Buildings That Tell a Story

Sarah M. Chenby Sarah M. Chen

I recently got back from a trip to Boston, one of my favorite cities. The main reason I love this city is that it has so much history. Okay, that’s a lie. I love this city because of the FOOD!

The best lobster roll from Neptune Oyster in North End







But the history is a close second. I love the beautiful historical old buildings. I love how they’re juxtaposed with modern skyscrapers. It’s a city that merges old with new so seamlessly.

My friend and I visited many historical landmarks and buildings (okay, restaurants). Each one had a fascinating story behind them including the Union Oyster House (the oldest restaurant in America), the original Cheers bar (originally the Bull & Finch), and the Warren Tavern (oldest tavern in Massachusetts).

When we did our walking tour of Harvard, I loved the stories our student guide told, pointing out George Washington’s house and the dorm where Bill Gates lived. One building I loved in particular was the Widener Library or Harvard’s Memorial Library. widener_general_resizedCB

Of course I love any library but what I loved most of all was the story. Harry Elkins Widener graduated from Harvard in 1907. He was a bibliophile and went to England in 1912 to purchase some rare books. Unfortunately, Harry’s journey back to America was aboard the Titanic. He and his books never made it back.

Harry’s mother, Eleanor Widener, donated $3 million to Harvard to build a library to house her son’s book collection. However, the university must adhere to three conditions: First, the outside of the library could not be changed or remodeled in any way. Of course, over the years, the library acquired more and more books resulting in less space. It was essential to make room for these books but how could they without going against Mrs. Widener’s wishes? They tunneled under the ground. The library’s bookshelves extend underneath the ground for 50 miles. 50 miles!

The second condition was that fresh flowers must be placed underneath her son’s portrait in the chapel every day. This is done to this day.

The third condition was that every Harvard graduate must learn to swim. I guess she was worried students would end up drowning like her poor son, Harry. This was done for years until the Disabilities Act went into effect and now it’s optional for students.

For more information on Harry Widener and his tragic voyage, check out this link:

Los Angeles doesn’t have as many historical beautiful buildings as Boston but we have our share. One that I love is Union Station in downtown L.A. near Olvera Street. For a little history check out this link:

It has beautiful marble tiles and arched ceilings. My mom and I used to come here at least once every couple months when I was little. We’d take the train from Orange County to downtown L.A. to go shopping at the garment district. The garment district was a collection of buildings that housed discounted clothing stores. It was a couple blocks long. I loved these trips and not just for the cute clothes but to see Union Station.

More recently, I went to Union Station for a wine festival and was amazed how gorgeous it still looked. It brought me back to those days when I was a little girl, arriving in exciting downtown L.A. with my mom.20160123_185607

After the festival, my friend and I went to dinner on nearby Olvera Street for some amazing Mexican food. When we returned about an hour and a half later, the station was completely emptied out. It was kind of eerie.

During wine festival
An hour and a half later…











It inspired me to write this 50-word story which was selected to be published in Blink Ink’s latest issue #23 “Mystery Train.”







For more info on Blink Ink:

What buildings have inspired you? What’s your favorite “building story”?


Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. Her crime fiction short stories have been accepted for publication online and in various anthologies, including All Due Respect, Akashic, Plan B, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Betty Fedora, Spelk, and the Sisters in Crime/LA anthology, Ladies Night. Her noir novella, Cleaning Up Finn, is coming out May 2016 with All Due Respect Books.

Crime Factory 18All Due Respect90880fe98ff50f75c3def4e46c83ef52Sistersx1500















35 thoughts on “Buildings That Tell a Story

    1. Yes, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market are my “go-tos” when I visit. I love all the food choices and the energy there. There’s always performers in front of Quincy Market and such interesting people.


    1. Oh you should definitely visit them! I love Boston and had to figure out how many times I’ve been. I think 6. Each time I go somewhere new and am always amazed. I love learning all about the history. Usually, I stay with a friend who lives in a Boston suburb but this time I stayed downtown and did the “tourist” thing, like going on the Freedom Trail and the Harvard walking tour. The old buildings are so beautiful. I hope your cousin enjoys my post.


  1. I’ve been to Crime Bake in Dedham a few times, but spent all my time at the convention. The one building that always fascinated me since I was a child was the local courthouse in Marietta, OH. Marietta is the first city settled in OH and it has a lot of history. Another local building is a used book story, which was the old Carnegie Library. It has two floors and the top floor- has glass floors. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been to CrimeBake too, ’07 and ’08. It’s a great conference and I want to go back again sometime. That’s also when I realized a friend lives in Boston so now I visit her all the time. I didn’t realize Marietta was the first city settled in OH. I love the history of the used bookstore you mentioned. Thanks for commenting, Cher’ley!


      1. I’ve always loved the old buildings in Marietta. And Marietta College is a gorgeous campus. What’s ridiculous is that I’ve never been to the Campus Martius Museum, I’m embarrassed to say.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re talkin’ history, a subject I always love. I had to laugh when you included Bill Gates’ dorm. Now that’s true modern, up-to-minute history… maybe it needs a hashtag. I’ve a long-time friend who now calls Boston home, says he lives just a couple of blocks from Fenway Park. First met the guy in the early 1980s when I was a reporter in Leesburg, Florida and he was living in an apartment house and had a neighbor I knew… the newspaper photographer. One more item from your piece… I too love old railroad stations, probably because locomotive smoke flows in my blood. My great-grandfather and grandfather on my dad’s side of the family were railroad men, ran depots in Indiana and Ohio back in the first 50 years of the 20th century. I’ve a few memories of riding Santa Fe passenger trains in the late 1950s and early 1960s and going to the San Bernardino train station with its Southwest architecture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve yet to visit Fenway Park. Maybe next trip. Yes, I love train stations. That’s great railroad stations are in your family. I’d love to take a train ride across the country one of these days. I read a guy’s blog who did just that. I think he took it from LA all the way to NYC.


  3. Very interesting post, Sarah. I’ve never been to Boston — I’ve not visited the east very much. There are places I’d like to see, especially during the autumn — perhaps one day. For two summers, I provided tours along several Casper neighborhoods, taking in historic houses and providing the back story on them. History is wonderful and it’s my hope the younger people (school-age kids) will take an interest in it… but sometimes I wonder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s not very common for young kids to be interested in history. I’m guilty of it myself and only recently have started appreciating it. New England is gorgeous during the fall with the foliage. One of my trips visiting my Boston friend took me all through New Hampshire and up to Maine in late October. It was a little late for “leaf peeping” but I still thought the colors were absolutely brilliant. We don’t get anything like that in L.A.


  4. Sarah,
    I can see why you love Boston. I too love historical buildings and stories. Maybe next time you go back east you can do to my hometown, Philadelphia. It’s filled with history and old buildings. And the food is great too and I not just talking Cheesesteaks. There are plenty of great restaurants.
    Thanks for sharing you travel story.
    – Stephen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, my friend and I were just talking about Philly! We were saying how we’d never been and I’ve always wanted to go because I know it has so much history. Hopefully I’ll make it there soon. I’d like to try a real authentic cheesesteak too.


  5. What an interesting post! I’ve never been in the northeast but you make Boston sound like a treasure and I’d love to visit. My favorite piece of architecture is the Colosseum in Rome – I spent most of a day taking pictures and imagining what it must have been like in it’s heyday. I’ve been to many German castles that would be on my list also, and a beautiful hacienda in Mexico that is too beautiful to believe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the Colosseum is incredible. I think Europe blows America out of the water for its historic buildings, that’s for sure. I agree with you on Mexico too. There are some beautiful buildings there. I love the colorful tiles and mosaics. Thanks for commenting, Linda.


  6. Sarah, You are correct, Boston is THE town. I’ve always loved the history, the buildings and parks and the food, well it’s food. Union Station in Denver always fascinated me.
    My true love, old forts. Guess that’s why I write about history, both fiction and non-fiction. There is something about forts, both business and militiary that draw me like bees to flowers.
    Congratulations on the ‘short’. Here’s to builidings, history and writing. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Doris! Yes, the parks in Boston are wonderful too! And I love watching the rowers and crew team on the Charles River. My friend visited Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC but it was much too hot for me that day so I went to the aquarium nearby instead. Lol. Sounds like you would have dealt with the heat to visit the fort. Thanks for sharing, Doris.


  7. Mike, another one of my funny stories. From the 1st to 7th, every year in school we would go to the Campus Martius Museum, and the boat, then we’d go to a big park, eat our paxked lunches and play games. I was so looking forward to Old Man’s Cave, which was where the 8th grade class went. We moved between my 7th and 8th year. The new school had done different trips including Old Man’s Cave, but that year they voted to go to the Campus Martius Museum, and the boat. Lol Sorry about high-jacking your thread Sarah. Cher’ley


  8. Great post, Sarah. Boston’s my home town, but there’s lots of history I don’t know! A little tidbit from a friend who still lives there: You can drink a Sam Adams and look at Sam Adams (headstone) from the bar across the street from the Old Granary Burial Ground!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We went to that burial ground! I took a photo next to Mother Goose’s gravesite. I didn’t even realize she was a real person. We saw Paul Revere’s headstone but I don’t remember Sam Adams. Darn. I had no idea you were from Boston. What a fantastic city! Thanks for reading and commenting, Connie!


  9. I don’t think Union Station ever looked that nice when I knew it many years ago. Olivera Street was a favorite of my Mom’s, especially the handwriting analyst. Probably not there any more.

    Our older daughter went to MIT so we got fairly familiar with Boston. I love how they go underground there. Most of the older campus buildings are connected by tunnels, to avoid the snow. Don’t know if they’ve got anything to equal the Library’s 50 miles. Fun post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My friend who lives in Boston went to MIT. And her son just got accepted there so she’s really excited! I didn’t realize the tunnels occurred at other campuses in Boston too. Wow! I love that there was a handwriting analyst on Olvera Street. Thanks for commenting, Kate!


  10. I enjoyed your post. I’ve visited western Massachusetts several times–love it–and gotten as far east as Concord, but my time in Boston is limited to a couple of hours on a bus tour. I’m going to UnCon in Salem in November, however, and hope to take a couple of extra days to see a bit of Boston. I adore New England. By the way, Emily Dickinson’s house is wonderful–one of her dresses has been preserved there. She was a tiny little thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d love to go to Salem! That’s my next destination, maybe a day trip, when I go back to Boston. I love New England too, Kathy. It’s so different than Southern California! That’d be great to see Emily Dickinson’s house. I heard she was tiny…I guess people were tinier back then too.


  11. That was interesting about the library, Sarah. I’ve not been to Boston but I’ll be returning to LA in late August (actually to Pasadena). My only other week in LA, some 25 years ago, was taken up by going to Disneyland and the big tourist attractions since my kids were around 10 at the time. This trip, as well as attending a wedding, I’ll try to see some of the historic architecture of the LA area.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. That’s great you’ll be in L.A., Nancy! If you have time, you should meet up with Travis, Stephen, and I! If you’re in Pasadena, you should definitely check out the Huntington Library. I’ve actually never been but heard it’s beautiful, especially the gardens there. If you are able to get to downtown L.A., I’d recommend the Bradbury building (famous for the scene in Blade Runner but it’s just a cool old building with an old elevator) and Angel’s Flight. Also the old Palace Theater would be great to see too.


  13. I think old historic buildings have character that is missing from many newer buildings. Years ago when we were looking to move to West Virginia it took a bit of searching to find a realtor that understood we didn’t just want an older house we wanted a house with character. Now that we are in a newer house we are working on giving it some character.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.