ABOUT THE HISTORICAL PHOTOGRAPHS "A photograph from 1901 shows the Custom House, one of the great Boston landmarks. It was built in 1849 in the Greek Revival style. In practice, Greek Revival means more or less pasting a mini-Parthenon on the front of a building, or, as in this case, four Parthenons on all four fronts. The architect was Ammi B. Young, and the technology was amazing. Each individual column – they`re Doric columns, the most severe of the Greek types – was carved from a single piece of Quincy granite, and each weighs 46 tons. Notice the dome. Its skylight once lit an atrium in the center of the building. But in 1915 the don1e was obliterated. A 16-story tower was erected in its place to provide more office space. The tower sits on the temple like a giraffe on an elephant – a nutty but wonderful landmark and, at 495 feet, Boston`s tallest until the 1940s. The Custom House is vacant now. The city owns it, having paid the feds $9.9 million, and may cut a deal with a private developer to convert it into a hotel. Also being considered is a proposal to use the tower as the headquarters for a new Harbor Islands National Park." -Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker, "CITYSCAPES - The Custom House," Boston Globe, 2 October 1994 "These views show us one of the marvelous chunks of Boston cityscape. The older photo dates from the 1920s, the newer from 1987. We are looking down a short section of Commercial Street, with the elegant Custom House tower rising at the far end. The snake pit of delivery trucks in the old photo is serving the many small businesses, mostly wool and textile companies and coffee merchants, that then filled Commercial Street. The trucks have been replaced by strolling shoppers, but the roomlike space retains its vitality and human scale. On the right side of both views, little has changed. In both photos the columned, Greek-temple end of the Quincy Market building pokes into the street. At the extreme right we can make out the end of the North Market Street row, onto which, in the old photo, an extra floor has been grafted, giving it a flat roof. In the new photo the original gable has been restored as part of the mid-1970s Faneuil Hall Marketplace development. On the left, everything is new. The former beefy granite warehouses (designed in the 1840s by Gridley J.F. Bryant, architect of the Charles Street Jail and Old City Hall) have been torn down, some in the early 1950s for the Central Artery and some in the 1970s for the Marketplace. In their place is an extension of the Marketplace known as Marketplace Center, a row of odd but not unattractive lowrise buildings culminating in a blocky, ungainly tower. The Custom House, the first Boston skyscraper, crowns both pictures as it crowned Boston for so many years. Its base dates from 1847 and was designed by the famed Ammi B. Young; the equally handsome tower, replacing the original dome, was added by Peabody and Stearns in 1915. Opponents of historic-preservation laws sometimes argue that today such an addition to a landmark building would never be permitted. At the moment the future of the Custom House is up for grabs. The federal government is selling it to the city, which will soon seek a developer to renovate it for a new use. Prospective developers will be required to restore public access to a lookout floor near the top. At this writing, it isn't clear whether they will also be required to include a museum of democracy on the ground floor, a proposal that is superfluous at best in a city teeming with patriotic sites. In the meantime, Boston Edison has donated a new system of exterior lighting that soon should make the tower an even lovelier landmark by night." -Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker, "CITYSCAPES - Custom made: A commercial street retains its vitality and scale," Boston Globe, 1987

Constructed, 1847
Renovation, 1915


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