Fan Pier History

History of Fan Pier in the 1800s, 1900s and 21st century.

Fan Pier History Courtesy of:  Boston Harborwalk

All of the land between the downtown waterfront and the residential neighborhood of South Boston was once under water.

Today’s South Boston Waterfront district, therefore, is entirely man-made, and this stretch of Boston boasts the largest acreage of filled-in land in the entire city (with the exception of Logan Airport). Fan Pier, the section closest to the downtown waterfront, serves today as the entry point for this fast-growing area.

Fan Pier Boston - Boston Harbor Walk - Seaport District Boston

Fan Pier Boston – Boston Harbor Walk – Seaport District Boston – Photo: Media Crush

Over the course of the nineteenth century, South Boston gradually grew northward over the mud flats separating it from downtown, even as the downtown area spread into what was once the South Cove, today’s South Station area. In the 1860s, a group of federally appointed commissioners drew up a plan for Harbor improvements, which included a proposal to build a seawall at the boundary of today’s Fan Pier. The pier’s distinctive curve made it an ideal location for a rail yard, and its name in fact refers to its unique shape. Radiating out like prongs on a fan, several railroad lines ended at the edge of the pier, allowing for an efficient transfer point for shipping cargo. For much of the twentieth century, Fan Pier therefore served as an important component to South Boston’s shipping infrastructure.

Anthony's Pier 4 Restaurant - Fan Pier Boston - Seaport District Boston

Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant – Fan Pier Boston – Seaport District Boston – Photo: Media Crush

By the 1980s, new port facilities had rendered Fan Pier obsolete and it became dilapidated. New life came to the Pier when the Federal government purchased Fan Pier from restaurateur Anthony Athanas as the site for its courthouse. U.S. Representative Joseph Moakley, who was instrumental in providing federal resources to revitalize the area, predicted that the new courthouse would “serve as a catalyst for economic development” for what he claimed would soon be “the hottest place in Boston.”

Fan Pier Boston - A View from Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art

Fan Pier Boston – A View from Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art – Photo: Media Crush

The Moakley Courthouse that now dominates Fan Pier not only brings many more people to the formerly neglected area, but also provides an excellent pedestrian experience along the Harborwalk, with nearby restaurants, historic markers, and stunning views of the downtown waterfront.


Fan Pier History 2007 Courtesy of:  The Boston Globe

Fan Pier finally rises

Megaproject begins decades after plan’s birth

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff | September 26, 2007

When restaurateur Anthony Athanas bought Fan Pier on the South Boston Waterfront in the 1960s, he believed it could be developed over a decade or two into a mixed-use neighborhood.

“My father thought it would be done in the early 1980s, and he always thought it should have been,” said Michael Athanas, who with his three brothers now runs Anthony’s Pier 4 restaurant.

Instead, almost three decades later and two owners after Athanas, Fan Pier today will finally have a gala ceremony marking the groundbreaking of a massive multibuilding project of nearly 3 million square feet.

The faltering office markets, declining economies, and bureaucratic roadblocks that dashed hopes of previous Fan Pier owners are in the past. Now, the ambitious mix of office, residential, and retail space is designed, permitted, and financed by a developer who is ready to go at the right moment in the market.

Developer Joseph F. Fallon is taking the land he bought two years ago for $115 million, and the plan approved five years ago by the city and state, and starting to build. A soft-spoken but persistent businessman, Fallon started small in the development world, but recently has been a principal in major waterfront initiatives, including the Park Lane Seaport residences and the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel.

“We knew the timing would be right,” Fallon said this week, as he watched tents being erected on the site to accommodate the hundreds of people invited to the groundbreaking this morning.

Development on the South Boston Waterfront has begun to pop in the last couple of years, with the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and new restaurants adding to the mix. Access to the area has been radically improved by the addition of the Ted Williams Tunnel and the MBTA’s Silver Line.

“The synergy that exists today didn’t exist 10 years ago,” Fallon said.

Reflecting the rapid comeback in the city’s commercial economy, Fallon is starting a 500,000-square-foot, 18-story office building “on spec,” with no major tenant in place. That will be followed next year by five-star hotel and luxury condominiums, Fallon said, with development of another half-dozen blocks of retail, residential, and office space coming over the next 10 to 12 years.

The groundbreaking today comes after decades filled with prolonged permitting, lawsuits, and demands by the city, state, and community groups for extensive public space and access.

“Remember all the fights we had on this one?” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday. “The day finally has come to see Fan Pier rise out of the ground to become a very important part of the city’s economy.”

For weeks, a promotional helium-filled balloon, 35 feet in diameter, has been hoisting prospective tenants 200 feet above the asphalt, letting them experience views they could lease if they’ll commit to paying the $70 or so per square foot Fan Pier’s brokers are asking. CB Richard Ellis is the leasing agent.

Anthony Athanas, who died two years ago at 93, had started a successful restaurant in Lynn. Looking for a new location in about 1960, he saw 35 acres of unused railroad tracks, rundown warehouses, and dilapidated piers on rotted pilings in a largely ignored corner of Boston. Anthony’s Pier 4 restaurant opened in 1963.

Athanas wasn’t a developer, so two decades later he partnered with the Pritzker family of Chicago, which ran the Hyatt hotel empire. But the partners fell out, and in a prolonged and bitter fight Athanas lost control of the land in the early 1990s. About that time, five acres or so of the fan-shaped parcel closest to downtown were taken for a new federal courthouse, which opened in 1998.

Through the 1990s, the Pritzkers planned their development on the 21 acres of land and water between the courthouse and Pier 4 – through ups and downs in the market, sometimes blocked by City Hall, which had its own specific vision for Fan Pier and the waterfront.

But the project that was finally approved included acres of public space and streets designed to be enlivened by retail stores on first and second floors, a sort of Back Bay in nine closely knit blocks. It features a large park, Harborwalk, and marina. The new Institute of Contemporary Art opened last year on waterfront space.

“The whole Seaport public realm plan was probably the best piece of planning the city has ever done,” said Kyle B. Warwick, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle, which managed planning for the Pritzkers.

But after years of planning and final approval, the Pritzkers decided in 2004 to sell; several development companies looked at Fan Pier, but Fallon, backed by money from a real estate unit of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., prevailed.

Fallon engaged David Manfredi of Elkus | Manfredi Architects of Boston to refine the nine-block master plan, and Manfredi designed the first office tower. Fallon also hired HKS Hill Glazier Studio of Palo Alto, Calif., to draw up hotel and condominium buildings.

Far from its gritty industrial beginnings, Fallon said, Fan Pier will now be a place not only to work, live, and shop, but also to have fun.

“You can come to sail,” said Fallon. “You can come fly a kite. If your spouse tells you to go fly a kite, come to Fan Pier.”

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at Link

Fan Pier Boston History Courtesy of: Boston Preservation Alliance

Fan Pier, named for its fan-like curve outward into the harbor, was created in the 1860s, derived from plans for improvements to Boston Harbor.

An integral part of South Boston’s shipping infrastructure, several railroad lines ended at the edge of the Pier, which facilitated the transportation of goods from land to sea for many decades. However, over time, new port facilities would eventually render Fan Pier obsolete and the area fell into disuse.

In recent years, The Fallon Company has worked to transform Fan Pier into one of the most vibrant neighborhoods along the waterfront.

Where an unsightly parking lot once stood, the Fan Pier Public Green has been established.

An expansive lawn sitting amidst the Pier’s modern hotels, residences and office buildings, the park was designed as a “urban theater,” connecting the water to the city with lush grass, diverse flora, and an open view of the marina for pedestrians, athletes, and loungers alike.

More Boston Waterfront Information:

New Boston Waterfront

Fort Point Channel Boston

Seaport Innovation District


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