A place to recall and celebrate the wonderful stores of a Downtown Boston now alive only in our memories

Friday, 8 June 2012

Subterranean Portals To Retro Boston’s Best Shopping Spots Of Days Gone By

 Hello, My Retro Boston Loving Friends!

My work as a retro Boston cultural historian is never dull...never!

 I get many requests for updates and I try to fulfil each and every one...although I may take months or possibly even years to get all my research done on some of the more complex missions.

Today we look at another department store convenience provided by a few of our larger retro Boston stores...underground subway access!

As Boston’s historic subway system began to grow and develop, the new blossoming subway lines now known as the Orange and Red Lines crossed right in the very heart of our once thriving shopping center at Washington, Summer and Winter Streets.

The Washington Street Line (The Orange Line) was the first to arrive underground and with it came two unaligned platform subway stations (known then as Winter and Summer...classic Boston!) in 1908. Filene’s was located on the diagonally opposite corner from where the empty store shell sits today and was quick off the mark to use the new subway as a way to get shoppers inside their welcoming doors.

A new subterranean entrance slightly up from Washington Street underneath Winter Street along what would now be the concourse area was opened the same year as the new subway line. This new way to enter Filene’s became an instant hit with shopping crowds and print ads proudly exclaimed that you get inside the store without even stepping outside on rainy days. One wonders how folks got to the trains in the first place...hmmm?...but let’s not get too picky!

Filene’s remained the only Boston store with subterranean access for a while. The great move across the street to the exciting new Burnham Building in 1912 meant a new basement entrance was constructed for the new store on the opposite platform of the Washington Street Line.

In 1915, the new and growing Dorchester-Cambridge Line (The Red Line) further expanded and with it came a station under Summer Street called Washington. Filene’s soon opened yet another subterranean access point to make their store even more easily entered from either subway line.


All this easy underground access began to worry the competition. Filene’s did not have to wait long before the new Bacon Company Store just up Washington Street at Essex Street (formerly the Henry Siegel Company) opened a new entrance to their basement right onto the platform of Essex Station of the Washington Street Line. The new entrance of Bacon’s caused much flattering publicity and the store used it as an advertising device in many of their print ads...but alas, the store failed within a few short years...subway access was not enough! More soon on Bacon’s and Siegel’s in a future blog update!!

Filene’s continued to enjoy supreme success in the underground access sector for many years to come. Readers have asked me why Gilchrist’s, Raymond’s, White’s and Jordan Marsh were so slow to catch on to this underground entrance fad.

Some thoughts on this:

Gilchrist’s was located on the wrong corner for easy subway platform access. The Washington Street Line tunnel was in front of the store rather than a platform and they were using a large section of the concourse area under Winter Street as a bargain basement selling and sorting area. Could they have made an entrance into the concourse area? Maybe, but they never did make it a priority.

Raymond’s did have a subway street level entrance to Summer Street Station located on its Franklin Street side...but that is as far as it went with them.

White’s was not close enough to either Essex Street Station or Summer Street Station...only dark tunnel lay underground in front of the former legendary retailing giant.

Now we come to Jordan Marsh. The Jordan Marsh Company...ever growing and consuming all the stores in the block it occupied. It was slow to get on the bandwagon of underground access portals...it finally succeeded and built a direct subway access point from under the old Shuman Building on the corner of Washington and Summer Streets into the concourse area beneath Summer Street in 1930. The 1920’s marked the first time Jordan Marsh really had any decent access to the growing subway infrastructure beneath its feet. The acquisition of the former Shuman Store structure meant Jordan Marsh could finally create a new underground access point that rivalled Filene’s across the street.

The new direct subway entrance was opened with much press fanfare and Jordan Marsh could now use this new “shopper’s convenience” in its print ads just as competitor Filene’s had been doing effectively since 1908.

In 1976, as Jordan Marsh tragically demolished their old Main Store, the classic Shuman Building coming down as well and with it...the classic 1930’s subway entrance was lost forever. Jordan Marsh did have another subway access point on the Red Line Washington Street Station platform that opened with the new sub-basement of the mammoth 1948-57 building expansion project. This was the only direct subway entrance to Jordan Marsh during the building works of the late 1970’s. When these works finally finished, a new less exciting entrance opened in place of the former one underneath the now completed and sadly dull, brand new Jordan Marsh building.

Please enjoy this look back at these various underground entrances and see how the stores used them as a way to bring in those much desired shopping throngs.

Big thanks to TheMBTADog for more wonderful photos that show the former Filene’s and present Macy’s subway entrances as they look today in 2012.


FYI: Michael Lisicky will be giving a Filene’s presentation at Old South Meeting House on July 24.

If you are in Boston this summer, it’s a must for all retro Boston lovers!!!




Ps...Don't forget....I am still working on my Jordan Marsh Memory Project. Write me!!!!


Denholms said...

I know those underground tunnels well. We used to always access Filene's basement from the "T". Great , great memories!

Stephen Slaughter Head said...


Here's a rare photo of Filene's Summer St. Station entrance from 1913.


Thought you'd find this of interest.