First Corps of Cadets Armory

William G. Preston, 1891–1897Halvorson Design Partnership, renovation, 2005

National Register of Historic PlacesBoston LandmarkPreservation Achievement Award, 2006 (for restaurant integration)

The First Corps of Cadets, which financed and built the armory, was a private military organization founded in 1741 to guard the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Reorganized in 1776, the corps was commanded by John Hancock. Its members served valiantly as patriots in a number of battles in the Revolution. During the Civil War and the First World War they continued to serve as a unit, and in 1940 they were inducted into the National Guard. In its role as a National Guard unit, the First Corps of Cadets no longer focused its activities on the armory. It stopped using the building altogether in the late 1960s, when the armory was taken over by the University of Massachusetts and used as a library.

The imposing and quite convincing rusticated granite castle dominates the intersection. It was located in this strategic military position in the center of the city population, near the railroad lines, and with visual communication to the State House for signaling. The structure is outfitted with the necessities of medieval defense, which must have fascinated the Victorians, considering the number of castlelike armories across the country. It has a six-story crenellated tower with machicolation and loop windows for arrows, and a winged dragon. Steel shutters were protection against musket fire. The drawbridge has corbel towers for “flank defense.” But the moat it crosses is actually a light well for the basement drill hall.

After a period of neglect, the armory began a new life as an exhibition hall, restaurant, and function space.

Image: ©Peter Vanderwarker