Saturday, March 5, 2016

My Stay in the Charles Street Jail

 During the week in February when my husband Nick was in Mass General Hospital in Boston for cardiac tests and procedures, he booked me a brief stay at the Liberty Hotel on Charles Street, which is only steps away from the MGH.  It turned out to be one of the most unusual hotels I’ve stayed in, because it was built in 1851 to be the Charles Street Jail.  The design, by architect Gridley James Fox Bryant, is considered one of the best examples of “Boston granite style” with an octagonal central building topped by a cupola and four radiating wings .

According to the history available at the reception desk, in 1973, after 120 years of housing some of Boston‘s most notorious criminals, the prisoners revolted because of bad living conditions and the jail was declared unfit.  But not until 1990 were the last prisoners moved to the new Suffolk Country Jail.

When the place re-opened as a Starwood Luxury Collection hotel in September of 2007, the designers, working with the Massachusetts Historical Commission, retained much of the original prison architecture, and also  incorporated the jail theme into just about everything, including the door keys and the “solitary” tag (to use instead of “Do not disturb”).  Keys and Boston ephemera were featured in the framed art on the wall and keys were also in the design of the room carpet.

Here’s the view of Boston from my window—notice the pillow on the chair incorporating the scratch marks that prisoners used to keep track of the passage of days.
The hotel is in fact luxurious, and it boasts six bars and restaurants, all with names playing on prison jargon. In the basement is the Alibi bar—a Boston hot spot.   Other restaurants are called Clink, Scampo (Italian for “escape”) and the Catwalk, where I had a late supper on one of the three catwalks lining the huge central atrium, which were used by patrolling guards to keep an eye on prisoners in their cells.  
 There was live music from the 90-foot-wide rotunda below, and, in front of me, models were being photographed.  In good weather there is also a secret garden in the enclosed courtyard outside, called “The Yard.”

I spent most of my time in Nick’s hospital room, so couldn’t take advantage of the hotel’s many amenities including complimentary yoga, bicycles and shoeshines.  But I didn’t reject the complimentary glass of sparkling wine when I checked in.
The next day, as I was getting used to being incarcerated, Nick’s doctors released him from the hospital, saying the long procedure done the day before had been successful in opening up his blocked artery without having to resort to a bypass.  He was free to go. So before they could change their mind, we flew the coop.

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