I haven’t been posting much recently, mostly because I also run a little art event called FIGMENT Boston that takes up most of my free time in the spring. This year it will be June 2 and 3 on the Rose Kennedy Greenway downtown, so please come pay a visit to see what’s been keeping me busy.
Those of you familiar with Eliot Square will know about the large vacant lot on the corner of Bartlett and Dudley next to the Norfolk House and across Dudley Street from the First Church and the Cox Building. You can see the distinctive bow front of the Cox building on the right in the aerial shot below. Norfolk House is the building on the left.
I’ve often walked by that spot and thought how wonderful it would be to have another building there, perhaps a place with a restaurant on the ground floor to lend some life to Eliot Square. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that there was a magnificent hotel there for over 100 years - the Hotel Eliot.
The hotel, built in 1875, was one of the first apartment houses in Roxbury. Unlike today’s hotels, which connote a short term stay, hotels like this one 130 years ago were a new concept in housing, in which multiple families would live in the same building. There were also hotels for more transient visits, which probably caused some level of confusion.
The Hotel Eliot was built at the beginning of Roxbury’s major period of densification from 1870-1900. In the 50 years before it was built, Fort Hill had gone from being a rural farming community to a pleasant suburb for the upper middle class, full of country estates which were gradually parceled off into single family home lots. But as the population of the area grew thanks to immigration and wealth grew along with industrialization, the need for multifamily housing presented itself.
At first, this took the form of the rowhouses we all know and love. This was multifamily housing, but with shared walls only, not shared ceilings and floors. The Hotel Eliot, and its 1871 predecessor on Warren Street, the Hotel Dartmouth, were the first real apartment houses in Roxbury. Before long, apartment buildings in Boston evolved into the triple deckers that were built in such great numbers from the 1880s through the early 1900s. Although the triple deckers offered more outdoor space, cost less for developers to build, and probably had other benefits besides, I think it’s fair to say they have nothing on the Hotel Eliot in terms of beauty.
It pains me to think that such a magnificent building once graced Eliot Square, and that it escaped saving. Hopefully when that vacant lot is eventually redeveloped whoever is in charge of the architecture will find a way to bring back some semblance of its style. And who knows, maybe we’ll finally get a restaurant in Eliot Square?
There’s not much info about the Hotel Eliot on the web, although I hope to be able to dig some up in future visits to the various historical societies around town. The Right Here in Roxbury wiki says that the hotel survived until November of 1982, but I haven’t been able to turn up any info to corroborate that from my searches of the Globe’s online archives. Given the time period, it’s a safe bet that the hotel was a victim of arson, but if anyone has any more info about the building’s last years please pass it on!