Central Artery at High Street


ABOUT THE HISTORICAL PHOTOGRAPHS "Are they always digging up downtown Boston? Sometimes it seems so. The older photograph dates from the winter of 1956, when the Central Artery was under construction. The Artery was designed as an elevated expressway and most of it was built that way. But in the section we`re looking at, it`s being constructed as a tunnel. The reason: an early instance of a citizens` protest against development. Two years earlier, in 1954, a section of the elevated Artery had been erected near the North End. Once people saw it, they realized it was a wall that divided the neighborhood from the rest of the city. People in Chinatown, at the opposite of downtown, feared that a similar highway would blight their neighborhood, too, and destroy housing and business. They got this section of the road redesigned as a tunnel, ducking underground at Congress Street, running beneath Dewey Square next to South Station, and emerging at Kneeland Street on the far edge of Chinatown. In the photo, downtown is on the right, and Chinatown is in the distance. The tanks in the foreground hold antifreeze and lubricating oil for the tunneling machinery. The protesters were right. The elevated Artery proved to be a disaster. Its grim, overbearing presence cut the city off from its waterfront. And while, at first, traffic flowed freely on the new road, it wasn`t long before the Artery became clogged. There were also some unforeseen side effects. The Artery, for example, helped bankrupt the New Haven Railroad, as Boston commuters and business deliveries switched from rail to road. Fast-forward to 2002. Construction crews are digging again. They are excavating for the southbound lanes of the new underground Artery, part of the Big Dig. Like the old tunnel, this one is being built by the cut-and-cover method: First you dig a ditch, then you cover it. The steel girders in the foreground are bracing the sides of the cut, so that they won`t collapse. The guy with the hard hat is Peter Daboul of Modern Continental, who is project superintendent for the southbound excavations. While the new work goes on, the old tunnel remains open for traffic. Elsewhere in the photos, much has changed. Purchase Street on the right, is now lined with a typical Boston downtown mix of small old buildings and big new ones. It`s a dreary scene today, but it should soon be transformed as the Dig nears completion." -Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker, "CITYSCAPES - Tunneling Under Boston," Boston Globe, 2002 "The older of these two photos tells us something not only about the past but also about the future. It shows the site of the southern portion of the Central Artery, when this road was under construction in downtown Boston in 1954. The photo thus gives us some sense of what the artery site may again look like in 1998, the year by which, if work proceeds according to schedule, the road will have been relocated underground. We can visualize the immense size of the new open space, including surface streets, that will soon be available downtown – an area roughly equal, in fact, to that of Boston Common. Debate is already heating up as to what is the best use of the recaptured land. The new photo, made in 1988, shows the site as it looks today, with the artery emerging from the tunnel that carries it beneath the South Station area. It's clear in this view that the artery is an urban disaster, a wide and nearly uncrossable swath of no man's land that cuts the city off from its harbor. A thin, windswept bridge fails to lure very many pedestrians across the chasm. New office towers have sprouted since the old photo, but in character none equals the old United Shoe Machinery Building, partly visible at the top right of the 1954 view. Recently renovated as The Landmark, the United Shoe building is hidden behind other towers in· 1988. At lower left in the old photo the sharp-eyed may spot the tracks of the Union Freight Railway that once served businesses along Atlantic Avenue and (via the Northern Avenue Bridge) South Boston. Redesigning the land above the depressed artery will be the greatest urban-design opportunity for Boston since the filling of the Back Bay in the 1860s. Recently the city hired two consultant architects, Alex Krieger of Boston and the internationally known Ricardo Bofill of Spain. Bofill's track record as a designer of sometimes-pompous neoclassical apartment projects in France is sure to intensify what should be a very public discussion about the future of this crucial piece of Boston." -Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker, "CITYSCAPES - Life in the No Lanes," Boston Globe, 1988