A brief history of S. Huntington

August 31, 2012
By

How the institutions came to town

S. HUNTINGTON—S. Huntington Avenue, after nearly a century of heavy institutional use, is readying for fast changes: two 200-unit luxury apartment buildings are under consideration by the City, and a new boutique hotel just opened.

At the turn of the 20th century, however, S. Huntington Avenue was home to very little. The great majority of the street was surrounded by open land.

The Emerald Necklace, the then-recently-designed series of linked parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, was the main attraction, just steps away.

The rise of institutions along the street appears to have been unplanned, the result of large organizations taking advantage of available land.

The only major institution in the area in 1899 was the Perkins School for the Blind, at the intersection of Perkins Street and S. Huntington Avenue. The Perkins School taught Anne Sullivan and her famous student, Hellen Keller, during this time.

While trolleys were established in the area, the main attraction remained the Emerald Necklace.

In the first 15 years of the 1900s, however, the area’s institutional uses started booming. The Perkins School moved to Watertown in 1912 and the House of the Angel Guardian orphanage and school purchased the property.

By 1915, The Home for Little Wanderers had settled into its still-present building at number 161. It expanded in the 1950s and 1980s. Its original 1914 Knight building is now facing demolition at the hands of private developers who want to build about 200 luxury apartments on the site.

The Boston Nursery for Blind Babies moved into number 147 and the Trinity Church Home for the Aged was in place at number 135. The two properties consolidated into what is now Sherrill House, a not-for-profit nursing and rehabilitation center.

The Vincent Memorial Hospital had built number 125 by 1915. It became the Longwood Hospital before into today’s Hope Lodge, a “home-away-from-home” for cancer patients.

By 1931, the Boston School of Physical Education and Mount Pleasant Home had moved in, to numbers 105 and 301 respectively.

According to Mount Pleasant Executive Director Merlin Southwick, that institution built its building in 1925 and 1926.

“The big innovation of that day and age was that every resident had their own private bedroom” with shared facilities, he said.

Goddard House, a nursing and rehab facility that is slated to close next month, moved into its building at number 201 in 1927.

Sometime after 1931, the Cardinal O’Connell Seminary took over the former Perkins School property, but it sold again to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals by 1964.

The VA Hospital opened its building at number 150 in 1952.

“I’m sure [the location of the VA hospital] had to do with the land being available,” Diane Keefe of the VA Boston System told the Gazette. “I’m sure it was because it was centrally located and had [access to] the trolley.”

The North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB) moved into number 105 in 1976. It remains on the property still, though most of the property has since been sold by the state—in the midst of heavy controversy—to private developers.

NAICOB Executive Director Joanne Dunn previously told the Gazette that the building was formerly a state girls’ detention center and possibly a college building.