Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I'll always have a soft spot for my original home of Boston. It's a city so rich with history in many ways, but one thing that always pulls at my heart strings is the architecture. Of course, being learned in the arts of commerce and retail, I have an undying love for the classic department stores of yesteryear. There's no place like Boston to experience this at its finest - or at least, that used to be the case.

When I was visiting briefly over Thanksgiving weekend, my Dad and I ventured to Downtown Crossing. I had memories of holiday store windows, and wanted to see what still remained. I was devastated at what we found.

But first, a little history. Filene's flagship store opened in 1912, and by 1929 it occupied the entire city block around Washington, Summer, Hawley and Franklin streets. The cavernous subterranean floor would become home to the bargain-priced "Filene's Basement". Eventually a subway stop was built underneath the building, feeding thousands of shoppers directly into the Boston landmark.

The massive store (which also served as Filene's headquarters) was shuttered in 2005, after parent company Federated Department Stores acquired its competitor, May Department Stores. While many Filene's simply received a name change to Macy's, the monument at Downtown Crossing had the disadvantage of being located directly across from a Macy's already.

Although the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, this protected only the ornate facade. The interior was completely gutted, leaving only the shell of one of the country's oldest, most beautiful department stores.

While a New York developer announced a $700 million project for the space, money soon ran dry...and the grand plans for the former Filene's building - including a hotel, restaurant, condos and plentiful retail space - have come to a complete standstill.

Boston's Mayor Menino continues to put pressure on the developer to sell so that work can begin again, but who knows when that might actually happen. Until that day, citizens of Beantown are left with only the extravagant skeleton of Filene's...and memories of Christmases gone by, in my case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Joe,

WGBH from Boston here! Just came across your blog post about Filene's Basement and thought I would let you know about a documentary we're premiering tomorrow night. Voices from the Basement is a new film about the Boston beloved 100-year-old icon. Through newsreels, archival footage, vintage photographs and audio recordings, filmmaker Michael Bavaro and psychologist Dr. Susan Edbril illustrate the enormity of this landmark institution, weaving history through a collection of stories told by the people who worked and shopped at the Basement. Notables interviewed include Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, Congressman Barney Frank, CBS news legend Mike Wallace, Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons, and Boston journalists Peter Mehegan and Susan Wornick.

Maybe your dad can tape it for you (8:30pm on Channel 2). Filmmaker Michael Bavaro will discuss the film live in our studios during broadcast breaks. In the meantime, do you have a Basement story? WGBH is asking the public to share their memories of the Basement at for chance to win a $100 Filene’s Basement gift certificate, generously donated by the store. You also can watch a preview here

Best wishes,
Regina Daley

WGBH - Produced in Boston, shared with the world.