Tag Archives: urban planning

Bridge Street Neck

Salem is a city of extremities in terms of its physical shape: two “necks” jut out into the Atlantic Ocean from a central peninsula. You can easily see that this was a settlement oriented towards the water rather than the land. Once transportation shifted towards the latter, traffic problems emerged for Salem, and they still present a major challenge to the city. One interesting Salem neighborhood which seems to represent the shifting impact of transportation very well is Bridge Street Neck, the first area to be settled by Europeans and the main gateway to the north. Its central corridor or “spine”, Bridge Street, first led to a ferry, and by the end of the eighteenth century the first bridge to Beverly was completed. From that time the area developed in typical mixed-use fashion, with commercial structures and residences rising up on Bridge Street, smaller houses on the side streets leading down to the water on both sides, and manufacturing sites interspersed: first maritime-related uses, later lead and gas works. There are all sorts of references (though I can never find images) to horticultural uses as well, from the first fields of the early “old Planters” to nineteenth-century greenhouses and pleasure gardens to today’s parks. In a few months Salem’s newest park will open at the very end of the Neck, dedicated to the work and memory of the Abolitionist Remond family.

Salem Map 1970 Osher Romantic Boston Bay Text

Salem Map 1903 cropped The North Shore coastline from Edwin Rowe Snow’s The Romance of Boston Bay, 1970; 1903 Map of Salem and surrounding places, Henry M. Meek Publishing Co., Leventhal Map Library, Boston Public Library.

Carriages, trains, trolleys, CARS: for too long Bridge Street Neck has simply been a place to get through.It’s never been a destination, unlike Salem’s other neck, home to the Willows. But over the past decade, a series of infrastructural changes have (perhaps) transformed this Neck’s functional status: a new bridge attached to a new bypass road which skirts the neighborhood rather than running through it, and a “revitalization plan” implemented by the city to address its aesthetic and economic challenges. I think this is a Salem neighborhood that is really primed for change, but in what direction? Its diverse building inventory–ranging from late eighteenth-century Georgians to post-war Capes–is protected by the recent designation as a National Register Historic District but not the more stringent review of a local historic district. And there is much to protect: there are some great old houses interspersed among the streets of Bridge Street Neck, better appreciated if you get out of your car and walk.

Bridge Street 4

Bridge Street 2

Bridge Street 1

LOVE this Gothic Revival cottage and its mansard-roofed neighbors on Arbella Street, named for the ship that brought John Winthrop to Salem in 1630.

Bridge Street 5

Bridge Street 6

Bridge Street Gwimm House

Bridge Street Thaddeus Gwinn House MACRIS

Bridge Street Neck Collage

Very pretty Victorian two-family; two early nineteenth-century houses: a Georgian (behind the addition) and the stunning c. 1805 Thaddeus Gwinn House, an unusual Salem two-story Federal (today and in the 1980s, courtesy MACRIS); two cute cottages on the North River side of Bridge Street.

Bridge Street 12

Bridge Street 8

Bridge Street 9

Bridge Street Neck Planters

The old and the new on Bridge Street including the Thomas Woodbridge House on the corner of March, and across from it: the future?


Salem 1912

I stumbled across the “first annual” Report of the Salem Plans Commission the other day, and read it with rapt attention. This was issued at the end of 1912, a time when the city’s population had experienced rapid growth and housing was in short supply, the waterfront was “decayed”, and downtown (trolley) traffic was at a standstill. There were startling parallels to Salem 2016 in the Report, starting with its opening assertion that Salem is known quite literally with a single tolerable entrance or exit and (possibly excepting Loring Avenue) we must admit that this is quite literally true, whether we travel by foot, carriage, automobile, trolley, train or boat. While the Commission asserts that Salem’s entrance corridors, called “gateways” in the report (a timely term now) all needed work, they are clearly advocating for more immediate attention to the city’s key transportation network: the combination of trains and trolleys that drove external and internal traffic. Salem’s main gateway was identified as the Boston & Maine Depot, and the arteries that commenced from there were apparently in dire need of widening and expansion in the forms of a”ring road”, a “shore drive”, and a street system. The entire report calls for a more systematic Salem in every conceivable way: roads, parks, housing, zoning.

Salem Train Depot 1912Salem’s Gateway, 1912

The commissioners write with a very strong voice, one voice, and express stark opinions throughout their report: the congested wooden housing in The Point is a “fire menace” (a prescient observation, given it would be leveled by the Great Salem Fire in two years) which evolved through “selfish gain driven by public indifference”, the waterfront must be “redeemed”, the North River is a “stinking open sewer”. They are so assertive that what one would think would be a rather dry text makes for riveting reading!

Salem 1912 North River

Salem 1912 Billboards on Bridge Street The “Stinking” North River and “Billboard Adornment” on Bridge Street.

In order to achieve their vision for Salem, the Commissioners include lots of detailed recommendations which are both utilitarian and aesthetic. They are aware of the significance of Salem’s material heritage but I would not call them preservationists: if an old building is interfering with trolley traffic on a narrow street it’s got to go! They seem particularly focused on Central and Lynde streets as problematic for traffic flow, and their recommendations seem to be the inspiration for the consolidation of the former Elm and Walnut Streets into a widened Hawthorne Boulevard.

Salem 1912 Central Street to Essex St

Salem 1912 Washington and Lynde Streets

Salem 1912 North and Lynde Streets

Salem 1912 Lynde Street from North St

Salem 1912 North and Federal Streets

Salem 1912 Elm and Walnut From above: Central Street looking towards Essex; the intersection of Washington and Lynde Streets; two views of the intersection of North and Lynde Streets; a trolley turning onto Federal Street; Elm and Walnut Streets.

I think Commissioner Harlan P. Kelsey was the author of the report, but I can’t confirm this as it was simply published by the “Plans Commission”. Kelsey was a really prolific landscape architect who lived in Salem (at One Pickering Street–this was the house that distracted me from Kelsey’s story to that of its architect, Ernest Machado) and, in addition to his landscape and planning practices, also maintained two profitable nurseries in his native North Carolina and adopted city. I’ve read his writing on plans and parks elsewhere, and it sounds familiar, and the last part of the Report is devoted to the shoddy condition of Salem’s shade trees—another timely topic!

Salem 1912 Broad ST

Salem 1912 Lafayette Two Salem streets which the Commissioners actually LIKED for both their width and their trees: Broad and Lafayette. Both would be half-leveled by the Great Salem Fire in 1914.

All photographs from:  City Plans Commission, First Annual Report to the Mayor and City Council, December 26, 1912.  Salem: Newcomb & Gauss, 1913.


Searching for Castle Hill

When I do not walk to work down Lafayette Street, I drive down Jefferson Avenue through a neighborhood called Castle Hill, which has neither a castle or a hill. I’m not sure it ever had a castle–nineteenth-century antiquarians assert that the great Nanapashemet, majestic leader of the Pawtucket confederation of tribes before the arrival of the Old Planters, maintained some sort of “castle” in this area, but I don’t know if this can ever be verified or if it is the source of the place-name. Much later, this land was owned by the (almost) equally royal Derby family of Salem, who maintained a vast farm to sustain and complement their city properties.The great diarist (and gossip) the Reverend William Bentley tells us about a walk in early June of 1809 in which he passed to Castle Hill upon which Mr. E. H. Derby has erected a small summer house of two small square stories, the upper of smaller dimensions, in the Italian style. It wants the grandeur of the former house which occupied this space [was this the castle? It didn’t last long in any case–destroyed in the “Great September Gale” of 1815]. He has shut up the old road by Forest river road & opened a new road, over a New Bridge finished last year, leading to the Mansion House upon the road to Marblehead. The Garden is extensive and well arranged, without any unnatural or useless ornaments. The old Farm House at the foot of Castle Hill is in a state of decay. At this season the hill & fields are alive…….So castle or not, there was certainly a hill, surrounded by Derby farmland and pastures, including the “Great Pasture”, bounded by Mill Pond, over which one could look north to Salem the town, almost a separate town altogether. This perspective is illustrated by two great steroeviews from the 1870s and 1880s, both taken from Castle Hill.

Castle Hill Collage

Castle Hill Farms

Stereoviews by Moulton and Fogg from the 1870s and 1880s; paintings of Pickman and Derby farms (Corné) from the early 19th century; Northeast Auctions and Historic New England.

Castle Hill is referred alternatively to the “Great Pasture” or the “Salem Pastures” all the way up to the turn of the twentieth century (and even after) but changes are coming, ushered in by the Boston and Maine Railroad, the filling-in of Mill Pond, and the leveling of the hill by the Massachusetts Broken Stone Company, which also maintained a quarry in this pastoral realm for a while. In his 1894 article entitled “Some Localities around Salem” Henry Mason Brooks of the Essex Institute opined that I dislike to see these old localities disappear, but change will come and we must make the best of it. If you compare the Salem Atlases of 1874, 1897, and 1911 you do see a changing landscape and streetscape in Castle Hill, as members of the growing French Canadian population of Salem moved into the area with the foundation of Sainte-Anne Parish in 1901: this church, which burned down in 1982 and was rebuilt over the next few years, remains the center of Castle Hill. A decade later, the 1912 annual report of Salem’s first planning commission identified Castle Hill as the future of Salem: The great area comprising the Salem Pastures may be made into splendid home sites with magnificent views, and winding roads with good grade can readily be built when the proper time comes. It is here that Salem must develop if it is to have the future which we believe its traditions justify, and the business demands. Much more housing did indeed follow, but large parts of the pasture and woodland were preserved later in the form of Highland Park/ Salem Woods and Olde Salem Greens. And if you drive off Jefferson Avenue just a few feet, you can see the rocky remains of the hill anywhere and everywhere.

Castle Hill Map 1897

Castle Hill 4

Castle Hill 1

Castle Hill 3

Castle Hill 5


Londonopolis

I have returned from my whirlwind tour of London, which is itself a whirlwind, continuing and even intensifying the dynamic expansion (up and out) that I witnessed the last time I was over there, with no cessation in sight! There’s nothing new about this: the metropolis (Londinopolis, according to the title of James Howell’s 1647 survey Londinopolis an historicall discourse or perlustration of the city of London, the imperial chamber, and chief emporium of Great Britain: whereunto is added another of the city of Westminster, with the courts of justice, antiquities, and new buildings thereunto belonging) emerged in the later sixteenth century and just kept growing all the way up to the twentieth century, when wars stopped and then resuscitated its regular redevelopment. London remains the “chief emporium” of Great Britain, but also of the world. It was difficult to take a picture anywhere in the city without capturing a crane in the background: construction zones abound in every district. And even where there are no cranes there are constant contrasts between old and new–some quite shocking–and some more subtle. But London remains an amalgamation of neighborhoods, and I do wonder what its citizens think of the relentless development pressure. You hear complaints of “blackened” Belgravia, where wealthy foreigners have purchased flats in which they will never live, and “iceberg houses” with hugely built-out basements below ground, but what looks like folly architecture to me seems okay to Londoners. I purchased a book by Rowan Moore, the architecture critic for the Observer, to give some insights into London’s 21st-century building boom during the long flight home, but Slow Burn City was more about anecdotal building than perceptions of planning, for the most part.

I did complete my planned itinerary (including Botticelli Reimagined at the Victoria & Albert, which was ok, but from my perspective presented in backwards order; the Pepys exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, which adhered to its one man’s life and times format without fail, and the AMAZING sixteenth-century Sutton House in Hackney, which will get its own post), and took students to Hampton Court, Westminster, Greenwich, and the Tower of London. The rest of the time I spent in the east end–in Spitalfields and Shoreditch– exploring bustling neighborhoods that I didn’t know very well, inspired by the wonderful blog Spitalfields Life and steadfastly avoiding the Salem-like Jack the Ripper Museum, which was supposed to be about the lives of the female victims (and working-class women in general) but is somehow not. Spitalfields is surrounded by modern buildings but its core is eighteenth-century, and it has been a long-time refuge for immigrants: French Huguenots in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Irish and Jews in the nineteenth, and Bangladeshi today. It is home to the Old Spitalfields Market, which is probably the best market in London, a city of great markets. I fell hard for an architect there, and I don’t mean my husband (who came along): one sight of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, Spitalfields and I was a goner–so he’s going to get his own post too.

Some of my favorite places and photographs: more focused posts to follow all week.

London Staple Inn

London Staple

London Liberty

London Busts

Real Tudor and Faux Tudor: Two of my favorite buildings in London: the Staple Inn in Holborn and Liberty of London; busts from Liberty, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

London Trooping

London Tower View

London 483

London Tower

London Graffiti Collage

London V and A courtyard

London Greenwich.jpg

Troops trooping near Buckingham Palace; In the Tower yard; armour in the White Tower; “graffiti” on window frames in the Tower and at Hampton Court Palace; The view from the White Tower–fortress against modernity! In the garden at the Victoria & Albert; the view south across the Thames from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

London St Pancras

Pancras todayLondon Marleybone 2

London Marylebone

London Placques

The amazing St Pancras train station and adjoining hotel, saved from demolition by Poet Laureate John Betjeman, whose statue is prominently situated inside; Marylebone streets; a few blue placques.

London 455

London Spitalfields

London bags Spitalfields

IMG_20160313_215701[1]

IMG_20160320_155918[1].jpg

London Fournier

Very Vibrant Spitalfields: Nicholas Hawksmoor’s STUNNING Christ Church, Spitalfields (completed 1729) with which I am OBSESSED; the view from the Church: old and new buildings encasing the market; a few items from the market (thanks Carol!), the beautiful Fournier Street; an effigy of London Mayor Boris Johnson (or Donald Trump)?


Ever in Transition

The tensions between public and private interests, commercial and residential concerns, and historic preservation and economic growth are nothing new to Salem, which has always been a dynamic city proud of its past and poised for the future. Some eras are more dynamic than others, however, and I think we’re in a particularly dynamic period now, but any city or town or settlement is always in transition, of course. When I hunt for historic photographs I’m always on the lookout for the mix of “ancient” and “modern”, residential and industrial, small-scale and larger, dirt roads and railroad tracks. My very favorite visual chronicler of Salem, Frank Cousins, who was himself living through a very dynamic age, was clearly attracted to that mix as well, as one of the photographs that he submitted as part of Salem’s exhibition at the 1893 Columbian Exposition was that of a divided Derby Street doorway labelled “modern” and “colonial” (A subtle distinction for our modern eyes).

In Transition Cousins 1892 Columbian Exposition

Frank Cousins photograph of a Derby Street doorway, c. 1892, courtesy of Duke University’s digital Urban Landscape collection.

More illustrative of the city in transition, as opposed to a co-joined household, are the many pictures of Town House Square that date from the 1880s to about 1910. There you see predominantly brick multi-story commercial buildings, but if you look closer, there are still some surviving wooden residential structures (although they are probably serving a multitude of uses). For several years, I have had in my possession a stereoview of a building labeled “Ward-Goldthwaite & Co. Salem” which I thought might be one of these structures, only to realize that I had made a rookie historian’s mistake (not questioning a label): the Ward-Goldthwaite Company was located in Chicago, not Salem (even though it was published by the Moulton firm of Salem). Nevertheless, it’s a great image of a city in transition: you know that house isn’t going to last long.

In Transition Cousins Town House Square 1892 LOC

In Transition 1906 LOC

Stereoview Ward Golthwaite Co Salem

Town House Square at the intersection of Essex and Washington Streets, Salem, (Library of Congress) and a stereoview of the Ward Goldthwaite & Company in Chicago published by J.W. and J.S. Moulton of Salem as part of their “American Views” series.

The idea of zoning starts to catch on in Salem after 1900, and it was definitely accelerated by the Great Salem Fire of 1914. But before this momentous event, factories and residences co-existed in close proximity in the Point, Blubber Hollow and even the more residential North Salem, where the large Locke Regulator Company bordered the North River and a line of colonial houses on North Street. Some of the houses are still there, serving mixed uses as they did a century ago, while the Locke factory has been replaced by a junkyard and a car wash. The streets along Salem Harbor have always been among the most densely settled in Salem, but the 1903 photograph seems to show structures which are primarily residential–I’m not sure of the precise vantage point, but I’m assuming these buildings were all swept away by the Fire. The last photograph, from the PEM’s Phillips Library, shows fire bystanders watching the conflagration on Lafayette Street from the roof of a building on Highland Avenue: a view of mixed-used zoning with the new High School, the factory, and residences all in close proximity to one another. Highland Avenue became a preferred location for commercial development over the twentieth century, but as this photograph indicates, residences were built along it as well–and a few older structures, drastically transformed–still stand among the big box stores.

In Transition North Bridge 1890s

Salem 1903 Locomotive's Journal

phillipslibrarycollections.pem.org

Looking north along North Street from the old bridge, 1890s, Boston Public Library; A Perspective on Salem Harbor, 1903, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Monthly Journal, September 1903; Watching the Great Salem Fire from Highland Avenue, 1914, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum


A Bigger Picture for Bridge Street

I have been watching and listening to the public hearings over the proposed redevelopment of the former Universal Steel and Trading Corporation site on Bridge Street with great interest and concern. The site is located adjacent to a distinctive late nineteenth-century factory building owned by the F.W. Webb Company, a large distributor of plumbing supplies, which seeks to abandon this same building and build a new (far less distinctive) showroom and sales facility next door. Objections to the proposed building could be based on its rendering alone–it’s the typical glass and faux-brick generic building that we’re seeing everywhere and anywhere–but there are several other key factors which make this project troubling and controversial. The site is also located adjacent to the northern boundaries of the McIntire Historic District, in close proximity to the well-preserved colonial and Federal houses of Federal and River Streets. The owners of these houses do not want a large commercial building (the actual elevation of the proposed structure is a matter of debate) casting a shadow over their streets, and the intensity of their opposition has been fueled by the fact that they believed that the long planning process resulting in the creation of the “North River Canal Corridor” a decade ago ensured that more creative uses for this area would be pursued. The second factor is the contamination of the site and the costs and consequences of cleaning it up. The property was transferred to the city of Salem after Universal Steel ceased operations, and the city requested aid from both the EPA and the Massachusetts DEP to conduct a partial clean-up, which involved the removal of over 4,000 tons of contaminated soil. After this process, the city paved over the site to create a temporary parking lot while the new MBTA garage was being built. Once that project was completed the city sought a more profitable use for this parcel–and F.W. Webb put forward the only proposal. The new construction will require a more comprehensive clean-up, and the costs and potential health threats of such an invasive process are a matter of concern to everybody, but especially those in the adjacent neighborhood. A third major factor is the transfer of an “ancient way” from public ownership and use to Webb: Beckford Way, in existence from the seventeenth century, which will be transformed from public pedestrian path to private truck access and loading dock. Opponents of the Webb proposal ask (quite logically I think): if the Company is going to abandon its present building altogether, why doesn’t it relocate to a section of Salem that is dedicated exclusively to commercial uses and leave our neighborhood–and our way–intact?

Big Picture Bridge Street

UniversalSteelTradingCorpSite EPA

Bridge Street Salem January

Beckford Way

Aerial view of the site of the proposed new F.W. Webb building, marked by the X; the initial clean-up in 2012, with River Street houses in the background, EPA; these same houses last month (before our recent snow) looking over the temporary parking lot and reflected in the North River; Beckford Way.

You can read a more detailed summary of the project here, and also peruse project documents. The narrative presents a decidedly pro perspective, but you can easily discern the debate in the FAQ section. We’re in the midst of the process: already the City Council has held two public hearings on the project and there are more to come. As I intimated above, I’m very sympathetic to the concerns of my McIntire District neighbors (and believe the present Webb building would make fabulous housing given its proximity to the train station) but am also striving to widen–or elevate–my perspective, inspired by both a phrase I heard repeatedly at the first public meeting—“spot zoning”—as well as one of the more thoughtful observations of the night, expressed by an earnest River Street resident: Salem’s fabulous history and outstanding architecture is constantly at risk from unsound planning. These words resonated with me immediately as I feel that way all the time: our city’s piecemeal planning has led to undistinguished architecture, unlimited accommodations, and unceasing divisiveness, and it will continue to do so until we can all look at a bigger picture. Salem is hardly the only historic city facing myriad redevelopment challenges and opportunities at the moment: why can’t have a more comprehensive and proactive plan rather just reacting, reacting, reacting? Look at the example of our neighboring seaport to the north, Portsmouth, NH, which is pursuing “character-based zoning” (which must surely be the antithesis of “spot zoning”) by plotting out its development goals and proposals in “textured” 3D models that are available to the public on a web portal, so that everyone can see what proposed buildings will look like, in context and as part of a whole. We don’t even seem to know the actual height of the proposed Webb building on Bridge Street, much less how it will look in relation to its neighboring buildings (but I’m thinking, not good).

3DPortsmouthLead_920_557

3DPortsmouth1

Webb building

Plan Portsmouth 3D Model/Developed by Tangram 3DS;  our only view of the proposed Webb building.

Losing our Way?

One of the latest looming commercial developments in Salem is a proposal for a new showroom facility by the F.W. Webb Company, a large distributor of plumbing and HVAC parts, on an abandoned lot adjacent to its large brick building on Bridge Street. The lot was long occupied by the Universal Steel and Trading Company, which stored and processed scrap metal on the site, creating a contaminated cauldron from which they simply walked away, leaving the City to clean up the mess. Once the site was cleaned up–a process that took several years–the City put the parcel up for sale, and F.W. Webb was the only bidder. The public process by which the City divests itself of the site and the Webb proposal is reviewed by various city boards commenced last week, and consequently both the big picture and the little details are starting to emerge. Regarding the former, the jury’s still out for me–of course the proposed new building appears blandly “modern” and appears to have no connection to the existing Webb building–but this section of Bridge Street is not distinguished by structures of great architectural integrity. Where the terraced gardens of Federal Street houses once sloped down to the North River used car lots have more recently and characteristically occupied a filled-in Bridge Street, so you can argue that anything is an improvement. There are two “details” that do concern me at this point in the process, however: 1) the not-so-veiled threat inherent in the F.W. Webb proposal documents: this new building will allow us to remain in Salem and; 2) the loss of venerable public “way”called Beckford Way. This public path once accessed the riverfront but is now a trail to nowhere; nevertheless, it is still public property and will cease to be if the Webb proposal is approved.

Path 009

Webb Building

Path 001

Beckford Way

Bridge Street 2016 MA Boating and Fishing Access

NOW: The current Webb building on Bridge Street and the adjacent lot, now cleaned and paved, on which the company wants to build a new showroom building; rendering of the proposed new building and Beckford Way alongside the lot. A current map of Salem, with no Beckford Way.

I looked into the history of Salem’s public ways a bit, primarily by examining maps of the city in 1820, 1851, 1903 and 1916 in the Norman B. Leventhal collection at the Boston Public Library. It was an interesting exercise, through which you could clearly see the disappearance and/or transformation of myriad ways, courts, and even streets by projects that were both public and private. The nineteenth century privileged the train while the twentieth century was all about the car; the pedestrian lacked advocacy in both centuries. Sewall Street, once lined with houses, became a parking lot for the YMCA and adjacent developments; Liberty Street was absorbed by the Peabody Essex Museum just a decade ago. Now all of Salem’s “ways” exist only in condominium developments built out on Highland Avenue: they’re not even really part of the city.

Salem 1820 BPL

Bridge Street Before LC HABS

THEN: Jonathan Saunders map of Salem, 1820, clearly indicating Beckford Street’s access to the North River, Boston Public Library Leventhal Map Center; a map of the terraced gardens of Federal Street (a bit further west from the Webb property) before the River was filled in for the railroad and Bridge Street extension, HABS, Library of Congress.


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