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Codman Square
 Codman Square

AREA FORM from Boston Landmarks Commission prepared as part of 1994 Survey of Dorchester. Dated January, 1995 and recorded by Edward W. Gordon.

[Note: this reproduction of the information in the Boston Landmarks Area Form may have typographical errors, and for technical matters, the reader may want to consult a copy of the original, which is available at the Boston Landmarks Commission or the Dorchester Historical Society]

For a pdf version of the map showing the boundaries of Codman Square, Click here

Architectural Description

The Codman Square area, for the purposes of this survey, is essentially a T-shaped node of primarily, but by no means exclusively, commercial buildings. The southern portion of the district contains the actual Codman Square cross roads which includes Washington St. as well as segments of Talbot Avenue, Norfolk Street and Centre Street. The linear southern portion borders Washington St., the main north-south artery in the area. The latter segment runs southward from Talbot Avenue to Welles and Torrey Sts., on the east and west sides of Washington St., respectively. At this writing, the boundaries for a Codman Square district have been considerably expanded beyond those recommended by Candace Jenkins and Katherine Kubie in a 1979 NR form. The earlier study recommended rather tight boundary lines drawn around the four major architecturally significant buildings at the Codman Sq. crossroads, including: The Second Church, Dorchester High School, Lithgow Building and the former Codman Square Branch Library. The present boundary lines are drawn with an eye toward including a dozen or so commercial structures that, while not on the same level of design excellence and quality craftsmanship as the aforementioned landmarks, nevertheless visually constitute a node of buildings recognizable as an historically significant commercial center. These boundaries have also been expanded to include the architecturally significant Dorchester Temple Baptist Church at the southern end of the district. Additionally, this area extends eastward along Centre Street to include the Colonial Revival Dorchester Women's Club building at 40 Centre Street as well as substantial, well designed residences including #'s 30, 34, 46 and 50 Centre St. Additionally, this area includes commercial /residential buildings bordering Talbot Avenue, between Washington Street and Southern Avenue.

The Codman Square area is situated in a dense urban neighborhood. This intersection evolved in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as an important civic, commercial and residential area. The structures in the district serve as symbols of the area's evolution from a rural Puritan community in the early 1800's to a bustling middle class streetcar suburb at the end of the century. The buildings in this area represent a wide range of architectural styles, materials and construction dates ranging from the wooden Federal style Second Church of 1806, through well rendered masonry turn of the century public and commercial buildings representing the Renaissance, Georgian and Classical Reviva1 modes. Additionally, this area encompasses rather plain c. 1920-40 cast stone and brick commercial buildings which exhibit subdued references to the Classical Revival and Art Deco styles.

The Second Church at 600 Washington Street is the most highly visible landmark on the Codman Square ?skyline? by virtue of its tall, distinctively rendered steeple. It is located on the east side of Washington Street, set back approximately 70 feet from the street on a lot which is delineated by granite posts and a wrought iron fence on its front property line. These characteristics of the landscape together with Federal style form and details reminiscent of the meeting houses of Charles Bulfinch and Asher Benjamin lend a gracious air to the surrounding urban environment. Constructed of Maine timber, the Dorchester Meeting house, as originally designed and named, was composed of three main units: the steeple tower, the vestibule, and the auditorium block. Although the west facade retains its original 1806 appearance, major additions have been made to the church and have in particular altered the massing of the rear (east) elevation. These changes occurred in 1869 and 1892, with the latter obscuring the earlier alteration. In 1929, a third addition was made to the church in the form of a 2-story, brick parish house constructed and connected to the north side and east side of the 1892 addition. The last date of a major alteration is 1960 when the entire clapboard exterior of the church was covered with aluminum sheathing. Fortunately this alteration did not include removal of original trim.

Adjacent to the church, lying southeast on a triangular parcel is the former Dorchester High School, more recently known as Girl's Latin Academy. Constructed in 1900 from designs provided by Hartwell, Richardson and Driver, this building, by virtue of its massive, yellow brick form and hipped roof has the second highest visibility in the area after the Second Church. This school, with its brick rustication, sand stone blocks and limestone trimmings represents a highly sophisticated foray into Renaissance Revival design. The school complex consists of three building masses. The two which are closely integrated and highly decorated with limestone date from the original period of construction. The less ornate 1910 addition, also designed by Hartwell, Richardson and Driver, is connected by an extension to the east end of the older structure.

Across the street, and slightly southwest of the school, sits the Lithgow Building which curves around the corner of Washington Street and Talbot avenue as its plan conforms to its wedge shaped lot. Constructed by Joseph T. Greene, a well respected local architect, this three story flat roofed building of dark brick displays many details associated with the Georgian Revival style.

Turning west from Washington Street on to Talbot Avenue are a handful of commercial and/or residential buildings whose forms, designs and materials are compatible with those of the buildings bordering the Washington Street corridor. 344-346 Talbot Avenue is a two story masonry building built to contain five stores during the 1920s by the Boston architectural firm of Eisenberg and Feer. At the center of its 10-bay main facade is an entrance bay set off by floral Art Deco detailing. The original five store fronts were obliterated by brick infill at an undetermined date. 336 Talbot Avenue is a drastically altered 3-decker which is included in the area for reasons of compatible scale. 320 Talbot Avenue is a V -shaped building which fans out from the Talbot Ave/Southern Ave. intersection and visually serves as a "gateway" building at the western edge of the Codman Square area. Built in 1913, this Georgian Revival commercial/residential property rises to a height of 3-stories and exhibits facades characterized by rusticated brick work. Across the street is a long, low multi-store front property at 305 Talbot Avenue. Its cast stone and concrete facades exhibit low key Georgian Revival accents. Next door, at 329-339 Talbot Avenue is a three story commercial/residential masonry structure noteworthy for its distinctive form. Here, a great curved wall with a low paneled parapet addresses the intersection of Norfolk St and Talbot Ave. It was designed by Henry J. Preston in 1903.

The southern portion of the district is comprised of primarily commercial structures bordering either side of the Washington Street traffic corridor. 624-638 Washington Street with its Georgian Revival detail reads visually as an extension of the Lithgow Building at Washington/Talbot intersection. Dating to the 1910s, this building has recently been treated to a successful sensitive rehabilitation. Directly across Washington St. from 624-638 Washington Street is a parking lot and modem health clinic building which are not included within the proposed Codman Square historic district. Along Washington Street, between the Lithgow and Welles Avenue/Torrey Street cross streets, are a collection of commercial buildings of somewhat uneven design merit which do, however serve to tie in the architecturally significant Dorchester Temple Baptist Church at 670 Washington Street with the rest of the Codman Square area. Moderately noteworthy within the streetscapes on either side of Washington Street are Tapestry Brick commercial blocks at 640-42 and 641-649 Washington Street (built during the 20s and 10s respectively). Residential structures adapted for the purposes of commercial re-use include 660/662 Washington Street with its Colonial Revival second floor porch treatments and 665/667 Washington Street, a double wood frame Italianate house of the 1870s. Next door at 671 Washington Street is a single family house of similar vintage which exhibits a vacant brick storefront addition but retains its original front porch with champfered posts. The southwestern side of the district culminates in an E-shaped red brick Classical Revival apartment building at 679-81 Washington Street. It was constructed during the 1910s.

Across the street from 679-81 Washington Street is the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church at 670 Washington Street. This towered and multi gabled church is an important Dorchester example of the Shingle Style as adapted for ecclesiastical architecture. It was built in 1889-92 (architect undetermined).

The Lithgow Building (620-622 Washington Street) is characterized by stone keystones above windows, a modillion block cornice, and quoins which rise from the second to third story and separate each unit of paired windows. Further decorative features which contribute to the building's strong presence on the square, are the brick piers and columns used alternately on the first floor, the limestone banding which runs the full course of the building above the first and third story, and the entranceway supported by brick columns and highlighted by a coffered ceiling. In recent years the Lithgow Building has been treated to a sensitive restoration and continues to represent a key component within the node of architecturally significant buildings at Codman Square.

Across the street from the Lithgow Building, occupying the entire triangular-shaped parcel bordered by Talbot Avenue and Washington, Epping and Norfolk Streets, is the former Codman Square Branch Library. Located on the site of the old Dorchester Town Hall (1816-1904), it presently serves the community as a medical health center. Constructed as a municipal building by city architect Charles Bateman in 1904, this one and one half story red brick structure is characterized by distinctive Georgian Revival design features including: cupola roof balustrade, gambrel roof profiles, Palladian window, dentil and egg and dart cornice molding, granite splayed lintels and a semi-elliptical enhanced by two Roman Ionic columns and a balustrade. The only noted change made to the building has been the construction in 1938 of a small 3-bay addition consisting of one story of full basement level. This wing is located at the southwest corner of the original structure.

Having considered the concentration of major landmark buildings grouped around the Codman Square cross roads, it time to consider this area's remaining commercial structures, handful of residential structures and single social club, represented by the Dorchester Women's Club at 40 Centre St. Evidently built during the early 1890s as a residence and enlarged into a women's club in 1898, The Dorchester Women's Club represents the work of the noteworthy Boston architect A. Warren Gould. Constructed of wood, it is designed in the Colonial Revival style, its 9-bay main facade exhibiting corner quoins, pedimented window lintels, Palladian windows, dentillated cornice and cupola-topped hip roof. On either side of 40 Centre Street are architecturally distinguished. 1890s residences including 30, 34, 46 and 50 Centre St. Particularly noteworthy is the robust Shingle style residence at 30 Centre Street, designed for the Boardman family by J. Merrill Brown in 1892

Returning to Washington Street, the W.T. Grant Building at 583/585 Washington St. represents the northern most commercial building of any particular design merit in the Codman Square area. Built in 1927 to contain stores, its main facade was re-designed in a vaguely Art Deco manner by the W.T. Grant Department Store Co. in 1940. Continuing southward and situated across from the Second Church are two rather nondescript one story masonry commercial buildings at 587 -595 and 599-607 Washington Street. The latter building exhibits Art Deco parapet ornamentation including stylized dentils and keystone. These buildings have been included in this area because their scale and materials are compatible with their more architecturally significant neighbors.

Historical Narrative

Codman Square represents the geographical center of Dorchester. Originally called Baker's Corners, it was named Codman Square in 1848 in memory of the Rev. John Codman, the pastor of the Second Church from 1808-1847. Over the course of the nineteenth century Codman Square evolved from a rural center to a commercial and civic hub. The Codman Square area's development over time represents an excellent case study in the development of a commercial/religious/municipal center within an emerging Boston street car suburb.

Dorchester, now a large neighborhood within Boston, was originally a separate town, formally incorporated by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Its original territory included present day South Boston and Hyde Park, but by 1868 assumed its present boundaries and in 1869 was annexed to Boston. Early settlement was concentrated in the northern section of town, around present day Everett Square and Meeting House Hill. Although the Codman Square area, which lay to the South, remained sparsely developed through the mid-19th century, there were a number of large farms located along Washington Street from the late 17th century, when major road patterns were established in the town to the present day, it has been an important crossroads. In 1654, the Upper Road, now Washington Street, was laid out by order of the Colonial Government to connect Roxbury to Braintree: by the end of the seventeenth century, Centre Street emerged at present day Codman Square as a connecting road between the two major north/south arteries - Washington Street and Adams Street. Talbot Avenue, an additional secondary road, also crossed this intersection by the late 1880s.

Codman Square was originally called Baker's Corners in honor of Dr. James Baker, the proprietor of a dry goods store. He was conducting business on the site of the present Lithgow Building at the corner of Talbot Ave. and Washington St. as early as 1765. Baker's Corners at the time of the American Revolution was sparsely settled with large tracts of farmland held by the Davenports, Capens and Baker's. Through the mid nineteenth century few development patterns changed in the area. As seen in the 1830 map, it remained a rural settlement with only fourteen buildings located in the vicinity of the square. Only one of the fourteen buildings depicted on the 1830 map is still extant. Built by Oliver Warren in 1806, The Second Church at 600 Washington Street survives to provide a physical link with the bucolic Codman Square area of the Federal period. This church's founding is inextricably bound with the profound religious controversies known as the Great Schism which raged within New England Congregational churches during the first quarter of the 19th century. The Second Church was founded by the Orthodox congregationalists formerly associated with the First Parish Church. These conservative parishioners quarreled with their more liberal Unitarian brethren over traditional doctrine, opting to abandon Meeting House Hill for their own church at Codman Square. The construction of the Second Church in 1806 marked the beginnings of Codman Square as an architectural entity recognizable as a religious/commercial/municipal center. Over time, this church's prominent parishioners included chocolate factory owner Walter Baker and pewter manufacturer Roswell Gleason. Additionally, the noteworthy firm of Paul Revere and Sons cast the Second Church's steeple bell in 1816.

The importance of this crossroads was reinforced in 1816 with the construction of the Dorchester Town Hall which stood on the site of the former Codman Square Branch Library at Talbot Avenue and Washington Street. This diminutive, brick, gable roofed, one story structure served as the seat of municipal government from 1816 until Dorchester?s annexation to Boston in 1869. [Note: the vote for annexation took place in 1869, but the annexation itself did not occur until Jan. 1, 1870.]

During the second half of the nineteenth century, as a result of annexation to the city in 1869 and the advent of improved public transportation, major development occurred throughout Dorchester and transformed it from a rural district of village clusters with a population of 8,000 in 1850 to a middle class suburb of residential enclaves with a popu1ation of 150,000 in 1900. The expansion which took place in the Codman Square area exemplifies the transition. Public transportation by means of railway lines served the area surrounding Codman Square as early as the 1850s, but it was the streetcars, initially horse drawn in the 1870s, and then electrified by the 1880s, which had a significant impact on the growth of the district. The main transportation route ran north/south along Washington Street from the Square to Mt Bowdoin, and from Roxbury, fed into lines which ran to downtown Boston. By the 1890s, the route was extended as far south as Gallivan Boulevard, and crosslines were developed which pass through the Square and ran along Talbot Avenue and Norfolk Street. Surviving from the days of the horse drawn streetcar of the 1870s in the Codman Square area are Italianate wood vernacular residences at 665/666 and 671 Washington Street. 665/667 Washington Street was originally owned by Nathaniel W. Garland of Garland and Sons, Grocers (corner of Euclid and Washington Streets, Dorchester). By the 1930s 665/667 had been converted to house the Economy Pharmacy. In addition, the Dorchester Baptist Church at 670 Washington St. provides further evidence of the growth of the Codman Square area during the last decades of the nineteenth. This church grew out of a Sunday School organized in 1884. This church's cornerstone was laid in 1889 and it was completed in 1892.

Further underlining the growth of the Codman Square area during the late nineteenth century are 1890s residences of considerable size and substance bordering Centre Street behind Dorchester High School. #30 Centre Street, for example, represents the work of noted Boston architect J. Merrill Brown, who studied in the offices of H.H. Richardson and Peabody and Stearns before embarking on a solo career. His work includes grammar schools in Newton and Woburn, many suburban houses in the greater Boston area as well as the residence of Governor Brackett in Arlington.

Before turning to watershed commercial and municipal construction projects at Codman Square around l900, mention should be made of the Dorchester Women's Club, now Whiton Hall, which was designed in the Georgian Revival Style by A. Warren Gould in 1898 at 40 Centre Street. Gould was responsible for the Classical Revival Phillips Brooks School on Quincy Street as well as numerous other Dorchester buildings including palatial residences bordering Melville Avenue and Carruth Street.

By the turn of the twentieth century, as Codman Square became a firmly established transportation center and as residential areas quickly grew in the vicinity, important commercial and civic buildings were erected at the major street corners anchoring the area as a commercial and municipal hub.

Not only was private money being invested for commercial construction, but a large outlay of public funds was being expended to construct a new high school and a municipal building which would house a branch library. In the course of five years, three prominent Classical Revival style buildings were constructed in the Square, creating, along with the church, an impressive community center.

Dorchester High School (370 Talbot Ave.) was designed in the Renaissance Revival Style by the noteworthy Boston firm of Hartwell, Richardson and Driver, known during this period for their school and municipal buildings. Perhaps Hartwell and Richardson's best known Boston building is the First Spiritualist Temple (1886), for many years known as the Exeter Street Theatre, at Exeter and Newbury Streets in the Back Bay. Dorchester High School was constructed in 1900 and opened in 1901. It was the third building to house Dorchester High School classes. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, daughter of Boston mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald and mother of president John F. Kennedy, graduated with the DHS class of 1906. T en years after its completion, a U-shaped 18 room addition was added to the original school building.

As a result of continued growth in the district, the school later became Dorchester High for Girls, with a new high school for boys having been built on Dunbar Avenue. By the mid twentieth century, the school housed the city wide selective high school, Girls Latin Academy which remained in this location until 1981.

An additional element which contributes to the building's significance is the tesselated pavement located in the main interior entrance. These tiles, a gift from the Town of Dorchester, England in 1906, date from the period of the Roman C0nquest

The Lithgow Building at 618-622 Washington Street, corner of Talbot Avenue is a contemporary of Dorchester High School. It was designed in 1899 by Joseph T. Greene, a local architect and prominent Mason from Milton, generally recognized for his residential designs and the Bishpam Building in Dorchester, Lower Mills. The Lithgow Building was built to house a store on the first floor, offices on the second, and a Masonic Lodge hall on the third. It remained in the hands of the original owner, Lydia Taft, for almost 50 years, and was fully used in its intended capacity through the 1950s.

The former Codman Square Branch Library at 6 Norfolk Street is also of major architectural and historical significance within the Codman Square area. It was built in 1904 on the site of the old Dorchester Town Hall (1816), by the City's Public Building Department under the supervision of the department's architect, Charles Bateman. Prior to his work for the City, Mr. Bateman was engaged in the design of buildings for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston including Church of the Most Precious Blood (1885) in Hyde Park and the Saint Francis De Sales School (1890s) atop Bunker Hill in Charlestown.

The handsome Georgian Revival branch library building at Codman Square was part of a large public effort made at the time to provide additional branch library facilities and reading rooms to the city's quickly expanding outlying areas. This particular municipal structure however, when opened in 1905, was the first to devote its total space (except the basement) to a library purpose. Originally known as a reading room, it was formally sanctioned a branch library in 1914 and given additional hours of operation. The basement level, initially used as a ward room for the city, has housed public health services since the 1930s. Since the 1980s, this building has been entirely given over to health services

During the first two decades of the twentieth century, Codman Square's status as a commercial center was reinforced by the construction of three story commercial/residential blocks at 316-324 and 329-339 Talbot Ave. The former is a V -shaped masonry Georgian Revival structure that was designed by Boston architect Samuel S. Levy in 913. The latter was built in 1903 by Henry J. Preston who was active in New England building trades from 1865-1912. He is credited with the design of the Coos County court House in Lancaster, N.H. (1886-87) and other Boston area commercial and residential structures. 329-339 Talbot Avenue ,although no where near as fine as the design of the Lithgow Building, is nevertheless a real "place maker" building, by virtue of its broad, curved, planar facade which presides over the Norfolk Street and Talbot Avenue intersection at a point where the land slopes down and westward from Washington Street. Also dating from this period is the Georgian Revival extension of the Lithgow Building at 622-628 Washington Street which was extant by 1918.

During the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the Codman Square area continued to expand as a commercial and retail district, especially along Washington Street, with a number of one and two story Art Deco and Classical Revival derived structures built for the burgeoning automobile owner trade during this period. Exhibiting Art Deco surface ornamentation on cast stone main facades include the c. 1930 336-344 Talbot Ave. and The W.T. Grant Co. building at 585 Washington Street (built in 1927 and redesigned in 1940). These commercial buildings were both designed by the seemingly prolific Boston architectural firm of Eisenberg and Feer.

Codman Square commercial buildings of the 1920s exhibiting modest Classical Revival detailing include 641-649 Washington Street and 651-659 Washington Street. The former blends Classical Revival design with Tapestry Brick surface treatments. By 1930, 641-649 Washington Street housed Samuel Nye's Dry Goods Store, Raymond and Joe's Fruit, Ella F. Mill's Restaurant, John Pascarello's barber shop and Samuel Kessler's Cigars. Next door to 641-649 Washington Street was the Codman Square Theatre which was built during the 1910s and defunct by the 1950s. Another commercial property of the 1920s blending the Classical Revival with Tapestry Brick is 640-642 Washington Street which originally contained the United Provisions Company.

After the Second World War, the Codman Square area's long era of growth and prosperity gradually came to a close. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, building abandonment and vacancy, as well as a decline in the retail business had become a chronic situation. During the 1980s, and continuing to the present time, a heartening trend of rehabilitation and restoration of certain key landmark buildings in the Codman Square area bas been evident. The Lithgow building and abutting residential development has been treated to a sensitive rehabilitation. The securing of the former Dorchester High School as residences has ensured the building's survival. Additionally. the Codman Square library building has been adapted for reuse as the Codman Square Health Center. Additionally, storefront churches such as the Glad Tidings Pentecostal Assembly (640-642 Washington Street) and Iglesia de Dios Church (675 Washington Street) have, in recent years, continued Codman Square's long history as a center for nurturing the spiritual life of the community which dates back to the founding of the Second Church in 1806.

Statement of Significance

Codman Square

Considered eligible as an area that is an excellent case study in the development of a commercial/religious/municipal center within an emerging Boston street car suburb. Representing the geographical center of Dorchester, Codman Square was originally called Baker's Corners. Named Codman Square in 1848, in memory of the Rev. John Codman, the Federal style Second Church (1806, Congregational) where he preached for many years still stands at 600 Washington Street. This area also encompasses the Shingle Style Dorchester Baptist Church (1889-1892) at 670 Washington Street; the former Dorchester Women's Club (1892) at 40 Centre Street, a Colonial Revival club house designed by A. Warren Gould; the Classical Revival/ Georgian Revival Lithgow Building (1899, 620 Washington Street) designed by Joseph Green and City of Boston architect Charles Bateman's Classical Revival/Colonial Revival Codman Square Library (1904), now a health clinic. President John F. Kennedy's mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy graduated from Dorchester High School (370 Talbot A venue) in 1906. This Renaissance Revival yellow brick building had been completed five years earlier from designs provided by Hartwell, Richardson and Driver. This area satisfies criteria A and C of the National Register of Historic Places and might also be designated a Boston Landmarks district.

Bibliography and/or References

Maps Atlases-1794, 1831, 1850, 1874, 1884, 1894, 1898.1910, 1918, 1933

Boston Business Directories- 1870-1945

Boston Public Library Architects Files

City of Boston Building Permits

N.R. Nomination, 1979 by Candace Jenkins (MHC) and Katherine Kubie (BLC)

Dorchester Community News articles by A.M. Sammarco: 4/6/1990-Church Split, Commuter Line Spurred Growth in Codman Square; 6/18/1991-The Heart of Dorchester; 2/5/93 History: Dorchester's Seat of Government, Yesterday and Today.

Warner, Sam Bass, The Streetcar Suburbs, 1973

Dorchester, Massachusetts, Christ Church. The Dorchester Book, G.H. Ellis, 1899

Orcutt, William Good Old Dorchester, A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893

Tucci, Douglas Shand, Built in Boston, City and Suburb (1978)

Warner, Samuel Bass, Streetcar Suburbs, Cambridge, Harvard U. Press, 1978

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Created: July 18, 2005   Modified: March 14, 2012