- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

BOSTON — Brendan Kelley was 10 years old when his father first took him to the Prudential Building’s Skywalk observatory in downtown Boston.

On his second trip 750 feet up to New England’s highest observation deck, Mr. Kelley took his own son, Dan.

“Boston has changed dramatically,” the Phoenix resident said as he looked out over the city during a recent visit. “The streets that used to be here aren’t here anymore.”

“It’s so green here,” said his wife, Anne Marie. “Phoenix doesn’t have much of that.”

The Prudential Building was the tallest building in Boston when it was completed in 1965. It didn’t lose that title until 1976, when the 790-foot John Hancock Tower was completed.

Since the observation deck in the John Hancock Tower closed after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, more people have come to the Skywalk’s indoor observatory to get an unobstructed view of Boston.

A single admission ticket buys visitors access to the observatory as well as museum exhibits on the 50th floor of the 52-story building. Visitors can use individual audio handsets at 20 marked stations around the 360-degree glass rotunda.

After a visitor types in the station number, an audio tour “guide” named Buddy points out Boston’s top attractions. To the north, across the Charles River in Cambridge, are Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The south end has been home to several generations of the city’s immigrants. Facing east, one can spot the gilded dome of the Massachusetts State House. Looking to the west, visitors have a bird’s-eye view of Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox.

The audio tour also lets visitors in on some Boston trivia: Boston had a subway system before New York; the affluent Back Bay neighborhood was once a stinky swamp; Americans actually lost the Battle of Bunker Hill; the North End smelled like molasses for weeks after a molasses distillery exploded in 1919.

Skywalk celebrated its 40th anniversary last year by installing the Dreams of Freedom Immigration Museum. Formerly located in downtown’s International Institute of Boston, the museum highlights immigration’s role in building Boston’s identity.

In one multimedia exhibit, two rap emcees appear on separate television sets and ask viewers sample questions from the U.S. citizenship test.

Siblings Fernando and Jennifer Pena laughed while they watched the video. “If you ask Americans, some of them wouldn’t even know the answers to those questions,” said Miss Pena, who was born in the Dominican Republic.

Among the nearly 30 interactive displays are a short film about refugees narrated by singer Peter Gabriel and the “Wings Over Boston” aerial video tour.

Some visitors come to the Skywalk for more than the view or the trivia. Isabella Davis has seen plenty of marriage proposals take place during the 11 years she has worked the cash register at the observatory. Some of the proposals have even taken place midair — men have rented airplanes with banners to pop the question outside the 50th floor.

“We just had one the week before last. She was so happy she said she wanted to cry,” Miss Davis said.

• • •

Prudential Skywalk: 800 Boylston St., Boston, on the 50th floor of the Prudential Building; www.prudentialcenter.com/play/skywalk.html or 617/859-0648. Adults, $10.50; children under 12, $7; seniors, $8.50. Open daily 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. March through October and until 8 p.m. November through February.

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