United Shoe Machinery Corporation Building – Boston, Massachusetts - Atlas Obscura

United Shoe Machinery Corporation Building

What may be Boston's finest Art Deco building, located in the city's Financial District. 


The United Shoe Machinery Corporation Building is an Art Deco office building located at 160 Federal Street, on the fringes of Boston’s financial district. It was built between 1929 and 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression. The building is 24 stories tall, and was the first building to take full advantage of Boston’s 1928 zoning laws for height. The building was designed by George W. Fuller and the architectural firm Parker, Thomas & Rice. 

This building provides perhaps Boston’s best example of Art Deco architecture. The building is an excellent example of ziggurat massing, where the architect used a series of successively smaller vertical geometric blocks set one on top of the other, to achieve a feeling of mass and scale. It’s a building with a lot to admire walking by at street level, including intricately designed bronze decoration, including fruit, fountains, eagles, abstracted figures, and machine parts. Many of these features, such as pineapples and fountains, are common Art Deco motifs. Perhaps the most amusing feature are the carvings of heads of cattle wearing headdresses, at the upper edge of the architrave, intended to represent the leather used in shoemaking. The lobby is also well-preserved, and worth walking through from High Street to Federal Street.

Amazingly, the building was on the verge of being demolished in 1980. The Boston Preservation Alliance played a big role in securing national landmark status for the building and staving off demolition. Today the building is used as office space. 

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February 26, 2020

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