For regular updates, follow the Speedway project on social media:
Facebook - www.facebook.com/charlesriverspeedwayhq
Twitter - www.twitter.com/SpeedwayHQ
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We are excited to announce that the Boston Landmarks Commission has approved the rehabilitation plans for the Speedway. Following a March 26 presentation by AHF, Bruner/Cott, and Klopfer Martin Design Group, BLC voted in favor of the project moving forward, pending final review of signage. AHF is grateful for the the Commission’s support and thoughtfulness through the design review process and we look forward to continued collaboration as we move forward. We also excited to be advancing the building permit process for the project, a portion of which will be permitted though the Commonwealth and a portion of which will be permitted through the City of Boston. We hope to begin the rehabilitation work in the coming months. We hope to begin rehabilitation work in the coming months. A big thank you to our design team and to our project partners at the state and city for helping get us closer to our goal!
For regular updates, follow the Speedway project on social media:
Facebook - www.facebook.com/charlesriverspeedwayhq
Twitter - www.twitter.com/SpeedwayHQ
Instagram - www.instagram.com/charlesriverspeedway
Boston is a city of architectural contrasts. At four centuries, the built environment is a mesmerizing tangle of old and new. The seventeenth-century Paul Revere House is nestled in a nineteenth-century tenement enclave; the Old State House, constructed in 1713, is dwarfed by 1970s office towers; while elegantly preserved Beacon Hill overlooks the modernist folly that was once the West End. In fact, the demolition of this historic neighborhood galvanized the preservation movement in Boston, leading to the rehabilitation of well-known structures, such as Old City Hall and the Old Corner Bookstore. If the West End’s demise has a silver lining, it is that the city today exhibits much more respect for its architectural heritage than it did a few decades ago.
Yet despite an increasingly embedded culture of historic landmark designations and demolition delays, the tension between addressing Boston’s changing needs and protecting its cultural fabric is as salient as ever. From housing pressures to a hot market for developers, a slew of challenges push against the city’s preservation priorities. The trend toward greater density presents numerous opportunities for adaptive reuse – a flexible form of preservation permitting the redevelopment of historic structures for modern usages. Always creative and often controversial, these projects raise questions about historical integrity: Is authenticity lost when a building is preserved, but its neighborhood is not? To what extent should an architect put her own stamp on an adaptive reuse project? And how much of an historic structure can be altered before it turns into something else entirely?
This last question is central to a preservation trend known as façadism. The somewhat disparaging term refers to the practice of demolishing most of a building while preserving its public-facing exterior. Often extra stories are constructed atop the original material in a completely different style, producing an effect that is striking or jarring, depending on whom you ask. Indeed, a January 2018 essay in The Architectural Review decries façadism as “simply sticking a new shed behind an old façade” and “not worthy of the term architecture.” Also up for debate is the meaning that historic buildings hold vis-à-vis their surrounding environment and the public. In 2017, Canadian architect Chris Borgal defended façadsim on CBC Radio, arguing that “in some cases, the most important piece of a building may well be the front, the piece that is part of the public realm.” His colleague, Catherine Nasmith, disagreed: “Even though along the street [the buildings] might look the same…their function, and their cultural purpose, the way they operate and the way a whole series of small buildings work together in a neighborhood…that’s lost.” Whether façadism constitutes a legitimate compromise between protecting heritage and adapting to new urban realities, or an unjustifiable act of “urban taxidermy,” the practice is quickly becoming a bricks-and-mortar element of urban architecture worldwide.
Boston is no exception to the façadism frenzy, with an exemplary Victorian-modern fusion in the heart of the Financial District. Exchange Place, or 53 State Street, consists of a eleven-story, pink granite shell wrapped around a 510-foot glass tower. The stone exterior was originally part of the Boston Stock Exchange, a Romanesque Revival – Italianate palazzo-style high-rise built in 1889-1891 and designed by Peabody & Stearns. Inside, the marble lobby led to a marble grand staircase, which swept upward to – you guessed it – a marble and stucco stock exchange trading room, measuring 115 feet long and supported by Corinthian columns. Peabody & Stearns also fitted the building with cutting-edge amenities, such as electric lighting, steam heat, and “fast-running” elevators. The lavish design paid off; during the twentieth century, the Boston Stock Exchange was the most visited building in New England. Nevertheless, in the 1980s it was sold to developers. They planned to replace the Stock Exchange with a million-square-foot office tower. After a lengthy battle with preservationists, the developers agreed to incorporate part of the historic façade into the skyscraper. Today, the view of Exchange Place from State Street is much the same as it was during the late nineteenth century. Congress and Kilby Streets, however, reveal the modern tower tucked like a nesting doll inside the Guilded Age exterior.
Exchange Place’s interior is, if anything, even more surreal. A five-story atrium of marble, pink granite, and glass was built on the site of the original Congress Street lobby, physically and architecturally linking the tower with the historic façade. Moreover, while most of the Stock Exchange was razed (except for the small State Street and Kilby Street lobbies), the architects saved the grand staircase and reconstructed it precisely on its 1891 location. For many years, the staircase was purely ornamental, ascending to a blank wall, but now it leads to the offices of The Boston Globe. The atrium’s juxtaposition of old and new is a thoughtful response to the shortcomings of façadism. While the loss of the Stock Exchange building is a preservation tragedy, the architects’ sensitivity to the site’s history and design is evident upon entrance.
Of course, whether or not façadism offers a suitable compromise between preservation and urban development is a highly subjective question. Exchange Place is a particularly tasteful example; many hybrid buildings are not nearly as lucky. So – plague or pragmatism? Architectural fiasco or creative solution? Decide for yourselves. Keep an eye out for examples of façadism in your neighborhood, and if you happen to be in downtown Boston, Exchange Place is definitely worth a visit.
On March 6, after a five-month review process, Boston City Council authorized $34 million in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for dozens of projects across the city, including the Speedway Headquarters. The vote aids 56 historic preservation, open space, and affordable housing projects that the Community Preservation Committee recommended for funding approval. The Architectural Heritage Foundation was awarded $200,000 to install ramps and decks throughout the Speedway complex to bring the site up to code and ensure that it is accessible and welcoming to all.
In November 2016, Boston voters passed the Community Preservation Act to finance initiatives that preserve historic structures, create open space, increase affordable housing stock, and promote recreation throughout the city's neighborhoods. The law adds a surcharge to residential and commercial property tax bills to finance a city Community Preservation Fund, which is then matched by the state's Community Preservation Trust Fund. Since a Spring 2018 pilot program, CPA has provided more than $42 million to projects in Boston. Among this year's historic preservation awardees, in addition to the Speedway, are the St. James African Orthodox Church in Roxbury, Memorial Hall in Charlestown, and the Old State House.
AHF is grateful to Boston City Council, the Community Preservation Committee, our City and State partners, and the Allston-Brighton community for their support. We look forward to beginning restoration work on the Speedway in a few months.
When the bloodiest war in American history broke out, Brighton was a rural village. Known as Little Cambridge, it was home to several prominent Cambridge families who had relocated south of the Charles River. Livestock grazed on the meadows and saltmarshes within sight of their owners’ saltbox-style houses. Three roads connected the village to surrounding communities, skirting several areas of high ground – among them Nonantum Hill and a dry region called “the Pines,” situated just west of the Speedway’s present location. Before development eroded the hillsides and drained the wetlands, these areas were fixtures of the Little Cambridge skyline. And both were settings for one of the most tragic events of King Philip’s War.
In June 1675, decades of simmering tensions and violence between white settlers and Native tribes erupted into a full-scale indigenous uprising against the colonies’ encroachment, led by the Wampanoag grand sachem Metacomet (known to the English as King Philip). Over the next fifteen months, brutal conflict raged throughout New England, pitting the Wampanoag, Massachusett, Nipmuc, and Naragansett against the English and their Mahican, Pequot, and Praying Indian allies. The war wrought untold devastation on English and Native communities. By the time Metacomet was felled in August 1676, sixty-seven European settlements had been destroyed or damaged, and the frontier nearly abandoned; five percent of New England’s colonial population had been slain; and as much as forty percent of the region’s Native people – already weakened by disease and previous wars – had been killed, starved to death, or sold into slavery. The bitter colonial victory crippled local tribes’ power. Never again would they launch a major war against the settlers who poured into the New England frontier.
Praying Indians were particularly hard-hit by King Philip’s War. They were viewed with suspicion and vulnerable to attacks from both sides of the conflict. Many chose to serve alongside colonial militias against Metacomet, but their loyalty brought them little reward. Fearing treachery, in the summer of 1675 the Massachusetts General Court disbanded the Praying Indian companies and confined all Christianized Natives to their villages. They were forbidden from traveling more than one mile from the town centers, engaging in commerce with the colonists, and entering Boston without an escort. Ironically, many Praying Indians defected to Metacomet’s allies and the French to escape the harsh treatment.
Then in late October, the Court ordered all Christian Natives to be interned on Deer and Long Islands in Boston Harbor. Soon after, Captain Thomas Prentice of Newton and his troops entered Natick, the largest praying town, and announced to its residents that they had two hours to prepare for departure. The militia marched five hundred men, women, and children thirteen miles from Natick to a launching point on the Charles River. According to a nineteenth-century tract, the site was at “the Pines” of Little Cambridge; the Natick Nipmuc, however, recall that it was in Watertown. There they met an elderly John Eliot – the man who had originally established Natick and its predecessor praying town Nonantum. Having argued unsuccessfully against the Natives’ internment, he prayed with them before they boarded a fleet of boats to the Harbor Islands. They journeyed down the Charles River past the Dana and Sparhawk estates, the rutted road that later became Market Street, and the saltmarshes where the Speedway and Charles River Reservation are today. They floated beneath the wooden Great Bridge (now the Anderson Memorial Bridge) and around the Shawmut Peninsula, its few trees an autumnal blaze. Before them stretched the harbor, spiked with ship masts; in the distance, the islands where they would endure a hard winter alongside Christianized Indians from other towns. Forbidden from cutting down trees or killing the sheep that grazed on the islands, and with only shellfish for sustenance, hundreds of Natives died.
Little Cambridge had not seen the last of the Natick Praying Indians, however. Following an especially bloody winter, the colonies decided to reconstitute the Christianized Indian militia companies. They forced men from Deer and Long Island to fight, leaving behind approximately four hundred women, children, and elders. These survivors soon left the islands as well. Several sympathetic colonists, including Eliot’s partner Daniel Gookin, persuaded the Massachusetts General Court to resettle small groups of Praying Indians in towns across the colony. Seventy-five were brought to Nonantum Hill in Little Cambridge. Several families lived near the Sparhawk and Champney homes, where the men were employed to chop wood and build stone walls, and the women as spinners. Only a few of the original Praying Town communities recovered.
Today, little remains in Brighton of King Philip’s War. The Pines was paved over and served as the site of the Brighton abattoir in the nineteenth century. Nonantum Street coils around the base of Nonantum Hill, now crowded with modern houses, and connects to Faneuil Street – tracing the ghost of Old Indian Lane. Sparhawk and Champney Streets commemorate the families who employed a few survivors of Deer and Long Islands, but give no indication of where the Praying Indians lived. But what the physical landscape hides, people strive to reveal. Since 2010, the Natick Nipmuc have held a Sacred Run and Sacred Paddle between South Natick and Deer Island to commemorate their ancestors’ forced removal. They board traditional canoes called mishoons and paddle past the Speedway down the Charles River. In so doing they help to tell the full history of Brighton’s early years.
The Architectural Heritage Foundation took another step forward in its effort to revitalize the Speedway by hosting a bidders walk-through of the complex. On February 26, representatives from three local construction contractors took a closer look at the site in order to determine the best possible construction costs for the upcoming rehabilitation work. They visited a day after a local Student Conservation Association crew performed a winter clean-up at the Speedway - just in time! We hope to have more news on the outcome of the bidding process soon.
On February 25, at the request of the Mass DCR and the Architectural Heritage Foundation, thirteen members of the Hingham-based Student Conservation Association Historic Preservation crew arrived at the Speedway for a winter clean-up. The 2019 cohort is less than a month into their AmeriCorps-sponsored service; thus, the Speedway was one of their first preservation projects. Battling wind speeds of 25-30 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph, they cleared piles of dead leaves from the courtyard, ash and charred wood from the site's burned section, and several decades-worth of unused objects from the buildings. By noon, they had filled a 30-yard dumpster with debris: broken window frames, rickety office furniture, moldy stuffed animals, even an unusable boat. The interns, whose interests range from ecology to ancient Roman archaeology, were intrigued by the site's conservation history and enjoyed exploring the old MDC police station. As they surveyed the complex, with its boarded windows and weathered shingles, one crew member expressed what AHF and the Brighton community have long felt: "I can't wait to see what this place becomes."
For photos of the Speedway clean-up, visit the Events page.
The Architectural Heritage Foundation is delighted to welcome back the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to the Speedway Headquarters for another day of pre-restoration site work. Last November, the Hingham-based SCA Historic Preservation crew cleared several tons of vegetation and debris from the historic complex in anticipation of this year's upcoming construction start date. The 2018 crew did such a great job, that AHF and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (the state agency in charge of the site) invited the new 2019 cohort to finish the work. On February 25, thirteen young women and men will remove several decades-worth of unused objects from the Speedway's interiors. Their help will ensure a smooth transition to the rehabilitation work slated to begin in the spring or summer.
Thank you, SCA! We look forward to working with you again!
A Speedway in central mass? DCR's historic curatorship program offers new future for historic mount wachusett building
The Speedway Headquarters is not the only Shingle-style building with a recreational history in Massachusetts to be granted a new lease on life. Fifty miles away, the Superintendent's House at the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation has been undergoing rehabilitation through the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation's Historic Curatorship Program - the same program facilitating redevelopment of the Speedway. Besides their architecture and ownership, the two buildings have much in common. Both were constructed during at the turn of the twentieth century, when the state park system was being created; both served as residences for superintendents of state recreational agencies that eventually merged under DCR (the Metropolitan District Commission and Department of Environmental Management); both will contain food and beverage establishments and non-profit space; and both will serve as way-stations for people pursuing recreational opportunities in DCR parks.
The Wachusett Superintendent's House, also known as the Vickery House, has long been a point of concern for the surrounding Princeton, MA community. Vacant for more than thirty years, the building sustained damage from the elements and vandalism. DCR's periodic investment in structural repairs was not enough to prevent the house from languishing.
Enter Katherine Huck and Robin Springfield. The Princeton residents wished to expand their local bakery Mountainside Market and were also eager see the Superintendent's House restored. Thus, when DCR included the building in its Historic Curatorship Program, Huck and Springfield seized the opportunity to do both. They proposed redeveloping the house as a mixed-use facility with a bakery, small brewery, offices, and non-profit space catering to the Princeton community, as well as visiting hikers, and skiers. DCR accepted their proposal and granted them a forty-year lease on the property. They commenced the $969,000 project last November. As with any historic preservation effort, rehabilitation of the Superintendent's House is far from easy. The structure must be brought up to code and its architectural features carefully repaired, sometimes off-site. In light of these complexities, Huck and Springfield estimate that full restoration will not be complete until 2023. However, they hope to open the ground floor to the pubic as early as this coming March. Patrons can expect an outdoor patio with Adirondack chairs and fire pits, a beautiful view of an adjacent hiking trail, and, of course, plenty of good food.
For more information on the Wachusett Mountain Project, visit:
At age 21, Roger Clapp left his family in Devonshire, England, to lead a spiritual life three thousand miles away. He boarded the John and Mary on March 20, 1630 and embarked on a ten-week, sermon-filled voyage to New England in the company of many “godly people.” When the ship arrived at Nantasket two months later, Roger and “some able men, well armed” set out to explore a meandering river to the north. They travelled upstream until the waterway narrowed and grew shallow with marsh muck, and then laboriously unloaded the boat on the river’s steep, northern bank. Night fell quickly. As the river’s surface turned glassy and black, word spread that three hundred Indians were encamped nearby. The news put the men on high alert. Roger stood sentinel that night, clutching his musket, perhaps willing himself to believe that the rustling of reed grass was caused by nothing more than a damp breeze. Only in the morning were his fears were put to rest when the Natives approached, traded bass for biscuits, and “were very friendly.” Today, a stone marker commemorates this episode on a Watertown bicycle path just two riverbends from the Speedway.
Roger Clapp’s brief encampment was one of the first recorded European outposts in a large area that eventually became known as Cambridge. Previously, the English had established several settlements along the coast from Plymouth to Salem, but not until autumn of 1630, when newly appointed Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop dropped anchor at the Shawmut Peninsula, did colonists move inland. Winthrop’s flock founded several villages along the Charles, including Watertown and the colony’s first capital: a small, geographically protected hill on the river’s north bank named Newtowne. The seat of government moved to Boston in 1634, but two years later, Newtowne was selected as the site of a school to prepare young men for the ministry. Once Harvard College was founded, Newtowne – renamed Cambridge – became the municipal center unifying communities on both sides of the river.
One of these communities was Nonantum, the first “Praying Indian” village in Massachusetts. In 1646, the Reverend John Eliot of Roxbury set his heart on converting Native tribes to Christianity. Initial success came in October, when he delivered sermons in Algonquian to a small group of Massachuseuck living on the present-day Brighton-Newton border. Their leader, Waban, may have regarded conversion as a means of securing land and a strategic alliance from the English, or he may have truly accepted the gospel; whatever the case, he agreed to move with his followers to the newly established “praying town” Nonantum. (The name Nonantum means “I rejoice” in Algonquian; according to Eliot, “the English did rejoice” when the Natives converted.) The village was short-lived. Colonial suspicion of the Massachuseuck and desire for land caused the praying town to relocate to Natick in 1651. Today, all that remains of Nonantum is the name.
The Christianization of local tribes nonetheless had a lasting impact on the area by encouraging colonists to settle on the Charles River’s southern bank. Originally part of Watertown, these salt meadows and hills had been transferred to Cambridge in 1634 to be used for grazing. Some colonists, such as Watertown minister George Philip, received land grants as early as 1630. However, Cambridge church elder Richard Champney became the first to live south of the Charles when he was allotted 149 acres near present-day Union Square in 1647. Nathaniel Sparhawk soon followed his example; already a wealthy landowner with five houses and five hundred acres to his name, he amassed additional property from present-day Brighton Center to the river. Upon his death, his sons erected houses on today’s Cambridge Street and Western Avenue, becoming the first of a long line of Sparhawks to reside in the area. The third of Brighton’s earliest settlers was Richard Dana, whose estate encompassed the entirety of present-day Market Street and extended along Faneuil Street to Oak Square. Together, the Champneys, Sparhawks, and Danas set in motion the transformation of fen and forest into an agricultural village: Little Cambridge.
English settlement of Little Cambridge initiated a development boom. The Great Country Road (now Washington Street) was constructed in 1657 to connect Boston, Muddy River (Brookline), and Cambridge. During the same decade, present Faneuil Street was laid along a portion of Old Indian Lane (which included Nonantum Street and likely led to the former praying town). Market Street was also built in the 1650s, though its earliest recorded name, Meeting House Lane, dates to the eighteenth century. And in 1662, the ferry connecting Harvard Square with Roxbury Highway (part of the Upper Boston Post Road, now North Harvard Street) was replaced with the Great Bridge. Despite this development, Little Cambridge remained religiously and politically dependent on its namesake. The village was a century without a meetinghouse; residents had to travel across the river to Harvard Square for Sunday worship and civic gatherings. Thus for much of its early history, Brighton was a sleepy hamlet, a suburb of Boston and Cambridge through which people frequently passed, but had little reason to stay. The community grew gradually during the seventeenth century. All the while, Puritans poured into Massachusetts Bay colony, which stabilized and pushed further inland.
In popular memory, the modern history of Massachusetts began in 1620 with a group of English religious zealots. These men, women, and children are said to have ventured into an unknown region of the New World, a wilderness home to Native Americans who previously had never seen a European face. Massachusetts Bay, the story goes, was discovered, explored, and exploited by English dissidents. But popular memory often plays tricks. The Pilgrims encountered a region that was neither unmapped nor unaware of the wider world. Rather, it had played a role in the imperial Atlantic power struggle for decades.
The coastal plains and rolling hills that would become so important in United States history were and remain home to many Algonquian-speaking tribes. Massachuseuck territory, named for the sacred Great Blue Hill (Massachusett, “Big Hill Place”), stretched across present-day Greater Boston. To the west lay Nippenet (“Freshwater Pond Place”), land of the Nipmuck. Their neighbors included the Wampanoag along the Cape; the Pocumtuck, Nonatuck, Woronock, and Agawam along the Connecticut River; the Muheconeok in the Berkshires; and the Penacook and Squagheag to the north. Dozens of long-distance trails connected villages throughout New England, facilitating trade, inflaming rivalries, and strengthening allegiances. Not only people and goods, but information traveled along these routes. When oddly clad strangers appeared offshore, the news would have spread like brushfire.
Five hundred years after Vikings first reached Newfoundland, Europeans became a regular presence in northern American waters. Basque, Portuguese, English, and French fishermen plied their trade off the coast of Canada, and there is evidence that they came into contact with Mi’kmak or Abenaki tribes in Maine as early as 1519. By the end of the century, a steady stream of European fisherman hunted whales and cod around Massachusetts Bay. They probably ventured ashore for fresh water and, perhaps, to trade with Native inhabitants.
Official European exploration of New England began with an Italian working for France. In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed west aboard La Dauphine in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. Upon reaching the lands of Siouan-speaking tribes (North Carolina), he kidnapped a boy to bring back to France and then turned north, hugging the coastline. He ventured into the areas of Mahican and Nahigansett (New York and Rhode Island), sailed past treacherous sandbanks and a “high promontory” that he named Pallavisino (Cape Cod), and proceeded to Wabanakhik ("Dawn Land," northern Maine), before ending his expedition in Beothuk territory (Newfoundland). Like many Renaissance voyagers, Verrazzano portrayed North America as a resource-rich idyll; present-day Rhode Island was “suitable for every kind of cultivation – grain, wine, or oil,” while Cape Cod “showed signs of minerals.” Notably, he described Natives’ varying attitudes towards the Europeans. Most, including the Narragansett, were “generous” and “gracious;” some were fearful; and the Abenaki were downright hostile: they insisted on trading “where the breakers were most violent,” attacked sailors who came ashore, and mooned Verrazzano’s crew upon its departure. Such behavior suggests that Maine tribes had a painful encounter with European fishermen even before La Dauphine arrived. Their neighbors to the south would soon have similar experiences.
Exploration increased in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, spurred by stories of a northern El Dorado. Maps of the New World increasingly identified present-day Maine and southeastern Canada as the mythical Norumbega, a region of vast wealth that captured Europeans’ imaginations. In a possibly fictive and certainly fanciful travel account published in 1589, the sailor David Ingram claimed to have journeyed overland from Florida to Cape Breton and to have visited Bega, a city replete with “rubies six inches long,” pearls, and gold. The rumors lured Samuel de Champlain across the Atlantic in 1605. Though he discovered neither Norumbega nor the Northwest Passage, he did produce one of the earliest maps of Boston Harbor and an account of the people living there: “We saw in this place a great many little houses, which are situated in the fields where they sow their Indian corn. Furthermore in this bay there is a very broad river which we named the River Du Gas.” To the Massachuseuck, this river was the Quinobequin. To the Puritans, it would become the Charles.
Europeans continued to frequent Massachusetts Bay in the years leading up to the founding of Plymouth Colony. Henry Hudson, John Smith, and Thomas Dermer all made the voyage, with disastrous consequences for Native peoples. In 1614, Smith’s associate Thomas Hunt kidnapped twenty-four members of the Patuxet tribe, including the renowned Tisquantum (Squanto), to sell as slaves in England. Hunt’s action upended the delicate trade relationship between the tribes and the English, initiating a period of open hostility. Indeed, local inhabitants might have stymied later colonization attempts if not for an invisible enemy that ravaged New England populations prior to 1620.
With the boatloads of Old World fishermen and explorers came an influx of Old World pathogens. Intermittent epidemics may have begun as early as the sixteenth century. Scholars debate which diseases swept through New England before the Pilgrims arrived; leptospirosis seems most plausible. One thing is clear, however: between 1616 and 1619, a plague decimated Native tribes. In 1619, Tisquantum returned home to find his entire village dead. Scholars estimate that disease claimed the lives of 75-90% of eastern Massachusetts peoples over the course of the seventeenth century. The survivors were hard-pressed to repulse the thousands of colonists who poured into the region – and with whom the recorded history of Brighton and Worcester begins.