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Have you ever looked at the Prado and the Paul Revere Statue while walking down Hanover Street and wondered how that large space was cleared in the heart of the North End? In this two part series, we present historical facts and stories about the Prado / “Paul Revere Mall,” based on newspaper articles, magazines, and other historical sources dating back to the early 1930’s. In Part I, you’ll learn how and why the Prado came into the neighborhood, who designed the layout of the Prado, and the historical process and reasoning for the cleared space.

The Boston Prado, 1933
The Boston Prado, 1933

Designed by Boston landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, the Prado was opened in 1933 and is located between Boston’s oldest church, the Old North Church on Salem Street, and St. Stephen’s Church on Hanover Street (designed by Charles Bulfinch who also designed the Massachusetts State House).

Leading the way for the project was the legendary Mayor of Boston, James Michael Curley. Curley had seen the Prado, the famed museum in Madrid, Spain, and sought to have something as grand in the City of Boston.

The Herald, November 3, 1940
The Herald, November 3, 1940

Three Things to know about Prado designer, Arthur Shurcliff

1. Shurcliff received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT in 1894 and earned another B.S. from MIT in Landscape Studies, a self designed course between his teacher and mentor, Charles Eliot.

2. In 1904, he opened his own firm that focused on town planning, dams, reservoirs, parks, and zoo design, and specialized in restoration of early American town commons.

3. His best-known work was in 1928 when he worked with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to create Colonial Williamsburg and also had a hand in the design of Old Sturbridge village. He aided the National Park Service in the design of the Colonial Parkway, linking Colonial Williamsburg to the Jamestown and Yorktown historic sites.

North Street, Webster Avenue, Tileston Street.
North Street, Webster Avenue, Tileston Street.

Where the Prado is located today was originally Webster Avenue, an extremely narrow public way in the tenement district of Boston. The area was congested and politicians sought the need for light and air. Relief from those tenement-house conditions was accomplished in 1934 with demolition of “undesirable” buildings to create space for recreation. After demolition and construction, the open space was administered by the Boston Parks Department.

10 Facts About the Prado Design 

1) In an effort to bring sunlight and air into the densely populated district, this open space was created by demolishing tenement housing and opening a small adjacent park along with its public toilets.

2) There are two main buildings that distinguish this open space. Two historical churches sit at both the West and East sides of the Prado. The church to the West is Old North Church, where Paul Revere arranged to have Old North’s sexton, Robert Newman climb to the steeple to hold two lanterns before the Battle of Lexington, signaling to Charlestown that the British were traveling by sea. The church to the East, St. Stephen’s, was designed by Charles Bulfinch and built a few years later.

3) Despite the clearing of tenement housing, the design purposely fit within the surrounding streets and topography that ultimately defined the open space.

4) Although not the primary intention, it was considered that the space could have been used for play school purposes, as the space was next to a large neighborhood school.

5) The public use of this small open space was first priority and no direct access to neighboring private property is permitted on the grounds.  In fact, the boundaries are protected by high brick walls which have steep copings on top so people cannot walk on top of them.

6) The only vegetation that is attempted in the brick paved space are linden trees which are placed in loam beds beneath the brickwork. The loam beds were bridged by the concrete slabs that make up the foundation for the brick pavement. The beds have a depth of 3 feet, with a width of 8 feet and extend for several hundred feet. The cast iron tree gratings are used as part of the design to augment the patterns in the loam beds, made of blue stone flaggings.

7) While consistent seating is featured at the base of all the marginal walls, granite seats which are too heavy to overturn also add to the open space.

8) All posts and chains are securely anchored to the ground, the chains have swivels to prevent people from removing them by twisting. Shortly after these were installed, children were being injured by using the chains as swings. Therefore, a tie rod was attached to each chain at the base of the curve to allude children from swinging.

9) Catch basins are placed openly in the design of the water drainage system to channel the water directly to the middle of the space.

10) The large granite fountain consisting of interior slopes is the central feature to the design of the Prado. These interior slopes prevent water from freezing in the winter (even though it is now drained). A cellar beneath the fountain houses the mechanical appliances such as drain access, strainers, and the shut-offs.

In Part II, we will cover Cyrus E. Dallin’s Paul Revere equestrian statue.

Thank you to Anne M. Pistorio for her research and guidance for this article.

Sources:

  • Parks & Recreation: The Boston Prado. Vol. XIX. N.p.: Landscape Architecture Publishing Company, 1936. 139-77. 5 vols. Print.
  • Thwing, Annie H. The Crooked And Narrow Streets of the Town of Boston 1630-1822. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  • Campbell, Robert. Vanderwarker, Peter. CITYSCAPES: Scenes From a Mall. Boston: The Boston Globe, 2004. Print.

Please also see these photo and video posts about the history of the Prado – Paul Revere Mall:

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13 COMMENTS

  1. I enjoyed the information on the Prado. Never realized that tenements were demolished to build the park. I have many happy memories of playing ball in the Prado during recess at the Elliot School and the tourists would take pictures of the statue and we were in them.

    • Historians differ Some believe Franklin was born on Milk St. others contend that he was born on Hanover St. what is known is that Franklin’s father owned a candle shop on Hanover St,.

      • There is a plaque on Unity street (the “back” of the prado) that states Benjamin Franklin once lived there – not in the existing structure but in one that’s no longer there. There’s a copy of the constitution in the window. I’ve seen people in costume giving tours of the building before. I think it was also an old print shop. There really is a lot of amazing history in this neighborhood. I walked past that spot about 1000 times before noticing it.

  2. The answer to that question will be discussed on May 14th, 2014 at the Old North Church! Check out http://oldnorth.com/speakers/jill-lepore/ for the details about the upcoming lecture by Harvard Historian Jill Lepore on Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane Franklin Mecom, who lived on Unity Street right behind Old North (on the same block as the Clough House). Lepore recently published a biography of Jane Franklin, titled Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, multiple copies of which are at the Boston Public Library (including an e-book version).
    Franklin’s father, Josiah, ran the candle/soap making shop “The Blue Ball” near the corner of Union and Marshall Streets (sign still exists in collection of The Bostonian Society at the Old State House).

  3. How could Paul Revere hang the lanterns when he was away waiting fir the signal (possibly in Charlestown or Cambridge) whether the British was coming by land or by sea!

  4. I remember in 1962 the North End was abuzz over an episode of Route 66 being filmed in the Prado. Does anyone else remember this?

  5. Joyce we met a character actor named Simon Oakland during the filming [one of his many roles was the Psychiatrist in the film psycho] so yes I remember it well however I don’t remember the names of the two males who where the stars of the show.

  6. Very good story.
    I was always under the impression that this project was created with funding from the “works project administration”, a.k.a. “W.P.A. under FDR during the depression. I did some research many-many years back when I was a private tour guide and came across that information. If this was accurate info, maybe it will be discussed in part 2.
    This was fun reading. A nice distraction from trash issues and alcohol licenses.
    The puzzle is fun too.
    Thanks Matt

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