Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Landmark price

I love Lower Mills. I remember the first time I saw it, out exploring, approaching from the north along Dot Ave and hitting the intersection with Washington Street on the right and Adams Street on the left and the Walter Baker Chocolate Factory dead ahead in that little vale through which the Neponset River runs. I've seen some beautiful parts of Boston, but Lower Mills is still my favorite. Its a little out of the way for me to want to live there but I don't think I'd mind one bit if I did make the move.

They don't build apartments like this anymore, let alone factories. The conversion from industrial chocolatier to family dwellings was a wise and welcome decision. When these bricks were laid, people cared what the finished product would look like, not just how many pennies they could squeeze out of a square foot (though I'm sure that was part of the equation). A building had to command attention through respect rather than head-scratching scorn. The architects weren't interested in making a statement beyond the fact that a chocolate factory can be beautifully imposing. They succeeded in ways the Brutalists never did.

What price would you put on the Baker Chocolate property? Someone has paid $17.75 million. That translates to $133,000 dollars and change per apartment according to some calculations. Should the property be converted to condos, the units will still be a fair price considering the setting. Even at a regrettable 150% retail markup.

I don't know how infamous, or even famous, Baker's Chocolate is outside of Dorchester. I was in the Citizens Bank branch on Morrissey Blvd. a few weeks ago and I spent ten minutes or so in front of a a little, glass-topped display case in the lobby. The case features the history of Baker's Chocolate and contains some ephemera, as well as the legend that German Chocolate Cake takes its name not from Deutschland but from Baker's German Chocolate that was the main ingredient in the original recipe. They feature a reproduction of a Baker's German Chocolate package. A camera cannot lie. Apparently this is the Citizens branch closest to Lower Mills and the bank couldn't find any Neponset-themed memorabilia to display. Still, it's a nice touch.

I can't vouch for the Baker complex's interior. Aside from Dorchester Open Studios, I haven't been into an apartment, only the work/living spaces of the artists who inhabit one of the buildings. If the other spaces are as tidy and clean as those in the little building that sports the neon sign proclaiming the factory's name, this may indeed be a very, very nice place to live. Of course it is. It is in Lower Mills and Lower Mills is in Dorchester and Dorchester is in Boston. Also, the Mattapan High-Speed Line serves Lower Mills from the Milton Station on the banks of the Neponset River.

A compact business district with all the amenities, ample walking trails through salt marsh, a hospital 60 seconds away by ambulance in the worst rush-hour traffic the neighborhood has to offer, access to mass transit via 1940s-era trolley cars, and a Victorian chocolate factory dominating the neighborhood. Lower Mills is very nice.

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