History of Boston’s Post Office Square
Post Office Square, located in the heart of Boston’s Financial District, has had many faces throughout the years. Bordered by Milk, Congress, Franklin and Pearl Streets, Post Office Square has evolved from a maritime district amid swamp and marshlands to a modern day financial and business center.
In the 18th Century, the Post Office Square area was home to many rope manufacturers who serviced the maritime industry. After these rope works were destroyed by fire, a prestigious residential area took shape through the mid 1800’s. During this period, the area south of Milk Street between Washington Street and the waterfront, which encompasses Post Office Square, was known as the “Old South End”. Pearl Street between Milk and High Streets was lined with large houses and their attendant stables and gardens. Notable Boston families including the Perkins’, the Quinceys and Pratts lived in elegant homes on Pearl Street.
By 1844, the region encompassing Post Office Square and the waterfront abounded with banks, warehouses, wholesale and retail businesses and insurance companies. The Old South End’s proximity to this activity, as well as to water and rail freight transport, was better suited to commercial than residential uses. By the 1850’s, warehouses and crowded immigrant tenements had replaced the prestigious homes. The Boston Athenaeum and the Perkins Blind Children’s School were founded in the original Perkins houses, but the area, known at this time as Fort Hill, was generally considered a slum by 1866.
The Great Fire of 1872 erased the few remaining homes and tenements and gave way to much needed redevelopment of the Pearl Street area. Streets were widened and extended, resulting in a triangular clearance of land in front of the new post office which, although only half-finished, had survived the fire. It was at this time that this patch of land became known as Post Office Square for the Boston Post Office, a French Second Empire-style building, that stood between Milk and Water Streets, facing the Square.
Some of Boston’s most notable examples of Victorian architecture lined the triangular junction of Congress, Pearl and Milk Streets and surrounded the open areas of Post Office Square. The Mutual Life Insurance Company building combined with Arthur Gilman’s Equitable Building at Federal and Milk Streets, created an elegance of location unusual for the Boston of that period.
America’s mutual life insurance industry had its first home in Post Office Square. In 1835, the Governor of Massachusetts granted Judge Willard Phillips a charter founding the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company. In 1874, the majestic Mutual Life Insurance Company building, designed by Nathaniel Bradlee, opened on the site of the Norman B. Leventhal Park and Garage at Post Office Square, with its main entrance on Post Office Square. The building was demolished in 1945, making way for the first Post Office Square parking garage, which was completed in 1954.
Construction in Post Office Square continued throughout the first half of the 20th century, with the completion of many of the buildings that encircle the square today.
12 Post Office Square, at the corner of Water and Pearl Streets, opened in 1917. Ten Post Office Square, at the corner of Milk and Pearl Streets, was completed six years later. In 1922, the Federal Reserve Bank opened at the corner of Pearl and Franklin Streets. In 1932, the John D. McCormack Federal Building and Post Office on Congress Street replaced the old post office. In 1947 the art deco New England Telephone and Telegraph headquarters building at 185 Franklin Street was finished. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, modern office towers opened at 225 Franklin Street, One Federal Street and 100 Federal Street. In 1980 the Federal Reserve Bank building, which had been designated as a Boston Landmark, reopened as the Meridian Hotel (now The Langham Hotel) after a complete renovation which included the opening of One Post Office Square, a 40 story office tower adjoining the Hotel.
Throughout these years of thriving commerce and the construction of new buildings, a small open space was preserved in Post Office Square. In 1912, the Angell Memorial Fountain, a watering trough for horses, was built across Milk Street from the site of the Norman B. Leventhal Park and Garage at Post Office Square. The fountain was designed by Peabody & Stearns and dedicated in honor of George T. Angell, the first president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In 1957, the fountain was encircled by a small triangular park, which became known as Angell Memorial Park. In 1981, the park was restored with assistance from The Edward Ingersoll Browne Fund. Widely praised for its quality of design, Angell Memorial Park remains one of the busiest parks of its size in Boston.
Norman B. Leventhal Park and the Garage at Post Office Square
In 1982, a group of civic and business leaders discussed the possibility of creating a new public park on the site of the Post Office Square parking garage in the heart of Boston’s Financial District. After extensive technical and legal analyses, the group incorporated a new civic entity in June of 1983, Friends of Post Office Square, Inc.
Friends of Post Office Square began as 19 firms who collectively donated more than $1 million of the initial funding needed to acquire the existing garage site, demolish the garage, and construct a new 1,400 space garage underground, making possible the creation of what the group envisioned at street level: a new public green space in the center of downtown Boston.
In 1987 Friends of Post Office Square purchased the dilapidated Post Office Square garage and the remaining years on the garage operator’s lease from the City of Boston. Demolition of the 950-space parking garage began on October 1, 1988. Construction of the Garage at Post Office Square was completed and the new facility opened on October 1, 1990. The Park was completed in June of 1992 and rededicated as the Norman B. Leventhal Park on September 16, 1997. From its inception, this civic venture has been a public/private partnership, with the City of Boston and Friends of Post Office Square together creating an $80 million amenity for Boston.