Mechanics Hall, Boston

The Mechanics Hall building on Huntington Avenue in Boston, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The site in 2015:

Mechanics Hall was a convention center and civic arena located in Boston’s Back Bay, in a triangular-shaped lot between Huntington Avenue to the south, the Boston & Albany rail yard to the north, and West Newton Street to the west.  It was completed in 1881, and was designed by William Gibbons Preston, whose other works in Boston included the Rogers Building on the original MIT campus, and the old Museum of Natural History building.

The building was owned by the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, and included a large auditorium that was used for various conventions, shows, track meets, wrestling matches, and other events.  It was even briefly home to Boston’s first professional basketball team: the 1925-1926 Boston Whirlwinds of the American Basketball League, who began their only season in the Matthews Arena before moving their home games here and then later to a Knights of Columbus Hall in Somerville. The team ended up disbanding partway through the season, after playing just 16 games.

The first photo shows the trolley line running down the median of Huntington Avenue.  This section of the trolley was put underground in 1941, and Mechanics station was built here to serve the building.  However, Mechanics Hall was becoming obsolete, and by the 1950s the neighboring rail yard was being eyed for redevelopment as the Prudential Center.  As part of the project, Mechanics Hall was demolished in 1959, and today the skyscraper at 111 Huntington Avenue occupies part of the former building’s location, as seen to the right in the 2015 photo.

18 thoughts on “Mechanics Hall, Boston”

  1. This is where jazz musician/conductor/composer Lt. James Reese Europe was killed in May 1919. He lead the ‘Hellfighters’ band of jazz musicians in the First World War.

    • I’ve lived in Boston for 40 years and had never heard of Lt. James Reese Europe. I just looked him up and discovered what a great man he was! So tragic how he lost his life. RIP, Lt. Europe.

  2. My mother was born in 1913. She lived in Mechanic’s Hall (Building) during her childhood with her family in an apartment upstairs from the Great Hall. Her father, my grandfather, was the caretaker of Mechanic’s Hall during that time in the early 1900’s. My mother often spoke of the many shows and events that took place there.

  3. As a boy during the 1950’s my father took me to a boat or sportsman show there I can’t remember what it was called. What I do remember was watching Ted Williams put on a fly casting exhibition, as a young boy I was impressed. A number of years later I went to college down the road at Northeastern and the Mechanics Hall was just a memory.

    • Jim,
      Fond memories the show was called “The Sportsman Show “ and do you remember the lumberjack’s put on a log rolling contest in the temporary pool?
      My grandfather raised Irish Terriers and at age 4&5 would take me to the Boston AKC dog show usually by the “T” and in a NorEaster..

  4. Much like Mr.Spaulding my dad took me to see Ted Williams at the Mechanics Hall in the mid fifties. Baseball in general and Teddy Ballgame in particular were, aside from my dog Bonnie, my central focus in life. As it turns out fly fishing would never be. The subtlety of that particular art was lost on me and I’m sure I made that obvious.
    Sorry dad

    • YES! Frank, Kevin, Jim–How many of us went to the Sportmen’s and Boat Show at Mechanics Hall with our dads and saw Ted Williams. I also remember the lumberjack log-rolling contest plain as day.
      That great building was demo’d without a peep.
      Al Raine

  5. Old Mechanics Hall gets a mention in Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers’ track “The Fenway” from the 1985 album Rockin’ And Romance:
    “Now I was born by the Fenway,
    In Beth Israel Hospital.
    Could that help to explain why I love the Fenway so well.
    Nowhere do I feel more at home, it seems,
    Then on the Fenway, where I dreamed my dreams.
    Well I was small, they took us to old Mechanics Hall.
    We got to see the Mighty Ted Williams,
    Put one over the right field wall.”

  6. I loved “The Building” as we called it. My father Managed it for thirty years or more until she met the wrecking ball. Dad took me to meet Ted Williams in the press room and I have four pictures on my wall here in Maine, taken from age 2 to age 16- What fun! My sister and I used to roller skate through Exhibition Hall and brought home four chickens from The Poultry Show, now deceased, both chickens and show.

  7. I was a senior at Tufts College and an intern at Mechanics Hall with the Floyd Bell Public Relations Agency in 1953. When the Sportsman show featured the young Mickey Mantel,I was assigned to be his companion when he was not in the spotlight. He was very, very shy and did a lot of blushing. The agency sent out for lobsters– his first, my favorite. A memorable day. Now at the dog show, I was photographed with two black Labradors. But ,at the Sportsman show —nothing , Not even the lobster.

    • Janet and others!,
      Regrettably sold an autographed baseball in ‘75 from 2-‘51or ‘53 Sportsman’s Show when I attended with my Dad. Ready? Signatures: Teddy Ballgame, Mickey Mantle, Florence Chadwick, Max Patkin, and Jim Thorpe! Ted and Jim, in his buckskin fringe jacket, did indeed give fly casting exhibition in swim tank. Ted on Korean leave?
      Remember the log rollers, too. Leave it up to my Dad, Eddie Reilly from Boston Gas Co., to harvest the autographs. No pun intended, one of my many Major League life mistakes selling the ball! Dave Reilly Middletown, RI (Allston and English High ‘62).

    • Hello! I have a photo from the 1952 Sportsmen show of Mickey Mantle! Would you mind taking a look at it and seeing if you recognize Mantle himself? It’d be great if I could conclusively say it’s from that show

    • I saw Mantle at the Sportsmen’s Show. Dad said the only thing he remembers him saying was “I just want to go back to Oklahoma.” That’s in line with your comment about how shy he was.

  8. Does anyone remember the Boston Flower Shows being at Mechanics Hall? My uncle would take us every year in celebration of my cousin’s March 18 birthday (my brother and me). We would take the train from New Bedford. What fun! I have fleeting memories of the exhibitions.

    • I remember the Flower Shows. Since the building was torn down, there has not been a flower show in Boston even close to the ones in Mechanics Building.


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