Today in Boston by Ethan Underhill: 4/17/1965 — The Pru 🏢

It’s a bit of an architectural Rorschach test.

You might look at it and see the pinnacle of New England industry. A financial fortress for the modern economy.

Or you might see a megalomaniacal monstrosity. A big ol’ bruise on an otherwise beautiful Boston skyline.

Honestly, I just see a landmark that helps tourists navigate Back Bay without supervision.

No matter what you think of it, though, the Prudential Tower has been a central spot by the dirty water ever since it opened today in Boston, 1965.

The story really begins in 1956 with the owners of the troubled Boston and Albany Railroad looking for a buyer to take off their hands a massive train track plot between Boylston and Huntington Avenues.

Fresh off making a boatload of cash from industrial workers in the post-World War II boom, Prudential Financial were looking to assert their downtown dominance with their own complex, the centerpiece of which would be a massive skyscraper.

So, they gobbled up the site and hired renowned architect Charles Luckman — who also helped feed Europe after the fall of fascism — to pull a Hall & Oates and make their dreams come true.

Now, this may come as a bit of a shocker, but the team ran into some speed bumps getting a 52-floor, 907-foot (with the radio tower) building to stand up. They broke ground on the project in 1959, but didn’t kick construction into high gear until 1962.

Ultimately, the Pru’s costs totaled about $150 million, which is a modest $1.2 billion in 2019.

Hilarious as it is to think about, the Pru was originally designed for a free-flowing experience. Luckman planned for cars from the crowded highways to drive into garages so that drivers could get out and enjoy the big open space of the tower, its shopping boutiques, and a flippin’ moat.

Over time, the team realized that this design was closing off the Pru from the rest of the city, so they whittled away at the complex 🧱, landing on the tower we know and love (or love to hate).

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