Section of the 1898 map to Accompany Report of State Board on Docks and Terminal Facilities. Area in red is New York, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad right-of-way, stations, and yards; yellow is Boston & Albany. Shaded area is the original land mass of Boston. Click to enlarge. (Copyright the City Record and Boston News-Letter, all rights reserved).
In his Boston Globe Metro column, Adrian Walker fleshes out the proposal to add "BPL" or "Boston Public Library" to the Copley Station name by speaking with Boston Public Library President Bernard Margolis. One item jumped out at me: "Margolis told me he took an informal survey three years ago asking people on the street to identify Kendall, Kenmore, and Copley squares. he was surprised by how many people could no identify these well-known areas."
Kendall Square really isn't much of a square at all, so I can understand drawing a blank, although the MIT Press bookstore is a favorite place of mine for architecture books. Kenmore Square should be easy to identify, one would think, given the number of people who spent countless hours in the clubs there (RIP Mr. Butch and RIP The Rat, as well), got off the T to go to Red Sox games, or have seen the Citgo Sign. I will turn over Copley Square to someone who knew far more about the function of cities than me. Kevin Lynch, an urban planner who concerned himself with how people view and navigate through cities, wrote The Image of the City (1960), which examined, in part, what Lynch called the "legibility" of cities (the preceding link is an excellent introduction to the book and Lynch's work). Some of the conclusions Lynch made were drawn from field work conducted in the late 1950s, in which people in Boston were surveyed about their knowledge of the city--how to get from one place to another, notable landmarks, hard to find places, etc. Out of this research, Lynch concluded the following about Copley Square:
"A node like Copley Square, on the contrary [compared to old Scollay Square], which is of less functional importance and has to handle the angled intersection of Huntington Avenue [Huntington Avenue used to continue across Copley Square, terminating at Boylston Street], was very sharply imaged, and the connections of various paths were eminently clear. It was easily identified, principally in terms of its unique individual buildings: the Public Library, Trinity Church, and the Copley Plaza Hotel, the sight of the John Hancock Building. It was less of a spatial whole than a concentration of activity and of some uniquely contrasting buildings." (Lynch, The Image of the City, p. 76)
While Lynch conducted his study almost fifty years ago, I find it hard to imagine that Bostonians have suddenly forgotten about the location of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square and the addition of the Hancock Tower (Lynch was referring to the first John Hancock Building, the one with the weather beacon) and the filling in of the Back Bay railyard (see the Boston & Albany portion of the map above) to create the Prudential Tower complex have, if anything, strengthened Copley Square.
The Third Decade comes to the same conclusion.
Below are pictures of Copley Square institutions c. 1895 from King's Boston Views.