(Click to embiggen)
Don’t worry, I’m not describing Boston Mayor Menino’s latest harebrained scheme. Esplanade Magazine, which is some great architecture/real estate porn (and it’s free!), describes an effort in 1907, during the heyday of the City Beautiful Movement, to build an island in the Charles River. It didn’t happen due to opposition from Beacon Hill residents (naturally…) who opposed what would have been called St. Botolph’s* island. But imagine if the island had been built (from Esplanade Magazine):
It’s May, almost time for Commencement, and you are sunning yourself at the BU Beach–that grassy knoll that looks out over Storrow Drive. You decide to get up and leisurely cross the pedestrian footbridge over Storrow and walk down the Esplanade. As you reach the river, sparkling in the warm sunlight of late Spring, you see the BU DeWolfe Boathouse, with its beautiful turquoise copper roof and Naples yellow clapboards siding.
Bust as you turn to gaze downriver, you don’t see the dome at MIT, or the span of the Mass Ave. Bridge. You can’t see the Zakim Bridge either. Instead, an island looms in the middle of the river–an island that contains a Gothic cathedral and a large civic plaza.
As you face downriver towards the Cambridge side, the buildings on St. Botolph’s Island (now known simply as “the Island”) take up most of the view. The gothic spires of St. Paul’s Cathedral, now over 90 years old, cast a shadow on the Charles. You can seee rowers emerging from the narrow channels between the Island and Cambridge on the other. You idly wonder whether you should wander over to the Island to buy some ice cream…
Both Boston and Cambridge would be very different. The real estate ‘center of gravity’ could have shifted from Beacon Hill, had the plans to include residential housing been enacted (the other option was to have a lot of parks, government buildings and museums). Cambridge might have been less of a biotech hub–or the hub would have shifted northward: much of Cambridge which is now occupied by tech startups and MIT expansion probably wouldn’t have been left as derelict, given the proximity to the island.
In terms of aesthetics, I like the open river (and the fireworks would probably move to Allston), but, of course, maybe, in an alternative timeline, if someone were to blog about Boston’s missing island, that would seem weird too.
*St. Botolph lived in the English city of Boston, and, consequently, more than a few churches, streets, and so on in Boston are named after him.