The Charles River Speedway was redeveloped by the Architectural Heritage Foundation in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Historic Curatorship Program.
In the 1890s, the Commonwealth created the Charles River Reservation, transforming a polluted stretch of tidal mudflats into a beautiful riverside promenade, a mile-long harness racecourse, and two-mile long bicycle track. Administration buildings were built to support the Reservation in 1899, providing necessary space for offices, housing, storage, horse stables and a cow barn. Designed in the Shingle and Colonial Revival styles by renowned local architect William D. Austin, the complex looks more like the high-style seaside “cottages” of Newport than a municipal building. This was likely intentional: Austin’s thoughtful design projected dignity and permanence, while also implying that access to nature and recreation was not an upper-class privilege, but a public right.
The transition from horsepower to automobiles brought great change to the Speedway; in the 1920s, the open sheds and stables were enclosed, and the two-story stable building was converted into a police station and dormitory. In the 1940s, a large 9-bay garage was built to store automobiles and maintenance vehicles. A few years later, Soldier’s Field Road replaced the racetrack, bringing even more change to the needs of the complex. The transformation was complete: cars had fully replaced horses.
Over time, park management offices were relocated, tenants moved on, and the building fell into disrepair. As the neighborhood grew and changed, it appeared that The Speedway may be lost to time. But it wasn’t forgotten: DCR, residents and historic preservation groups called for the buildings to be saved and revitalized. Together, they sought a new purpose for the complex and worked to identify a solution. Learn more about the buildings and project at ahfboston.com.