The building was an ancient mill building overlooking the Boston and Maine railroad tracks in Charlestown. A coffin maker, a butcher block company, and various other woodworking concerns took up most of the space. On the third floor, a cluster of artist lofts provided cheap studio space for a mixture of painters, ceramic artists, a weaver, a poet, and one woodcarver – me. Monday through Friday, the building hummed with activity from about 6 AM till 6 PM.
Afterward, most of the activity was in the railyard separating Charlestown from Somerville. The crash and bang of boxcars being sorted could run through the night. But the mill building and all its adjacent buildings were silent, the parking lots empty. It was not the most savory of Boston neighborhoods. The lack of evening and weekend activity was why the landlord tolerated the art studios. We weren’t supposed to live in them, but live tenants seemed to discourage unauthorized visits.
It was a small community centered on periodic parties, impromptu gatherings, and small gatherings on the roof.
The land across the tracks rose towards a large hill on the Somerville side. Behind us, on the Boston side, the land tended upwards to where the Bunker Hill Monument stood. Our building stood on a wide flat spot that stretched away to the north. The unplanned effect of this was panoramic views of sunrises and sunsets that could astound. It was not uncommon to wander up there and meet another resident in silent contemplation. For me, it was like being back on the water either in coastal waters or in the deep flow of the Gulf Stream. Here, unlike on Beacon Hill, you had an impressive horizon view.
I charmed my female friends with Hibachi cooked dinners at sunset on that roof. When our small community was in gather mode, it made a unique setting for parties, with the oft-repeated reminder to guests to stay away from the edge. The views proved that you could not hang the urban experience of life in Boston from one peg on the rack. It wasn’t that simple.
I eventually moved away. I moved because of romantic entanglements – there was none. No girlfriend, no matter how interested, would ever stay more than one night. I served at sea where the ship’s sounds always surrounded. I was also noisy New York City bred. The noise of freight being switched below on the train tracks was something I slept through. Not my hoped for girlfriends. The more involved invited me to their quieter homes. But the issue of my home always remained. So eventually, I moved.
I detoured to the old neighborhood late last summer. The building is still there, But it looks like it’s been converted to upscale “lofts.” I imagine that with lots of insulation and triple-glazed windows, you could filter out much of the noise. With the price, I am sure that those units come with hardworking painters, ceramic artists, poets, painters, and carvers can’t afford the cost of listening to the freight cars below.