When the architectural makeover of the Hayden Building was completed in late February, it marked the last gasps of Boston's old Combat Zone. The Washington Street building had been designed by famed 19th-century architect H.H. Richardson, but had fallen into a disrepute that included part of it used as a porno theater/bathhouse as the neighborhood around it went to seed. A 20-year renewal effort led by Historic Boston Inc. has transformed it into four floors of luxury apartments as well as lower-floor retail.
It was only fitting, we thought, that the Hayden Building rehab was finished just as the venerable Boston Phoenix breathed its last.
When the Phoenix ceased publication in March, its circulation was actually up a whopping 22 percent from last year. But the days of alt-weeklies have been numbered for a long time now, and for one explanation you need not look any further than your computer screen. Ever since the paper ceased to be a paid publication around the turn of the century, it has relied solely on both commercial and classified ads for revenue. Way back when, this wouldn't have been a problem. The paper was once "thick with advertising—the rare publication you sometimes picked up as much for the ads as for the copy." But in the era of Craigslist, who in his or her right mind is going to pay to post a classified advertisement?
Oddly enough, the answer seemed to be the sex industry. In a late 2012 edition of the Phoenix, out of 16 pages of advertising, only 15 individual ads weren't for "spas" or "massage services." But this also reveals another possible hidden explanation for the paper's decline. Those who blame only the internet for the Phoenix's failure ignore that the Portland and Providence outposts of the paper are still up and running. With Boston's much more vibrant cultural scene and larger population to draw commercial advertisers, what exactly is keeping these other towns' publications afloat? Are people just kinkier in Maine and Rhode Island? Or has Boston once again been thwarted by its own supposed stodginess (or, of you will, lack of hipness)?
Finally, there is always the question of not just changing times, but a changing Boston, a la the Hayden Building. In the Phoenix's heyday, a large chunk of now respectable downtown Boston was littered with adult book stores, peep shows, and strip clubs. And not everyone wanted to get rid of it either—even Mitt Romney's father thought that a red light district had its place in city life. Sure, downtown is probably much nicer for people of all ages now than it was then, but if we still had the Combat Zone instead of condos, would we still have the Boston Phoenix?
Either way, the publication (and its porn reviews) will be sorely missed. Damn Puritans. — Emma Anquillare
· The Sad, Inevitable Decline of the Boston Phoenix [Boston.com]
· Group Wanting to Make Boston Hip Loves Boston the Way It Is [Curbed Boston]