Reviving a 'Downtown for Uptown' in Dudley Square

By Will Roseliep

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Mar. 15, 2012

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The Ferdinand Building as it was — in the days of the elevated train — and as it will be. (Courtesy Dudley Vision Task Force)

 
BOSTON — Earlier this month, mayor Thomas Menino and a coterie of Roxbury business owners and community leaders broke ground on a project decades in the making: the renovation of the Ferdinand Building in Dudley Square. 
 
Built in 1895, the Ferdinand Blue Store originally sold housewares, carpet and furniture to Dudley Square customers. The iconic building has sat largely vacant as construction plans repeatedly stalled. Now, a $115 million building redesign has been approved, and the whole construction project — once begun — is slated to finish in late 2014.
 
City councilor Tito Jackson said it couldn't come at a better time: "Having such a significant and large parcel in the middle of our community offline for 35 or 40 years has had a great negative effect on other areas and other businesses in the community."
 
Watertown architecture firm Sasaki Associates has been chosen to spearhead the project, in partnership with the Dutch firm Mecanoo Architects. Ted Landsmark, president of Boston Architectural College, was a member of the juries evaluating proposals from 30 different architectural teams. He said the unique design of the old department store attracted international attention.
 
"We had English teams, Dutch teams … [the submissions] included some of the most prestigious and well known architecture firms in the world," he said. "Making the choice for the final team was really a challenge."
 
Once completed, the Dudley Square building will house the Boston School Department headquarters. Plans are also in development to include retail space at ground level, as well as areas to welcome the public — a factor Landsmark said was "key" in deciding on a design.
 
"[We wanted] to keep this particular parcel open and transparent and inviting, so that the municipal building didn't seem like a fortress."
 
For Jackson, the Ferdinand redesign is a welcome update to an area he's called home for many years. 
 
"I bought my first boom box there. I can remember when we used to go and get fish and parakeets … at Woolworth's. Dudley used to be a bustling place, and it was a downtown for uptown," Jackson said. "Really what this means is economic development for our community."

> > LISTEN: Extended conversation with Tito Jackson

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