As Sail Boston 2017 fades into the sunset, it’s a good time to delve into the evolution of one of the many waterfront locales where visitors enjoyed up-close-and-personal looks at the tall ships that harken to our seagoing past. Commonwealth Pier—the site of the Seaport World Trade Center that houses a marine terminal, shops and an expo center—is a historic structure that has survived the ups and downs of the now red-hot area alternately known as the Seaport District and the South Boston Waterfront.
Erected in 1901 as a marine cargo facility, Commonwealth Pier was the largest building of its kind when it was completed. At that time, it could not only handle the biggest behemoths afloat, from freight to passenger ships, it also had easy access to both railway and truck transportation. It remained a busy port of call until changes in the cargo shipping industry made the pier obsolete for that use in the 1970s.
A revival was on its way, however, when financial giant Fidelity Investments agreed to renovate and occupy the seaside site in the 1980s. Fidelity and its partner the Drew Company transformed Commonwealth Pier by creating the World Trade Center, which debuted in 1986. It was joined a dozen years later by the adjacent Seaport Hotel to become one enormous, multipurpose complex that has since only grown in size and scope, just as the neighborhood around it has been transformed from largely empty space into a hotbed of development that includes new hotels, restaurants, residences and office space for cutting-edge startups and established firms alike.