What's Up with the Supermarket Over the Massachusetts Turnpike?

Locals drive under this Star Market all the time. This is how it came to span a highway.

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As a kid, I remember riding in my parents' car on the Massachusetts Turnpike (or, as we locals call it, the Mass Pike) and passing under the Star Market grocery store stretching across the entire highway. Back then, I wondered how a store in a local supermarket chain not only got permission to build across Interstate 90, and more importantly, why did they build it there in the first place? Today, I found answers in a WGBH article describing the history of Star Market and how the famously suspended supermarket in the city of Newton came to be.

The original Massachusetts Turnpike stretched from the New York border to Route 128, which is modern day Interstate 95 and the inner beltway around the Boston area. In the early 1960s, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority pushed to extend the Pike all the way into Boston, leading straight to the Prudential Center skyscraper also being built at that time. The city of Newton would be hit hard by the construction of the Turnpike, splitting neighborhoods in half and displacing many residents and businesses. One of the affected businesses was Star Market, who had built their first modern supermarket in Newton in 1948. The Turnpike was planned to go right through their parking lot.

The Turnpike Authority had a great deal of power, and Star Market ended up losing their land to the project. But in a clever compromise, they successfully negotiated to retain "air rights" above the Turnpike. This allowed Star Market to keep their Newton location by building another new supermarket on top of the Turnpike and turn their former location into the parking lot. It was called the "Supermarket of the Space Age," and continues to stand on top of the Turnpike to this day. WGBH cites a Boston Globe story from the time saying, "There is probably nothing like it anywhere among food supermarkets. Interior hues are flame red and off white. Draft-free air conditioning and wide aisles are among the attractive aspects...Spaced among the exterior….translucent plastic panels to be illumined at night." This sounds like pretty much any box store today, but it was new and unique over fifty years ago when this Star Market was built.

At the time the idea of "air rights" ran wild in the imagination of developers in Newton and other Boston suburbs. Some foresaw sprawling complexes stretching across the Turnpike, reconnecting the neighborhoods that the Turnpike split in two. But the idea didn't take off as expected, with only a few buildings, including the Prudential Center itself, sitting on top of the Turnpike.