Once Boston’s main shopping area, with elegant buildings designed by top architects, Downtown Crossing in Boston had its heart torn out of it with the closure of Filenes Department store, with the original buildings gutted and left as an empty shell and the remainder demolished to leave a huge gaping hole, plus the loss of the four-storey Borders bookstore across Washington Street.
Only a stone’s throw away from the financial district of Boston, the area has been in decline for several years. It never really recovered from the loss of Filene’s and Borders, although Macys and the discounters Marshall and T.J.Max have maintained their presence in the area and the local Business Improvement District (BID) has recently made a noticeable difference in cleaning up the dirt and grime.
New life is however being breathed into Downtown Crossing and there is optimism for the future. Having sat empty since 2008, the old Filene’s building is at last being redeveloped and the Irish retailer Primark has signed up for its first US store, while construction work has started on the empty site for the new Millennium Tower. Across the road, the former Blake and Amory buildings are being completely gutted and transformed into the boutique Godfrey Hotel. These three schemes will act as a catalyst for the renaissance of this area,
Filene’s Sons and Co was founded in 1881 by William Filene. His sons Edward and Lincoln transformed the business into one of the largest department stores in the country and in 1908 Edward Filene opened the famous Filene’s Basement as a way to sell excess merchandise from the department store.
The flagship store designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham was completed in 1912 and further extended in 1929. In 2005, however, the business was sold to Federated Department Stores and merged with Macy’s. Filene’s store at Downtown Crossing closed; modern extensions were demolished in 2008 and the historic older buildings were gutted but, with the impact of the financial crisis, left empty and derelict,
Cranes and building contractors are now busy constructing the new Millennium Tower, which will provide over 100,000 sq m (1million sq ft) of space, of which a quarter will be for quality retail. Millennium tower will be the third-tallest building in Boston and Arnold Worldwide has signed up as tenant for a large part of the new building, with Roche Bros taking space for a new supermarket. Building work started in September 2013 and a milestone was achieved on the 26th of April 2014 when six hundred trucks poured 6,000 cubic yards of concrete into a slab for the new building making it the largest concrete pour in Boston’s history.
The Godfrey Hotel Boston follows on from the successful boutique Godfrey Hotel in Chicago. When it opens in 2015, the Blake and Armory buildings, originally designed by Boston architect Arthur Hunnewell Bowditch and built in 1904 and 1908, will have been gutted and redeveloped to provide 238 guest rooms behind the renovated ornamental terracotta facades. The ground floor will be opened up with space for a restaurant, retail and a coffee bar, which aims to raise the bar on the quality of facilities currently in the area.
These new projects are of such a scale that they will transform Downtown Crossing, breath new life into historic buildings – which give the area its character – and act as a catalyst for regeneration. At last Downtown Crossing will regain its place as a shopping destination to visit in Boston, a century after its original development.