Charles Luckman Associates (CLA) took on design responsibilities for many of the key tenants at the Prudential Center, including the New England Merchants Bank, which occupied the entire southwest commercial pavilion as well as a floor in the tower. Luckman’s attention was divided and this did not sit well with Wes Toole, Prudential’s executive overseeing the Regional Home Office program. In October 1964, He wrote a biting letter to Charles Stanton, the head of CLA’s office in New York, complaining about Luckman’s behavior. He wanted to remind that firm that “Luckman is representing Prudential first, and any of the tenants secondly, and should be guided accordingly . . .” Prudential was not used to playing second fiddle. Luckman was quick to patch up his relationship with Toole, who carried a lot of influence.
On a recent sunny day during lunch time, the North terrace of the Prudential Center food court was full of “white collar” workers . . . though they all seemed to be wearing blue shirts. The facade of the tower in the background is the original. The enclosed food court – dressed up with some simple and colorful postmodern detailing – is part of more recent renovations.
Fred Smith was Prudential’s chief liaison in Boston, responsible for the corporation’s most important negotiations with politicians, business leaders, and planners. He was honored in 1961, when it looked like Prudential would finally start building the Prudential Center. This great cartoon by Stern captured the event and, in doing so, revealed many of the key players involved in the bringing the project to Boston. The Mayor, John Collins, hands Smith the city’s “Paul Revere Bowl” as the Governor, John Volpe, looks on, along with William F. Callahan, chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, and other key leaders from government, business, even the city’s powerful clergy. At the bottom we see an image of Westcott Toole, one of Prudential’s chief architects of the Regional Home Office program and a character who features prominently in Insuring the City.
I admit it: from time to time I will watch an old episode of the great American sitcom “Cheers” which takes place in a bar in Boston’s Back Bay. I am sometimes rewarded with an excellent “establishing shot” of Boston. Above I have posted a screen-grab of one of the best: looking West down Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay with a view of the city’s competing insurance towers, the Prudential and the John Hancock, circa 1984.
In 1964, architects from Charles Luckman Associates were considering site-planning schemes for the eastern side of the Prudential Center site. Prudential had signaled its intention to go forward with the development of the eastern half of the site, which would mainly feature apartment buildings. Five of them were planned and a series of models were made to experiment with the location of the fifth tower (shown on far right in image at the bottom). Ultimately, only three apartment towers were would be built. A second office tower took the place of two proposed apartments in the southeast portion of the site. Since the 1990s renovations, of course, many more residential units have been built at the Prudential Center and a new tower is currently planned.
Pru aficionados will recognize this sculpture. Made by sculptor Donald DeLue and called “Quest Eternal,” It was placed in the north plaza of the Prudential Center 1965 (after the official dedication) where it remains today–one of the few remnants of the original plaza design. The architects of the Pru, Charles Luckman Associates, had serious reservations about this piece. Looking at this photograph in October 28, 1965, from DeLue’s studio, architect Charles Stanton was sure that there would be “serious criticism in Boston” and that the architect would be blamed. He may have thought the theme too risqué. But Prudential executives were inclined toward inspiring, figural art pieces, which looked back to the art program at Rockefeller Center.
My piece for the Ideas Section of the Boston Globe was published on Sunday, May 27. They put together a fantastic “interactive graphic” for the online version that uses the same text. I took a snap of the print edition:
I am working on a short piece that revolves around this image — well, this is a detail of the photograph that focuses on the eastern edge of the Prudential Center, circa 1965, right around the time the complex was dedicated. That’s the War Memorial Auditorium and Sheraton-Boston Hotel in the foreground. You can clearly see the “Ring Road” that circumnavigated the site and the blandly landscaped North Plaza. The Mass Pike runs through the site (it is enveloped in the Pru’s parking garages) and you can see a black swatch at the top of this image that caps the urban highway.
John Hynes, mayor of Boston (left), and Carrol Shanks, president of Prudential, joined together in 1957 for Prudential’s announcement of its intention to construct the Prudential Center on the site of Boston’s Back Bay rail yard. Behind them is a large, color rendering of the ambitious proposal. The final version would look quite different and the site has since been dramatically altered with an aggressive building program.