On the corner of Chestnut St and Winter St in Upper Falls there’s a historic old building that was a shoe shop for most of the 1800’s and more recently it was the Moon and Sixpence Gift Shop until roughly ten years ago. Since then it’s been apartments. A few months ago, construction started and the entire outside of the building was methodically removed, leaving a very interesting wooden shell from the 1800’s. Next, nearly the entire inside and basement was removed leaving only the inside supporting structures. In recent weeks, much of the remaining frame and roof of the second floor has been removed leaving just the front facade. If they keep this up, there won’t be much left standing before long.
I suspected that the odd approach to construction has something to do with meeting Historic Commission regulations to avoid knocking down a historic building, by keeping just enough of the original to qualify as renovation rather than demolition. When it’s all done, the only trace of the original building will be buried deep inside the walls.
Last week, a Stop Work Order from the Building Department was posted on the site. Apparently, the contractor got a bit carried away with demolition and went beyond what he had permits for. As it stands now, with most of the second floor removed except for the propped-up facade, it gives the corner a Potemkin village look.
It will be curious to see where it goes from here. The whole project looks like some kind of gamesmanship between the developer and the Historic Commission.
In the meantime though, it’s a great little showcase of 18th century construction techniques. With the exterior and interior completely removed, you can get a good look at how they put buildings together back then. Most striking is the size of some of the lumber.
Here’s an excerpt about the building from Ken Newcomb’s Makers of the Mold – A History of Newton Upper Falls:
“The business of Loring Wheeler, Boot & Shoe Dealer, at the southeast corner of Winter and Chestnut Streets was established in the 1830s. In 1832, after one or two changes in management, it came under the ownership of J.T. Thomason who continued its operation for a number of years as the Echo Bridge Shoe Store.”