Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Brookline Fountain for Horse and Dogs

An elaborate drinking fountain for horses and dogs, exactly like these examples in present-day Charlottesville, Virginia (left) and Quebec City, Canada (right) once graced a prominent location in Brookline Village. 

Fountains in Charlottesville and Quebec City

There are many photos of the intersection of Washington and Harvard Streets in Brookline Village (officially called Harvard Square). Together they present a picture of more than 150 years of change  in the center of the town's oldest still-thriving commercial district. 

One of our favorites here at the Brookline Historical Society is this photo from around 1908. (A larger, zoomable version is on our website. Check it out to view the photo in much more detail.)

Harvard Square, Brookline, circa 19108

Almost all of the buildings in the photo are still standing, making the location easily recognizable. (The major exception is the nearer of the two church spires. It burned on New Year's Eve 1960-61.)

Rhodes Brothers store
 On the left of the photo is the Rhodes Brothers grocery store in a building that was constructed in 1905. The building still stands, though it has lost some of its ornamentation. Rhodes Brothers occupied the space until after World War II when it became New England Food Fair. A bank and a health club are in the space today.

There is plenty of activity in the street. On the left a woman and boy are crossing the square behind a cart, one of several horse-drawn vehicles in the picture. (There are no automobiles, although automobiles were increasingly seen in town by this time.) On the right, workmen are replacing bricks in the pavement in front of James Rooney's shoe shop and the Rooney Block of three buildings.


One woman appears to have just disembarked from a streetcar coming down Harvard Street while another is about to board. (There are tracks coming down Washington Street, as well.) Elsewhere in the photo men, women, and children can be seen crossing the street, walking on the sidewalk, or standing in front of various stores.

One of the most delightful elements of the whole picture is the horse, at the front of a cheese delivery wagon, drinking from a fountain in front of Rhodes Brothers right in the middle of the photo.


Horse drinking from fountain

Amid all of this activity, one thing we did not pay much attention to was the fountain itself.

Until now.

A Widespread and Award-Winning Design
While looking through issues of the Brookline Chronicle on microfilm in the basement of the main library recently, I came across an article from July 16, 1887. It provides an illustration and a detailed description of the new fountain to be placed "in a prominent place in Harvard Square." (See the full article at the bottom of this page.)

A cast iron column, reported the Chronicle,
Newspaper illustration of fountain
....supports a larger or upper basin (which holds 40 gallons), at a height of four feet three inches above street grade, or at sufficient height for horses to drink with ease, without the driver being obliged to uncheck them. At the top and in the centre of this basin is an ornamented post. At the base of the post, four mythical aquatic figures are attached, and from the mouths of these the water flows into the larger basin. The waste water supplies the dog trough below. 

Closeup views of the Charlottesville fountain
These closeup views of the Charlottesville, Virginia, fountain show the spouts shooting water into the upper basin (left) for horses and the lower trough (right) with water for dogs and other small animals. The same design was on the Brookline Village  fountain.
The Brookline fountain, noted the article, was manufactured by Henry F. Jenks of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Its design had won awards from the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Assocation and the Cotton Centennial Exhibition in New Orleans. Copies could be found in different parts of the country and as far away as Copenhagen, Denmark and Adelaide, Australia.

Looking up Henry F. Jenks I found three articles on the excellent Memorial Drinking Fountains blog where I first saw the pictures from Charlottesville and Quebec City. You can read more on that blog about the Charlottesville and Quebec fountains. There is a third article about another example in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (There is no photo of the Cambridge fountain, which is no longer there, but the same illustration as appeared in the Chronicle is shown, only this time with a lamp attached to the top of the post.)

Henry F. Jenks with fountain
Another good source is an article about Jenks and his fountains in the January 2018 newsletter of the Blackstone Valley Historical Society. It includes a photo (right) of Jenks with one of his fountains in an unidentified location.

Other sources mention Jenks fountains of this and other designs in Pawtucket, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Menominee, Michigan. The trade journal Building Age in 1885 described a Jenks fountain that provided people with ice water through a system involving ice cubes in a specially designed ice box with coils of tin-lined pipe.

One of these ice water drinking fountains was dedicated in Boston's Bowdoin Square in August 1889. The Boston Globe reported that:

"The ceremonies, which lasted about an hour, were witnessed and participated in by a large crowd that blocked the street from curb to curb."

The End of the Brookline Fountain...and One More Surprise
The 1887 Chronicle article tells us when the Brookline Village Jenks fountain was installed. (An earlier photo shows a simpler, less ornamental watering trough at the same location.) It's uncertain when the fountain was removed. It can be seen in photos as late as 1915, but probably did not last much beyond that date as gas-guzzling automobiles replaced water-guzzling horses on the streets of the town.

One of the joys of local history research is the way serendipitous discoveries, like the Chronicle article, lead in unexpected directions, like the story of the Brookline fountain, Henry Jenks, and the fountains he designed in the U.S and around the world.

In this case, I had one more surprise in store. While working on this blog post, I remembered seeing another fountain, a small element in a large photograph of Beacon Street looking east from the tower of the S.S. Pierce Building. (We obtained the photo, taken some time between 1903 and 1907, from the Iowa State University Library.)

Beacon Street looking east, between 1903 and 1907

On the right side of the photo, between the sidewalk and the street, there's another fountain, easy to overlook amid the dramatic view of still largely undeveloped Beacon Street and the streetcar shelters. Here it is in closeup:

Closeup of Coolidge Corner fountain.

It certainly appears to be same design as the Brookline Village fountain. Fortunately, there's an even better view, this one from the collection of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.


This view is a section of a larger photo of Coolidge Corner. (The automobile has just come north on Harvard Street and is turning east onto Beacon Street.) It leaves no doubt; Brookline had two Henry Jenks designed horse-and-dog fountains in town.

Photo credits: 

Brookline Chronicle article about Harvard Square fountain, 1887
Brookline Chronicle, July 16, 1887


Friday, July 27, 2018

Seeing Double? 2 Bridges at Cottage Farm

The BU Bridge over the Charles River (formerly the Cottage Farm Bridge) is closed to traffic until mid-August this summer while the replacement for the adjacent Commonwealth Avenue bridge over the Mass Pike is being completed. The aerial photo below shows the river crossing in 1925. But why are there two bridges crossing the Charles?


aerial view of Cottage Farm bridges, 1925
1925 view of the Charles River waterfront between today's Boston University and Cambridge.
(Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth. Click for zoomable view)
The closer of the two bridges is a temporary bridge opened in October 1923 to carry traffic over the river while a new Cottage Farm Bridge was built to replace an earlier wooden bridge built in 1896. Disputes over the location and design of the new bridge delayed demolition of the older bridge until 1926. It was still standing — and still carrying traffic — upriver from the temporary bridge at the time of this photo.

Cottage Farm Bridge 1923, Boston Globe
Boston Globe, October 10, 1923

The temporary bridge ran from St. Mary's Street in Brookline across Commonwealth Avenue and through what is now Marsh Plaza at Boston University. B.U. had already begun purchasing the land for its Charles River campus by this time but construction of the current buildings had not yet taken place. Billboards facing Comm Ave. stand at the edge of the mostly vacant land in the photo. (Click the images below for a closer view.)

Commonwealth Avenue billboard

The old Cottage Farm Bridge was finally closed to traffic in November 1926, three years after the temporary bridge was opened. Demolition of the old bridge and construction of the current bridge took another two years. The new bridge finally opened to traffic in August 1928.

The temporary bridge at St. Mary's continued to be used as a second crossing until 1929 when it was taken down.

A couple of side notes:
  1. The name "Cottage Farm" comes from the many English cottage-style homes, inspired by the writings of Andrew Jackson Davis, that were built in the neighborhood in the mid-19th century. One of these, built by Amos Lawrence in 1851, is now Sloane House, the home of Boston University's president.
  2. The riverfront property that is now the center of the B.U. Charles River campus was once part of Brookline not Boston. It was given to Boston by the Commonwealth in 1874 to connect the Brighton neighborhood to the rest of the city. The Town of Brighton voted that year to be annexed to Boston; Brookline voters on the same day rejected annexation in favor of remaining an independent town.
Charles River waterfront, 1855 map
This portion of an 1855 map of Brookline shows the Cottage Farm area including the 1896 bridge, the Amos Lawrence property, and Commonwealth Avenue (then called Brighton Avenue). The riverfront, which was given to Boston in 1874, was later expanded by filling in part of the Charles River.
(Map from the Norman B. Leventhal Collection, Boston Public Library)




Saturday, May 12, 2018

Old Roads, New Names: Where Are They?

In May 1719 the citizens of Brookline voted to lay out a new road providing better access for "the north end inhabitants" of the town to the meeting house (now First Parish). The road, which came to be called the New Lane, would "be a more convenient way to ye meeting than they now enjoy."

Voted that the afore sd way granted to the north end inhabitants shall run from watertown Road across the Land of mr Thomas Cotton and so across the Land belonging to the children of Caleb Gardner late of Brooklyn into Sherbourn Road near to the Lower end of the new stone wall by an old white oak tree —

All of these roads —"watertown Road," "Sherbourn Road," and the New Lane — still exist though their names have changed. Do you know what they are today?

The two maps below, taken from maps created for the Brookline Historical Society in 1923, show the roads in question in 1693, 26 years before the New Lane was laid out, and in 1746, 27 years after it was created. (Click on the maps for a larger view.)

New Lane maps 1693 and 1746

Sunday, February 4, 2018

An Echo of S.S. Pierce in Coolidge Corner

Like many people, I was curious — and a little concerned — in the summer of 2016 when Walgreens announced it was closing its store in the S.S. Pierce Building in Coolidge Corner.  What would take its place in the most recognizable of all buildings in Brookline, an iconic structure that has stood at the heart of the town's busiest intersection since 1898?

I'll confess I wasn't thrilled when I heard it was going to be another bank. Banks already occupied two of the four corners at the intersection of Beacon and Harvard Streets: Bank of America in a 1930 building on the southeast corner (originally the Boulevard Trust); and Capital One's coffee shop/bank in a 1950 building on the southwest corner. But at least this was going to be a local bank with long and deep connections to the community.

The S.S. Pierce Building in 1906
The S.S. Piece Building in 1906. The original tower was damaged in a storm in 1944 and replaced the following year.
The work being done inside the former Walgreens was hidden from view for months. But the bank gave an indication of its appreciation for history and quality by hiding the construction behind high-gloss color photos of the building and the neighborhood (replacing the brown paper that had covered the windows after Walgreens left). They also added the bank's name in gold letters flanking the name of the building above the entrance, much like what had been there in the days of the S.S. Pierce store.

Corner entrance to the S.S. Pierce Building in 1906 and 2017.
Corner entrance to the S.S. Pierce Building in 1906 and in 2017.
I finally got a look at the interior when the bank opened in the summer of 2017. The colors, lighting, and openness of the space were impressive. But it was the elliptical shape, topped by a brightly lit rotunda ceiling that really caught my attention. It makes a grand space out of a relatively small footprint, more than fitting for its iconic location. I was very pleased.
Brookline Bank, Coolidge Corner
Brookline Bank, Coolidge Corner. (Photo courtesy of Torrey Architecture)
Months later, my appreciation for the design grew even stronger. It began with a serendipitous discovery in the microfilm of the Brookline Chronicle newspaper on the lower level of the Brookline Library. While researching something else entirely — ice skating in Brookline, if you must know — I came across a 1949 advertisement for S.S. Pierce with three views of the interior of the store. I don't think I'd ever seen interior views of the S.S. Pierce store before that.

The quality of the images on the microfilm was very poor. But one thing was very clear from the middle of the three photos: the central space was round with a rotunda ceiling. It's apparent in the shapes of the ceiling, the wall, and the counter in the photo.

Rotunda of the S.S. Pierce store as seen in a 1949 advertisement in the Brookline Chronicle
Rotunda of the S.S. Pierce store as seen in a 1949 advertisement in the Brookline Chronicle
Was the design of the new bank a deliberate homage to the historic design of the old Pierce store? Had the architect been aware that there had been a rotunda there in the past, either through plans or photos or existing architectural elements of the space itself?

To find out, I wrote to David Torrey of Torrey Architecture who designed this space (and many others for Brookline Bank). David was surprised (and as delighted as I was) to learn that there had been a rotunda in the space in the past. "I only saw the empty Walgreens space with its field of columns when I arrived at the site with Brookline Bank!," he wrote.

The former Walgreens space before its conversion to the Brookline Bank
The former Walgreens space before its conversion to the Brookline Bank (Photo courtesy of Torrey Architecture)

He then gave me this detailed description of "how I coincidentally came to design my version of a rotunda in that same location."

The program from Brookline Bank was to welcome customers into a friendly lobby with all the bankers visible to the customer on arrival. We shaped these glassy offices and teller line to allow this visual interaction to occur, and to provide a glimpse from the sidewalk at the activity inside through the art gallery facing Harvard Ave. But I also wanted to create a sense of arrival and grandeur, evoking the Brookline Savings Bank’s original lobby on the corner of Washington and Boylston in Brookline Village. (The bank let go of this building as their headquarters when we redesigned 131 Clarendon Street in Boston as the Brookline Bancorp headquarters.)

My challenge in redesigning the pivotal retail space at the S.S.Pierce Building was to carve out an open area for a lobby out of the field of columns which had to remain for structural reasons. This was done using a central ellipse surrounded by another elliptical ring that incorporated three columns and allowed an ambulatory corridor for access to the offices. But a plaster ceiling would be too loud for acoustical privacy, and I was aiming for a quiet library-like feel. So a plaster ceiling was out of the question, and a standard rectilinear acoustical tiled ceiling with downlights or even a surrounding cove would be a disappointment within an ellipse. 

So for acoustics and lighting we specified a stretched fabric ceiling, this one from Newmat, a European system being introduced recently in the USA. We built the rotunda coffer, lined it with acoustical batts spaced between rows of LED lights and the result is a daylit, quiet space in a modern deco-inspired composition giving the feel of a dome but made with flat surfaces and stepped plaster rings. My inspiration was also the still-standing Roman Pantheon with its central oculus open to the sky.

The Pantheon in Rome and the former Brookline Bank headquarters
The Pantheon in Rome (left) and the former Brookline Bank headquarters (right) in Brookline Village (now a medical marijuana dispensary) were both inspirations for David Torrey in his design for the new Coolidge Corner branch of the bank.

Coolidge Corner is going through a lot of change of late. Several businesses have closed their doors, including Pier One, Lady Grace, Vitamin World, Radio Shack, Panera Bread, and others. (Panera is being replaced by the Gen Sou En Japanese tea house. I'll have more about that space in a later post.)

Amid all this change, it's nice to know that the most iconic space of all has found a worthy replacement.

NOTE: Brookline Bank is not taking up all of the space in the S.S. Pierce Building formerly used by Walgreens. Oath Pizza moved in on the Harvard Street side even before the bank opened. It joins Paris Creperie and Coolidge Corner Opticians, both longstanding tenants on that side of the building. The newest addition, Allium Market on the Beacon Street side, is another echo of the building's past. It sells high-end specialty foods much like its predecessor S.S. Pierce (and even like the Coolidge & Brother store that stood in a different building at this location before that.)