Few places in Boston  are more democratic than the neighborhood known as Downtown Crossing. Down Summer Street from the Park Street T stop, this is an almost entirely commercial district that has been mostly closed to car traffic.
After school, teenagers congregate here to flirt and buy clothing and music at the many discount stores lining Washington Street. The bargains here aren’t just for schoolkids, however. In-the-know Bostonians raid Filene’s Basement, the original “bargain basement” clothing store, for last season’s fashions at cut-rate prices.
Architecturally speaking, Downtown Crossing is strikingly uniform in its solid brick-and-granite office buildings, with lovingly detailed sculpted friezes, curlicued cornices, and grand engravings. That uniformity is due to the Great Fire of 1872, when a chance warehouse fire grew to a conflagration that leveled the neighborhood. Flush with money from the China trade, rich merchants rebuilt the neighborhood in a matter of only a few years.
One of the buildings that survived the fire is the Old Corner Bookstore, at 3 School Street, which once hosted transcendentalist writers including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott as regular guests.