History of the Speedway Headquarters Building
“Charles River Headquarters, Speedway.” View of Superintendent’s Residence and MPC Police Headquarters. Undated lantern slide 3.2.40, c.1900 (Courtesy of DCR Archives, Metropolitan Parks System Lantern Slide Collection).
To complement the new parkway along the Charles River, in 1899 the Metropolitan Park Commission (MPC) built the Speedway’s operations headquarters at the western end of the property. The eclectic, sprawling, Shingle-style complex was designed by renowned architect William D. Austin who embraced Charles Eliot’s vision for the Metropolitan Park Commission by creating a headquarters that projected dignity and permanence. The buildings possess many characteristics common to the Shingle Style: an irregular roof-line with cross-gables, turrets, continuous wood shingle siding, porches, and wide eaves. Austin designed most of the fledgling agency’s signature structures, designing similar complexes at Revere Beach, Nantasket and the Blue Hills Reservations. Their site specific interpretations of contemporary architectural styles tied the facilities together while giving each property its own signature aesthetic.
The Speedway Headquarters Building was designed to accommodate a number of park management functions, including superintendent housing, office space, and material and equipment storage and horse stables. Shortly after its construction, an additional 2-story stable was added to the eastern end of the original stable. This original core remains intact today.
In 1923 many of the open storage sheds and stables were enclosed, and in 1924 the 2-story stable was adapted by William D. Austin for use as a police station and dormitory, reflecting the end of the horsepower era and the beginning of the Automobile Age. This transformation came full circle with the addition of the concrete 9-bay garage in 1940.
Horse racing remained popular at the Speedway until mid-century, when the track was razed and became integrated into Soldier’s Field Road. By the 1980s the park and police offices were moved to the adjacent Almy’s Building and the Speedway Building lost its role as a park management facility. The building continued to house a residential tenant until approximately 2005. Inevitably, when activity waned, much of the building fell into disrepair.