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Historic Boston Infrastructure Recast as Housing, Museum

Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed contributor Chris Berger explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.

Contemporary public works facilities usually possess all the pizzazz of a South Florida subdivision. But the Waterworks at Chestnut Hill, a historic water treatment plant in Boston's Brighton neighborhood, shows this wasn't always the case. After the Civil War, Boston's infrastructure wasn't prepped for all the European immigrants who poured through the port. So the Metropolitan Water Board amassed land in Boston's western reaches to dig a new source: the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. The complex that sprang up along the south bank was an architectural, engineering, landscaping, and scientific marvel.

? H.H. Richardson was the Frank Gehry of Victorian era American architecture. He died in 1884, so city architect Arthur Vinal did the next best thing and ripped off Richardson with his High Service Pumping Station, opened in 1888. The sophisticated stone structure hid an intricate tangle of machinery that pumped millions of gallons of water a day from the reservoir to the Boston metro area.

? A decade later, architects Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, former Richardson assistants, designed the Low Service Pumping Station in the Beaux Arts style. A carriage path encircled the 110-acre water body, and a lush park beckoned at the property's east end.

? Two dressed up gate houses hid the apparatus that sucked water from the reservoir. From 1889 to 1897, George C. Whipple, who pioneered the scientific study of drinking water, held court in the nation's first municipal aquatic testing lab. The Chestnut Hill Reservoir was a major water supplier until the 1940s; it remained on line until 1976. (The reservoir is now a backup source that came in handy during the 2010 water main break.)

? Over the next three decades, the complex sat vacant—a hangout for bums and raccoons. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch found the run down site fitting with their image and filmed the video for their 1992 song "You Gotta Believe" in the High Service Pumping Station. Meanwhile, preservationists urged leaders to revive the unmaintained monstrosities. After years of pressure, officials finally caved in 1999 and agreed to hand the old pumping stations to a preservation-minded developer.

? Diamond/Sinacori and EA Fish Associates won the bid to transform the buildings into the Waterworks at Chestnut Hill. The developers committed most of the High Service Station for the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum (above), which opened in 2011. Operated by a nonprofit, the museum includes the original steam engines, designated a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

? Gund Partnership fit four luxury condos in the remainder of the Museum Building. One of those homes fills the 112-foot tower and boasts city views. The architectural firm also imbedded 20 residences in the Beaux Arts style Low Service Station, renamed the Whitehall, and seven homes in the ca. 1890 garage, known as Waterford (above), which is located between the two former pump buildings. Nearby, the new Watermark Building holds 81 homes.

? A 6,000-square-foot residence in the Museum Building is on the market for $2.15M and a 5,200-square-foot unit for $2.1M. In Whitehall, a 2,300-sqaure-foot penthouse is on the market for $1.7M. And a 700-square-foot unit is available in the former garage for $439K. Water is included.

· Waterworks [official site]
· Gund Partnership [official site]
· Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch - You Gotta Believe [YouTube]