Faded Out of Memory, But Not Existence

Disclaimer:

By no means am I, through the sharing of this work, condoning the actions described in the writing. Any action you take upon the information within this piece is strictly at your own risk.

Additionally, no destruction of property, nor vandalism of property, occurred throughout the events described in this piece. Any broken locks or openings in the fence occurred either prior to our arrival or due to negligence on the property owner. That being said, I am not condoning trespassing of any manner.


The sprinkling of rubble gently crunched underneath our light footsteps. Industrial lights sat on the concrete of each room, angled upwards at a 30° angle. Had anyone else been in the vicinity, they may have seen two shadows darting across the peeling paint and decaying beams. I paused at every door frame, where the previous door had been removed altogether, and peeked my head into the next room. Having made sure the coast was clear, I motioned for Jeffrey to follow along.

I had heard my friends tell tales of accidentally stumbling across sleeping security guards or construction workers and the consequences of their mistakes occupied my mind. Although their adventures had been in buildings still under construction, I nonetheless proceeded with caution.

We explored a few more rooms until we hit a wall of damp air and found ourselves in a “U” shaped opening. No lighting equipment was in sight. Only the fading light flowing in from the glass windows, at the opening of the “U,” yielded a faint reflection of still water on the first floor. The heavy summer thunderstorms from previous days must have flooded the site. We walked until we reached the bottom of the “U” shape, facing the broken windows on the opposite side. Silhouettes of two telescopic boom lifts sat in the water, surrounded by piles of chaotically placed mounds. Yellow metallic railings had temporarily been put in place all along the balcony, to prevent any worker, or visitor in our case, from blindly stumbling off and into the floor below. Turning on his phone flashlight, Jeffrey lit the scene.

Carnage lay below us.

Dented, metallic vents were haphazardly strewn around the piles of rubble. Rotting, yellow insulation poked out from piles of splintered wood and concrete fragments. All the debris sat in the pool of water, forming a strong musty odor. I stood silently, attempting to picture a hectic newsroom like those depicted in movies. The building must have seen such glorious days, buzzing with life and activity. In my mind, I saw journalists calling their sources and others feverishly scribbling down the latest stories. Editors were either pouring over drafts or discussing them with the writer behind closed doors. The scene in front of me, however, was devoid of life. The setting felt as if we had time traveled to some post-apocalyptic scenario of the future.

“Let’s get going,” Jeffrey said, “light’s fading quickly outside.”

Interior of The Boston Globe's Dorchester Headquarters. August 2018.

Interior of The Boston Globe's Dorchester Headquarters. August 2018.

Jeffrey had texted me the day prior to see if I wanted to check out the demolition site of The Boston Globe Headquarters, located in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, after work. A month prior, The Globe had announced the sale of the property after having moved into their new headquarters in Downtown. Ever since we met in college, the two of us frequented these hidden pockets of abandonment, ranging from construction sites to rooftops. Jeffrey typically did most of the location scouting near Boston, seeing that he lived in the city. As photographers, we often saw our friends and other creatives posting content on their wild excursions, an activity known as urban exploring. There certainly was a trend, among people our age, to trespass into worlds that no one else ever got to see.

Across the vast array of urban exploration photographs that I saw, most weren’t that impressive from an artistic perspective. Yet, I found myself drawn to those photographs. They yielded glimpses into worlds that I could never have dreamt up. Scenes that, despite bordering the likes of some dystopian or sci-fi movie, actually existed out there in the world. More than anything, however, was the effort behind the shot. What made people, like myself, gravitate towards these photographs was a sense of uniqueness. Through a combination of fearlessness and stealth, these photographers had been able to capture shots that no one else had before.

“Here it is,” Jeffrey announced. We had finally found rooftop access and when we poked our heads over the roof, we saw the famous logo hanging on one of the building’s many irregularly placed facades. Surrounded by clean air again, we both pulled down our face masks, which were starting to become discomforting and itchy. Worrying about her kid frolicking around some demolition site, my mother had forced me to bring them to protect our lungs from any particulates in the air.

Navigating the sporadic rise and fall of the roof’s structure, we climbed several more ladders until we were underneath the logo, which can be seen by any traveler on the I-93. I vividly remembered seeing those legendary three words as I traveled up the highway as a child. Now, however, even the lettering was in a state of disrepair with the “G” smashed, exposing its hollow interior.

Dorchester, MA

Logo on The Boston Globe’s Dorchester Headquarters. August 2018.

The bright yellow lights could be seen coasting along the highway, contrasting strongly against the curtain of the blue hour. We had chosen to come close to dark to avoid any passerbys seeing our figures hopping around the landmark. We spent the next twenty minutes taking pictures until it was simply too dark to do so. As we navigated our way back to the car, which awaited us a little ways beyond the opening in the fence, Jeffrey asked, “Watchu doing after?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “Why, do you wanna do something else?”

“Yea, wanna check out this abandoned theatre? I just found it the other day.”

Theatre? I thought to myself, as I nodded my head to Jeffrey. I had seen my other friends take pictures of abandoned theatres and lecture halls before, and the rows and rows of disintegrating seats had always been an oddly aesthetic look. My previous research had shown that most accessible abandoned places were often in the suburbs. I pictured some secluded building, on the verge of falling apart with wooden boards shuttering its windows, nestled in the thickets of suburban Massachusetts. My imagination swung to having to hop a fence, use a crowbar to pry open the front door, and hearing bats screech throughout the hallways. My line of thought was suddenly disrupted when Jeffrey asked, “So, what’d you think? Of The Globe, I mean.”

“Dude, so cool. Wicked happy with how the shot of you came out, it looks so dope.”

“Mhmm. Mhmm.”

More of an outdoor and adventure photographer, I never thought I would enjoy taking pictures of such desolate places. More often than not, the images simply serve for memory purposes. The joy I derive from these experiences typically comes from the thrill of sneaking into places and having a cool story to share with my friends later. This time, however, was the first time that I felt a connection to the place I was photographing.

“Before today, we’ve never gone anywhere that I’ve actually recognized or been to,” I announced in my realization. “Grew up seeing that logo and never did I think I would end up standing right next to it. Kind of weird to think that this might be the last time that logo will be photographed from there.”

“It is kind of weird. Taking pictures today was like we were cutting out a snippet of our childhoods and taking it with us into the future.”

A few moments of silence passed before I responded, “A little sad to think that pieces of our childhood can just disappear from the world like that. Moving to a Downtown office sounds nice and all, but I don’t think they necessarily wanted to move.. more like, had to in order to downsize because of declining print revenue.”

“Boston’s changing, man. Just how life goes,” Jeffrey replied, stoically. Being a Boston native, Jeffrey certainly would know best.

As we drove, we continued talking about the changing times, gentrification of the city, and what might fill that newly formed void in Dorchester. We talked about the encroachment of developers on Chinatown’s row houses, threatening the community and potentially leading to the displacement of residents. The seemingly constant springing of new high-rise developments across the city’s neighborhoods. How the current Boston had already changed so much from the Boston that Jeffrey grew up with. Next thing I knew, we were parking on Boylston along the Common.

“We’re.. here?” I asked, with a quizzical expression across my face.

Jeffrey pointed at the familiar red Steinway sign, with a large treble clef next to it.

“The piano store? You’re telling me,” I began.

Jeffrey looked at me.

“That there’s a theatre.”

“Mhmm.”

“Abandoned.”

“Mmhm.”

“And it’s in some bougie piano store that sits along the Boston Common?”

“C’mon bro, let’s go,” he said, as he got out of the car. “I only checked to see if it was locked last time, so I haven’t seen for myself what this place looks like.”

We made our way to the store, which, upon closer inspection, was actually named M. Steinert & Sons. Much to my surprise, we went in right through the front door with our large camera backpacks with tripods sticking out the sides of each. Taking care not to glance up at any point, in case there were security cameras.

“It’s underneath us,” Jeffrey whispered, so as to not garner any unwanted attention. It was long after store hours, but we couldn’t be too sure of who might be around.

Underneath? I couldn’t quite imagine anything that impressive underneath some piano store. Maybe a small basement with a few folding chairs. The stairs were right by the entrance and were roped off at the top. We ducked under the rope and descended one flight, where closed double doors awaited us. A green, combination dial Master Lock dangled backwards around the handle, clearly not locked. I reached out to take it off the door, only to see that it was never unlocked, but rather snapped or cut off. I looked at Jeffrey.

“It was already like that when I first visited.”

Without further ado, I lifted the lock off and slowly opened the door, avoiding as much creaking as possible. I handed the lock to Jeffrey, who then put it on the floor so as to remember to put it back when we left. We put back on our face masks and closed the door behind us. I gingerly stepped my way down the wooden steps, with Jeffrey behind me, taking care to avoid any spots that had creaked from my steps. A faint glow, tungsten but with a tint of coral, emitted down the stairwell. Eventually, after a surprising amount of steps, we reached a part where the stairs parted downwards to the left and right, but upwards in the center. Thinking upstairs was probably just the control room for the lights and such, we hooked a left towards the light. As we walked through the door frame, the pitch darkness of the stairwell was now replaced by the bright, tungsten lanterns hung around the walls of the room.

The scene was like nothing I could have possibly imagined.

The light orange walls were adorned with beautiful arches, towering Greek or Roman-inspired pillars, fluted pilasters of the same style, and a small, oval stage at the back center. My feet fell one in front of the other, as I felt myself drawn towards the center, like a moth to a light. The paint, both the orange of the walls and the sandy tan of the pillars, had chipped rather drastically. Circular impressions in the ceiling may have once held brilliant chandeliers in place. The floor was in complete disarray, littered with plaster that had fallen off the ceiling. Holes, in sets of three, were punched in the wooden floorboards and were spaced quite evenly. Some floorboards were propping up at an angle. Others were ripped from the floor altogether. As my eyes wandered towards the stage, I noticed portions of the wall around the stage missing, as if someone had gone swinging with a sledgehammer.

While I stood on the stage, I began to realize something was amiss. The platform was far too small, offering enough space for maybe one Smart car. Not a chance that some group performs Hamlet on this stage. I looked back and noticed that the second floor was not a control room, like I had initially thought, but in fact a mezzanine.

This is no theatre.. I thought to myself. I glanced up. Above the arches were small rectangles with words inscribed in them. I squinted my eyes to see the fading text better. Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Beethoven, Haydn.. this.. this is a music hall! Suddenly, it all clicked. I looked back down at the stage I was standing on. Yep, just right for maybe one piano. I looked back at the holes in the floor. One seat’s width apart. I was brimming with excitement. The explorer in me was jumping up and down, thinking that we were dusting off a piece of history here. The musician in me, having had performed in Symphony Hall just down the street, felt like it received a new breath of life and could relive old memories.

Steinert Hall. August 2018.
Boston, MA

Steinert Hall. August 2018.

“Dude! I think this is a concert hall. They probably held piano concerts here, and the holes around your feet are probably for rows of seats,” I announced.

Being that this was Jeffrey’s first time in the room as well, he marveled at the scenery with me. Our cameras were forgotten, lenses pointed down and held to our side as our heads looked up in amazement.

With my head still up in the clouds, I slowly waltzed around the room. To think that I’ve walked underneath that Steinway sign countless times and never knew of the hidden world benea― when suddenly, the floorboard underneath me swung down a few inches, causing the other end to rise the same distance. I froze. Slowly lifting my right foot off the end, the loose floorboard moved back in place. The reality of the situation sank back in: this place was rotting away.

“Careful, man. My friend got sent to the ER the other month doing this shit and stepped on a rusty nail that was protruding up. Went clean through his foot,” I cautioned Jeffrey.

We gathered on the stage again, looking at the room. I started Googling, “abandoned music hall boston” and the first thing that popped up said, “Steinert Hall.” Steinert? The family owns this thing? Jeffrey and I poured through articles, reading about this mysterious place. We learned that this subterranean world, hidden four stories below Boylston, was once a holy site for musicians, attracting elite talent from across the world. The news baffled me. Why would they have made this if Boston had Symphony Hall? As we read more, we found out that this was actually constructed four years before Symphony Hall had been built. Moreover, the primary reason for its construction was never actually for performances, but more as a means to showcase pianos. By luring people to this concert hall, the owner could make sure that attendees would invariably wander into the store. After listening to an exquisite performance by some famous pianist, those in the audience may be so inclined as to purchase a Steinway themselves.

Despite its small size, the venue surprisingly sat up to 650 people and was packed on a regular basis. Sadly, due to implementation of stricter fire codes, M. Steinert & Sons eventually closed the doors to Steinert Hall, which has been closed for almost 80 years. The necessary renovations to make the venue up to code would have cost the company north of $6 million. For comparison, Symphony Hall had cost less than $1 million to construct. The reason driving the high price tag primarily dealt with the high cost of building additional exits to a venue that lied four stories below ground. But why was this place so deep in the ground? Seems a bit overkill, I thought. Turns out, the only way to block the noise from Boylston was to dig this deep. Acoustics had clearly been taken into top consideration, with even the corners of the venue being rounded, making the space seem more like an oval track.

It was almost 9:00 p.m. and I notioned to Jeffrey that I had to start heading out to catch the next train home at 9:25 p.m. from Back Bay Station. We packed up our gear and started heading back up the stairs. Jeffrey closed the double doors gently behind us and placed the broken lock back where it sat, while I headed up the stairs first. Just as I rounded the corner at the top of the stairwell, another man rounded the corner coming down from the floor above us.

I stood dead in my spot. He had over-the-ear headphones on and was clearly bumping to his tunes. He wasn’t wearing anything that would suggest he was a security guard, but any form of human contact while trespassing was a bad encounter in my book. I held my breath, hoping he wouldn’t see me standing square in the middle of the hallway. Alas, he did, and the sight of me seemed to scare him more than it had scared me to see him.

“WHOA. Where did you c―” he started, when Jeffrey bursted up the stairs and into the hallway.

The man’s eyes popped open, “Did you two just come from down stairs?” He pulled his headphones down to around his neck, “No one’s supposed to go down there.”

I had no words. The exit was right there, next to the man. I have a train to catch, god damn it! “We, uh.. we―” I stuttered.

“Took a wrong turn, our B,” Jeffrey interjected. “We were trying to find my friend’s apartment.

I nodded my head in agreement.

Seemingly also at a loss for words, the man stared at us for several seconds before putting his headphones back on and saying, “Just get out of here. You’re lucky you caught me because I’m just about to close the building for the night.”

We exited back onto the surface of Boston and started walking towards the car, from which Jeffrey would drop me off at the station.

“Dang man, you were so smooth,” I said. “I had no idea what to say to the guy.”

Jeffrey chuckled, “You just gotta think quick on your feet, bro. The guy looked like he wanted to be out of there, probably just works the closing shift or something.”

After we got back in the car, we both thought about what we had just discovered, or as I should say, re-discovered. Even more exhilarating than the thrill from sneaking into these places that are off limits was actually uncovering a story behind the place. I felt something along the lines of a modern-day explorer and could still feel the lingering effects of dopamine.

“Can’t believe this place used to be popping on the regular,” I remarked.

“Mhmm. And now it’s faded so far out of memory that no one even knows of its existence.”

I looked at Jeffrey. While my mind recalled our conversation from earlier,  I couldn’t help but ponder at just what of our childhood and current world will still be remembered decades from now, if those things still exist, that is. No one’s going to remember or even know that one used to be able to see The Boston Globe’s glimmering logo while heading north on 93. Or of the buildings and businesses that once occupied the plots of high-rises. Or the communities and people who once called a neighborhood home, before gentrification displaced them. How could anyone remember, if the world so easily forgot such a beautiful concert hall that once hosted the world’s best musicians and the city’s elite in its audience.

Sigh. That’s just how life goes, as Jeffrey so poignantly put it.

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