From “Drive-By Community” to Destination: How Historic Preservation Put West Stockbridge on the Map

West Stockbridge Old Town Hall viewed from the north
Bob Salerno of the West Stockbridge Historical Society relaxes outside the Old Town Hall. Credit: Ben Garver, The Berkshire Eagle.
Nobody expected West Stockbridge to draw crowds. For most of its existence, the rural town was best known for its proximity to its namesake, from which it split in 1774, and for its location at the last exit along the Mass. Pike before the New York border. Surrounded by green hills and lily-padded ponds, West Stockbridge was the kind of quiet, out-of-the-way community where change came slowly. In the sixties, residents balked at the introduction of an orderly house numbering system deemed “Communist.” Twenty years later, many were reluctant to adopt 9-1-1 as an emergency telephone number – what was the point when the Fire Department already knew where they lived? West Stockbridge has always been a place where continuity and community mattered. Thus it is no surprise that when change did come to town, it was the result of one vacant historic building and the local people who saw its potential. As president of the West Stockbridge Historical Society, Bob Salerno is deeply familiar with the decade-long effort to restore West Stockbridge’s Old Town Hall, which dates to 1854. The excitement in his voice is palpable as he recounts the building’s history over a telephone call in early November. For 150 years, the Old Town Hall functioned as a community center containing a large meeting area, town offices, a library, a police station, and commercial space. Age took its toll, however, and in 2004 the building was emptied of tenants. When the Select Board proposed demolishing or selling it to the highest bidder, alarmed residents banded together to save their local heritage. The long-inactive Historical Society revitalized itself and bought the building for a dollar (a fundraising brochure on the group’s website quips that it “seriously overpaid for the privilege”). Says Bob with no hint of weariness, “The Society has been working on restoring the building ever since.”
Announcement for a temperance meeting at the West Stockbridge Old Town Hall, c. 1862
The West Stockbridge Old Town Hall hosted civic events, such as this “Grand Rally” for temperance in 1862. Courtesy of the West Stockbridge Historical Society.
For a community with a population of just 1,084, this is no small task. The rehabilitation initially was expected to cost between $300,000-$500,000; it is now estimated at $1 million. When the project began, the Historical Society struggled to get seed funding from most organizations. “Massachusetts is very Boston-centric and East Coast-centric,” Bob observes. “Every grant application we sent in, we’d get a letters saying it’s not going to work, why bother, you’re rural. It was very painful.” To make matters worse, West Stockbridge had little to attract visitors who might have been inclined to invest in the Old Town Hall’s restoration, and still less to encourage those who did happen to pass through to linger. According to Bob, “West Stockbridge used to be a drive-by community where people picked up their beer on their way to Tanglewood.” The downtown stretched just three to four blocks, bookended by a Congregational Church and the Public Market, a grocery-turned-deli in continuous operation for nearly a century. There were (and still are) no traffic lights in the entire town. Yet the Historical Society was not deterred. Its members knew that the Old Town Hall could become a magnet not just for local residents, but for tourists ordinarily focused on well-established cultural destinations in Stockbridge and Pittsfield. The trick was to make others see the same thing. The Historical Society began dusting off old relationships and building new ones. Board members wooed full-time, seasonal, and former residents with a vision of the Old Town Hall filled to capacity for performances and lectures. They won over businesses and foundations, and established a tiered annual membership system for the Historical Society that has yielded a reliable stream of funds for renovations. Over ten years, the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Massachusetts Cultural Council contributed more than $200,000 in matching grants to the project – fully one quarter of the $780,000 that the Historical Society has raised for the building to date. Thanks to private and public philanthropy, the Old Town Hall now has a new basement, elevator, and plumbing system, and it will soon have a new roof as well. Each improvement raised awareness of the restoration and increased the community’s confidence that the Old Town Hall had a future.
Old Town Hall stage
The main hall and stage at the West Stockbridge Old Town Hall. Courtesy of the West Stockbridge Historical Society.
One fundraising strategy in particular had impacts that extended beyond the renovation efforts to the town as a whole. The Historical Society began to hold benefit concerts in the Old Town Hall soon after purchasing the building. Board members forged partnerships with the Berkshires’ thriving cultural community, filling the organization’s events calendar with performances, exhibitions, lectures, and holiday celebrations. Four members of the West Stockbridge Chamber Players who also performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra declared the auditorium “an acoustical jewel.” Audiences clearly agreed. Annual attendance at Historical Society events grew to 3,200 as word spread from West Stockbridge to Boston and Albany. Whereas established Berkshire performance venues attracted predominantly out-of-towners, the Old Town Hall consistently drew both visitors and locals – a fact that Bob noted with pride. This past year, when COVID shuttered theaters across the country, the Historical Society hosted socially distant outdoor concerts over the summer and virtual programs once cold weather set in – most recently, a presentation by Mass Audubon on how birds survive the winter. In just ten years, the Old Town Hall has become a community anchor, and West Stockbridge, a destination.
A concert at the Old Town Hall
A large audience listens attentively at a concert in the Old Town Hall auditorium.
“The project has been the spark plug to revitalize the town,” Bob enthuses before launching into a list of attractions that have opened in West Stockbridge since the restoration began. TurnPark Art Space, a gallery and sculpture park founded by Russian immigrants. The Foundry, a performing and visual arts venue that provides “a safe space to create dangerous work” and “experience joyful creation.” Four restaurants that were thriving before the pandemic began, where patrons could indulge in dishes ranging from roast beef to pho. Unfortunately, the statewide economic shutdown dealt a blow to the burgeoning arts-based economy. “COVID’s impact caused West Stockbridge to slam to a halt,” laments Bob. “All the businesses are struggling.” The situation makes the Old Town Hall rehabilitation all the more urgent. When life returns to normal, this anchor institution will host many of the events that bring people and their disposable income back to Main Street. The more often the building can operate, the better. Of course, much work remains to be done before the Old Town Hall reaches that point. The property requires ADA-compliant restrooms, as well as an HVAC system that will accommodate year-round use (winter and mid-summer temperatures in the building do not allow for prolonged visitation). The Historical Society also intends to insulate the attic, repair leaky windows and doors, and finish the interior. Last November, the organization requested another $100,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to complete many of these tasks. A generous donor gave the effort a boost by offering a $30,000 challenge gift to assist in raising a match, should the grant materialize. The community is even considering designating the downtown as a Historic District to aid fundraising and increase visitation, though this move remains controversial in a town that, until recently, saw little traffic.
West Stockbridge Old Town Hall
West Stockbridge Old Town Hall. Courtesy of the West Stockbridge Historical Society.
West Stockbridge is the poster-child for what historic preservation and an empowered community can accomplish. To an outsider, the Old Town Hall might not have seemed a promising investment, but to residents, it was central to their heritage and local identity. Revitalizing a single historic building transformed Main Street from a has-been to a will-be. Socially, culturally, and economically, West Stockbridge is poised to rebound from the pandemic stronger than ever – all thanks to the fact that Historical Society members had the gumption to “seriously overpay” for the privilege of saving the Old Town Hall, and local voters had the vision to let them try. Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

What 2020 Meant for AHF and What’s Next in 2021

Aerial view of the Speedway
The Speedway from above. Courtesy of Jason Baker.

The Speedway viewed from above. Courtesy of Jason Baker.

“I think this virus is actually going to be a pretty big deal.” No truer words were ever spoken in AHF’s office – and no statement more understated. It was early February, and AHF staff were gathered in the conference room at Old City Hall for our weekly meeting. We had talked about our marketing strategy to bring tenants to the Speedway during what promised to be another boom year for restaurants and artisan retailers. We had marveled at our clients, the Friends of the North Brookfield Town House, who were taking bold steps toward a capital campaign to convert an historic building into a regional arts center. We had discussed the 2020 Main Street Now conference in Dallas, where we were to present on our strategy for advancing stuck preservation projects. Now Sean, AHF’s president, had turned the conversation to the news trickling out of Asia, Europe, and California. “We should probably look into some online meeting software,” he mused, “in case we have to work from home for a few weeks.”

Nine months later, we’re still working from home. AHF has witnessed the vulnerability and resiliency of the communities we serve: the struggling hospitals and food pantry lines; the creativity of small businesses striving to stay afloat; the kindness of strangers helping strangers. Throughout it all, we’ve tried to do our part to support our neighbors while keeping our own projects on track. As we bid good riddance to 2020 and welcome to 2021, we reflect on the work we managed to do during the pandemic, and on our hopes for the coming year.

The Speedway Produce Program

Staff from the Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) and Charles River Community Health pose with the first batch of Speedway Produce boxes.
Staff from AHF and Charles River Community Health with the first batch of Speedway Produce boxes.

Staff from AHF and Charles River Community Health with the first batch of Speedway Produce boxes.

The shutdown in March exposed food insecurity everywhere, including among our Allston-Brighton neighbors. With the Speedway renovations on hold for six weeks, we looked for ways to support the community. Inspiration came from our friend and colleague, Maggie Battista, who had been delivering hundreds of donated produce boxes to hard-hit communities in Chelsea. Following her model, we launched the Speedway Produce Program in partnership with Charles River Community Health (CRCH) and local wholesaler Katsiroubas Brothers. Thanks to generous donations from community members, the Harvard Ed Portal, Solomon McCown & Cence, and Newburg & Company, we distributed $14,000-worth of fresh produce to CRCH’s most vulnerable members over the course of four months. We’re humbled by CRCH and Katsiroubas Brothers’ continued dedication to making sure that people across Greater Boston have the care and nourishment they need to weather the pandemic.

Speedway Progress Update, December 2020

More than a year into construction, we can see the finish line! Our contractor, D.F. Pray, has been working hard to ensure a spring opening for the Speedway. We’ll let these photos speak for themselves.

Speedway with newly poured concrete walkway
The Speedway Building F with a newly poured concrete walkway. Courtesy of Jason Baker.
Speedway upper floor hallway and staircase
The upper floor of Building F looks more habitable by the day! Courtesy of Jason Baker.
Speedway Building F - room with fireplace
Walls and fresh paint make this cozy room in Building F look even cozier. Courtesy of Jason Baker.
The Speedway Building F Interior
There’s plenty of room inside Building F for office or co-working space. Courtesy of Jason Baker.
Building F staircase viewed from the ground floor
Notch Brewing's taproom under construction at the Speedway
Notch’s taproom is coming together. Can you see yourself here post-pandemic? Courtesy of Jason Baker.

ROAR at the Town House

The North Brookfield Town House and ROAR logos

AHF is in awe of the folks in North Brookfield who are turning a stuck preservation project into a catalyst for downtown revitalization. Despite the pressures of life during COVID, an economic decline that has hampered fundraising, and the dismal situation for performance venues, the Friends of the North Brookfield Town House are forging ahead with a capital campaign to redevelop the historic building. Over the past year, they worked doggedly with project partner and music industry professional Bonnie Milner to refine and put a name to the building’s future program: Rural Opportunity through Arts and Restoration (ROAR). A pilot program for what Bonnie hopes will become a national model, ROAR at the Town House will seek to build a creative economy in rural south-central Massachusetts through arts education and cultural programming – all within a restored, locally significant building. Check out the Friends’ new website to learn about this extraordinary project!

The North Schoolhouse – Our Newest Project

Mount Washington North Schoolhouse
The Mount Washington North Schoolhouse
North Schoolhouse interior - desks, chalkboards, and American flag
The Mount Washington North Schoolhouse – a time capsule

The North Schoolhouse — a time capsule

To our surprise, the pandemic doesn’t seem to have slowed preservationists down. We had many conversations in 2020 with people seeking to revitalize historic properties, and one discussion turned into our newest consulting project. The Town of Mount Washington, MA asked AHF to assess the feasibility relocating and restoring the nineteenth-century North Schoolhouse as a civic and cultural space. When we visited the building in November, we fell in love. The brown-shingled, one-room schoolhouse is located along a dirt road in the woods at nearly 2,000 feet above sea level and was once considered the most remote school in the Commonwealth. It looks much as it did 150 years ago: chalkboards, desks with inkwells, and adjustable child-sized chairs line the walls; spelling cards are still scattered across the teacher’s desk; graffiti dating to the 1870s decorates the wood storage room. Together with DBVW Architects, AHF is producing a feasibility study and cost estimates for relocating the building to the town center and restoring it as event and exhibit space. We have also offered (pending Town approval) to provide real estate guidance during 2021 and to assist with preparing an application to the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Facilities Fund later in the year.

Worcester Memorial Auditorium

Videographer Padriac Farma flies a drone inside the Worcester Memorial Auditorium
Videographer Padriac Farma flies a drone inside the Shrine of the Immortal at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Matthew Dickey.

Videographer Padriac Farma flies a drone inside the Shrine of the Immortal at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Matthew Dickey.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention our largest and most ambitious project, the Aud. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has pushed back the timeline on this redevelopment effort, which aims to convert a five-story performance venue and memorial into an academic digital innovation lab, esports arena, and cultural center. We are in the process of applying for Historic Tax Credits and seeking both public and private investment. In the meantime, we have begun an exciting videography project to showcase the Aud’s history and architecture. Keep an eye out for some short videos later in 2021.

As one of the most difficult years in living memory comes to a close, the work AHF does to help communities spark economic and cultural growth has new urgency. Our New Year’s resolution is this: to contribute to a robust recovery that produces vibrant, healthy neighborhoods whose heritage is honored and whose future is bright.

Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Learn more about the Charles River Speedway and Worcester Memorial Auditorium revitalization projects.

The Speedway Progress Update: October 2020

Speedway interior under renovation

One year has passed since AHF broke ground at the Speedway. On that sunny October day, surrounded by our partners and neighbors, we never imagined that such a gathering soon would be impossible. Had all gone as planned, the Speedway would have opened to the public this month. The courtyard would have bustled with families and friends mingling over Notch beer, enjoying outdoor music, and browsing local artisans’ wares. But like everyone else, we had to take a step back when the pandemic hit. We’ve weathered construction delays, endured market uncertainty, and thought long and hard about which aspects of the project are still feasible in the age of COVID. The answer: almost all of them. Our vision for the Speedway is still on track – just delayed and slightly altered to meet public health standards. We have some exciting updates to share with you as we gear up for a Spring opening!

1. Tenant Tours

Last Wednesday, AHF teamed with GraffitoSPBruner/Cott Architects, and Business Guide and entrepreneur Maggie Battista to host our first tour of the Speedway for prospective creative operators. Six small-format spaces in the former sheds and stables of Building E are available for short-term leases with food and beverage operators, small shops, makers, and artisans. We were blown away by the tour attendees’ enthusiasm for the site, and inspired by the creativity and tenacity they’ve exhibited in growing their businesses. The day came to a close with a surprise visit from State Representative Kevin Honan. Our next tour is scheduled for Monday, November 16. See our Call for Creative Operators for more details and to complete a Submission of Interest Form.

Prospective tenants on a tour of the Speedway
Prospective tenants listen to Bruner/Cott’s Christopher Nielson during a tour of the Speedway.
Kevin Honan, Sean McDonnell, and Gustavo Quiroga at the Speedway
Pictured from left to right: Representative Kevin Honan, AHF President Sean McDonnell, and GraffitoSP’s Gustavo Quiroga.

2. Storefronts and Doorways Galore

Nothing makes us feel that we’re nearing the end of construction more than seeing graffitied garage doors and boarded up entrances replaced with new glass. Notch’s taproom has received the first storefronts, while Garage B, the Speedway’s future event space, was outfitted with glass doors. We can’t wait to see how elegant the Speedway looks once the rest of the storefronts are in place!

New storefront at the Speedway
The Speedway is being outfitted with new doors and storefronts.

3. Speedway Shingle Style

Our friends at D.F. Pray General Contractors have awed us with their skill and patience in installing the Speedway shingles – one at a time, and entirely by hand. Their hard work is paying off. Siding is nearly complete at the Speedway, which looks better and better with each passing day. Though we loved the buildings’ old brown color, we decided to restore the property to its original unpainted appearance. The Eastern white cedar shingles will weather over time.

Shingles at the Speedway
Siding is nearly complete at the Speedway.

4. A Four-Season Courtyard

AHF always envisioned the Speedway as a place for people to enjoy themselves in all seasons, and we knew that a publicly accessible courtyard would be one of the site’s best features. Now that the pandemic has discouraged indoor gatherings, the courtyard has become more important than ever. We’re fitting out the courtyard for lamp posts and gas heaters so that visitors can use the space comfortably even in the dark and chill of late fall and winter. Who knew that a police station and racehorse stables could be so hygge?

A DF Pray worker attaches shingles to the Speedway
D.F. Pray has nearly completed the siding at the Speedway.

5. Something’s Brewing in the Speedway Brewery

The buildout of Notch’s brewery and taproom has begun! Turns out brewing beer requires some complicated plumbing. During the fermentation process, beer acidifies quickly and corrodes conventional cast iron drainage pipes. To transport byproduct from the operation safely off the premises, we dug deep trenches in the future brewery’s floor and installed a special lined cast iron pipe. We’ve also installed the lines from the brewery to the taproom, which will bring freshly made beer to Speedway visitors. All this work is now buried beneath a newly poured concrete floor, hidden from view.

Notch Brewery's space under construction at the Speedway
Notch is beginning to fit out its brewery and taproom at the Speedway.

Notch is beginning to fit out its brewery and taproom at the Speedway.

As ever, a big thank-you to the Brighton community for supporting this project over the past six years. The Speedway couldn’t have gotten this far without community members’ ideas, encouragement, and advocacy. We look forward to sharing more updates as the project comes together.

AHF president Sean McDonnell speaks with a community member at the Speedway.
AHF president Sean McDonnell speaks with a community member at the Speedway.

AHF president Sean McDonnell speaks with a community member at the Speedway.

Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Learn more about the Charles River Speedway revitalization project.

The Speedway, the BPA, and the Importance of Preservation Partnerships

BPA 32nd Annual Preservation Awards logo
Image credit: Boston Preservation Alliance

The built environment stands on a foundation of built relationships. For preservationists, whose projects live or die depending on successful advocacy, this idea carries special weight. The oft-expensive process of restoring or adaptively reusing historic properties hinges on partnerships between individuals and organizations, businesses and governments. Time and again, AHF has witnessed how strong relationships beget stronger projects. The Speedway is a case in point. This once-deteriorating collection of buildings is well on its way to becoming a lively community space thanks to the early determination and continued support of the Boston Preservation Alliance.

Also known as the BPA, the Alliance has spent more than forty years fighting to protect Boston’s built heritage. Thanks to the BPA, numerous historic buildings still stand in whole or in part throughout the city, among them the Boston Stock Exchange, the Dorchester Pottery Works, the Chestnut Hill Waterworks, Fenway Park, and now, the Charles River Speedway. When AHF was appointed Historic Curator of the Speedway in 2014, we joined the ranks of many local organizations that had been striving for years under the BPA’s leadership to save the property. In fact, our appointment might never have happened if not for the relationships that the BPA cultivated to ensure that rehabilitation remained a viable option for the site.

The Speedway before restoration
The Speedway in 2013 before restoration.
The Speedway's nearly completed shingling along Soldiers Field Road
The Speedway’s shingling is nearly complete along Soldiers Field Road.

Building institutional partnerships is a painstaking process, but the Alliance’s Speedway-related activities over the last ten years show that the such efforts bear fruit. In 2011, the BPA teamed with the Brighton-Allston Historical Society, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Historic Boston, Inc. to host a public brainstorming session that generated a variety of ideas for the property’s future. That same year, the BPA submitted a letter to the Boston Landmarks Commission in support of the Speedway’s designation as a city Landmark. In 2018, the Alliance helped AHF obtain Historic Tax Credits for the Speedway by submitting another letter of support to the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The BPA’s reputation among these municipal and state institutions as a thoughtful and often successful preservation advocate meant that its letters held weight. The Speedway is now a City of Boston Landmark (a designation that offers greater protection than the National Register), and AHF has obtained Historic Tax Credits critical to moving the project forward. Throughout, the BPA has been among the Speedway’s staunchest supporters.

Today, October 15, the BPA hosts its 32nd annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony – yet another way that the Alliance promotes historic preservation in Boston. This year, the event is virtual, free (thought donations are appreciated), and hosted by award-winning journalist Katie Couric. There’s still time to register for this chance to learn about the inspiring preservation work occurring throughout the city and the Alliance’s role in making it happen.

Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

From The Boston Globe – “Setting the Record Straight on the Building of Faneuil Hall Marketplace”

Re “Kevin White’s vision for Faneuil Hall is now Marty Walsh’s problem” (Opinion, Sept. 17), as with all preceding articles that I have read in the Globe regarding the restored Faneuil Hall Marketplace, ever since its grand opening in August 1976 (and I think I have read all of them), is predicated on a false assumption as to the inception of this spectacular project. The vision and initiative behind it were not those of White, nor developer James Rouse, nor architect Ben Thompson. They belong to Boston architect Frederick A. Stahl, Roger Webb (founder and president of the Architectural Heritage Foundation), and Walter Whitehill (esteemed historian and director of the Boston Athenaeum).

Is There Room for Equity on the Mass. Pike?

Allston Multimodal Project Area - Bird's-Eye View
A satellite view of the area covered by the Allston Multimodal Project. At center from the bottom, the Boston-Worcester Commuter Rail line, Beacon Park Yard, the MassPike with entrance and exit ramps, and Cambridge Street. The Throat section of the Charles River is visible in the bottom right.

The Mass. Pike Extension has always been controversial. To some, it is an ugly source of pollution that divides communities and inhibits access to the Charles River. Transportation and environmental advocates castigate the “obsolete, failed transportation policy that placed a highway above the needs of neighborhoods and the environment.” Yet to others, it is a lifeline ensuring access to jobs, city culture, and low-density living. With a pre-COVID average of 150,000 trips per day, the interstate has been a critical link between Boston and western areas of the Commonwealth with little access to public transit. The current impasse around the Allston Multimodal Project, MassDOT’s planned realignment of the Pike, is the latest iteration of a debate that centers around questions of community preservation and equity.

By now, the project’s details are well-known. The Mass. Pike Extension would be straightened through the former Beacon Park Yard, and the wasteland of entrance and exit ramps turned into a new Harvard University-developed neighborhood. West Station would finally be built along the Commuter Rail’s Boston-Worcester line. Sun-scorched Cambridge Street would become a landscaped, bike-friendly boulevard. And the portion of the highway elevated on the crumbling Allston Viaduct would be either repaired or reconstructed at grade. Everyone agrees the project is necessary and would benefit, well, everyone. But nobody seems to agree on how to squeeze the Pike, Soldiers Field Road, the Commuter Rail, bike and pedestrian paths, and a modicum of grass into the section of the Charles River known as the Throat. The differences that have emerged between those who commute along the viaduct and those who live in its shadow raise a question that has plagued the Mass. Pike since its earliest days: who stands to gain most from the project?

MassDOT's proposal for the Allston Multimodal Project
MassDOT’s July 2019 proposal for the Allston Multimodal Project.

MassDOT’s July 2019 proposal for the Allston Multimodal Project.

It can be hard nowadays, amid Boston’s development boom and the looming climate crisis, to understand why transportation planners opted to separate communities from each other and the Charles River to accommodate an interstate. Yet their decision, damaging as it was, had context. By the 1960s, Boston was becoming known as a has-been city. Manufacturing was at an all-time low after forty years of decline. Work was drying up at the Boston Navy Yard, which would soon close after nearly two centuries of operation. Suburban development, driven by white flight and post-war American Dreams, spurred the construction of office parks and shopping malls that drew white-collar and retail jobs out of the urban core. The Charles River was already polluted from centuries of industry along its banks. Environmentally friendly transportation policies rarely factored into planning discussions at a time when the car was king and climate change relatively unknown. With U.S. News and World Report declaring that Boston was “dying on the vine,” planners seemed to face a stark choice: preserve neighborhoods or preserve a city. They chose the latter.

Typical of mid-century highway projects, the immediate beneficiaries were people with means, and the immediate victims, low-income and Black communities. Under the bull-headed leadership of William F. Callahan, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority had purchased a right-of-way from the declining Boston & Albany Railroad, facilitating construction of the Mass. Pike from West Stockbridge to Route 128 between 1955 and 1957. The Turnpike Authority used the same right-of-way in 1962 to extend the road into Boston, connecting the western suburbs to the city. The project drew fierce opposition from communities in Newton and Allston-Brighton that were squarely in the bulldozers’ way. Though building the Mass. Pike Extension along an existing railroad reduced the need to seize land through eminent domain, those who were uprooted included society’s most vulnerable – people whose race or income forced them to live beside train tracks in the first place. Of the 350 homes and businesses demolished in Newton, ten percent belonged to the Hicks Street African-American neighborhood, which the Mass. Pike nearly eradicated. On top of the injustices common to all displaced community members (the Turnpike Authority gave locals merely two to four months’ notice to relocate and has been accused of insufficiently compensating them for lost property) racial discrimination prevented many evicted Black residents from buying new homes in the city. Meanwhile, highway construction in Allston-Brighton led the MBTA to discontinue the Green Line’s A-branch, rendering inefficient bus service the most accessible means of public transit for the working-class neighborhoods riven by the Pike. At least initially, the highway’s benefits were distributed unequally among the communities along its path.

Construction of the MassPike in Newton, 1964.
Road construction in 1964 in front of the Old Main building related to the laying of the Massachusetts Turnpike. Newton Free Library.

Yet the idea that the Mass. Pike Extension has helped only the affluent and hurt only the vulnerable is simplistic. In the decades following its construction, Boston flourished. Improved transportation networks brought new industries to the city that attracted both high and low-skilled workers. Small businesses grew alongside increased foot traffic and disposable income. Urban residents enjoyed a more convenient travel route to locations outside the city. Even communities that disproportionately endured the highway’s negative impacts benefitted to some degree from the boost it gave to the regional economy. Now Boston’s prosperity has given way to gentrification. As historically working-class neighborhoods like Allston-Brighton grow prohibitively expensive, low-income people are moving to more affordable towns far from MBTA stations. The Mass. Pike – rightly criticized, by those who can still afford to live in or near Boston, for its chronic congestion, pollution, and damage to the neighborhoods it runs through – is often the most convenient way for residents of these western communities to commute to work in the city. And herein lies a great irony: the highway that helped resurrect Boston’s economy and facilitated suburban growth at the expense of working-class urban communities, today enables low-income people displaced by Boston’s soaring rents to reach jobs in the city at the expense of those same, now rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.

The view from Cambridge Street in Allston isn’t pretty. To the southeast, a knot of entrance ramps and exit ramps, underpasses and overpasses, looping through construction sites and empty lots. The Mass. Pike slicing Allston-Brighton in half, eight high-speed lanes clogged with cars. Beacon Park Yard stripped of train tracks, bulging like a growth against the highway’s curving southern edge. This no-man’s land of heat, dust, and noise is what MassDOT’s Allston Multimodal Project seeks to fix. But whether the Mass. Pike is on a viaduct or on the ground will do little to solve the larger problems historically intertwined with the highway – income and racial inequality, environmental and transit injustice, gentrification and political disfranchisement. The time has come for project stakeholders to reach a compromise and to redirect their time, energy, and considerable talents to tackling the bigger issues.

Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

The Speedway Progress Update: July 2020

The Speedway courtyard construction site viewed through a hole in the interior wall
The courtyard and Building F under construction. Photo by Ella Rinaldo.

Where to begin? When we posted our first Speedway progress update in early March, we never imagined a pandemic would shut down renovations for a month. Nor did we expect that we would have to delay opening until winter, or that the restaurant and retail industries would be thrown into turmoil. While the Speedway construction site came to a standstill, AHF staff worked feverishly to adapt the project to a world of social distancing and economic disruption. Despite these challenges, we’ve managed to move the project forward.

During the shutdown, our main priority was to stay connected with our Brighton neighbors. To this end, AHF connected with State Representative Michael Moran, Charles River Community Health (CRCH), and local wholesaler Katsiroubas Brothers to help address more immediate needs in the community. The result is the Speedway Produce Program. Now in its eighth week, this initiative has delivered 320 boxes of fresh produce, as well as masks, to CRCH members experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic. AHF sponsored the first month’s worth of produce boxes; thanks to dozens of individual donations and a Harvard University Allston-Brighton Emergency Response Grant, we are able to extend the program until the end of July. Visit our GoFundMe page to help Brighton’s most vulnerable residents access fresh food through the summer.

Meanwhile, the Speedway rehabilitation has progressed by leaps and bounds! Construction restarted in early May after a month-long shutdown. Since then, our contractor D.F. Pray has worked hard to renovate the complex, and it shows:

1. Shingling

If you’ve recently driven past the Speedway, you’ve probably noticed that the Western Avenue and Soldiers Field Road sides of the complex have gotten a makeover. Shingling is nearly complete on the buildings’ public-facing walls, transforming not only the Speedway, but the streetscape itself.

The Speedway's nearly completed shingling along Soldiers Field Road
The Speedway’s shingling is nearly complete along Soldiers Field Road.

2. Repointing Masonry

The masonry of Buildings C and H is being repointed, creating a stable foundation for the buildings’ future tenants – Notch Brewery and a to-be-determined restaurant operator.

Masonry undergoing repointing at the Speedway
The Speedway’s masonry is being repointed.
An open doorway at the Speedway with surrounding masonry being repointed
The masonry around one of the entrances to the Speedway’s Building H is being repointed.

3. A New Roof for the Speedway

The Speedway has a new roof! Ensuring that the complex is water-tight was one of our main priorities when construction got underway again.

The Speedway's Building H with new shingles, new roof, and restored windows
The Speedway’s new roof is now complete.

4. Restoring the Speedway’s Windows

For years, the Speedway’s windows were boarded up – the most visible sign of the blight that had set in at the site. Under the direction of DCR, a Student Conservation Association crew painted fake windows over the plywood, while the 169 real ones were locked away in storage. Now the original windows have been restored and are being re-installed. The difference is unmistakable.

Restored windows at the Speedway
Restored windows are a big improvement for Building H.

5. Ramping and Decking in the Speedway Courtyard

AHF is particularly excited to activate the Speedway courtyard as a public space. Last week, D.F. Pray began laying the foundation for ramping and decking, which will make the courtyard accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

Ramping and decking foundation in the Speedway courtyard
A foundation is being laid for ramping and decking in the Speedway courtyard.

6. Interior Renovations

The interior framing of Buildings E, C, and D –  future creative/retail bays and  Notch’s brewery and taproom – has been restored, allowing for more extensive improvements.  In fact, rough electrical work has begun in Building E!

Interior framing in the Speedway's Building E
The interior framing of the Speedway’s Building E has been restored.
Electrical wires hanging inside one of the Speedway buildings
Rough electrical work has begun inside the Speedway.

Behind the scenes, AHF is preparing to open the Speedway in a radically altered environment. Stay tuned for future announcements as we approach the Speedway’s new opening date in winter 2021.

Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Learn more about the Charles River Speedway revitalization project.

Let’s work together.