"You know," he said, "there are things that won’t do for Newbury Street -- things that are out of place here, and that can’t be conceived here, anyhow. It’s my business to catch the overtones of the soul, and you won’t find those in a parvenu set of artificial streets on made land. Back Bay isn’t Boston -- it isn’t anything yet, because it’s had no time to pick up memories and attract local spirits. If there are any ghosts here, they’re the tame ghosts of a salt marsh and a shallow cove; and I want human ghosts -- the ghosts of beings highly organised enough to have looked on hell and known the meaning of what they saw."
THE FILLING OF MARSHES and shallow waters helped Boston prosper. "It's hard to conceive of Boston and, in fact, almost any big city in the United States, without the process of land making," says Nancy Seasholes, a research fellow at Boston University and author of Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston. However, land making is a fundamental reason why many of Boston's buildings are not as stable as they look. The stately row houses that line Tremont Street in the South End, Charles Street at the foot of Beacon Hill, and Commonwealth Avenue in Back Bay are anchored by wooden pilings driven into the soil like candles into a moist birthday cake.
And the cake is getting stale.
Paul Finnegan awoke in his Beacon Hill bedroom on December 18, 1986, to a crash of brick and mortar next door. "It was the middle of the night," he recalls. "My head was right against the adjoining wall, and I heard this massive crash. I bolted upright to see if it was an earthquake." It was no earthquake but his neighbors' home buckling above its rotted foundation piles. "They were locked inside. They couldn't get their doors and windows open. It was a real mess." The level of water in the soil had fallen, and the wooden pilings, exposed to air, had rotted and failed, causing the building to settle nearly half a foot. (Most pilings in that area reach about 30 feet into the ground.)
With Boston's complex history of construction, large volumes of water have either leaked or been pumped out of the ground. Yet this ground water is crucial in preventing dry rot and insect infestation of the wooden pilings that hold up many of the city's older buildings. The falling water table has left the foundations of many of Boston's historic buildings compromised and susceptible to earthquakes and other disturbances.
These landfill problems -- amplification, liquefaction, and dry rot -- are compounded by the fact that Boston's grand old stock of wood-frame row houses, red-brick Victorians, and other unreinforced masonry buildings are, by almost every measure, structurally defenseless against the ground movement experienced in a large earthquake. Old buildings in Boston's suburbs face less risk, since fewer are built on landfill.*
"West Fenway features streets named after Scottish cities and towns present in Robert Burns' literary works: Peterborough, Kilmarnock, Queensbury. This was a result of influence by the Robert Burns Society influencing the city of Boston when a decision was made to simplify the original neighborhood plan by Frederick Law Olmsted's office. As originally planned in 1894, the street naming system was to continue the system originating in the Back Bay of naming streets in alphabetical order. Where the Back Bay proper ends at Hereford Street, the Fenway was to continue Ipswich, Jersey, Kenyon (Kilmarnock), Lansdowne, Mornington, Nottingham, Onslow, Peterborough, Queensbury, Roseberry, Salisbury, Thurlow, Uxbridge, Vivian, Westmeath (Wellesley), X omitted, York, and Zetland."*
"Boston born and raised, Walt Kelley graduated from the oldest high school in the United States - Boston Latin School - and then graduated from the oldest college - Harvard. He was employed by the oldest (naturally) bank in New England, The First National Bank of Boston; as executive vice president of MetroBank and Trust, and then joined First Security as vice president and controller. After thirteen years in finance, he changed fields and opened a family business which sold sports cards and sports memorabilia. Over the next six years he formed two more companies, one of which failed and caused the other companies to collapse. After the setback, he joined Town Taxi of Boston, where today he drives a cab - he won the 'Best Cab Driver in Boston Award in 1987. He and his wife, Linda, live in Boston". [from his biography page in the book].
Filling in Back Bay was an enormous project...
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