Historic Building of the Week: The John Gardner Stevens House

A photo of 18 Atlantic Ave. taken before demolition began. Photo by John D. Clemson for Massachusetts Historical Commission

The building that I am discussing today is not a building. It is, in fact, nothing at all. The address, 18 Atlantic Ave., will take you to the parking lot next to Shubie’s and Terry’s Ice Cream. Before you put the paper down thinking that I have finally lost my mind, I ask that you hear me out. There might not be a building at 18 Atlantic Ave. anymore, but that does not mean that it never existed.

The building that once stood at 18 Atlantic Ave. is known in the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) as the John Gardner Stevens House or the Stevens Tenant House. It was likely built in the mid-18th century, but there were major additions constructed throughout the 20th century.

Like last week’s building, Sanborn maps indicated that the structure may have been moved between 1929 and 1949. It was demolished in 2015.

Since the 1970s, the building had housed restaurants including Michael’s House and Sweeny’s Retreat. Now, the area where the Stevens Tenant House once stood is a bustling, densely developed area. 

So, what is the point of talking about the non-existent building?

During its demolition in 2015, observers got a peek into its unusual construction. The framing plan was “atypical,” according to the MACRIS document.

“Instead of the expected hall-and-parlor plan composed of two principal rooms separated by a lobby and central chimney bay, the structure of the house [was] composed of four bents across its width of approximately 28 feet dividing the building into three bays of roughly equal width,” the document reads.

The demolition allowed observers to see the very structures that made up this unorthodox plan. In a bittersweet irony, by tearing down this building, historians were able to see the manner in which it was constructed. Breaking down the building exposed the beams and joints that kept it together for years. Its demolition also revealed that sometime in the 19th century, two chimneys were relocated.

Lucky for us, the historians made meticulous notes and took photos as the building came down, and these are readily available for anyone to access. The John Gardner Stevens House may no longer be standing, but I am not so sure that means it is entirely gone.