Historic 1899 Horse & Bicycle Racing Complex Revived

 

Known for innovative restorations and rehabilitations of historic buildings, Bruner/Cott recently completed The Speedway, a mixed-use transformation of a 19th-century trotting horse stable and metropolitan park police station and jail on the Charles River. A Boston Historic Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the firm worked alongside the not-for-profit developer, Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF), to preserve and revitalize the renowned but endangered complex to stimulate community growth and economic development.

Constructed in 1899 by the Metropolitan Park Commission as a headquarters to support a new parkway along the river, the development turned a stretch of tidal mudflats into an interconnected series of public parks. The stables and park offices supported a racetrack beside the river for bicycle and trotting races. The picturesque overall composition is characteristic of its architect William D. Austin’s work for the Metropolitan Parks Commission—an irregular roofline connects six shingle-style buildings, creating a single-story courtyard, highlighted by arched gable entrances, porches, double hung windows, and elaborate wood trim. The mile-long racetrack became one of the city’s most popular gathering areas. Now, as a new gateway to the Allston-Brighton neighborhood, the complex supports a diverse tenant mix including small retail shops and soon-to-open food vendors, a publicly accessible community courtyard, a flexible event space at Garage B, and anchor tenant Notch Brewing’s biergarten and brewery.

Following the Park Commission’s tenancy, the facility housed the now-defunct Metropolitan District Commission Police. During this time, many of its original horse stables were extended and converted into vehicular garages to support the agency. Beginning in 2005, the facility was largely abandoned. Portions of the buildings were beginning to decay, and one section suffered a serious fire. The Bruner/Cott and AHF Speedway project has preserved a local recreational treasure and given the park a new life for generations to come. Bruner/Cott’s design approach to preservation included removal of piecemeal garage extensions at historic stable frontages and the reconstruction of lost features including wooden carriage access, sliding barn doors, and an extensive series of carefully restored and replicated windows. Original building entrances within the sloping site placed doors at different levels, and a new raised platform for performers united these via an unobtrusive wooden ramp. Interior plaster was so damaged by fire and rain that it was removed entirely to add insulation. Fieldstone foundations were reinforced with concrete and repointed. Stables and a 1940 concrete garage were fitted with recessive glazed fronts and overhead doors to make strong connections to outdoor gathering spaces, especially the tranquil interior of the upper courtyard.

Long-considered too complicated and limited in square footage for an economically sustainable rehabilitation, AHF pioneered new approaches to retail tenancy, events space management, and adjacencies among occupants to reintroduce life into the Allston-Brighton community via long abandoned stables, jail, basement cow barn, and garages. The buildings look like they did in 1899, 1904, 1920, and 1920. The new occupants do not.

About Bruner/Cott Architects

A two-time recipient of the AIA National Honor Award for Design and innovative pioneers in adaptive reuse and new construction, Bruner/Cott is dedicated to enhancing quality of life, economic vigor, and sense of community through thoughtful and sustainable design. The most effective design solutions derive from a creative interpretation of place, culture, program, and responsibility. Believing that architecture is a site-specific art rather than an imposed style, the firm thoughtfully considers each project within the context of mission and community.

Bruner/Cott’s seminal projects include MASS MoCA (North Adams, MA), one of America’s largest contemporary art museums; the reimagined Boston University School of Law complex, recipient of a DOCOMOMO US Modernism in America Award; and the R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College (Amherst, MA), a 2017 AIA COTE Top Ten Award winner and a Living Building certified by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

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About the Architectural Heritage Foundation

Founded in 1966, the Architectural Heritage Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and reactivating historic properties to stimulate community growth. AHF specializes in advancing stalled preservation projects, helping government agencies, communities, and private sector stakeholders to transform at-risk historic real estate into economic and cultural assets.

For ongoing site news and updates, visit charlesriverspeedway.com and Instagram (@charlesriverspeedway and @garagebevents). Email events@charlesriverspeedway.com to schedule an event at Garage B.

Follow AHF on InstagramTwitterFacebook, and Linked In.

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