Arsenal Mall Slated For Terraforming

Future Site of Hipster Mecca?

Future Site of Hipster Mecca?

Yesterday, I checked my Facebook and saw that an old friend who grew up a few blocks away from me in the East End of Watertown had reposted an article by the Watertown Patch blog that said the Arsenal Mall was going to be redeveloped into a “tech,hipster mecca.”

The Patch article cited a Boston Globe story from July 1st, 2013 that had more details. Jonathan Bush, CEO of Athenahealth (and cousin of George W. Bush) is teaming with two real estate development firms, Boylston Properties and the Wilder Company to purchase the Arsenal Mall, the Home Depot/Golfsmith building (aka the Ann and Hope for all you old Watertownies out there) and the Harvard Vanguard Building. These three buildings comprise the entire Arsenal Mall complex. In addition, Boylston Properties has purchased the former Charles River SAAB dealership on the other side of Arsenal Street and plans to develop the property into a hotel.

Athenahealth, a medical records company, purchased the Arsenal on the Charles property as their corporate headquarters (which is a separate entity from the Arsenal Mall) from Harvard University for $168.5 million. The deal was finalized in May 2013. Athenahealth sounds like they sincerely want to make the Arsenal their home base and recently got a huge tax break from the Commonwealth in return for adding more jobs in Watertown.

Harvard University purchased the Arsenal on the Charles in 2001 for $162.6 million. Everyone expected Harvard to do something big but after they took a big hit during the “Great Recession” nothing was really done there except to rent out space to other tenants.

The Arsenal back in the day

The Arsenal back in the day

The Arsenal was a U.S. Army base from 1816-1995. For the most part, the Arsenal produced guns, artillery, and other weapons. From World War I to World War II, the Arsenal expanded rapidly. In the post-WWII years, activities at the Arsenal included building an early nuclear reactor as well as depleted uranium testing, which required that it be listed as a Superfund site from 1994-2006. A link to the Superfund site material is available here. For some decent online overviews of the Arsenal’s history, check out the Wikipedia page, the Cold War-MA page, or

Once I got over the initial shock of the news- especially the part in the Globe article that referred to the Arsenal Mall as “a scruffy stretch of East Watertown” and Bush referring to it as “a black hole-” it began to sink in. Everyone has known this day was going to come at least since 1968, when the eastern parcel of the Arsenal was sold to Watertown. Rumor has it that the University of Massachusetts wanted to build a campus there, but the parcel wasn’t redeveloped until the Arsenal Mall was opened in 1983.

The Arsenal on the Charles is 29 acres and at it’s largest extent, the Arsenal property was nearly 100 acres, which has to make it one of the larger parcels of land still available for development in the Boston area.

If this plan to turn the Arsenal Mall complex into a “tech, hipster mecca” comes to fruition, it will drastically change the culture of the East End. Right now, it is a quiet middle class neighborhood best known worldwide as either being an Armenian enclave or .

All I can say for certain is that the East End will never quite be the same. Hopefully it will be for the better, especially in terms of tax revenue for the town. The Arsenal army base generated no tax revenue for the town for around 175 years and as an educational institution, Harvard didn’t contribute much either. Was developing the eastern parcel into the Arsenal Mall the best use of that space? Probably not, but it has been there most of my life.

I grew up in the East End and my parents (soon to be grandparents) still live there. Even though I have lived in Seattle for a long time and love it out here, you can’t take Watertown out of me. I have spent many years studying Watertown history with a concentration in the East End and conducting amateur environmental archaeology surveys of the area, including one on Sawin’s Pond. Needless to say I am taking a keen, opinionated interest in this subject and hope that my expertise in the history of the area will come in handy as things develop.

21st Century Viking: What Would Joseph Coolidge Say?

Photo by Kristin Jones (CC/Flickr)

My latest article for the Ballard News-Tribune was published a few hours after I posted the second part of my watertown_4.19.13 series. I submitted the editorial under a different title but it turned out that both the post and the editorial for the Ballard News-Tribune were given the same name.

They are, however, different pieces.

The Ballard News-Tribune article is a little shorter, gives a bit more background on Watertown and ask the reader to imagine a similar scenario unfolding in Ballard.

The blog post is longer and goes more into depth in some areas, particularly with Joseph Coolidge.

Both pieces, however, invoke the name of Joseph Coolidge and his importance to Watertown and American history as the starting point of my discussion. I have a feeling that the Spirit of Joseph Coolidge will continue to be invoked as the watertown_4.19.13 project evolves.

Watertown_4.19.13, Part II: What Would Joseph Coolidge Say?

Image of Joseph Coolidge’s grave, Old Burying Ground, Watertown, MA. Image from
I will upload my own photo of this soon. -Brian

On April 19th, 1775, Joseph Coolidge of Watertown, MA died at the Battle of Lexington. According to an account by one of his descendants, Austin J. Coolidge:
“When the alarm came on April 19, 1775, he is said to have unyoked his team from the plow, told his wife where he had buried the town’s money, taken his gun and powder horn, and joined a dozen or so Minute Men from Needham, guiding them to Lexington. He fell, mortally wounded, near the lower part of Lexington, his body pierced by three British bullets.”
(From the website of the Joseph Coolidge (Watertown) Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution)

Joseph Coolidge was not only a resident of the East End, he was a Minuteman and a long-time patriot, as evidenced by the fact that he was one of the participants in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.

On April 19th, 2013, 238 years later, brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings were confronted in the East End of Watertown, MA. Tamerlan was killed in the initial confrontation with police and later that day Dzhokar was found hiding in a boat about six blocks away from the scene and arrested. In the meantime, the East End of Watertown was put on lockdown and all the streets within a 20-block radius were subjected to an intense search by hundreds of police.

It took me a little bit longer to start writing about what happened in Watertown that day because these events were so personal to me. I grew up in the East End. The shootout and the hiding place of the suspect were all within a several block radius of where my parents live. My parents’ property was searched (but not their house), the property and house of the parents of my friend was thoroughly searched. There were many others in the neighborhood whose property and/or houses were searched as well.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

While some homeowners and residents were asked by police if they could conduct searches, videos such as this one have surfaced showing people being taken out of their homes at gunpoint:

Thankfully, the police managed to apprehend Tsarnaev alive and without anyone else being hurt. I have heard lots of commentators speak of their concern over whether Tsarnaev was read his Miranda rights. I am glad that he is being tried in a Federal court and not being treated as an enemy combatant. As an American, he is entitled to due process and to have his day in court.

There is another question that is just as, if not more important that needs to be respectfully asked: Were the Constitutional rights of the residents of the East End of Watertown violated during the manhunt for Dzokhar Tsarnaev?

After seeing the above video, ask yourself- was the police response proportional? Was it necessary for armed SWAT teams and Humvees to put the East End under lockdown, which looked very much to me like a temporary imposition of martial law? What was the legal reasoning that was used to justify the manhunt and these searches? As far as I know at the time I publish this, none of the residents of the houses were presented with a search warrant.

I used the phrase “respectfully ask” because I am balancing my desire to know with the reality that the police who searched the property kept my parents and the residents of the East End safe. The Boston Marathon bombings were a horrific crime and it saddens me to think of the people who died or were maimed as well as the officer who they killed. I am glad that at least one of them will stand trial and have to answer for the crimes they have been accused of, yet it is nearly overshadowed for me by how he was arrested.

As I write this on April 29th, 2013, the story is 10 days old. I refrained from writing much about it for the past few days because I wanted to really think on it instead of just reacting emotionally. It was a huge shock to see hundreds of police and the media of the world descend on the neighborhood I grew up in. After a few days, as the relief that my parents were safe and the shock of it all started to drain away a little, my thoughts kept turning to Joseph Coolidge.

Joseph Coolidge’s grave is marked by an obelisk in the center of the Old Burying Ground at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Arlington Streets. Watertown was founded in 1630 (the same year as Boston) and the cemetery dates from that time. For my Eagle Scout project, my fellow Boy Scouts in Troop 30 cleaned up the cemetery and I attempted to get it registered as a Historic Place.

Many of the police that responded to the call and the that reported on the events probably sped by the Old Burying Ground on their way into the East End. In addition, I am fairly certain that Tsarnaev’s ambulance passed by it as well on the way to the hospital. Joseph Coolidge died at the Battle of Lexington so that his fellow Americans would not have to live under tyranny. What would Joseph Coolidge have had to say if he saw what happened that day on the land that he died for?

Watertown_4.19.13, Part I

Police in front of Porcini's Restaurant, School St. looking towards Mt. Auburn St. 4/19/13

Police in front of Porcini’s Restaurant, School St. looking towards Mt. Auburn St. 4/19/13. Screenshot of WBZ Boston’s Live Coverage

The capture of one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombings (and the death of the other) has focused the attention of the world on the East End neighborhood of Watertown, Massachusetts. The gunfight in the early hours of Friday morning, April 19, 2013 and the capture of the suspect inside a boat occurred within a few blocks of the house that I grew up in and where my parents still live. It is my intention to use my subject matter expertise to report in depth on the Watertown part of the Boston Marathon Bombing story.

I will admit up front to not being a disinterested party- this is the neighborhood I grew up in, after all. The goal of this series of posts is to give you my perspective on what happened and find out the truth of what occurred. I have been thinking about this and reading articles from all different perspectives over the past week and it is time to enter the fray. Hopefully what I end up writing will be a positive contribution to the discussion.