For many years Harold Brown, whose 64-year-old Hamilton Company owns two million sq. ft. of commercial real estate in Greater Boston, had been eyeing Somerville’s Union Square as an area poised for new growth.
So when a soon-to-be abandoned warehouse and parking lot at 2 Union Square became available in late 2013, Harold Brown, now 93, and his son Jameson, Hamilton’s Chief Executive Officer, didn’t hesitate to buy the 15,600 sq. ft. property for $1.9 million.
Little did they know at the time, however, that the now-renovated 7,400 sq. ft. building, formerly the site of Riverside Motor Sports, would become “home” to the Boston-area’s first ax-throwing venue.
Urban Axes, a Philadelphia-based chain whose patrons delight in throwing a 1.5 lb. ax at a wooden bullseye target 14-feet away, opened its doors at 2 Union Square on Dec. 7.
For Harold Brown, ax-throwing is a far cry from making donuts, which was his first commercial venture in Somerville’s Davis Square some 60 years ago. Brown, who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New England Real Estate Journal, had to sell the donut shop when, after serving in World War II, he was called back to service in 1950 for the Inchon Invasion in Korea.
For Jameson Brown, 31, renovating the 2 Union Square property and working hand-in-hand with Urban Axes on its unique ax-throwing entertainment theme was a rewarding —and challenging experience.
“When we first saw the property at 2 Union Square,” said Jameson, “the building was literally falling apart. The façade was crumbling, the roof had massive leaks, the garage doors were not flush with the ground and the flooring was not stable.”
About the same time, rumors were rampant that the City of Somerville might take the property by eminent domain as part of a master plan for redevelopment of the Union Square area.
Undaunted, Harold and Jameson Brown persevered, bought the property for $1.9 million and put another $1 million into renovating the dilapidated building. Renovations included replacing the old roof, installing new sprinkler systems, water and sewer lines, flooring and ADA-compliant bathrooms, and replacing half of the building’s façade.
“Once we started seeing the results of these improvements, we felt we would be able to secure a tenant. That’s when we struck the deal with Urban Axes,” said Jameson.
Jameson worked side-by-side with Urban Axes to create a space that fits the entertainment needs of the venue’s ax-throwing patrons.
Together, The Hamilton Company and Urban Axes also entered into an agreement with the Somerville Arts Council, a department of the City of Somerville, authorizing internationally-acclaimed street artist Victor “Marka27” Quinonez to paint a contemporary mural on the west wall of the building.
Quinonez, who splits time between his studio in Brooklyn and his home in Cambridge, is known for blending elements of street and pop culture with Mexican and indigenous aesthetics—a signature look the artist has coined “Neo Indigenous”.
According to the Arts Council, the goal of the mural, completed in August, as well as others in Somerville, is to “highlight the diversity of our communities and beautify the walls in our City.”
Jameson Brown views the mural as a welcome addition to The Hamilton Company’s renovations at 2 Union Square.
“Most people see just the final product and say, ‘hey, that’s pretty cool’,” said Jameson. “But what’s really cool is taking a beat-up property and turning it into something special.”
In addition to owning two million in commercial real estate, the Allston-based Hamilton Company, founded in 1954 by Harold Brown, owns 5,600 units of multi-family housing throughout the Greater Boston area. Harold Brown also established The Hamilton Company Charitable Foundation, which provides millions of dollars annually to local charities and non-profit neighborhood groups in the communities that The Hamilton Company serves.
Photo of Mural on west wall of building by artist, Victor “Marka27” Quinonez (© 2018 Marka27), courtesy of the Somerville Arts Council, a department of the City of Somerville.
Photo of ax-throwing area, courtesy of Urban Axes