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By Scott Roberto / September 23, 12:00 AM
A Peek at the Past: Post Office Square


Photo: Charles Pollock, 1885/courtesy of Boston Public Library


In the heart of Boston’s Downtown Financial District lies Post Office Square, a popular urban oasis that earned its distinctive name from a landmark that no longer exists. To learn the story behind that, one has to look back all the way to the 19th century.

Bordered by Milk, Congress, Franklin and Pearl streets, Post Office Square began to take shape after the city experienced the devastating Great Fire of 1872. Prior to that, the area had transitioned from hosting maritime-related industries to a high-end residential neighborhood—it was home to the Boston Athenæum and the Perkins Institute for the Blind during this period—before finally becoming an area containing a mix of warehouses and immigrant tenements. After 1872, however, the now-triangular parcel was redeveloped and the streets widened to help with future fire control. Its namesake, the U.S. Post Office and Sub-Treasury Building (pictured), had begun construction before the conflagration, yet the massive building survived. The ornate French Second Empire-style edifice on Congress Street was eventually completed in 1885. A Boston landmark, it was nevertheless demolished in 1929 due to the need for a larger facility and a modernist backlash against Victorian architecture. Its replacement—the refurbished, Art Deco-style John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse—was completed in 1933.

Throughout the late 19th century and into the 20th century, development continued as the Financial District grew around the square. The area at the heart of the square contained a small open space as well as the Mutual Life Insurance Company building, which was knocked down in 1945 to make way for a parking garage. The garage was destroyed and rebuilt underground in the late 1980s, making way for a beautiful, award-winning green space that was completed in 1992 and rededicated as the Norman B. Leventhal Park in 1997. Among the park’s amenities include a walk-through sculptural fountain, a 143-foot long garden trellis, the Great Lawn and a glassed-in, year-round cafe. From September 23–October 10, visitors can even enjoy playing a colorfully decorated piano as part of the Celebrity Series of Boston’s Street Pianos 2016 program.

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