Baylies Mansion // 1903

Commonwealth Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood is a dream, no matter what time of year, though I am a huge fan of it in the winter so the leaves don’t obscure the architectural details! This home just steps from the Public Garden was built in 1903 for Walter Baylies (1862-1936) and his wife, Charlotte. The couple had purchased a c.1860 Second Empire mansion (basically a sister house or twin to the adjacent at 3 Commonwealth Ave), and demolished it for a more “modern” residence. Baylies was extremely wealthy with investments in nearly everything, and he wanted his city residence to stand out amongst the earlier, brick and brownstone townhouses on the eastern edge of the neighborhood. Architect Arthur Rice designed the house in the Renaissance Revival style, and it is finished with Indiana Limestone. Of particular note is the one-story ballroom, which was built to the side of the home, set back behind a small garden. An empty house lot, formerly occupied by a stable, was used simply for the Baylies’ ballroom, constructed in 1909 for their daughter. Talk about a status symbol! The home was purchased by Walter’s heirs in 1941 by the Boston Center for Adult Education. The home was again purchased in 2020, and is back to a single-family home! I can’t even imagine how stunning the interior is!

Clarendon Court // 1904

Built at the tail-end of the Gilded Age in Newport, this turn-of-the-century mansion evokes feelings of country estates in England. “Clarendon Court” was built in 1904 for Edward Collings Knight, Jr. (1863-1936) and his first wife, Clara W. Dwight (1862-1910). Edward C. Knight was a railroad executive and amateur artist who “exhibited more talent at spending money than making it”, which was evident from his architectural taste and timing for building such an expensive home in Newport, which was beginning to wane in popularity at the time. Clarendon Court was actually designed in the 18th century by Colen Campbell, a renowned Scottish architect. The country estate was never built, but Gilded Age architect Horace Trumbauer, found the design in one of Campbell’s old books, and except for removing the cupolas over the wings either side of the central block, he reproduced a perfect copy. Trumbauer had just a year before designed a townhouse for the couple in Philadelphia. Edward Knight originally named the mansion “Claradon Court” after his wife Clara. In 1930, Claradon Court was purchased by Maisie Caldwell (1878-1956) and her third husband, Colonel William Hayward (1877-1944), legendary commander of the “Harlem Hellfighters” during World War One. Maisie had inherited a fortune of $50 million from her second husband, Morton Freeman Plant, a railroad and steamship magnate. The couple renamed the mansion Clarendon Court, a more traditional name.

Clarendon Court was later purchased by Claus von Bülow and Martha Sharp Crawford, who was known as “Sunny von Bülow”. Sunny was worth over $75 million and updated the mansion and grounds to exceptionally elegant conditions. It was known that Sunny and Claus had a rough marriage, but it came to a head when on December 26, 1979, after the family had come together for Christmas at their mansion, she was found unresponsive and was rushed to the hospital where she slipped into coma but was revived. After days of testing, doctors determined the coma was the result of low blood sugar and diagnosed her as hypoglycemic, warning her against overindulging on sweets or going too long without eating. No foul play was suspected at the time. One year later, on the evening of December 21, 1980, while celebrating Christmas with her family at their mansion, she again displayed confusion. She was put to bed by her family, but in the morning she was discovered unconscious on the bathroom floor. She was taken to the hospital where it became clear that this time she had suffered severe enough brain injury to produce a persistent vegetative state. A hypodermic needle was found in a black bag in Bulow’s study and coupled with their maid’s testimony he was subsequently charged with her murder, accused of injecting his wife with insulin so he could live at Clarendon on her money with his mistress. His mistress was the actress Alexandra (Moltke) Isles, better known as “Victoria Winters” in Dark Shadows. In 1982, in a sensational case that gripped the country, Bülow was convicted. But, he appealed in 1985 and was acquitted. His stepchildren then filed a $56 million law suit against him, which was dropped two years later: Bülow agreed to divorce his comatose wife, relinquish all rights to her fortune, leave the country and never to profit from the story. Bülow moved to London where he kept a low profile for the rest of his life while Sunny remained in a vegetative state in New York until she eventually passed away in 2008. 

Lancaster Center School // 1904

Situated on the iconic Town Green of Lancaster, MA, this gorgeous Colonial Revival school building elegantly fits into the surrounding context of stately civic buildings in the small town. The Center School, (now known as the Prescott Building), was designed by architect Herbert Dudley Hale of Boston, and built in 1904 for use as the Town of Lancaster’s first high school. The building committee formed to oversee proposals and funding of the school settled quickly on the desire to see it built in the Colonial Revival style to compliment the other Town Green buildings at the time, most importantly the Charles Bulfinch-designed church at the northern end (more on that tomorrow). The Center School had been used continuously as a public school until 2001, when it outlived its utility as a modern and codified school facility. The building stood vacant for a number of years until it was restored and re-utilized as town offices next to the town hall.

Gilman Tenements // 1917

In the 1860s, the north slope of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood behind the old reservoir was made up of brick townhouses occupied by a mix of English, Irish, and African American families in what we would consider the middle-class. By the end of the 19th century, the neighborhood’s population began to leave to the nearby suburbs for more space. Due to this, immigrant groups moved into the north slope and West End. As a result, some of the more stately townhomes were demolished and replaced with larger tenement houses which could accommodate more families. In 1914, a Russian Jew named Max Gilman, purchased an old home on Temple Street and constructed this tenement house on the site. Max served with the United States Armed Forces during WWI, and upon returning to Boston, applied and was awarded citizenship. The building itself is a “dumbbell tenement” characterized by indentations at the sides of the otherwise boxy structure. These fairly shallow indentations in the wall plane permitted some fresh air and natural light to reach rooms at the center of a building, as opposed to just the front and rear. In New York City, the dumbbell was the predominant tenement building type erected between 1879 and 1901, from the tenement house law of 1879 requiring a window in every tenement bedroom. The form was never required in Boston, but the design took hold in cities all over the northeast.

Schenectady City Hall // 1931

Buildings of New England travels! Welcome to Schenectady, a great city in upstate New York, with an hard to spell and pronounce name! The name “Schenectady” is derived from the Mohawk word skahnéhtati, meaning “beyond the pines”. Schenectady was founded on the south side of the Mohawk River by Dutch colonists in the 17th century, many of whom were from the Albany area. In 1664 the English seized the Dutch New Netherland colony and renamed it New York. They established a monopoly on the fur trade around Albany, and issued orders to prohibit Schenectady from the trade through 1670 and later. The town grew mostly as an inland agricultural town until the Erie Canal was built in 1825, creating a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, cutting through Schenectady. The town grew and became an industrial center, attracting a very diverse population of immigrants in the 19th century and African Americans as part of the Great Migration out of the rural South to northern cities for work. The community struggled (like many) in the mid 19th century but has seen a large resurgence as of late!

This building is the Schenectady City Hall, a massive architectural landmark which made my jaw drop when I saw it! The City of Schenectedy outgrew their old City Hall, and in the late 1920s, held a nationwide contest to select designs for a new City Hall. The contest was won by the prominent architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White. It appears that the designs were furnished by James Kellum Smith of the firm, the often overlooked genius of the MMW practice. The exorbitant cost of the project, which was undertaken during the Great Depression, caused the building to be dubbed “Fagal’s Folly” after Mayor Henry C. Fagal, who allowed all the cost increases while the city’s future was uncertain. He was not re-elected after this building was completed. The building is a pleasing mixture of Colonial and Classical Revival styles and features bold pilasters and a towering cupola

Paine Furniture Building // 1914

Located on Arlington Street between St. James and Stuart streets in Boston’s Back Bay, this gorgeous masonry commercial block stands as a testament to the amazing architecture built in Boston in the early 20th century. The Paine Furniture Building was constructed in 1914 to house the extensive showroom, offices, and manufacturing operations of the Paine Furniture Company. Founded in 1835, the company was at one time the largest furniture manufacturer and dealer in New England and had a nationwide business. The company was founded by Leonard Baker Shearer, who was joined in business in 1845 by John S. Paine. Upon the death of Shearer in 1864, the name of the firm was changed to Paine’s Furniture Company, a name which stuck until the company closed in 2000. The architects for the building, Densmore & LeClear, were very busy in the early decades of the 20th century and designed many iconic buildings nearby and in towns surrounding Boston through the 1940s.

Harvard Medical School – Laboratory Building // 1905

The buildings which make up the majority of the “Great White Quad” of Harvard Medical School in Boston, are the four laboratory buildings which frame two sides of the lawn. The four lab buildings add to the composition of the campus which historically terminated at the Administration Building (last post). All five buildings of the Longwood campus’ initial building campaign were built between 1903-05 and were designed by the architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, who continued the architectural practice of the famed H.H. Richardson. The four lab buildings were designed U-shaped with two disciplines in each building, one on each wing, with a central auditorium space in the central wing upstairs. Large grassy courtyards were located in the enclosed sections to provide natural light and fresh air into the laboratories. Many of the Classical Revival lab buildings have been enclosed and added onto in the 20th century as the campus grew exponentially, a testament to its success.

Boston Consolidated Gas Company Building // 1927

The Boston Gas Light Company was incorporated in 1823 and for thirty years was the sole company producing coal gas in the City of Boston. In the second half of the 19th century, several additional gas light companies were formed in and around Boston to make loads of money with the booming industrial growth seen there. They continued until it was determined that with the proximity of competing pipelines and the overlap of service areas it would be more efficient to consolidate into a single company. The Boston Consolidated Gas Company was chartered in 1903 to to combine numerous smaller corporations operating in the City of Boston under one conglomerate. The organization had a small building in Downtown, which was outgrown decades later. The company hired the local firm of Parker, Thomas & Rice, to design the new mid-rise office building on the outskirts of the fashionable Back Bay neighborhood. The base of the Classical Revival building follows the base, shaft and capital form. The base is traditional with three stories of rustication, ornamental capitals, carved detail at the arches and the elegant bronze window frames. The central stories are clad in dressed limestone, streamlined with punched openings, emphasizing verticality. Stories 12 and 13 are framed by colossal engaged columns with arched windows and bas reliefs. The ground floor today is home to a recently opened restaurant, Nusr-Et Boston, which was created by the famous chef, Salt Bae.

Burlington Montgomery Ward // 1929

Montgomery Ward was founded by Aaron Montgomery Ward in 1872. Ward had conceived of the idea of a dry goods mail-order business in Chicago. The fledgling company often created catalogs of their items for sale, distributing the booklets in the streets of the city. In 1883, the company’s catalog, which became popularly known as the “Wish Book”, had grown to 240 pages and 10,000 items. In 1896, Wards encountered its first serious competition in the mail order business, when Richard Warren Sears introduced his first general catalog. In 1900, Wards had total sales of $8.7 million, compared to $10 million for Sears, beginning a rivalry that lasted decades. In 1926, the company broke with its mail-order-only tradition when it opened its first retail outlet store in Indiana. It continued to operate its catalog business while pursuing an aggressive campaign to build retail outlets in the late 1920s. In 1928, two years after opening its first outlet, it had opened 244 stores. By 1929, it had more than doubled its number of outlets to 531. This smaller retail expansion was in contrast to rival, Sears Roebuck Company, which was opening a chain of large retail stores on the outskirts of larger cities. The 515th Montgomery Ward store was this one in Burlington. The building is constructed of brick and faced with concrete with “Chicago-style” three-part windows with the three bays capped by concrete pilasters topped by urns. The Burlington Montgomery Ward store closed in 1961, and the building is now home to Homeport, a home goods store.

Burlington City Hall // 1928

One of the largest, most grand buildings in Downtown Burlington, Vermont is its City Hall building, constructed in 1928, just before the Great Depression. The brick facade with extensive carved marble trim is Neo-classical in style, with virtually all the finish materials – brick, marble, roofing slate, and granite produced in Vermont. The building replaced the 1850s City Hall, which was poorly constructed and suffered from deterioration, exacerbated by an earthquake in 1925. Architect William M. Kendall was hired to complete the designs of the large, bold Classical building. Kendall spent his career with the New York firm of McKim, Mead & White, the leading American architectural practice at the turn of the century, and showcased the best of that firm with the design of this building.