Sunday, August 10, 2014

Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

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Boston's Commonwealth Avenue Mall, which extends west from the Public Garden through the Back Bay neighborhood. I wandered along the central mall for a while, taking photos of the over-the-top houses and churches on either side. I'm not sure what we're looking at here; I found a page documenting every building along the avenue, but I haven't gone through to figure out which ones I have photos of. That part is left as an exercise for the reader (he said lazily/hopefully).

It was a very hot day, and eventually I wandered off to find a Starbucks for an iced coffee like a good West Coast tourist, and fortunately there was one a couple of blocks south(ish) on swanky Newbury Street, and ended up walking along over there instead. I feel compelled to explain that I normally avoid Starbucks, but I wasn't sure whether there was iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts (which is essentially the competing coffee behemoth in New England), and I needed a cold but very caffeinated beverage right then thanks to jet lag.

I had a theory -- and I think I mentioned it in a previous Boston post -- that perhaps Commonwealth Avenue was an inspiration for Portland's Park Blocks, since Portland was founded by a bunch of New Englanders, and the city itself would have been named "Boston" if a coin flip had gone the other way. The dates don't bear this theory out though. The South Park Blocks were dedicated in 1852, while Commonwealth Avenue was designed in 1856, and long tree-lined parks like this were simply the vogue at the time, popular among major cities as well as muddy little pioneer towns with big dreams. An architecture guide to the city calls it the "French Boulevard style". 1856 seems like a surprisingly recent date for central Boston, until you remember that the whole Back Bay area was an actual bay until it was filled in during the 1850s. As a West Coast tourist, knowing that makes me worry the ground here will basically liquefy if there's ever an earthquake, like what happened to SF's Marina District back in the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. Apparently Boston doesn't get earthquakes, though. At least as far as they know.

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