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!
The most opulent of all summer ‘cottages’ in Newport is the iconic Gilded Age mansion, The Breakers. This mansion was completed in 1895 as a summer residence for Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Cornelius’ grandfather, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad. Cornelius Vanderbilt II became President of the New York Central Railroad system in 1885, and bought a wooden summer house called The Breakers in Newport during that same year. The original Breakers Mansion burned in a fire in 1892 and was rebuilt, but more substantially. Vanderbilt commissioned famed architect Richard Morris Hunt to rebuild it. Vanderbilt insisted that the building be made as fireproof as possible, so the structure of the building used steel trusses and no wooden parts. He even required that the boiler housed in an underground space below the front lawn. The Italian Renaissance-Beaux Arts style mansion was likely the most expensive home constructed in New England at the time at a cost of over $7 Million USD (equivalent to over $150 million today).
Cornelius Vanderbilt died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1899 at age 55, leaving The Breakers to his wife Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt. She outlived him by 35 years and died at the age of 89 in 1934. She left The Breakers to her youngest daughter Countess Gladys Széchenyi (1886–1965). In 1948, Gladys leased the near-impossible to maintain property to The Preservation Society of Newport County for $1 per year. The Preservation Society bought The Breakers and approximately 90% of its furnishings in 1972 for $365,000 ($2.3 million today) from Countess Sylvia Szapary, Gladys’ daughter, although the agreement granted her life tenancy. Upon her death in 1998, The Society agreed to allow the family to continue to live on the third floor, which is not open to the public. The last-remaining family members residing there were evicted from the third floor due to safety concerns, but others state it is retaliation for the Szápárys’ opposition of the controversial Breakers Welcome Center, the plan for which other members of their family, including Gloria Vanderbilt, also opposed.
The Chittenden County Superior Courthouse in Burlington, Vermont was built in 1906 and is one of the most bold architectural designs in the city. The building was actually constructed as the U.S. Post Office and Custom House for Burlington, but changed use in the 1980s after the Old County Courthouse was destroyed by fire. The building was the work of U.S. Treasury architect James Knox Taylor. Taylor designed, many major eastern federal buildings during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He provided plans for this Beaux Arts structure with a well-appointed exterior finished in marble and dressed granite. Beaux-Arts architecture depended on sculptural decoration along conservative modern lines, blossoming in the United States in the early 20th century after many American architects studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, particularly from the 1830s to the end of the 19th century.
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.
Grand architecture in New York is not just limited to commercial buildings, churches and offices, even civic buildings here can go toe-to-toe architecturally with any in the world! On the border of the SoHo neighborhood, the former New York City Police Headquarters showcases the unity of the five boroughs into the City of New York in 1898, a city in need of a large and centrally located Police HQ. The firm of Hoppin & Koen was hired to design a large structure, fitting to represent the largest police force in the country and the five boroughs it represents. The grand Beaux-Arts building makes a statement with its perfect proportions, expanses of rusticated limestone and granite, and the massive central dome at the roof. The New York City Police Department relocated in 1973 to the larger One Police Plaza building, and the former headquarters was vacant for a decade until the early 1980s when the property was purchased by developers and converted to condominiums.
This stunning Beaux-Arts store and loft structure, is located on a
prominent corner site at 5th Ave and 21st Street in Manhattan. The structure is faced in limestone and terra cotta and was constructed in two phases. The original three southern bays (on the right side of the image) on 5th Avenue were designed by prominent architect Robert Maynicke for real estate developer Henry Corn. In 1899, two years after its completion, architect Henry Edwards Ficken designed an addition to the north wrapping around and running along 21st Street. The addition continued the richly embellished facade and supplemented it with a twelve-story, curved corner bay which is crowned by a dome. The building appears to have been constructed without a major tenant, and many companies utilized the iconic space including: the Merchant Bank of New York, Park & Tilford’s, a fancy grocer, and lace companies. In the mid 20th century the building suffered from deferred maintenance until 2005 when the building was restored and converted to 38 apartments (including one utilizing the dome)!
In 1897, Sidney A. Kent, a Suffield native, graduate of Suffield Academy and successful Chicago businessman sought to build a $35,000 library as a memorial to his parents in his home town. Land was purchased from the academy, demolishing a significant academic building, and the new Kent Memorial Library erected. Kent hired architectural giant Daniel Burnham (architect of the famous Flatiron Building in Manhattan) who also designed Kent’s home in Chicago. It sat on the site of land purchased by the first Kent ancestor in Suffield. Sidney Kent furnished nearly 7000 books and periodicals and left an endowment of $25,000. The building was dedicated on November l, 1899. It was eventually outgrown and a new building was constructed across the street.
One of the finest mansions in Nashua is the Frank Anderson House, a c.1906 Beaux-Arts style property on Concord Street. The home’s original owner, Frank Manning (1852-1925), co-ran the Estabrook-Anderson Shoe Company in Nashua, which at its peak, manufactured over 10,000 pairs of shoes daily. In 1925, the house was sold to New Hampshire’s seventy-fourth governor, Francis Murphy, a successful businessman. Most recently, the home was home of the Manchester Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, then became a private girls’ high school; and in 2016, it was purchased by Thomas More College. The home was given a full restoration in 2018.
At the exterior, the symmetrical home features red brick and Vermont marble trim. A hipped slate roof is accentuated by twin dormers. The interior was surprisingly well-preserved given its wide variety of uses, and local interior designers completed modern, but appropriate modifications to the spaces.
One of the grandest mansions in Brookline’s Longwood neighborhood has to be the Wightman Mansion at the corner of Hawes and Monmouth Streets. George Henry Wightman (1855-1937) was a businessman who worked under Andrew Carnegie and was known in Boston as a “steel magnate”. He hired the architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge of Boston to design this Beaux-Arts style home, which looks more institutional than residential. The home featured a large back yard with private tennis courts as Wightman was a tennis aficionado. His son George William Wightman played tennis and married Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman, an icon in women’s tennis who won 45 U.S. titles in her life.
The home was sold after Wightman’s death in 1937 and eventually became home to the Hebrew Teacher’s College (now Hebrew College), which relocated in 2002 to Newton. Wheelock College then took over the building, which merged with Boston University as the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development in 2018.
The Hotel Bellevue exemplifies the luxurious “apartment hotels,” catering mostly to permanent residents, that sprang up in Boston in the late 19th century. While this structure is located in Beacon Hill, the majority of apartment/hotels in Boston were being built in the Back Bay neighborhood. The original Beaux-Arts structure was designed by Peabody & Stearns, prolific architects who designed many iconic buildings in the region and beyond. The new Hotel Bellevue was described as having a commodious library, handsome dining room and good management. Early brochures showed luxurious interiors and praised the quietness of the area and
its proximity to Boston attractions.
As the population in Boston continued to grow into the 20th century, the ownership saw an opportunity to double the amount of rooms in their establishment. As the American Unitarian Association Building (1886) next door went up for sale, they decided to buy the building and raze it for a large addition. The addition was built in 1925 by Putnam & Cox architects in Boston. The addition is clearly similar to that designed by Peabody & Stearns, but reads as an addition as intended. There are decorative mascarons (faces) on the addition which appear to be of Hercules and Athena. The building is now occupied as a condominium with retail at the ground level.