Built five years before the Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, the Temple Kehillath Israel on Harvard Street employs a similar architectural aesthetic of the Byzantine Revival style. The Jewish community of Brookline had grown significantly since the early 1900s, reaching a population of 4,000 by 1921. The congregation which constructed this temple had temporary quarters in a building at Harvard and Thorndike streets. By March 1921, it was decided to build a temple, and in 1922, the cornerstone was laid for a building which would cost an estimated $150,000 and have a capacity for 1,000. Plans submitted by architects architects Albert MacNaughton and George E. Robinson showed the large structure with space to build outbuildings as the congregation was expected to keep up with growth.
In 1948, an Art Deco Community House, designed by Samuel Glaser, was constructed of stone replicated the materiality of the temple, but with Modern features, a connector addition was added in 1958. The congregation is currently in the midst of a huge building campaign, which began with the exterior restoration of the temple building, followed by a modernization and restoration of the interior. In 2019, the 1948 Community House was razed to make way for an affordable housing development, called the Brown Family House.
One of the oldest homes in Brookline is the Edward Devotion House just north of Coolidge Corner. Built in 1745, the home is a traditional example of a Georgian wood-frame home built prior to the American Revolution. Edward Devotion (1621-85) settled in Brookline around 1645. At that time, Brookline was a farming community known as Muddy River. Devotion’s acreage along Harvard Street included apple orchards and pastureland for sheep and cattle. His son, also Edward Devotion, left a bequest to the town for public schooling in his 1744 will and the home was willed to his son Solomon Hill (not sure why the name change). Edward Devotion (the second) was a slave-owner; an accounting of his possessions at his death included “one Negrow” valued at £30. The Edward Devotion School, which today surrounds the house on three sides, was named for him in 1892 in recognition of his earlier bequest for a school.
The home that stands today on Harvard Street was built by around 1745, not by a Devotion, but by Solomon Hill. Through research by the Brookline Historical Society, some wood beams in the home were dated and are estimated to be from the 1680s. While it is unclear as to if the home was demolished and a new one built or just altered by Hill, the home is clearly a significant structure to tell the story of Brookline’s humble beginnings as a town known as “Muddy River” to the affluent suburb it is today. The home is owned by the Brookline Historical Society who wrote much of this amazing history.
If you have ever been to Coolidge Corner in Brookline, you have had the pleasure of gawking at one of the most beautiful buildings in the town, the S.S. Pierce Store at the corner of Beacon and Harvard Streets. This major Brookline landmark was built in 1898-99 for an S.S. Pierce Store. S. S. Pierce was originally founded in Downtown Boston before locating on Copley Square, to a building which is no longer standing. When it opened in 1898, the S.S. Pierce Store at Coolidge Corner sold imported goods from all over the world, as well as local provisions from Boston area farmers and artisans. The company, effectively a high-end grocery store, even provided free delivery to customers, way before Amazon provided that service!
Architects Winslow and Wetherell of Boston designed the Tudor Revival building with its iconic corner tower with clock, steep slate roof, and cross timbering with stucco siding. The original building featured an opening under the tower’s roof for people to stand and observe the street, sadly, it was damaged in the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944, and was rebuilt without that belvedere.
These apartments in Brookline were built in 1938 and designed by Saul Moffie. The Art Deco design is refined yet elegant with just the use of brick coursing. The amazing brickwork includes header courses, soldier courses and chevrons. This example shows that good design does not require the most expensive or foreign materials to stand out! Oh and there are steel casement windows!
The Triple-Decker housing type is extremely iconic around New England and every medium-to-large city can claim them in their neighborhoods. The style became prevalent after the American Civil War, when immigrants from Europe came to New England in force for manufacturing jobs. Many working-class immigrant families moved near factories and mills for work, but at first many scrounged for a place to live. They jammed into stables, cellars and even tents, until higher density options became available. Investors and developers saw an opportunity to build three-story flats in mass, and gave new residents the opportunity to pool money and purchase the buildings, with the ability to rent out the other two floors to family.
Lesser-known, by the end of the 19th century, “immigration reformers” under the guise of public safety, pushed for the banning of triple-deckers in Brookline and other affluent towns. Men including Prescott Farnsworth Hall, noted that these dense wood-frame structures with kitchens above the ground floor were a fire hazard, citing the Great Chelsea Fire of 1908, but it was clear that the reformers were against the idea of immigrants entering the middle-class and purchasing homes. Under pressure from such groups, Massachusetts in 1912 passed a law allowing cities and towns to ban triple deckers. Not in so many words, though. The language said municipalities could prevent construction of any ‘wooden tenement’ in which ‘cooking shall be done above the second floor. In 1915, Brookline banned the housing style.
What they lost out on was more gorgeous dense housing, as an alternative to the later Pillbox (boxy, lacking detail or depth) apartment structures that sprouted up after WWII. This triple-decker in North Brookline was built for Ms. Paul, a widow who sought income after her husbands death. Ms. Paul sold her large single-family home just a couple streets over and hired an architect to design an attractive multi-family home where she could have a steady stream of income from the other two units. This property was larger than many and featured pleasant shingle-style detailing and a large recessed off-center entry, judging by the mailboxes near the door, the property has more than three units, providing dense housing with appropriate design, a win-win!
Located on Harvard Avenue, which was originally called the “Road to the Colleges” in Coolidge Corner, the Brookline Arcade is one of the greatest commercial buildings in Brookline. As the residential character of Harvard Street began to turn more commercial in the 1920s, additional small commercial spaces were needed for the growing surrounding residential neighborhoods, and developer J. J. Johnston sought to maximize his parcel there. He hired architect George N. Jacobs, a relatively unknown architect in Boston who creatively designed the site.
Measuring 80′ in width and 150′ in depth, the two-story cast stone Commercial Gothic style building consists of five bays, with two store fronts on either side of the central arcade entrance. Above the storefronts, a stone frieze and gothic spires project upwards, standing out among the more traditional buildings nearby. At the interior, you walk to a modest single-story lobby which opens to a full-height arcade with vaulted skylight above. Stores line both sides of the space and many have original storefront designs and features. The space is a smaller version of the Westminster (Providence) Arcade.
The (general) perception of apartment buildings is monolithic monstrosities plopped into neighborhoods with little ornamentation or intrugue, but that is not the case for the Rudnick Apartments in North Brookline. Located at the intersection of Coolidge and Gibbs Streets, these Classical Revival apartments were designed by Frederick A Norcross, who may just be the busiest architect in the early 20th century around Boston. Norcross designed many apartment and commercial buildings in Boston, Brookline and Cambridge, being the unsung hero of many walkable urban neighborhoods in sections of these cities. The apartments were built for Morris Rudnick (1875-1970), a Russian born Jew who settled in Boston before starting a coal business in Cambridge with his brothers and cousins. He later bought land in North Brookline and developed areas with attractive single family homes and apartment buildings.
The red brick building dominates the corner lot with the clipped corner, red brick and contrasting glazed stone to resemble marble. Elaborate door surrounds, window lintels and the parapet make the apartment building an elaborate example of the Classical Revival style.
Believe it or not, the iconic Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline was originally built as a church. In 1906, the church was constructed as the Beacon Universalist Church and designed by C.Howard Walker. The new church building included four stores on the ground floor to both provide income for the building via rent and service the bustling Coolidge Corner area of Brookline. There was a central entrance to gain access to the church itself for partitioners. By the 1930s, the commercial character of the area overtook the need for a church, and the building was sold.
In 1933, after many years of trying to get a moving picture theater at Coolidge Corner, this building was converted at an estimated cost of $75,000 into an Art Deco movie house. Architect Ernest Hayward was hired to design the extensive remodel of the church into a theater and public hall. When completed it was called “The Brookline” and was the first theater built in the suburban town of Brookline. The movie house originally seated approximately 1,000 people, with about 700 seats on the main floor and 300 in the balcony. Most of the original fine Art Deco details still remain, notably ceiling decorations, bas-relief sculptures, and various lighting fixtures both in the lobbies and on the side walls of the auditorium. As with many smaller theaters in America in the 1970s, large cineplexes with over ten screens overtook the business of smaller, more historic theaters and the Brookline Theater was sold, but never closed!
In 1989, the Brookline community successfully rallied together in a grass-roots campaign to save the theater. Today, the Coolidge Corner Theater Foundation runs a diverse program of art films, popular films, independent films, first-runs, local filmmaker showcases, and children’s matinees and is a great asset to Brookline and the greater Boston community.
Congregation Ohabei Shalom was founded in 1842, and is the longest enduring Jewish congregation in Massachusetts and the second in New England after Touro Synagogue located in Newport, Rhode Island. The congregation grew from the original eight families to over a hundred and was forced to continually relocate around Boston for enough space until it purchased the former South Congregational Church on Union Park Street in the South End (now St. John the Baptist). The South End became a hub for Boston’s Jewish community and the congregation continued to grow, alongside catholic and other religious groups in the area, notably the Holy Cross Cathedral a block away. By the turn of the century, the jewish population began to shift outward to Brookline and other outlying cities, which only increased after WWII.
Land was secured on Beacon Street in Brookline in 1921 and the congregation hired the Boston firm of Blackall, Clapp and Whittemore to design a large new temple and sanctuary. The Byzantine-Romanesque edifice and its magnificent sanctuary were completed in 1928. Modeled on themes from Hagia Sophia and the Great Synagogue of Florence, Italy, it has a commanding presence on the busy street to this day. The temple was to even have a large corner tower, which never materialized. With its use of polychromatic masonry and Byzantine ornament, and capped by a great copper dome, the congregation boasts one of the most architecturally outstanding religious buildings in the area.
One of the hidden gems of Brookline has to be the Chapin-Sullivan House in North Brookline. Originally built in 1872 for Ebenezer D. Chapin, a parter of Gass, Doe and Chapin, butter and cheese merchants at Faneuil Hall market in Downtown Boston. The company later was renamed Doe, Sullivan & Co., and many of their clay vessels they sold their product in can be found for sale online. They purchased claygoods from the Dorchester Pottery Works and sold their products to Bostonians craving dairy products. With his money, Chapin built a brick mansard mansion on five acres just off Brighton Avenue, since renamed Commonwealth Avenue at this section. He lived in the home until his death in 1883.
A later owner, T. Jefferson Coolidge purchased the estate and subdivided the land, creating a road with building lots just off main street, seeing an immediate success on his investment. He sold off all lots to builders and the former Chapin house to William J. Sullivan. Sullivan was a prideful contractor who specialized in stonework for many estates and apartment buildings in Boston and the surrounding towns. He developed the idea to remodel his own home and showcase his materials and craftsmanship in 1908 and turned the home into what we see today. Sullivan faced all the brick walls with limestone, cut detailing, rounded bay window and large full-height pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The home appears to have been converted to a multi-family residence, but retains all the amazing features that it had in 1908!