Tag Archives: Monstrous Buildings

The End of Mill Hill?

Place names are a topic I have not explored much on this blog, which is odd, as they represent a major entry into the local past. There’s a great article in the old Essex Institute Historical Collections (Volume 31, 1894-95; it was also printed separately) by Essex Institute Secretary Henry Mason Brooks about Salem “localities”, featuring many names that are no longer with us and several that still are, including Carltonville, Blubber Hollow, and Castle Hill. Brooks weaves a historic narrative around most of his localities, but even though he references Mill Hill, he doesn’t have much to say about it. In his time, it was a relatively new route connecting central and South Salem, having only been “opened” or laid out in 1873-74. It is really just an extension of Salem’s central north-south thoroughfare, Washington Street, and a very short and shallow hill indeed. Yet despite its unimpressive size and scale, Mill Hill endured as a place name over the twentieth century. When I moved to Salem in the 1990s people would reference it often, and it took me quite a while to figure out where it was. A couple of years ago it was designated the site of a brand new development incorporating a Hampton Inn plus rental housing, but now that that prosaic structure sprawls across its base (and then some) I am wondering if this particular Salem locality has met its end.

Mill Hill Map 1897 (2) (1)

Mill Hill 1890s (3)

Mill Hill 1914 SSU

Mill Hill 1914 PC SSU

Mill Hill 1920s PEMSome different perspectives on Mill Hill beginning with the 1897 Atlas at the State Library of Massachusetts. The first view is looking NORTH, towards downtown Salem, the rest are looking SOUTH towards Lafayette Street. The Phillips Library via Digital Commonwealth (NORTH), two post-fire scenes from the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections, and another Phillips Library view from about ten years later, after considerable post-fire reconstruction. Of course, the old St. Joseph’s–and the new St. Joseph’s–are long gone.

Ok, get ready for the view now, as it is a shocker: first, from my car, trying to take a photograph from the same location as the last photo above. What you see on the left is the side of the sprawling new Hampton Inn. And then: the front, supposedly the best face forward?

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This big boxy building features a conglomeration of materials over all of its facades: it actually looks pretty good from lower Lafayette/ Derby Street and the rear! Salem desperately needs a large commercial hotel to cater to its tourist traffic, but I can’t help but look upon this as a lost opportunity: more proliferation of plastic, or whatever that material is. I can’t understand why the City doesn’t work with chains to conform construction to some semblance of the architecture which made Salem Salem—at least a reflection, or even a nod. Washington Street just seems like a very different place now than when I first moved to Salem decades ago, with generic boxy buildings on every block and an uninspired train station at its head. It’s always been a busy, commercial thoroughfare in transition, but seems increasingly soul-less and place-less: and Mill Hill is clearly no more, as the new hotel is situated (as more than a few people have pointed out to me, so apparently “Mill Hill” does have resonance for Salem natives) at the corner of “Washington and Washington Streets”.

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More Harmonious Hamptons

There are no flourishes or deep dives in today’s post; I’m simply offering up some alternatives to the new Hampton Inn that will open in a dreadful building to be built at the southern end of Washington Street in Salem, in a thoroughly commercial zone. There’s no preservation issue here–this building will replace a rather dilapidated one-story commercial strip built in the twentieth century–but there are “suitability” questions, which the general public never seems to have the opportunity to weigh in on: of size, scale, use, design. This is the latest in a series of big boxy buildings built in downtown Salem that are transforming its architectural character in a rather alarming manner.

Hampton Inn Salem MA

Dodge Street Hotel Salem News 2014

Rendering and model of the recently-approved  five-story, 178,000-square- foot, $50 million-dollar building-complex to be built on an entire city block between Washington and Dodge Streets and Dodge Street Court in Salem, Salem News.

The Hampton Inn will comprise only part of this monstrous complex, which is being developed by RCG, a real estate development company headquartered in Somerville, MA which has an ever-increasing profile in Salem. The generically ghastly Tavern in the Square building (which everyone refers to as the TITS building), located just a few yards down Washington Street from the Hampton Inn site, is proudly posted on their corporate website, and indeed the first design for the latter looked very much like the former. Apparently it was “improved” in the planning and design review process, so it is “better” now, both “better” than what was there before and better than the original design. The potential economic benefits of this project are considerable, so its design is a secondary (tertiary? inconsequential?) consideration: it is “better” so it will be built. As I indicated above, the Hampton Inn is only one component of this project, but that is the component which can offer some comparisons, so I went searching for some. There’s been some criticism of a chain hotel coming to Salem, but I don’t share that view: I think we are losing out to the chains proximate to Route 128 if we don’t have something comparable in our city. But we don’t need to accept a standardized design: it seems clear to me that Hilton Worldwide will conform to local settings for their Hampton Inns (actually now I think they are called Hampton by Hilton) brand, but apparently setting is not a consideration in Salem.

A subjectively-selected showcase of urban Hampton Inns: first new construction, then adaptive reuse, which is not an option for the Salem site.

hampton-inn-suites-savannah

Hampton Inn Savannah Savannah

Hampton Inn Alex VA Alexandria, Virginia

hampton-inn-new-orleans-st-charles-ave-garden-district-hotel-front New Orleans/Garden District

Hampton Inn Baltimore Baltimore

Adaptive reuse:

Hampton Inn Providence downtown Providence

Hampton_by_Hilton_Kansas_City_Downtown_Financial_District_Exterior_HR Kansas City

Hampton Inn Ogden Ogden, Utah

Hampton Inn Cincinnatti Cincinnati


Architectural Anxieties

For some time now I’ve been anxious about all of the new buildings going up in Salem: the sheer number, their size and scale, and their design. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while I’m sure that this will be no surprise to you, and I have not been subtle with my opinions or presentations (see “When Monster Buildings Attack”, or the more idealistic “Ideal Cities”). I am a traditionalist so “modern” architecture is always a bit jarring for me, but many of these new buildings don’t seem to even have a distinct design, modern or otherwise: they just seem blatantly and mundanely ugly. Beyond aesthetics, it also seems rather obvious that there has been no attempt to integrate these structures into the existing material fabric of Salem: they could be built anywhere. Salem’s architectural heritage is so apparent: I’m clueless as to why developers and city boards do not make integration a higher priority. As I said, my concerns have been intensifying for some time: I used to just write off my dislike of a particular building to the organic nature of the ever-evolving city (there are so many great buildings here; we can absorb a few not-so-great ones) but now it seems to me that there is a danger of the bad outweighing the beautiful, and then Salem will be forever lost. Here are just two cases in point, of proposed buildings going up in very conspicuous locations, accentuating their impact: the new “Community Life Center” (essentially a Senior Center, long overdue), which will be built adjacent to a “Gateway Center” (housing/retail on the first floor) on a lot at the intersection of Bridge and Boston Streets, two major entrance corridors of the city, and the new, additional Waterfront Hotel on Pickering Wharf. The rendering for the former looks like it was drawn by a five-year old, and while the latter is somewhat less objectionable the completed building looks like it will block out the view of the harbor completely in its immediate vicinity. So we are welcoming people to Salem with one particularly unprepossessing building and then blocking their view of the harbor with another once they manage to navigate their way downtown.

Community Life Center

hotel 1

Hotel 2

Proposed Community Life Center building, High Rock Development, and Salem Waterfront Hotel & Marina, Symmes Maini & McKee Associates.


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