The Charles Street Jail (also known as the Suffolk County Jail) was originally constructed from 1848-1851. The first inmates arrived in 1851 and the last inmates left in 1990 to be relocated to the new Nashua Street Jail. During its 140-year span, the jail housed several notorious inmates, such as Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. After the jail was closed, the building was purchased by the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). MGH sought an alternative use for the property that would retain the charm of the historic building. Several years and $150 million later, the upscale Liberty Hotel was opened on the site. The building itself was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
The Liberty Hotel Boston sits at
a busy point on Charles Street where Storrow Drive, Cambridge Street, and the
Longfellow Bridge meet. It was
originally constructed as the Charles Street Jail (also known as the Suffolk
County Jail) from 1848-1851. The
enormous building was designed by architect Gridley James Fox Bryant. Bryant worked with noted prison reformer
Reverend Louis Dwight. Together, they
created a structure to house prisoners in Suffolk County which was based on the
Auburn Plan. The Auburn Plan was named for
a style of incarceration developed in Auburn, NY, where prisoners were allowed to
work together during the day and were only forced into solitary confinement at
night (as opposed to total solitary confinement, which was the favored penal
method of the day). Although they could
work side-by-side, total silence was enforced as a method of teaching
Many notorious criminals spent
time inside these walls from the time the prison was first opened in 1851 until
it was finally closed in 1990. Ferdinando
“Nicola” Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were imprisoned here in the 1920s for
robbery and murder before being executed by electric chair in August 1927. The famous anarchists were convicted of
killing a paymaster and his guard at Slater and Morrill (a shoe factory in
South Braintree, Massachusetts), who were bringing two boxes of money totaling
$15,776.51 from the office building to the nearby factory. Their trial in 1921 garnered international attention.
James “Whitey” Bulger, the
notorious crime boss of the Winter Hill Gang, spent time at the Charles Street
Jail as a young man. Malcolm X also
served time in the jail at one point in his life. James Michael Curley, a former Mayor of
Boston as well as a Congressman and Governor of the Commonwealth, was held
behind its walls while he was serving as a Boston Alderman. He was jailed for taking the civil service
exam for a friend. It is interesting
that Curley also served time in a Federal Penitentiary while he was in the
final six months of his last term as Mayor (for mail fraud).
In 1973, the building was
condemned. The courts determined that
the conditions in the old prison were inhumane.
The county started making plans for a new jailhouse on Nashua
Street. By 1990, construction had been
completed and the last inmate moved to the current facility.
The Massachusetts General
Hospital soon purchased the old prison and looked for possible uses for the property. MGH hired the development firm of Carpenter
and Company in 1991 to manage the project.
They worked with the local
historical commissions to make sure that whatever they did with the property,
that it upheld the integrity and design of the original structure while moving
forward with a vibrant, modern idea. They
even went so far as to re-build the impressive cupola shown in Bryant’s original
plan. The original cupola had been
scaled back to save money and was ultimately removed from the building
altogether in 1949.
Two architectural firms, Cambridge
Seven Associates and Ann Beha Architects, assisted in the design of the Liberty
Hotel’s 300-room plan. They commenced a
$150 million restoration project to transform the facility into a modern luxury
hotel with upscale restaurants with jail-inspired names like Clink and
Alibi. The hotel opened to the public in
the summer of 2007.