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When a home run sailed over the Green Monster at Fenway Park in 1968, it landed on Lansdowne Street and maybe bounced into the taxi garage across the way. But by New Years Eve that year, the sound of bat hitting ball had been replaced by the sound of drumstick hitting drum head and the garage had been transformed into The Ark, a rock club built at #15 by promoter Charlie Thibeaux. A neophyte to the music business, his club only stayed afloat until the summer of ’69. But it marked the beginning of the street’s development into the leading music and entertainment district in Boston.
At the time The Ark sank, Ray Riepen and Don Law had been looking for a larger space for their very successful club, The Boston Tea Party (its original location at the corner of Berkeley and Appleton Streets received a historical marker from The Bostonian Society in 2007). So the Tea Party moved to 15 Lansdowne and presented an incredible array of now-legendary performers there. Exactly one year after the opening of The Ark, The Grateful Dead played the Tea Party, the only New Years Eve show the band ever did outside San Francisco. Among the many other acts who took the Tea Party stage were The Allman Brothers, The Byrds, Miles Davis, Bo Diddley, Fleetwood Mac, Buddy Guy, Jethro Tull, Elton John, B.B. King, The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, Van Morrison, Rick Nelson, Procol Harum, Tom Rush, Santana, Rod Stewart, The Velvet Underground, The Who, Howlin’ Wolf, Neil Young, Frank Zappa and, in several appearances, Boston’s own J. Geils Band.
But even the Tea Party was not immune to the economics of the music business; as acts grew in popularity, so did the cost of hiring them. The club closed in late 1970, and Law took his rock concert business to larger venues like the Orpheum Theater and Boston Garden. The Tea Party site became Boston’s first ‘70s-style disco, complete with elaborate flashing lights and dancers in “Saturday Night Fever” fashions, now known simply as “15 Lansdowne Street.” The change to a neighborhood of nightclubs on the street was instituted by Patrick Lyons, whose vision of a multi-purpose event venue sprouted the Metro Spit complex showcasing great live acts such as Prince, Eric Clapton, Cab Calloway, Nirvana and The Ramones, as well as WBCN’s annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumbles. The name at the door changed to Citi and Axis and Avalon, and musical styles came and went. New places opened up and down the block: Venus De Milo, Bill’s Bar, and Jake Ivory’s. Even Aerosmith got in the nightclub business on Lansdowne Street, partnering with the Lyons Group to run Mamakin, an outlet for local bands.
The remnants of the garage at 15 Lansdowne finally disappeared in 2007 when the last club to occupy the space, Avalon, was closed and the building torn down. It was replaced by a new Don Law-owned House of Blues, which with its capacity of 2,500 is the largest HOB in that national chain of clubs which had started in Harvard Square. Appropriately, it opened in February 2009 with a reunion performance by the J. Geils Band. Today, 15 Lansdowne Street remains what it has been for over 40 years, the anchor of this musically-historic neighborhood.