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Photographs by Porter Gifford
Commissioned by the Architectural Heritage Foundation

Project Statement

This is a selection of images from a larger portfolio commissioned by Sean McDonnell, President of the Architectural Heritage Foundation of Boston. The AHF was for many years the lease-holder and manager of Boston's Old City Hall, a historic and politically important building on School Street in the heart of downtown Boston.

In 2016, in cooperation with the City of Boston, Mr. McDonnell embarked on an effort to sell the lease of the historic building and sought to mark the occasion with a cultural and artistic statement that would place the site in its current context. Mr. McDonnell was inspired in this effort by a similar project undertaken almost 50 years ago by architectural photographer William Clift, who created a portfolio of atmospheric images of a then abandoned City Hall, also at the behest of the AHF.

The current series of images documents the life and color of School Street, a short but important street that serves as a busy thoroughfare for automobiles and pedestrians. It is also a historical stop on Boston's famous Freedom Trail, and a bustling commercial hub of office buildings, shops, and restaurants. The images seek to reflect the role Old City Hall plays, both culturally and historically, firmly at the hub of the city in which it resides.

These images, along with those by Mr. Clift, have been acquired by the Prints and Photographs collection of the Boston Athenaeum.

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School Street, Circa 1910

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This is our place of meeting; opposite
That towered and pillared building: look at it;
King's Chapel in the Second George's day,
Rebellion stole its regal name away,--
Stone Chapel sounded better; but at last
The poisoned name of our provincial past
Had lost its ancient venom; then once more
Stone Chapel was King's Chapel as before.
(So let rechristened North Street, when it can,
Bring back the days of Marlborough and Queen Anne!)
Next the old church your wandering eye will meet--
A granite pile that stares upon the street--
Our civic temple; slanderous tongues have said
Its shape was modeled from St. Botolph's head,
Lofty, but narrow; jealous passers-by
Say Boston always held her head too high.
             From "At the Saturday Club" by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Old City Hall, Circa 1930

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Ben Frankin Statue in front of old Old City Hall, Circa 1850

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Prints of selected images are available here:
Porter Gifford Photography

More information about the Architectural Heritage Foundation can be found here:
Architectural Heritage Foundation

All images © Porter Gifford