Near Tremont St. and Ruggles St.

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011, 5:13pm

It is surprisingly lonely and eerie outside the front entrance to the Boston Police headquarters on a cold January night. There is not much foot traffic here: the building is recessed from both Tremont and Ruggles by a broad sidewalk and an open plaza. I am sitting on a cool slate bench on the inner rim of an ovular memorial area, set off toward the right side of the entrance and distinguished from the rest of the plaza by elegant stone slates underfoot. The memorial is crowned by a shiny police badge.

To my left, the U.S. and state flags ripple on short flagpoles flanking a plaque displaying the Boston Police mission statement about “sharing responsibility to ensure safe, secure and livable neighborhoods.” A blue fence behind the plaque surrounds an empty snow-covered playground area attached to the building. A few footprints through the snow lead from the memorial plaza to a sparsely lit park filled with trees. Separate bike and walking paths wind through this dark and shadowy space away from noisy Tremont St.

On the opposite side of the memorial, a neon blue light rises as a police beacon through a twisting metal sculpture. The Pru and its shorter offspring building stand as a backdrop in the distance. City buses emerge from the road leading from Ruggles Station onto Ruggles St. They merge with Boston school buses and other traffic, their engines rumbling as they wait for the light to turn at Tremont St. The Orange Line and Commuter Rail tracks that pass through Ruggles Station, combined with the major thoroughfare of Tremont St., form a distinct barrier separating this area on the edge of Roxbury from the downtown lights of the Pru.

A Christmas tree still stands lit into the new year at the foot of the large metal antenna tower in front of the police headquarters. The building’s entrance is through a large rotunda surrounded by plates of opaque black glass, which merge with modern stone masonry to encase the building. The only peeks inside are presented through the odd transparent pane. A childcare center near the playground with the letters of the alphabet peppering the indoor walls. The treadmills of an exercise area on the second floor. An old discarded tube TV pushed up against a third-floor window.

The modern brick high-rise across Ruggles St. must be a Northeastern dormitory. The occasional rectangles of light through broad glass windows provide similar glimpses into this building. A long, well-lit hallway lined with cozy red chairs arranged in seating areas. Rows of student mailboxes. A student center. Upstairs, more tables and chairs in the opening at the end of every hallway, few of them occupied. Across Tremont St., toward Roxbury, the high-rise housing looks older. The state of relative disrepair suggests these buildings are not tended to by the university. The new year is a cold one thus far.

Washington St. and State St./Court St.

Monday, December 13th, 5:40pm

Mesmerized by the frontage of the Old State House, I feel the low rumble below me of an Orange or Blue Line train pulling into or out of State Street Station. The December evening is relatively warm after two days of rain and rush hour is in full force around me. Seven or eight idling engines line up in front of me on Washington St., waiting for two green arrows to usher them to the left onto Court St.

Three branches come together here to form a T that looks more like a T: Washington (honoring our first executive), State (so named for this one-time home of the Massachusetts legislature), and Court (the judicial branch, leading toward Scollay Square). Despite being the intersection of two one-way streets, this crossing feels more like four- or five-ways because of the pedestrian traffic. People walk in and out of the entrance to the T out of view on the far side of the State House. Others walk up and down the wide plaza leading to Government Center and City Hall Plaza or the brick Freedom Trail pass-through to Congress St. alongside the State House.

The majesty of the Old State House

I am sitting on one of a series of fashionable wooden benches on a raised stone plaza, which continues to tremble from the comings and goings of the subway below. The benches are covered with sparse drops of leftover rain and hardly anyone uses them (aside from a rather unskilled skateboarder who fumbles over a jump onto one of the benches and quickly skates away down the street to seek a new practice location). The plaza’s small trees, decked in white Christmas lights, match the lighted wreaths inside the plate-glass entrance to the BNY Mellon Center, one of the many tall, modern, financial office towers that have grown up all around the stately three-level brick building across the street. Some variation of the same pattern of plate-glass, lit intermittently by numbing fluorescence, delineates each of the dozens of floors in these skyscrapers.

Meanwhile, most of the action on ground-level surrounds the Old State House, which stands majestic, the 300-year-old village elder of this neighborhood. The cornice and Doric columns of the classical wooden façade allude to an even more ancient era. Over the entrance, a golden eagle perches with wings spread, ready to take off. Atop the illuminated white tower of the building, stands a golden weathervane, rising through a rare opening between the buildings where clouds brush quickly across the blue-black evening sky.

Along the Freedom Trail, next to the Old State House, a lonely cart stands adorned with Boston and Harvard T-shirts; the vendor sits out of sight, hood pulled up, leaning against the brick wall of the historic building, his chair empty.

A lonely vendor cart sits along the Freedom Trail