For more than three hundred years, the fate of Boston Harbor and the region have been intertwined. The vitality of the harbor fueled the growth of Boston as a center of international commerce. From the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century, Lewis Wharf played a crucial role in New England’s economic success.
Lewis Wharf has served as a key trade point in Boston since the 1700s. In the two hundred years that followed, various build-outs and extensions were granted, to allow the wharf to grow in size. The focus, however, remained on the economic strength of the site, rather than the public enjoyment of the waterfront.
By the mid-1900s, this once-booming wharf saw diminished economic activity and ultimately fell into physical despair. The overall industrial environment of the site, with dilapidated pilings and crumbling warehouses, severely restricted public access to the harbor and its views.
Though attempts had been made over the previous fifty years to reinvent the site, Lewis Wharf continued to be an industrial, rundown and generally unwelcoming area in the 1980s. This prime waterfront location continued to be dominated by parking lots and decaying structures.
In an effort to revitalize the area in 1984, Mayor Raymond Flynn established the Harborpark Advisory Committee, which held more than 700 meetings with neighbors, advocacy groups, and City and State agencies to establish permanent guidelines for waterfront development in Boston. The Committee's work culminated in the formation of the Harborpark Plan for the North End/Downtown Waterfront, which was adopted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in April of 1990. The intent of the Harborpark Plan is to ensure that Boston's waterfront and harbor edge are accessible to all residents—for open space, transportation and housing—in addition to providing resources for economic and commercial activities.
In June of 1991, a proposal was put forth by The Gunwyn Company to build a 234,825 square foot, 335-room hotel, complete with a 570-space parking garage and 560 square feet for the Boston Sailing Center. The project was approved by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. However, due to the ailing financial markets at the time, the developer did not break ground on the project.