Thursday, March 14, 2013

Boston’s Utilitarian Faneuil Hall Cradled Rebellion and Commerce

Rebuilt Faneuil Hall about the time of the Revolution.

On March 14, 1743 Boston held its first Town Meeting in Faneuil Hall .  It was a brand spanking new building then, having been finished just the previous year. 
With typical Yankee practicality this new large addition to the city was designed for multiple uses.  The open ground floor was modeled after English country markets and was intended to be the principle exchange for produce and bulk goods.  It was also briefly used to house a herd of sheep.  Upstairs was a simple, largely unadorned meeting room intended to serve all of the town’s non-religious assembly needs—the numerous steeples already dotting the port city attested to the town’s ample worship space.  It was (and is) also the headquarters of Boston’s oldest Militia company now know as the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.
The Hall burned down in 1761 but was re-erected on the original plan. 
Faneuil Hall secured its place in history as a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty in the years leading to the American Revolution and was the scene of fiery oratory by Samuel Adams, James Otis and other Patriots. 
Through its long history, the Hall would continue to be an important venue for meetings and speeches on many social and political causes.  Who would—and would not—be allowed to speak there—is itself an interesting study. 
In 1806 the celebrated architect Samuel Bulfinch was commissioned to re-design and expand the building.  He made sweeping changes, adding a third floor that doubled the building’s height.  Four new bays were added widening the building, galleries were added around the Assembly Hall.  The famous cupola with its Grasshopper Weather Vane was moved to the opposite end of the building. 
By 1822 Boston’s commercial needs had outgrown the Hall and Quincy Market was built near-by incorporating an indoor pavilion of vendor stalls and outdoor market space.  Together the two building remained the hub of the commercial city. 
In 1898-99 the Hall was completely re-built using “fire proof materials.”  In the process the color of the building dramatically altered.  Early pictures show a much lighter yellowish brick.  Today’s red brick matches other historic Boston buildings but may not be authentic. 
The ground floor and basement were altered in 1979 and a comprehensive restoration undertaken in 1992.  
Fanueil Hall as it stands today.

In the ‘70’s the Hall began a new life as the center of a major tourist attraction.  The Rouse Company created Faneuil Hall Market Place which includes the Hall, Quincy Market, two other low market buildings and the surrounding open plaza.  The Market Place features restaurants, night spots, a myriad of shops, and both outdoor and indoor market space.  The site hosts art and music festivals and many special events.  With the Hall a prominent spot on Boston’s Freedom Trail the development has become the city’s hottest tourist attraction generating millions of dollars of revenue each year. 
The success led to the creation of other festival markets—many designed and managed by Rouse including Chicago’s Navy Pier. 
Important public events and meetings are still held in the Hall.  Ted Kennedy launched his 1979 bid for the Presidency there and John Kerry ended his with a concession speech in 2004.  During the Iraq War large public protest meetings were held there.  A statue of the old rabble rouser Sam Adams stands defiantly with arms crossed in front of the west side of the building.

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