The encomiums praising Tom Menino's effects on the Boston streetscape and skyline are rightfully pouring in following his death yesterday. But the five-term mayor had at least one idea that, while incredibly interesting in its what-if-ness, did not pan out.
Boston City Hall has never been universally beloved. When the design for it was unveiled in May 1962, someone in the room of roughly 300 blurted out the eternally asked question still echoed amongst passers-by in Government Center today: "What the hell is that?" Yes, the brutalist architecture of City Hall was, depending on whom you ask, either ahead of its time or a doomed anomaly. Where were the ionic columns? The graceful curves? The somber sonority that screams "municipal governance?" Plus, the air quality was bad, a lot of the windows didn't open, parts of the ceiling were crumbling, half the complex didn't have a third floor while the other half did... yada yada.
Enter Menino. In late 2006, he was pretty much an unstoppable civic force in his fourth consecutive term. He wanted City Hall sold (he thought he could get as much as $400 million for it and its surrounding plaza); demolished if need be; and a new, prettier complex built on the Southie waterfront, which was then just starting to get going. "It really doesn't work for municipal government," Hizzoner told the New York Times of the current hub. "The building is unfriendly, cold..."
Opposition sprung up almost immediately from two angles. One: The proposed waterfront location would be a lot more difficult to get to, some cried. Government Center, for all its aesthetic flaws and blustery wind, had a T stop and was pretty much smackdab in the middle of downtown Boston. Two: Others, architecture buffs mostly, really dug the design. The fortress-like appearance, to them, seemed a necessary relic of the mid-20th century. Leave it alone for future generations to puzzle over.
Which is what happened. Menino's 2006 pitch eventually petered out (as, it appears, did a pitch to sell City Hall from now-Mayor Marty Walsh during last year's race to succeed Menino). The monster stayed and Menino stayed in it for another seven years.
· Fighting City Hall, Specifically Its Boxy Design and Empty Plaza [NY Times]
· Boston Mayor Tom Menino's Greatest Real Estate Hits [Curbed Boston]
· How 'What the Hell Is That?' Changed Boston Development [Curbed Boston]
· Our Curbed's Could Have Been archive [Curbed Boston]