It seems like the Hatch Memorial Shell has always been sitting on Boston’s Esplanade along the Charles River. It is part of Boston’s identity. However, our beloved Shell had a slightly rocky beginning.
Arthur Fiedler, the first permanent conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, enjoyed walking along the Esplanade and dreamed of an outdoor concert venue, bringing great music to the general public. Construction began on the first shell in 1928 and Arthur Fiedler conducted the first Boston Pops concert there on July 4, 1929, followed by a month of concerts during that first summer. The shell itself was a temporary wooden structure which was assembled and disassembled each year. A second temporary shell was constructed of metal in 1934.
Edward A. Hatch, whose name is now part of the shell, came from a family in Massachusetts who had made a fortune in trade. Upon his death in 1910, his sister Maria inherited his estate and died in 1926, leaving a $300,000 trust for a park or memorial open to the public. Unfortunately, the trustee of the estate died before executing the terms of the trust and it went undiscovered until 1936. After the metal shell was destroyed by a devastating hurricane in 1938, the new trustees agreed that the money would go to the construction of a permanent shell on the Esplanade.
The permanent shell was designed by Richard J. Shaw, a Boston architect known for designing churches. The Art Deco design, with intricate woodwork adorning the interior and a terrazzo tile roof, was dedicated on July 2, 1940 — a dream come true for Arthur Fiedler and the city of Boston. Over the years there have been several renovations, modernizations, and repairs. All of these changes have remained true to the original design, including the replacement of the terrazzo roof tiles and restoration of the intricate interior wood paneling done by hand.
The Hatch Memorial Shell has continued to be a favorite spot for millions of people to relax in the fresh air and enjoy great music of all genres from all over the world. Performers have included the Stylistics, jazz ensembles from local high schools, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, Blues Traveler, Collective Soul, Green Day, Three Dog Night, the Guess Who, and New England’s own Orpheus, Aerosmith, James Taylor, Ill Wind and Arlo Guthrie continuing the legacy of folk music. Built to serve a crowd of 10,000, there were 400,000 attendees for the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976. The annual July 4th Boston Pops Concert has become an iconic tradition for Boston and all of New England.
The Hatch Shell we love will celebrate its 80th anniversary this year. There’s no doubt that our love and appreciation for this special part of Boston will carry it far into the future.
(by Carol Starkey)