Installed in 1973, Captain’s Walk was a bold attempt to revitalize State Street as shoppers began to abandon downtown stores in favor of automobile-oriented malls. From Washington Street to Main Street (renamed Eugene O’Neill Drive), this pedestrian mall was fitted out with planters, benches, kiosks, and awnings all carefully designed to enhance the shopper’s experience.
Within a few years, however, there were serious concerns about the mall’s efficacy. A 1977 poll found most city residents in favor of reopening the street to automobile traffic—something that eventually happened in 1990. Although many of its traces are still visible today—especially in street paving—Captain’s Walk is often blamed for having “killed” State Street.
If Captain’s Walk looms large in State Street’s history, it was not the first attempt to manage the impact of vehicles on the urban environment. From the 1920s on, city officials implemented a wide range of technologies to control the presence of automobiles on State Street.