The Foggy Reality of the Seaport

By Phineas J. Stone

All of the fog and misty rain over the last several weeks jogged my memory about the Fort Point area.

I used to love to wander over there to experience the solitude and near-emptiness of that area.

The old Boston Wharf buildings were just an adventure waiting to happen.

The fog would roll in on the flatness of the area and create a Dickensian reality that didn’t honestly exist anywhere else in Boston.

Plus, you felt alone, yet at the same time only a few City blocks from the core of the downtown center.

There is nowhere you can go anymore and be isolated in the City.

Most of the developers and real estate scouts have sniffed out such locales that used to be easy to find, and they’ve transformed them into something nicer to the majority. There used to be such areas around North Station too. The new Converse building next to the North Washington Street bridge – in back of the old Boston Garden – had an amazing, and very dangerous, abandoned docking system. What an interesting time that was.

With the Seaport in mind, I read with interest about the infrastructure being put in place to connect the Seaport to the South End, Back Bay and South Boston. Taking a walk over there 20 or more years ago was not feasible without a few dodges and dashes.

Likely some muddy shoes.

A few slips along the way.

Naturally, you also had to watch your back. People lived in these crannies, and people who populate nooks and crannies don’t like to be found. After all, you might be one of those real estate scouts sniffing out a bargain.

It’s an amazing idea to bring everything together under the Expressway, connecting Fort Point to our neighborhoods. Much of the infrastructure is already in place, I found. Minus a few missing links that seem to be in the works, its a wonderful path.

But it emptied out into disappointment.

The Seaport has taken a great deal of criticism; it is roundly seen as a failure amongst the circle of people who like to comment on architecture, design and planning – whether volunteers with Boston big mouths or people paid the cash-ola to come up with big ideas to appease us big mouths.

The upstart waterfront has certainly fallen out of favor.

And as I emerged on the new neighborhood, which is still heavily under construction, I saw pretty much everywhere else in America. It was particularly striking because when it was empty, it was like no other place in America. I have to admit, at first you want to like the modernity and the anti-oldness that it invokes. However, after some time spent there you realize it lacks all the character that I used to love.

I can recall walking through the fog in the 1990s down there. It was so thick you couldn’t see but about 30 feet in front of you. In the distance, you could hear fog horns from the sea, and the bells of Boston Light carried on the shoulders of the auditory-enhancements of the fog.

You would sometimes suddenly hear bagpipes emerge from somewhere.

This was the Boston Fire Museum. The bagpipers from the BFD would often come down there and practice in the nothingness. It was a joy to hear them play a slow, creeping version of ‘Amazing Grace’ as it bounced off the foggy old brick Wharf buildings.

I once took a jaunt down Stillings Street past some old dumpy lofts, now long gone, to investigate the sounds of punk rock late in the evening.

Down at the end of the little alcove, perched on a long-abandoned loading dock was some punk rock band playing at full volume into the summer night. It was loud, obscenely loud.

And there we were in the middle of the city. A lady was dancing to the music on roller blades in a parking lot nearby, bopping in huge, spacious figure eights while on the blades.

Wouldn’t someone call the police on this disturbance?

No, they wouldn’t. That’s because there was no one around to call the police. Anybody who lived down there back then was probably playing in that band – or likely didn’t mind hearing the screech of their guitars and crash cymbals.

During the Big Dig, when the tunnels were being carved out, that same area – now home to several hotels, was the site of a gigantic dirt mountain. It must have been eight to 10 stories tall. I looked at it for several weeks as it towered up and up. One Sunday afternoon, I attempted to climb it. I might have got about four stories up before I came to understand a dirt mountain is not like a rock mountain – it moves a lot under your feet and is prone to landslides.

Still, I did that right there in the middle of the city, and no one cared.

No one shooed me away; no one said I couldn’t do it. There wasn’t a fence around it or cameras watching my every move.

It was the freedom of getting away from it all without leaving.

Were it me, I would have designed much of the Seaport to resemble an old fashioned Seaport. Fancy that.

Take it right out of a Dickensian novel, copy the sets from a play, make the architecture match that of an 18th Century dock town. Imagine what could have been if the high rises had been allowed, but the street level architecture had more cobble stone and salty seaport styles.

That’s just me and I long for urban adventure.

Most others just want to drink on a brand new patio facing the water.

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