554-563 Columbia Road: What’s in a name?

554-563 Columbia Road: What’s in a name?

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.

When thinking about which parts of Boston truly have arts, culture, and history weaved into their physical fabric, the Dorchester district of Upham’s Corner definitely stands out. Located at the intersection of Dudley Street, Stoughton Street, and Columbia Road and served by several bus routes and the Fairmount Line of the Commuter Rail, the district is clearly dominated by the legendary Strand Theater. However, across the street from the Strand is another, even older building with many stories to tell about this neighborhood and the forces that have shaped it over time.

Located at 554-562 Columbia Road, the building pictured above has a lot worth discussing, but in a way it is very difficult to describe. To start, there are presently multiple competing names for the building. Throughout its history, it has been known by the names Wheelock Hall, Fox Hall, and Odd Fellows Hall, often being identified by at least two of the names simultaneously.

The first name stems from the building’s original owner and developer, A.P. Wheelock, a large landowner in late nineteenth century Upham’s Corner, and operator of a large livery stable for horses in the building across the street. Multiple city directories, handbooks, and legislative proceedings cite the name Wheelock Hall and Wheelock Banquet Hall for a function space inside. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows started meeting in this space as early as 1915, leading the building to be known by their name as well.

In addition, though not much is known about its operations, a dance hall known as Fox Hall operated here at some point around the mid-twentieth century, and this is the name the current owner uses for the building. Therefore, it appears that either of the three names is appropriate depending on context. Regardless, curiosity about the name certainly adds to the mysterious allure of the building!

Coming up in part 2: The origins and interesting uses of this building over time!