St. Alphonsus Hall
Located in Boston, MA
Photo © 2006 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
St. Alphonsus Hall History
St Alphonsus Hall, located at 80 Smith Street, was a large auditorium located in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston. It was once part of the Mission Church Complex, which consisted of the Mission Church Basilica and a rectory on Tremont Street, as well as a grammar school, a mission school, and a convent, which faced Smith Street. St. Alphonsus was named after the founder of the Redemptorist Order who established the Mission Church. The hall was erected in 1898, only ten years after the construction of the basilica, and attests to the prosperity of the order in Boston during this time. The Archdiocese of Boston's official newspaper, The Pilot, described the dedication of the hall in praise:
It [the hall] completes one of the finest groups of church buildings in the country - church, schoolhouse, convent, all consistent and beautiful...
Designed by architect F. Joseph Untersee, the building was made to be fireproof, so materials such as Roxbury puddingstone (a common local stone quarried next to the site) and brick were used in lieu of wood in many places. The function of the building was intended as "a clubhouse for the young men of the parish," providing a multitude of social spaces to congregate. In addition to the ornate theater, St. Alphonsus Hall also boasted a library, a recreation room, and a two-lane bowling alley. The play Pilate's Daughter was often performed during the Easter season, and was touted as America's oldest passion play by the Redemptionists. Numerous other activities were also held here, including band performances, Catholic Youth Organization sporting events, and other social gatherings.
Other than some scattered references noting the theater was shuttered some time in the 1970s, a definitive closing date is elusive. The Redemptorist Fathers sold the buildings along Smith Street in 2003, and demolition of all three structures was planned to make room for a single 24-story apartment tower, but residents looked unfavorably upon the demolition, height, and density of this replacement. Preservation Mass named the complex as one of the ten most endangered sites in 2001. The school building was determined to be salvageable, and although numerous plans were floated for St. Alphonsus Hall, no institution could find an economically feasible reuse plan. The developer, Weston Associates, plans to raze the hall and the convent buildings and build residential towers in their places, however demolition has not begun. Explorers in 2009 were shocked to see that the entire interior of St. Alphonsus was completely stripped of all plaster work, paint, and furniture.
For more information, the Mission Church Complex Study Report can be accessed online, which contains a detailed site analysis.