Friday, May 11, 2012

The Story Behind 512-518 Tremont Street

You might have heard that the little one-story building at the corner of Tremont and Dwight Streets, seen at left, is slated for demolition.  A new building with condos upstairs and commercial space on the ground floor will take its place.  Demolition in historic districts is relatively rare.  When it does occur it's usually because the building in question is beyond repair and is a danger to the public (as in the case of the early last year) or because the building is not historically and/or architecturally significant and a developer wants to tear it down and build something new (like the and ).

Here are the bits and pieces of history that I could find about the lot at 512-518 Tremont Street, the building that stands there now, and the building that stood there before.

When I first heard about the proposal to tear down the current building, I wanted to find out when it was built.  I suspected that it was probably built in the early twentieth century but, given the history of the development of the South End, I thought that perhaps a nineteenth century building stood there before the current building.

According to the deeds for the property, a housewright purchased this lot from the City of Boston in 1842.  The first mortgage on the property appeared in 1847, indicating that a structure was probably built there at that time.  By 1857, Joseph Carew, sculptor, is listed as the owner.

The 1872 and 1875 Boston city directories indicate that Joseph and Henry Carew, brothers, operated a "statuary and monumental works" here.  In 1892, Joseph Carew is listed in the directory as working on Gerard Street but the building on the corner of Dwight and Tremont is still listed as a monument works.

Newspapers indicate that in the early twentieth century the space housed a series of restaurants and cafes and had residences above.

Then I stumbled on what I was looking for: permits reveal that in 1924, the owner of the property was "City Building Wrecking Co."  They applied for permission to demolish a three-story brick building occupied by stores.  This must have been what stood there before the one-story structure, although I can't find any pictures of the first three-story structure.  Around the same time as the demolition of the three-story building, an application for a permit to build was filed by new owner Samuel Gold.  He proposed a one story building to be used for commercial use only.  It stated a desire to "use existing foundations" in the construction of the structure.  This is the building that stands there now.

512-518 Tremont St. 1972, South End Historical Society.
Since 1924, the one story building has housed a First National Store, cafes, a White Castle Restaurant, the Gypsy Reading Room, living quarters (possibly illegally), Paul's Export Co., the Old Dover Tavern, the All-American Tailoring Co., and the G and N Restaurant, among many other things.  Most recently the Old Dutch Cottage Candy store has called that building home. 


  1. I would have guessed the 1920s. Those single story brick retail buildings were put up all over in those years. Centre street near the Monument in Jamaica Plain is an example. In that case, wood frame buildings were replaced, probably for fire safety.

  2. Yes, that's why I thought early twentieth. Pretty standard commercial design. There are some decorative elements still on the building's roofline too.

  3. I grew up around the corner on Ringgold St. and used to shop at Paul's Export. I fondly remember the Old Dover Tavern since my father used to bartend in the South End in the 50s.

    1. Mr. Mxyzptlk, how interesting! Do you still live in the area?

    2. I lived on Shawmut Ave. across from the old Franklin Cafe in the 50s, then moved to 33 Hanson St. where I used to watch the streetcars run on Tremont St. From 1960 through 1983 I lived on Ringgold St. - first in my aunt's house at number 5 then at number 2 which my mother owned. She sold 2 Ringgold St. in 1983 and I have lived west of Boston ever since.