A trip up the Tower


(a photo from last year)


28 May 2005


The Story

There's this rather striking tower in downtown Boston, you catch glimpses of it between newer buildings as you walk around... but only last week, browsing a book on the architecture of modifications, did I realise that it's built on top of an older building, like this:

The old one is from 1847, built right on the wateerfront as a customs house. (I believe the majority of the government's income was derived from customs in those days, hence the imposing building.) The tower dates from 1915, when the temple was getting lost among newer buildings on reclaimed land.

By the 1990s it was no longer used, and in 1998 was converted into a hotel. So we walk into the lobby and (suddenly underdressed) admire the marble dome, venture up a thickly padded staircase or two for a closer look... and next thing we're chatting to Tina and John, visiting from California for his school's 50th re-union, and can't possibly turn down a ride in the key-carded elevator to the top...


The Views




Looking North along the Big Dig to the bunker hill bridge. The jumble to the right is the North end.

More about the Tower

Quoting others from around the web:

Boston's first skyscraper, the sixteen floor Customs Tower, was an unlikely addition to the city. After all, there was city imposed height restriction limiting buildings to only 125 feet. Further, the existing customs house was a four-faced Greek temple, topped with a dome; an unlikely building to burst forth with sixteen brand new floors.

[ http://www.iboston.org/mcp.php?pid=customHouse ]

Boston’s splendid Quincy-granite Greek Revival Custom House was built for the ages between 1837 and 1847 to a design by Amni B. Young. When built, it sat on the shore of Boston Harbor, but landfill has exiled it to about a quarter-mile from the water.

The wealth of Boston’s seaport flowed through its lavish lobby in the form of tariff payments borne in the pockets of sea captains, who ascended its mighty steps to the marble piano nobile, open like a doughnut to the service level below. Young’s composition was surmounted by a glass dome

The dome is still there, though no light penetrates its glazing; from it there now soars a 32-story skyscraper. This was built 1913-15 to the plans of Peabody and Stearns. Its design flows seamlessly from the Greek Revival original.

For sheer beauty, this building rivals New York’s Woolworth and Metropolitan Life Buildings, the sadly-deceased Singer Building, and Cleveland’s Terminal Tower.

[ http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=11672&goto=nextnewest ]
which has lots and lots of pictures too!

For more than 30 years the tallest building on the Boston skyline, the Custom House is a tangible reminder of the importance of the sea in the city's economy and history. Here duties were collected and maritime business conducted as Boston clipper ships circled the world. The 1847 Greek revival structure with monolithic Quincy granite columns was designed by Ammi Burnham Young. In 1915, it was surmounted by Peabody & Stearns' 495-foot. Classical Revival-style tower.

[ http://www.bostonhistory.org/m_downtn.php ]

It stands watch over Boston Harbor in timeless splendor -- Marriott's Custom House, a towering historic landmark that offers spectacular views of a city steeped in 200 years of American history.

[ http://marriott.com/property/propertypage.mi?marshaCode=BOSCH ]

From the Sky

Above, from TerraServer, and below, from Google Maps.

Both of these are from before the Big Dig, which buried the elevated I-93 seen snaking through here.


Michael Abbott, 28 May 2005