August 9, 2016 554-563 Columbia Road Part 2: A True Jack-in-the-Box
HBI’s summer fellow from the Corcoran Institute at Boston College, James Breen, has been researching various historic properties throughout the Boston neighborhoods. Check out his findings about this historic Upham’s Corner hall in part two of his two part series.
Why might the building mentioned in the previous blog post, variously known as Wheelock, Fox, or Odd Fellows Hall and located at 554-562 Columbia Road in Upham’s Corner, be best compared to a jack-in-the-box? Because you can hardly set foot inside without getting hit by a surprise! This building has contained many varied and interesting features throughout the course of its 124-year lifespan, all of which have remnants that can be found today, even for those that have long since ceased operation.
A less obvious feature, but one that certainly cannot be neglected, is the architecture of the building itself. Construction of the building was ordered by owner A.P. Wheelock in 1892, replacing two previous wooden structures, and his new Hall was designed by the famed architecture firm Loring & Phipps, known for designing several schools around Massachusetts and some notable buildings in Somerville, notably Miner Hall at Tufts University and multiple buildings in the Spring Hill Historic District. Wheelock Hall stands as a living example of this firm’s work and its impact on many aspects of life in Massachusetts over time.
Interestingly, the building is divided by a masonry wall into two parts, though it was constructed simultaneously. The southern 1/3 contains one storefront and three floors worth of single room occupancy (SRO) housing, with beds for 15 boarders. This space was only converted to SRO 20 years ago; before that a single, large apartment took up each floor. The northern 2/3 of the building is even more diverse, with two storefronts on the ground floor, a pool hall on the second floor, an abandoned but still intact bowling alley on the third floor, and the large, empty meeting hall space on the fourth floor. The bowling and pool have both been present since at least the 1930s, and the meeting hall space is likely the hall licensed by A.P. Wheelock for music and dancing entertainment in 1896, as well as for the Fox Hall dance hall and Odd Fellows meetings.
Even the ground floor storefronts have had an interesting history, with diverse occupants ranging from Edison Electric to several restaurants, clothing, and jewelry stores located in these spaces throughout the years. Currently only a chiropractic clinic and tax consulting office remain. At the end of the day, it’s safe to say that a lot has taken place in this building over the years, and though its patrons may come and go with time, Wheelock/Fox/Odd Fellows Hall remains as an integral part of Upham’s Corner as it heads into the future!