Another of my favorite townhouses in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston is this Victorian Gothic mansion on Beacon Street, built for Daniel and Mary Knowlton. The residence was designed by the firm of Allen and Kenway and built in 1880 and stands out architecturally for its use of style and use of material amongst a sea of brick. A former cotton merchant, Daniel Knowlton was treasurer of the Flexible Shoe Nail Company and later worked as a stockbroker. The large single-family dwelling was converted into four condominium units in 1989, but has since been switched back to a single-family residence. It sold for $11.2 million dollars as a five bedroom, six full and two half bath home in 2017. Yikes!
282 Beacon Street // 1927
One of the finest apartment-houses in Boston is this towering building at the corner of Beacon and Exeter streets in the Back Bay neighborhood. In 1926, real estate dealers Elliott Henderson and Roger B. Tyler purchased two townhouses on small lots and demolished them for the present structure. They hired the architectural firm of Blackall and Elwell furnished the plans for the 11-story Renaissance Revival style residence which included ten large apartments. The design is unique to the Back Bay with amazing cast stone details at the entries with rounded arch windows, fanciful brickwork, and spiral columns!
Trinity Place Station // 1900-1964
Trinity Place Station was the Boston & Albany Railroad’s second depot for trains running outbound from its newly completed South Station. The depot was designed by Alexander Wadsworth “Waddy” Longfellow, Jr., who from Harvard University in 1876, later studying architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and then worked as senior draftsman in Henry Hobson Richardson‘s office upon his return to the United States. A. W. Longfellow was also the nephew of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He designed the station of pink granite with a covered platform 375 feet in length. The building long served train commuters leaving the ever-changing Back Bay neighborhood. Consolidated lines led to the station being deemed obsolete, and it was scheduled for demolition. Much of the old line route would be cleared for the right-of-way for the Mass Pike Expansion into Boston. The demolition on Trinity Place was postponed until early 1964 to allow for scenes of the movie, “The Cardinal” to be filmed there.
Toy Theatre // 1914-1922
When the Toy Theatre on Lime Street in Beacon Hill (last post) was formed in the early 20th century, the members of the small (but growing) theatre group of well-connected artists and actors had their sights on something with permanence. By 1914, the group had funding and acquired land on Dartmouth street, a block away from Copley Square, and ground was broken to build a large new theatre. The fashionable Colonial Revival style building featured a large rounded bay and was constructed of brick and limestone. The theatre group could not support the building, and it was rebranded as the Copley Theatre within a couple years. Continuing the bad luck, the City of Boston decided to extend Stuart Street by 1921, and this building was along the proposed route. The street was extended and a new “Copley Theatre” was built on Stuart Street, a stone’s throw from this building. And so goes the short-lived history of the Toy Theatre.
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!
Boston Police Department Headquarters – Loews Boston // 1925
I love historic hotels, so when I decided that I was overdue for a “stay-cation” in Boston, spending time unwinding in an old building was mandatory. When walking around the Back Bay, I always loved the old Boston Police Department Headquarters building and used this as an opportunity to learn more about its history! The Boston Police Department Headquarters building on Berkeley Street was built in 1925, and was designed by the architectural firm of Ritchie, Parsons & Taylor, a firm that specialized in civic and institutional buildings. Prior to this building, the Boston Police Department was based out of an old townhouse in Pemberton Square. By the 1920s, such an out-dated and small building was not a good symbol for one of America’s premier police forces, so the City of Boston purchased a lot in the Back Bay and funded the new modern building. The structure is a late example of Italian Renaissance Revival architecture in the city, and is classically refined. The brick building is clad with limestone, which is rusticated on the ground two floors. The building housed police department offices for over 70 years until 1997, when they built a new, Modern building in Roxbury. This building was boarded up for years until it was sold to an Irish hotel chain, who added two additional floors at the roof. They quickly went out of business and sold the hotel. The hotel today is operated by Loews, and they do a great job of highlighting the history of the building, from the meeting rooms named after significant police department employees of the past, the appropriately named Precinct Bar, to the Police-blue lanterns flanking the main entrance.
Atkins-Chandler Houses // 1860
These two townhouses were built in 1860 and were once part of a row of four matching homes constructed for wealthy Bostonians. The end units feature stronger detailing with the center two homes being slightly recessed and less ornate, all four constructed of brick with brownstone facades. The original owners wanted to ensure that their new homes would be harmonious in design, both with each other and with the other houses being built nearby.The property already was subject to restrictions contained in the deeds from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who sold much of the land in the Back Bay for development, but the owners added further stipulations. Among them that “the front of said houses shall be of free stone and the height not less than three stories” and “the cornice and roof of all the houses shall be uniform, and shall conform to a plan to be hereinafter agreed upon.” The right house seen here was occupied by Henry Atkins, a grocer and importer of wines and spirits. The left home was occupied by John Chandler, a dry goods merchant and his wife. They both died at a young age in 1875 and 1876 respectively, and the home was sold off by their children’s guardian to Charles Porter, a physician and surgeon. He served as a doctor of anatomy at Harvard Medical School under Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and worked as Chief Surgeon at Mass. General Hospital. His wife, Margaret Cochran Dewar, who also was a physician and was resident surgeon at Sheffield Hospital in England. She had graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1894, among the first women in Scotland to receive a university degree and the first to receive a university medical qualification. In 1925, the two homes here were purchased and combined to one multi-family apartment building and remodelled the structure with ugly brick additions. By 1996, a developer purchased the building and restored them by installing a new façade and fenestration more consistent with the historical nature of the building, making their heights identical once again.
Stanhope Stables // c.1868
Boston has many examples of adaptive reuse, likely none as frequent as converted horse stables and carriage houses from the 19th century. These one-story stables with a mansard roof on Stanhope Street in the Back Bay were constructed by 1868. The street once held other stable buildings, but those lots were either redeveloped or closed for the extension of Clarendon Street. The stables were used to store the horses and carriages of wealthy Back Bay residents including Jacob Pfaff, Dexter Follett, and Barney Corey. When automobiles replaced horses as a primary way of getting around, these buildings were converted to garages. As the land value raised here, they were adapted to commercial use eventually as restaurants. The building at the far left (now Red Lantern) was originally occupied by Gundlach’s Hofbrau German Restaurant, followed by the Red Coach Grill. A large fire occurred at the restaurant in 1955, likely destroying any historic fabric inside. The Stanhope Stables are threatened for redevelopment as the high-value land facilitates a higher and better use (presently proposed as a hotel). While the preservationist in me wants to see these stables remain intact, my stance is that the brick facades should be reconfigured into a new development in a lobby or restaurant.
What do you think?
The Clarendon // 2010
Few architects today continually put out good designs for new construction. One of those firms is Robert A. M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), who designed The Clarendon, a high-rise apartment building catty-corner to the tallest building in New England, the Hancock Tower. The Clarendon rises 32-stories atop a five-story limestone base, which relates to the scale of the base of the Old John Hancock Building (across the street). Above, the building is clad in the traditional Boston palette of red brick and limestone, but expressed in a way that relates to its modern neighbors with two-story recessed masses that break up the sheer height of the building. Above the base, the building sets back to create elevated green spaces and to mitigate wind conditions caused by the John Hancock Tower. Together the design features and materials provide a nod to historical context in Boston, while being unapologetically Modern. Part of the appeal for me is how this building does not command the corner, but adds to the rich layered fabric in this section of the Back Bay.
What do you think of the Clarendon?
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.