Revere Beach is undergoing a major revitalization. Arrowstreet is currently working on several projects in the city of Revere, Massachusetts, including the master planning and design of Waterfront Square, a transit-oriented, mixed-use development on 8.8 acres of oceanfront land surrounding the Wonderland MBTA station. Several components of Waterfront Square have recently been completed, including the South Parking Garage and Intermodal Station, the Markey Memorial Bridge, and a broad civic plaza. We’re also currently working on the DCR Beach Support and Public Facility and on a multifamily housing development. Our planning and design for Waterfront Square will create new economic activity in the area with greater pedestrian connection, organized vehicular access, and an enhanced public beach front and open view corridors to the water.
Revere Beach has a rich and varied history, which we explored as part of our planning process to understand and learn from the past. Revere Beach – “America’s First Public Beach” – was designed by Charles Elliot and opened in 1896. Elliot trained under Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of Boston’s Emerald Necklace and dozens of other sites in Massachusetts. Revere Beach was created from previously private land to make a public recreation area where those from Boston could get away for a day at the beach.
People flocked to Revere Beach by ferry, bicycle, and the Narrow Gauge railroad (now the MBTA Blue Line). They came to relax on the beach; experience the food, entertainment, and amusement rides; and dance the night away in ballrooms such as The Beachview and The Wonderland Ballroom. The most famous ride was The Cyclone rollercoaster, which was the world’s fastest and longest at the time. Revere Beach was also home to Wonderland Park, the predecessor of today’s contained theme parks such as Disneyland. Wonderland Park was in operation until 1911, and later became Wonderland Dog Track.
The Great Depression forced many to abstain from the entertainments of Revere Beach, and thus began a change of the area. By the 1950s, a significant increase in the residential population of Revere marked a shift from pure tourism, and the area’s businesses and atmosphere changed in response. The beach became the back yard for many residents. Arrowstreet’s Pat Strangie remembers: “I spent a lot of time at the beach as a kid growing up, nobody had air-conditioning, (can you imagine that today?) so in the summer you would spend all day there until the sun went down and the air cooled off.It was a communal thing: you’d see your neighbors, friends, and relatives. Families packed chairs, coolers, and food, then picnicked in the sand or ate off the fast food stands. And of course, you rode the rides. The beach had a special feel to it as a ‘place’ – it had its own smell and visual look and feel. I’m not sure I can truly explain it except to say you could actually ‘taste’ the beach when you were there.”
The 1970s was marked by storms and blizzards, which caused damage and erosion. The Great Blizzard of 1978 was the largest in history to hit Revere. As you can see from the photos, it was quite daunting! By the end of the 1970s most of the attractions and rides had closed. The mid 1980s saw the close of the last of the ballrooms, the last remaining attractions along the beach. Today, the only remaining landmarks are food establishments (such as Kelly’s Roast Beef) and The Beachview Ballroom, which was converted into housing units.
The “Revere Beach Renaissance” beginning in the late 1990’s introduced many improvements to the beach and to Revere Beach Boulevard. With these infrastructure improvements and changes in the development process under the current and former city mayors, the beach is beginning a new chapter in its history – a chapter in which Arrowstreet is excited to take part.
To develop sustainable projects that can carry Revere Beach through to the next century, we need to create places that are not only economically and culturally sustainable but environmentally sustainable as well. Buildings built along coastal regions today must deal with complex environmental impacts; we are building smarter seaside developments so that we may enjoy the benefits of the beachfront for many years to come. Stay tuned for more on how we’re doing this through resilient design, smart growth, and green design!