restaurants I have ever been to and diverse variety of flavors. Within a 10 minute radius, I can have tapas at Toro, sushi at Oishii Boston, French at Aquitane, Indian at Mela, charcuterie at The Butcher Shop, Ethiopian at Addis Red Sea, and Asian Fusion at Myers and Chang to name a few. The South End also offers restaurants with great bars to have a cocktail and grab a small bite such as The Gallows, Tremont 647, and Franklin Cafe. For live music, food, and drinks, I can go to The Beehive.

Events: The South End holds countless events throughout the year all over the neighborhood. From large fundraisers like the Chefs for Obama and Taste of the South End at the Boston Center for the Arts to local fundraisers at the smaller parks like those thrown by the Friends of Peter’s Park. The first Friday of every month the artists open their galleries late for everyone to enjoy a night of art. On Sundays, the SOWA Open Market is open to everyone to enjoy vendors selling locally made crafts, artwork, jewelry, and baked goods. Another big draw for the SOWA Open Market is the assortment of food trucks preparing all kinds of goodies such as Vietnamese noodle salads at Bon Me, gourmet grilled cheese at Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, and vegetarian/vegan delights at Clover.

Convenience: The South End neighborhood is filled with boutique shops, art galleries, and yoga/dance studios. Along with larger grocers such as Foodies and Ming’s, the South End has smaller specialty food shops like Fromaggio and Siena Farms that focus on local sustainable produce. And if I can’t find what I need in the South End, I can walk 10 minutes or less and be at Shaw’s or Whole Foods in Back Bay. As far as public transportation, I can take the Silver Line that goes along Washington Avenue, the Orange Line at Tufts, Back Bay, or Mass Ave T-Stops, or walk to the Green Line at Copley Square. If I have a long trip, I am minutes from commuter rails at Back Bay Station, the Mass Pike, Interstate 93, or the express route to Logan Airport.


South End brownstoneReal Estate
: The South End is on the National Register of Historic Places as “the largest urban Victorian neighborhood” in the United States, but it is far from being a neighborhood perserved in time. Along with newly constructed luxury buildings, many of these Victorian single family brownstones have been renovated into condos, some of which are available to rent. Some of the brownstone row houses are built around beautiful parks, also called  squares, which are only accessible to owners of the homes around each park. Former industrial warehouses nearby have been converted into modern lofts as well as newly constructed condo buildings that offer amenities such as a concierge, parking garage, and gym available to both owners and renters.

Apart from everything the South End has to offer, I knew that this neighborhood was special the night I moved here. My boyfriend and I took a break from moving to walk our dog and grab some food on Tremont Street. On the way to the store we noticed everyone was smiling and praising our dog on how sweet she is. It had the neighborhood vibe we had been looking for and it felt great to be a part of it. 

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