A 2 miles, 1h30 to 2 hours trek in the West End, to see what urban renewal meant in the 1950’s.

Architecture, art, history and hidden gems are on the menu, with discoveries both indoor and outdoor (details and photos below the map)

Highlights: North Station, the Bulfinch triangle, some federal buildings, the West End Museum, the Thoreau Path, the Last Tenement house, St Joseph church, Old West church, John Adams courthouse, Edward Brooke courthouse, Garden of Peace memorial, Plaza Center, City Hall

 

A: Your trek starts at North Station (the railway, not the T ) because it’s a railway station, and even though it’s not New York Grand Central , and most trains come from the North and West suburbs, there is still this atmosphere of travels, and wait, with many different people to look at. Take a seat and be discreet!

Above you sits the TD Garden where the NHL’s Bruins or NBA’s Celtics are playing, as well as big name performers when there is no games. If a game is scheduled, you’ll know it as you’ll see people coming in yellow (Bruins game), or green (Celtics game).

You’ll also find a sport museum on the upper level, specialized in the Boston teams history.

B: Once you step out of North Station, you face the Bulfinch triangle, an historical neighborhood featuring architecture by Charles Bulfinch, a 19th century Bostonian representative of the Federal style. The triangle  is about all what’s left of the original West End neighborhood.

C: Go on your left to reach another era  and another style along the Thomas O’Neill Federal building, built mainly of pink granite in 1986 to replace the Madison hotel where performers and sport teams used to stay before it went decrepit. If you go inside, you’ll see two sculptures, Jane Kaufman’s “Crystal Hanging” and Mary Miss “Cascading Wall Fountain”

In front of it, at 150 Saniford street, you’ll see the West End Place, another interesting building with a gigantic porch opening to an inside courtyard, and built in 2007. It’s private, though, so you’ll only have a look from outside.

D: Stay on Saniford Street to find the West End museum where you’ll learn how the neighborhood was until the 1950’s, when the city of Boston decided to level the area, and built residential high rises. The people telling you the story are old residents of the West End, so do the math, they won’t be around forever to describe what happened, and how great the place was.

In front of the museum, you’ll find ” The Last Tenement House”, flanked by enormous ads, and wonder how it survived the demolition.

E: Some of the residential high rises are located along the Thoreau path that you’ll find roughly behind the museum, even though you’ll have to go left when exiting, then left again. It’s not sure Thoreau would have agreed to have his name here, in the middle of 1960’s apartment buildings, but you’ll know more about him and the Transcendentalist movement if you read the panels along the path. You’ll also have to decide if the new neighborhood was worth the destruction of the old.

F: A bit further, you’ll see another survivor of the old West End, St Joseph Catholic Church, open to everyone, with remarkable stained glass windows, and this kind of peace only found in churches. For $1, you can lit a false candle, and present your request to one of the saints there. Will it work? You’ll see. It’s not instant gratification, except perhaps for the pleasure to do what generations of faithful have done before you all over the world, in front of various religious figures.

G: Have a  quick look up Staniford Stree to see if the Old West church is open. It’s a nice Federal style structure inside and outside, built in 1806, and it played a role in the American Revolution (“no taxation without representation” has been coined there), but it ‘s often closed.

H: You have already seen it along your trek, but now it’s a good time to have a closer look at this strange building, the Charles Hurley, coming straight from a sci-fi movie, and built by Rudolph in 1971. It’s on New Chardon St, unmistakable with its  signature concrete, its Brutalist style, its curves and points. It also looks like a modern Baroque castle in need of a lot of repairs. Part of the Boston Government Center, it houses social services. In the movie “The Departed” , it was a police headquarter. A big metallic sculpture hangs from one of its outdoor ceiling, and you’ll see it if you go to the plaza.

On the other side of this plaza, another imposing and fierce structure, the Edward Brooke Courthouse, designed by KMW Architecture to be the flagship of the new courthouses built by the state, and achieved in 1999.

On your way out, do not miss the sculpture in front of the post office on New Chardon Street.

I: You are now heading toward the John Adams Courthouse by way of  Bowdoin Square to admire two façades, one Contemporary at a building called One Bowdoin Square, the other Art Deco  at the old New England Telephone and Telegraph Company.

Once you reach and take Somerset street on your right, you’ll see the Garden of Peace Memorial on you right too, with two more sculptures. Then you’ll enter Pemberton Square, a very unusual plaza with the impressive John Adams courthouse on the right, built in 1885 in a early stage of Classical Revival style, and the nonetheless impressive Plaza Center on the left, typical of the 1960’s era building with its concrete structure.

If you can, enter the courthouse. It’s home to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and worth a look for its high rounded ceiling, marble stairs, and solemn paneled courthouses. You’ll also find two permanent exhibitions, one about John Adams, and the other about the Sacco and Venzetti case.

Then go through Plaza Center to reach City Hall Plaza.

J: On your left, the Kennedy Federal building, another example of 1960s Modern  architecture, designed by Gropius and Glaser, with a Dmitri Hadzi sculpture in front of it, inspired by president Kennedy “Profiles in Courage” book. There are two more artworks inside, and revolving exhibitions about president Kennedy, but it’s still a Federal building, not a museum, so don’t expect top-notch displays.

Your last stop, City Hall, is another example of Brutalist architecture. It has been called one of the world ugliest buildings, and one of the ten proudest achievement of American architecture, so take your pick according to your taste. The interior mirrors the exterior, and is home to three small galleries. They will give you an excuse to go and have a look inside if you want.

Your trek ends here, but if you are still in the mood to walk, and want to discover other parts of Boston, the North End trek and the Waterfront trek start here too.

Good To Know: You’ll find public restrooms at the John Adams courthouse and City Hall; places to eat near or in North Station, and around City Hall; tables and benches plus free Wi-Fi on City Hall plaza. You’ll have to go through security to enter administrative buildings. A donation is suggested at the museum of the West End, otherwise everything is free.

T-stops: North Station (start) and Government Center (end)

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