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!
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
One of the lesser-known historic hotels in Boston can be found at the corner of Exeter and Blagden Streets in the Back Bay neighborhood, tucked behind the Boston Public Library’s Johnson addition. Exeter Chambers (now Courtyard by Marriott Boston Copley Square), was built between 1889 and 1890 from plans by architect Theodore Minot Clark. Clark was a professor at MIT and the understudy of Boston’s famed Trinity Church architect, H. H. Richardson. Clark oversaw much of the construction of Trinity Church and his name is even engraved on the building. Exeter Chambers was constructed by the Guastavino Company, a very prominent contractor during the period noted for style and quality, known for the Guastavino tile. Cutting edge techniques such as compression arches and terracotta accents were featured throughout the structure. The hotel was vacant for many years and a renovation in 2004, which added three stories to the building, restored the ornate exterior to its former glory.
Why cant we all have siblings this generous??
Located in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, this home was actually constructed as two attached homes for Ralph Blake Williams and his sister, Ruth (Williams) Sears, the wife of Dr. George Gray Sears. In 1905, Ralph B. Williams hired architect Julius A. Schweinfurth, who trained in the architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, to design a double-townhouse, for him and his sister. After completion, Williams lived in the larger side (right three bays) with his widowed mother, and Ruth lived in the smaller home (left two bays) with her husband. After successive ownership, the buildings were and turned into a lodging house, soon after purchased together in 1955 and turned into a school, the Chandler School for Women. The homes remained separate until 1959, when the school demolished the interior party wall, effectively combining the two properties into one, this is likely when the Sears’ front door was filled in, leaving one front door in the center bay. In 1971, the New England College of Optometry purchased the building and occupies it to this day for classrooms and offices.
One of the most grand apartment hotels in Boston, The Charlesgate, serves as one of many architectural anchors for the Back Bay neighborhood from Kenmore Square. The apartment hotel was constructed in 1891 and so named after the Charlesgate Park which was created by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted as part of the glorious Emerald Necklace park system. The Back Bay Fens was the first park designed by Olmsted for the City of Boston. Creating the Back Bay Fens was as much a sanitary as an aesthetic project, because the water was heavily polluted and often stagnant; Olmsted envisioned Charlesgate as the meeting point of the Back Bay Fens with the Charles River. The apartment hotel was actually designed and was financed by the architect, John Pickering Putnam, and members of his family. The basement and first story are constructed of Indiana limestone with the remainder of brick, with limestone trimmings. A picturesque effect is obtained by grouping the bays in pairs, and surmounting each pair with gables in the Queen Anne style, and by relieving these features against a high roof of green slate. The building originally featured 30 apartments and has since been reconfigured into over 50. The architectural landmark is one of the best statement-pieces in the neighborhood, and shows that apartment design can be done very very well!
The Mount Vernon Congregation Church was founded in 1842 and originally was located in Ashburton Place on Beacon Hill (which I featured previously). As its members moved to the Back Bay, the congregation decided to build a new church in the western portion of the neighborhood. They hired architect C. Howard Walker to design the new church building, with stained glass windows by John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany added as memorials to several members of the congregation over subsequent years. As originally designed, the church had a 45-foot high steeple on top of its 85-foot square tower, but over the years it became structurally unsound, and it was removed just before the Hurricane of 1938, which toppled many steeples all over the region. In 1970, the church merged with the Old South Church in the Back Bay. In 1977, developers proposed to remodel the church building into retail and office space. The proposal was approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in January of 1978. Before work could commence, a fire destroyed much of the church building leaving a shell of Roxbury Puddingstone walls and the tower, the developer pulled its funding and the building’s future was uncertain. One year later, architect Graham Gund purchased the building. Gund was familiar with adaptive reuse projects, like his restoration of the Middlesex County Courthouse in Cambridge for his own office in Cambridge in the 1970s. Gund redesigned the building into 43 condominium units called Church Court. What are your thoughts on the architecture?