No ordinary building, Seaport Academy’s new home in Chelsea is a sight to behold. It is one of five buildings that constitute the Naval Hospital Boston Historic District. The Naval Hospital, which opened on January 7, 1836, was one of the three hospitals specifically authorized by Congress to treat naval personnel. It did so through the Civil War, the Spanish-America War, World War I and World War II – closing its doors in 1974.
In 1857, work began on a second hospital, the Marine Hospital. Both buildings have since been converted into condominiums, although the district itself was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The district’s other buildings include the Commanding Officer’s Quarters and two ordnance buildings. Seaport Academy is now housed in the larger of the two ordnance buildings. It was designed as an ordnance magazine, which can be defined as a storage facility for military arms, ammunition, explosives and provisions.
Like Russian dolls, Seaport Academy’s building is actually one building inside of another. The first was built in1838 by architect and engineer Alexander Parris. Parris’ most famous building is Quincy Market. One telling commonality is that both are primarily constructed from granite. (Parris’ work can also be found in a number of New England churches and lighthouses.)
In the 1860s, the roof of the building was removed and the original magazine was encased within a new structure and a new roof. The building’s ceilings are made of brick and its arched vaults are perhaps its most striking interior feature. They were designed to contain fire and explosions, such that the force of an explosion would be directed upward through the roof rather than outward. The ceilings are quite beautiful and, incidentally, create some interesting acoustical effects as the sound carries over and bounces off the archways.
It is no exaggeration to state the Seaport Academy is housed in a unique building with rich historical ties. For what was essentially a storage facility for military weapons, it is a work of architectural interest and historic importance.
For Seaport Academy students, the school’s building makes history near and relevant. More importantly, it conveys the message that their school is a special place, worthy of its distinguished home. The building’s history sets the stage for a promising future for Seaport Academy and its students.