Saturday, October 1, 2011

Victorian Nirvana

I walked to Charlestown the other day, following the red line of the Freedom Trail from the edge of the North End. We like to have lunch and brunch at the cozy, historic Warren Tavern (where I request the "Paul Revere Burger" with American cheese instead of unpatriotic Swiss). But this time I was just in the mood to wander the streets.

I confirmed my impression that Charlestown has the best, most well-preserved Victorian urban architecture in the Boston area. The gaslit streets around the Bunker Hill Monument easily rival Commonwealth Avenue or any area in the South End. Perhaps I'm jaded by spending so much time in town here, but when I walk around that part of Charlestown, I don't see jarring "improvements" left over from some landlord between the 1950s and the '70s. Maybe I'm still in my Charlestown "honeymoon" phase, but I tend to see either superb preservation or "decay with integrity," for lack of a better phrase. Some houses may be slowly falling apart, but no one has replaced their original wooden front doors with plate glass retail doors, for example. I don't notice entryways done in bathroom tile with fluorescent rings on the ceiling, as we have around Back Bay. I don't see where front steps were removed to create "New York entrances," at street level, leaving the ghost of the original doorway filled in with windows or brickwork on the floor above.

In Charlestown, I see whole, splendid blocks carefully maintained. I often found myself standing in some street with traffic in the distance, staring at all the houses, intoxicated by their detail. Here are some random facades:

I'm always charmed to see Federal architecture in Charlestown, too. This gracious two-family house on Pleasant Street has a large front garden with old trees and brick pathways. It has been for sale for many months. The listings all state that it was built in 1972. I think 1792 is more accurate.

If you look at property listings around Boston, you'll see that the prettiest, most elegantly preserved interiors are often found in Charlestown, too. This is true at all price points. If you can spend a few million dollars, you can buy something gorgeous anywhere around here, but if you're a regular person, you can afford more space and beauty in Charlestown. If only it had better public transportation and a "village" that better met our needs...

While the architecture we crave is in Charlestown, the location we need — in easy walking distance to markets, bookstores and other shops, the library, our gyms, our favorite burritos, our vet, and quick transportation to Cambridge — is Back Bay. 

And, as they say, "location x 3." Dammit.

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