This is the 21st post in my series on Boston’s Hidden Gems
Boston, like many big cities, once had multiple observation decks that were open to the public. You could just get into an elevator, ride to the top, and get out to enjoy a fabulous view of the city and the area. Sometimes there was an admission fee; sometimes it was free. You could see all the way to New Hampshire in the north to past Mount Wachusett in the west and down past Plymouth on the south.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 changed all that, as they changed so many things in our culture. Observation decks closed down all over the country and the one the John Hancock Tower’s 60th floor stayed off limits. It is still closed to the public although it can be rented for private parties.
The Prudential Center observation deck nearby eventually re-opened in Boston’s second-tallest building. The Pru’s Skywalk observatory provides a view from the 52nd floor and is easily accessible. Just purchase tickets at the kiosk in the shopping mall, show your ID to the security guard, then take the elevator up.
A View of the Sea
Less well known is the Independence Wharf Observation Deck on Atlantic Avenue. The building is not as tall as the bigger tower in the Back Bay—only 14 floors high—but it is much closer to the harbor.
From the top you get a marvelous view of the Fort Point Channel and the Seaport District to the east and south. You also get a pretty good view of the roof garden atop the BSA Space at 290 Congress Street. From, the east and north you see the harbor and Logan Airport. The Rose Kennedy Greenway and the financial district dominate the view to the west. (There is no direct view to the north.)
This observatory isn’t big and has only a narrow paved area around the edges; the rest is gravel. You can enjoy it on a cold, windy, or rainy day, however, because there is an enclosed observation room that faces the harbor.
This building, originally a nondescript warehouse of no architectural significance, was built on the site of the old Griffin’s Wharf. A plaque on the bridge side of the building tells us that this is important because:
“Here formerly stood Griffin’s Wharf, at which lay moored on Dec.16, 1773, three British ships with cargoes of tea. To defeat King George’s trivial but tyrannical tax of three pence a pound, about ninety citizens of Boston partly disguised as Indians, boarded the ships, threw the cargoes, three hundred and forty two chests in all, into the sea and made the world ring with the patriotic exploit of the BOSTON TEA PARTY.”
The warehouse fell into disuse after World War II when the waterfront lost most of its commercial traffic. The waterfront declined further when New England’s cod fishing industry crashed. The Big Dig revitalized the area when it buried the Southeast Expressway and opened access from the city to the harbor and the seaport. The Greenway replaced the elevated highway with a beautiful linear park.
From Griffin to Independence
To take advantage of this new modern waterfront. Modern Continental Enterprises, a construction company, and the architectural firm of Bergmeyer Associates Inc. renamed and renovated the structure.
They turned an abandoned warehouse into 370,000 square feet of commercial real estate space. Brick and green-glass curtain walls replace the old exterior skin on the two waterfront-facing sides of the building, while masonry dominates the landward sides. This design, which includes wavelike curves, unites the city with the water.
The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum are located on the Congress Street Bridge, an easy walk from Independence Wharf. You can throw “crates of tea” into the harbor from a reconstructed merchant ship although these packages weigh much less than the 342 original wooden chests must have done.
Independence Wharf is located right on the Harborwalk at the Fort Point Channel and next to the Evelyn Moakley Bridge. At the ground level on the bridge side the building provides an amenity that is rare in Boston but much needed everywhere—public restrooms.
On the Fort Point Channel side, a community room is available for use with couches, televisions and free wi-fi. A timeline of Boston history highlights one wall. Hmmm, this would make a comfortable place to start Boston By Foot’s architectural tour of the Fort Point Channel area — the September Tour of the Month. Just a thought.
There’s another observation deck in Boston and I will write about that one in a subsequent post.
Information and Directions
470 Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA 02210
The Independence Wharf observation deck is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and admission is free. Just walk into the main lobby and show the security guard your ID. He or she will walk you to the elevator and provide key card access to the observation deck. When you exit the elevator on the 14th floor, follow the signs—left and then left again.
By MBTA take the Blue or Orange lines to the State Street exit and walk east to Atlantic Avenue. Walk through the Greenway until you cross Seaport Boulevard. The building is on the southeast corner. Or take the Red or Silver lines to South Station and walk north on Atlantic Avenue. If you plan to drive, parking is available under the BSA Space on Congress Street. The garage is halfway down the block between Atlantic Avenue and the Fort Point Channel and on weekends, they charge a set price for the day. That makes it easy to just leave the car and explore — or take one of Boston By Foot’s walking tours — without sweating the cost of parking.
Boston’s Hidden Gems
- The Mapparium
- Boston Public Library Courtyard
- The Ether Dome
- The Tiffany Sanctuary
- The Salada Tea Doors
- Museum Restoration
- Francis Garden
- History Dioramas
- Exchange Staircase
- Pru Garden
- Angel of the Waters
- The Ayer Mansion Lobby
- The Catalonian Chapel
- The Vertical Garden on Merrimac Street
- The Vilna Shul
- The Great Elm on the Boston Common
- The Copley Station Headhouse
- The Rose Kennedy Rose Garden
- The North End’s Tiny Palazzo Ducale
- The Province House Steps