Fifty-nine years of stories
The Globe says goodbye to its Dorchester home
The first time Ellen Clegg entered the lobby of 135 Morrissey Blvd., her response was instantaneous. “This is a factory,” she thought.
That was March 20, 1978. Clegg, now the Globe’s editorial page editor, still feels that way. “You walk in, especially if you come in the front,” she says, “and it smells of paper and ink.”
Slightly sweetish, the smell is a kind of industrial perfume: eau de deadline.
The fragrance still scents the building, but the paper and ink are going. The Globe expects to complete the transfer of printing operations to its Taunton facility this month. And this week the editorial and business departments moved downtown, to Exchange Place, in the Financial District.
After 59 years, the Globe is leaving Dorchester and Morrissey Boulevard.
The print age was about space, which the building had in abundance, more than 800,000 square feet. A digital age emphasizes time and connectivity — and connectivity, the human kind, downtown has in abundance.
The new offices are less than a quarter mile from the Globe’s original location, on Devonshire and Washington streets. So there’s a temptation to say the paper has come full circle. Except that circles don’t have twists and angles. The life of the building at 135 Morrissey Blvd. was full of them.
For much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the center of journalism in Boston was Newspaper Row, just north of what is now Downtown Crossing. The Globe had been there since its founding, in 1872.
In many ways, the location could hardly have been better: near the Boston Stock Exchange, major department stores (big advertisers), the Theatre District, the State House, Old City Hall. James Michael Curley would stroll over on Saturday afternoons from the mayor’s office to chat up various Taylors and maybe learn what was going to be in the Sunday paper.
The Taylor family owned the Globe until its 1993 purchase by The New York Times Co. It’s currently owned by John Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox.
With afternoon as well as morning editions, newspapers were knit into the daily fabric of urban life. John S. Driscoll, the Globe’s editor from 1986 to ’93, started at the paper in 1953. “It was really quite wonderful,” he recalls, “to see the afternoon paper come out and have people lined up on Washington Street waiting for this guy from the mail room to write out the headlines on sheets from the pressroom.”
In at least one important way, the location could hardly have been worse. “Newspaper Row was a constant traffic jam for a.m. and p.m. papers,” says Martin F. Nolan, a member of the team that won the Globe’s first Pulitzer Prize, in 1966.
“In a rapidly suburbanizing Greater Boston, home delivery was more important than the hawkers at Park Street Under,” says Nolan, later Washington bureau chief and editorial page editor. “Moving to Dorchester, a stroke of genius by publisher Davis Taylor, saved the Globe.”
The Morrissey Boulevard site was chosen in 1953. Seventeen parcels making up 11 acres of largely reclaimed land were assembled over the course of the next four years. The average cost was 50 cents a square foot. Thanks to later purchases, the site now consists of 16.5 acres.
The new building almost didn’t happen. The eventual total cost was $14 million ($119.3 million in 2017 dollars), and financing had posed a problem. The Globe’s chief competitor, the Herald-Traveler Corp., publisher of The Boston Herald and Traveler, had leaned on local banks not to make construction loans. The Taylors had to turn to an insurance company, John Hancock.
Another complication presented itself. Then as now, Boston College High School sits on the other side of Morrissey Boulevard. Might then-Archbishop Richard J. Cushing object to a new neighbor? Cushing had just one concern: that the building’s height not exceed that of the cross atop the school. The Taylors happily complied.
“I flunked Greek composition at BC High because I spent too much time daydreaming and watching the Globe building rise on the shores of Patten’s Cove,” Nolan says. “That would be a nifty place to work, I thought.”
The first move
Shortly after midnight on May 11, 1958, the back wall on Devonshire Street was removed. Twenty-five-ton cranes with 120-foot booms lifted the presses and swung them out on to flatbed trucks to be taken to Morrissey Boulevard. “Everything, right down to the wastebaskets, had a number on it,” Driscoll remembers. “They put out the paper the next day without the reader knowing the difference.”
Young Marty Nolan was right. Compared to the Newspaper Row building — the Globe was the last paper to leave — 135 Morrissey was a nifty place to work. “I feel like a bum who has come into money,” one reporter declared.
Unlike the old building, it had air conditioning. Newsprint could be stored on the premises, rather than in Charlestown and on Long Wharf. The new building’s pneumatic tubes, which delivered copy from the newsroom to the composing room, were actually straight; some of the ones on Newspaper Row had had to turn corners to fit the odd space configurations. The clanging had been hellacious. Worse, copy would get stuck.
The new building was an even niftier place for delivery trucks. There were loading docks, ample parking, and easy access to the expressway. The building was a state-of-the-art newspaper plant for 1958, right down to having its own railroad siding. The tracks are still there, two sets of them, in the back of the building. They haven’t been used in decades, newsprint now arriving by tractor trailer, not freight car.
Niftiness has its limits. Newspaper buildings tend not to be architecturally notable. There have been exceptions: Raymond Hood’s Tribune Tower, in Chicago, and Daily News building, in New York; Gordon Kauffmann’s Los Angeles Times building.
The Globe does not make the list. Truth be told, it doesn’t look all that different from BC High. The very ’50s architectural style might be described as Cookie-Cutter Functional. The mid-’80s addition on the north side of the building is comparably of its time, too: Office Park Luxe.
The three-story facade is red Roman brick, with gray limestone and stainless steel trim. The architect, Henri D. A. Ganteaume, had one real inspiration. He put multistory, plate-glass windows in front of the 37 original presses, leaving them visible to passersby. Sight, as well as smell, reveals the building’s manufacturing DNA. Seen from outside, the presses look especially impressive lit up at night.
About a dozen years ago, Meredith Goldstein’s grandmother came to visit the Globe. “She was reassured,” says Goldstein, who writes the paper’s Love Letters column. “ ‘This building is so big and sturdy. This place won’t go out of business.’ ” Presumably, that was just the reaction the Taylors had wanted.
The new building took some getting used to. “It felt very cold and austere,” Driscoll says. “It didn’t really feel like a newsroom. It felt like an insurance company. But little by little, it warmed up.”
There was the heliport, for example. How many insurance companies have one of those? Steve Bailey was business editor and a business columnist during his 30 years at the Globe. He remembers Ken Olsen, the head of Digital Equipment Corp., arriving by chopper for a lunch with editors and the publisher. “Rather than going to see the bosses right away, all Olsen wanted to do was to go downstairs and see his minicomputers running the place.”
No helicopters have landed in a long time. Still, go down a dark and rarely visited corridor on the third floor — Wesley Morris, who’s not exaggerating, likens its grimness to “the parking lot in thrillers and horror movies but lit worse” — and you come to a locked door with a sign that says “Heliport” and shows the silhouette of what looks to be a Bell 222.
Morris, now a New York Times culture critic, was a Globe movie reviewer for 11 years, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 2013. He prefers to dwell on a happier aviation aspect of the building. A Logan flight path goes over Dorchester Bay. The cafeteria, on the third floor, had a terrace with a fine view. “You can see the planes come in like some kid threw them from a window,” Morris says.
For many years, a large blue fish (a marlin?) hung on a wall at the top of the lobby escalators. Michael Larkin, a former Globe deputy managing editor, inquired once as to its origins. An employee, returning from a Florida vacation, presented it to the Taylors. “I asked about it,” Larkin explains, “because, really, what was it doing there all those years?”
During the two decades that the Times Co. owned the Globe, people outside the building would ask how much things had changed with the New Yorkers in charge.
There were publishers not named Taylor.
Marty Baron became editor.
The food in the cafeteria got a little better.
The fish disappeared.
Recent additions to the building’s idiosyncrasies included an online radio station, RadioBDC (B: Boston, D: dot, C: com), established in 2012; and a fake elevator, near the editorial design department. A 2014 ABC Family drama, “Chasing Life,” did some filming at the Globe. The lobby elevator being deemed unsuitable, a prop elevator was built. No one ever bothered to dismantle it. Much nicer than the real one, it was nearly as slow.
No elevators were built for “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning 2015 film about the Globe Spotlight team investigation of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Maybe that’s because the Globe scenes were mostly filmed in Toronto.
What was where
The building has been here for more than 21,500 days and nights. The newsroom witnessed some that were singular and indelible: the night Richard Nixon resigned, many days and nights during court-ordered desegregation in the mid-’70s, Sept. 11, the day Cardinal Bernard Law resigned, the week of the Marathon bombings.
What’s most surprising, perhaps, was the sense of continuity. Despite the fact that “Spotlight” is set in 2001-’02, the 2017 newsroom looked just the way it does in the movie. Maybe it’s something about newsrooms: Substitute PCs for typewriters, and the newsroom looked like The Washington Post’s in “All the President’s Men,” set in 1972: glassed-in offices ringing a fluorescent-lit open space full of devoutly messy desks. Every few months, Thomas Winship, the Globe’s editor from 1965-’84, would send out uncharacteristically stern memos about clearing off desks. Good luck with that!
The layout wasn’t completely open. Waist-high dividers clumped together small groups of desks. “Dilbert walls,” longtime Globe sports columnist Leigh Montville calls them, “not that they necessarily did much good.” That was one feature that did feel like an insurance company.
The newsroom was home to the Metro and Business staff, to Spotlight, informational graphics, the copy desk, and two websites: Bostonglobe.com and Boston.com. Senior editors sat in the glassed-in offices.
Nearby were other, similarly arranged departments — Sports, Living/Arts, Ideas, the editorial page, editorial design, the Sunday magazine. Across from Sports, Photo had its own warren. In pre-digital days, it once had as many as a dozen darkrooms.
The library was on the far edge of editorial, just before you got to the production side. The library’s holdings, which are going to Northeastern University as part of the move, include approximately 900,000 photographs and 5,000 drawers of clippings. The latter date to the 19th century. The clipping of Globe stories ended in the late ’70s, when computers and cold type arrived.
The library moved into the space where the Linotype machines had been. Linotype machines, which look like typewriters suffering from both delusions of grandeur and an identity crisis, used melted lead to set lines of type (hence, hot type). The one surviving Linotype machine has gone to Exchange Place. The last great auk gets to roost in a glass-and-steel aviary.
The mezzanine and the mice
“The dominant characteristic of the building is its mazelike quality,” says Jan Freeman, who served as an editor in several departments during the ’80s and ’90s, later writing the language column The Word for the Focus and Ideas sections.
“Even if you’d worked there for years, a department could move and be hard to find for weeks. The mezzanine, where I worked my first two years, is probably terra incognita for dozens of past and current employees.”
The mezzanine is a nondescript, low-ceilinged space between the first and second floors. For many years, Photo took up much of it. The few people who would go there recently were likely headed to the Globe fitness center. Gold’s Gym it wasn’t, but for $1.50 a week, what do you expect? Just around the corner is a conference-room-sized space. Its cramped quarters played host to the most-storied episode in Globe history and a close runner-up.
That room was home to the Spotlight team throughout its reporting of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and it was where a set of the Pentagon Papers, the secret Defense Department history of the Vietnam War leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, was brought when the Globe became the third newspaper to publish excerpts, after The New York Times and Washington Post, in June 1971. One Globe editor (Winship), two future Globe editors (Driscoll and Matthew V. Storin), one publisher (Davis Taylor), one Washington bureau chief (Nolan), and eight others had five hours to find sections to excerpt. Winship said publishing the Papers was his proudest moment as editor.
Between the Papers and Spotlight, the same space was home to editorial design, the magazine, and Globe Santa. After Spotlight returned to the newsroom, Boston.com was there. Then it became home to the people who put together the HUBweek festival.
Inside, the building was nothing if not modular.
Humans shared the building with other species. “Rodents were plentiful enough that some had seniority,” deadpans John Powers. Powers, best known as the Globe’s Olympics correspondent, was part of the team that won a 1983 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.
Rodents were no joke to Gregory L. Moore. Moore, who retired last year as editor of The Denver Post, served in various Globe editing jobs from 1986-2002, including managing editor. He hasn’t forgotten an early confrontation with a newsroom mouse. “I discovered I had enough hops to leap up on the wooden coffee table in my office,” says Moore, who stands 6 feet 3 inches and then weighed more than 210 pounds. “No more eating at my desk!”
Drinking at your desk was even less advisable. “The Taylors didn’t really condone liquor,” Driscoll says. Newspapers being newspapers, that didn’t mean the building has ever been dry. “The composing room had anything you’d want,” Clegg says, “all served in Styrofoam cups.”
Imbibing in editorial had to be more circumspect. A particular hiding place was favored. Smoking being common in the building well into the ’70s, restrooms had ashtrays. They were tall and cylindrical, with a removable lid. “If you lifted the top,” Driscoll says, “90 percent of the time you’d find a bottle in there.”
A place apart
The most distinctive thing about 135 Morrissey Blvd. is also the worst: its physical isolation. The building as psychic space is impossible to understand without an awareness of its being bounded by eight lanes of Morrissey Boulevard in front and the expressway in back. More than just out of the way, the building is cut off, especially when traffic is bad, which it generally is.
After San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Boston is the most compact major city in America. The Globe’s being distant in a city where everything seems so close made the isolation feel that much more pronounced. It increased the building’s gravitational pull. Overcoming the G force could take an effort. A Globe Magazine editor used to call off-premises events “out-of-building experiences.”
Isolation had at least one happy consequence. Winship delighted in the fact that his friend Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of The Washington Post, called the Globe “the love boat.” Rather than newsroom harmony, the nickname described the tendency of Globe staffers to marry each other. Winship’s outpacing other editors in hiring female reporters and editors must be considered a factor, too.
With the Blizzard of ’78, isolation met meteorology. For three days, the building really was cut off. After frantic efforts to report and edit the next day’s paper, Steve Bailey recalls a cheer going up when the presses started to run — then they shut down. The trucks couldn’t get out.
Neither could people in the building. They slept on desks and chairs and cafeteria tables. Carl Younger, who worked in the library, was among those marooned. Once roads were somewhat clear, the Globe rented rooms in a nearby motel so staffers could wash up and sleep in a bed. After a night there, Younger decided to walk home. His girlfriend’s house being closer, he went there instead. “That resulted in us living together and, in 1980, getting married,” he says. The love boat sailed beyond the building.
Recognizing the building’s isolation, the Taylors sought to provide some of the amenities a neighborhood does. Until a few years ago, the cafeteria stayed open around the clock. “It was the one place you could find a Boston cop at 3 a.m. on a Sunday in Dorchester,” says Bailey, “because it was the only place in the neighborhood they could get something to eat then.”
Globe employees had access to a tailor, dry cleaner, and credit union. “You’d go down there, and it looked as though time had stopped,” Goldstein says of the credit union. “I got my first car loan there. There was a promotion with balloons. Each one had a rate inside. Pop a balloon and the piece of paper you picked up would be your rate. That was our credit union.”
All are gone, as is Eddie the barber. His shop was on the third floor, on the far side of the cafeteria. Yes, it had a barber pole. “Eddie kept Bill Taylor current on building gossip while administering his weekly Boy’s Regular trim,” recalls John Powers.
Until the late ’70s, a man named Clyde looked after reporters’ Royals and secretaries’ Selectrics. “A dapper, small fellow,” Michael Larkin recalls, “he came through the newsroom every week or two, in a jacket and tie.”
Clyde was the IT department before there were IT departments. But what about the gentleman who went from desk to desk hawking sweets? “The Candy Man came around most days,” Powers says. “He was a middle-aged guy with a cardboard box filled with a variety of bars. ‘Fresh candy,’ he’d call as he came down the aisles.”
The Candy Man would have had no trouble getting into the building. The front lobby lacked a security desk until 1974. “Anyone could wander in at any hour,” says Powers, who started at the Globe in December 1973.
An open-door policy was something of a Globe tradition. In the early hours of May 11, 1958, the move to the new building complete, the Taylors went to shut the Washington Street entrance. No one could find a key. There wasn’t one. The door had never been locked.
Security became an overriding concern in the fall of 1974, with court-ordered desegregation. The Globe’s strong editorial support for the implementation of busing to achieve racial balance in the Boston public schools made the paper a lightning rod for busing opponents. On Oct. 7, four shots were fired from Morrissey Boulevard: one into the lobby and three into the pressroom. The next night, seven were fired from the expressway.
Bulletproof glass was installed in the newsroom and in front of the presses, which also got steel screens. Larkin, then working the overnight shift, would find a quartet of Boston Police sharpshooters in the cafeteria at 5 a.m. “They were down from the roof,” Larkin says, “their ‘scoped rifles laying across the desk while we all enjoyed our eggs.”
The Globe’s location has largely discouraged demonstrations. The most notable exception lasted for several years in the 1980s. Starting in 1982, a man would stand outside the building on Saturdays dressed in combat fatigues and holding an Irish flag. He was protesting a syndicated cartoon on the op-ed page attacking the Irish Republican Army. Whenever a passing driver would honk, the man would salute. Rain or shine, he’d be out there.
A few steps from editorial the carpeting and acoustic-tile drop ceiling end, and you enter a realm of exposed pipes and ducts and conduits: the production side. The ventilation system throbs and thrums, and you understand why the Globe has its own number on the government’s Standard Industrial Classification Code List of manufacturing plants.
“It feels medieval, if not primeval,” says sportswriter Kevin Paul Dupont, standing outside the engraving department. That’s where metal plates bearing the next day’s newspaper pages are prepared before being attached to rollers in the presses before being printed.
Beyond the presses are rolls of newsprint, row after row. They’re brought from the loading docks on beeping driverless carts. The robots are a perennial favorite of visiting children — and not a few adults.
Dupont’s right about medieval. This side of the building feels like a dungeon — but a fun dungeon, a cool dungeon. Being on reclaimed land, the building has no basement, but this side, windowless and grimy, feels like one. It has a paint shop, a carpentry shop, a plumbing shop, an electrical shop, a pipefitters shop, a machine shop. Rooms are full of C-clamps and lathes and wrenches as long as a power forward’s forearm. There are drawers full of bolts and nuts and screws and coils of cable. In a corner are not one but two racks of key blanks, 100 each. Amends for that unlocked door on Newspaper Row?
Globe editor at large Walter V. Robinson, who headed Spotlight when it exposed the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, remembers Winship advocating a move downtown four decades ago. “Tom tried without success to persuade the Taylors to rent space in the then-decrepit Custom House,” Robinson says. When the ’80s real estate boom fizzled at decade’s end, making prices more attractive, Marty Nolan also urged relocation.
Now that a move is finally happening, feelings are mixed. “As much as I love this building,” Goldstein says, “I also hate this building. It lacks windows. It’s dirty. It’s messy. Yet when friends come visit, I’m shocked at how they all love it.”
What will happen to the building? Two sales have fallen through. The future owner of 135 Morrissey might repurpose it or even tear it down. Whatever happens, so long as the building remains, so will the smell of ink — and memories of those 21,500+ days and nights. Some are clearer than others.
“I know that work was done by me at 135 Morrissey Blvd.,” says Leigh Montville, recalling daily life in the building and those he shared it with. “I can find it in the Boston Globe archives, story after story, column after column. I just don’t know how it was done. And I haven’t even mentioned the trips to the cafeteria, the trips to the smoking room or to the roof, or the presence of Peter Gammons and Bob Ryan and everyone else in the office and the interesting noises they made. Gone . . .
“It all was perfect.”
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(End of story; to be continued at 53 State St.)
Mark Feeney can be reached at [email protected]
Story produced by Amanda Erickson, George Patisteas, and Kevin Wall