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Genius Loci: Haunted harbor

How do you take your ghost towns? Metastasizing (Detroit)? Arid and morose with history (a lot of the American plains)? Densely populated and flamboyantly neglected (insert city here)? I prefer the part-time ghost town. I prefer a place like Fort Point Channel in Boston. The drama of an exorcism is appealing. Fort Point has age and majesty. It has a channel and a fleet of footbridges that step onto the rim of the Financial District. It hosted the Boston Tea Party. Its rows and stacks of lofts once warehoused, among other goods, sugar and molasses. This is true: For two centuries, Boston was America's wool hub and Fort Point's Summer Street its epicenter.

The Boston Wharf Company spent about 70 years building it up. But you know how fortune is. Fickle and all. Business faded, artists materialized amid the abandonment. Nearly everything that made Fort Point what it is is now was. It's all vestige. The vintage musks of mercantilism and manufacturing have drawn the developers. By 2000, Boston Wharf, once known as "the company that refused to sell," had sold. A few buildings here. A few buildings there. At some point, the company owned 79 structures. In 2005, when Boston Wharf was 160 years old, it had 17 left. There's nothing to cry about, of course. These were million-dollar deals, many times over. But there's a lingering sadness. The buildings are packed so tight you can't see them holding hands, like siblings who refuse separation.

The Fort Point renaissance is fully, inexorably under way. Barbara Lynch, Ming Tsai, and Joanne Chang all have restaurants (Lynch has several). There are at least three museums—one's for the Boston Tea Party! And the new mercantilism is dot-commy. Someone is calling this place the Innovation District.

When I arrived in Boston in the summer of 2002, I didn't understand Fort Point's transactional history. I didn't even understand the name (it was "Four Point Channel" to me). I just sensed that the ghosts were nervous. Walking along A Street into Fort Point from Broadway Station provided block after block of desolate wonder: "What went on here for so long?" A friend bought a loft in a building on Wormwood. When it was warm, one of her neighbors hosted a movie night in the tiny park across the tiny street. It didn't feel rude to ask who he'd have to scare up to come. Fort Point's loneliness gave it danger. The midday shadows could get to you.

The wrought-iron staircase descent from the elevated part of Summer Street down to A felt transgressive. The empty dining room at Persephone made every meal there feel as if it could be your last. Eventually, it was. On Fridays, the Blue Wave, on Congress, turned from a so-so restaurant into the best-deejayed R&B nightclub on earth. Every dance there felt like the last. Eventually, it was. Now it's a newish so-so restaurant with a good bar. The early-to-mid 2000s felt both like a first draft and last gasp. Now what you notice walking on A or the pathway that snakes along the Gillette Building is how on so many nights you can still be the only person you see in Fort Point. It's as if the sign on the railed billboard atop the roof of a building—"Boston Wharf Co. Industrial Real Estate”—is glowing red only for you. That can be a strangely romantic feeling.

The ghosts learn to coexist with the cooks and graphic designers and software engineers and lawyers with the people staying at the Residence Inn. They've seen you stagger out of Drink and get sick near Lucky's. They've seen you make out on one of the covered boardwalks along the canal. They don't have a choice. No matter where you wind up, they're not going anywhere.