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!
Back Bay Architecture
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!
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.
Hooper Mansion // 1860
Located on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, the Hooper Mansion represents one of the most elegant examples of Second Empire architecture style in the city. This home was actually constructed as a double-house for Samuel Hooper and his wife Anne, with a separate, semi-detached home for his son and his own family. The double-mansion was designed by esteemed architect Arthur Gilman, who used pressed brick contrasted with the tan sandstone on the home. Additionally, he designed the dentillated cornice, lavish door and window surrounds, and octagonal bays, all capped with a mansard roof with many windows laid inset to the roof, a stunning feature. The house was designed symmetrically, with entrances on each side elevation. In the early 1890s, later owners extended the eastern half of the façade so that it would be on the same plane as the western half, with an entrance at street level (seen in the right of this photo). Today, the double house is broken up into four large condominium units. When the conversion was approved, the developer wrote into the deed that the open space at the corner, used as a garden, would remain open space in perpetuity.
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.