Boston’s constant churning of development has given us amazing architectural landmarks, and incredibly unfathomable architectural loss. One of such cases of loss is the former Brattle Street Church which was located on Brattle Street, roughly where the main entrance to Boston City Hall is located today. Demolition of significant architecture in Boston began way before the period of Urban Renewal in the mid-20th century, and the loss of the Brattle Street Church in Downtown Boston showcases this. The Brattle Street Church had been founded in the 1690s by a group of merchants seeking an alternative to the authority exercised by Increase and Cotton Mather in Boston’s existing congregations. Despite these beginnings, the church remained Congregational through the 18th century. At the time of the Revolution, Brattle Street counted such figures as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, and John and Abigail Adams among its parishioners. The original wooden church was replaced in 1772 by this stunning brick building, designed by Thomas Dawes. Just years after the doors opened, the American Revolution upended life in Boston. This building was a survivor, and was apparently hit by cannon-fire by the American batteries at the siege of Boston. A cannonball can be seen lodged into the building at the second floor, to the right of the Palladian window. After the American Civil War, development of the Back Bay led to a shifting population away from the downtown core, and a new church was erected for the congregation, the Brattle Square Church, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. This church was demolished in 1872, just 100 years after it opened its doors and took a cannon for America.
One building in Boston that has always perplexed me is this round church building. It echoes Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel in Cambridge, but is much heavier and plain. After over an hour of researching, I finally found out some history behind it! The church was constructed in the South Cove Redevelopment area, an urban renewal program run by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (now BPDA) as a sort of “slum” clearance near Chinatown. The Church of All Nations was founded in the South End in 1917, housed in a Gothic Revival chapel that was seized by eminent domain for the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension and demolished in 1963. The congregation met in temporary quarters on Arlington Street until the new church was constructed in 1975. Records show that the congregation hired famed Modernist architect Bertram Goldberg as early as 1967 to design a new chapel, set in a new public park. The original plans called for a square building with a massive “steeple” incorporated as the entire roof. For some reason (possibly funding and changing demands for the church), the final design was a little more mundane. The cylindrical church is clad in dark glazed brick with a cross raised in the brickwork. The church suffered from a dwindling congregation in its location, and now appear to rent out the building. One of my favorite local architecture firms Touloukian Touloukian, Inc., re-imagined the site as a new residential tower. It would be one of the few beautiful new buildings in Boston in the past decade or two. Can we please make this happen?!
Located on the Flat of Beacon Hill, 19th century-made land along the Charles River, the Church of the Advent stands tall as an architectural landmark of Boston. Construction of The Church of the Advent began in 1880 and would continue 12 years until the tower was completed in 1892. Its architect, John H. Sturgis, died in 1883, after which his nephew, Richard Clipston Sturgis, continued the architectural practice and oversaw the completion of this church. The building was designed in 1875 as an Early English Gothic style that was favored by Episcopalian church architects of the period, but it appears that after John Sturgis’ death in 1883, the design changed substantially during construction, to reflect the Victorian Gothic style. The church today serves somewhat as a memorial to its architect, for his family and clients donated the major portion of the interior art from windows to choir stalls.
Dedicated in 1893, the First Parish Church of Brookline is the fourth to house the congregation that began as The Church of Christ here in 1717. Earlier iterations of the church were located here, at the geographic center of the new town which separated from Boston. Before this handsome stone church was constructed, the third home to the congregation was constructed in 1848 in the Gothic Revival style designed by architect Edward C. Cabot. The church purchased the former Brookline Town Hall in 1890, and sought to enlarge their church building, deciding to construct a new house of worship and expand, later connecting to the former Town Hall. The congregation hired the firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the successors to H. H. Richardson, whose architectural influence is readily apparent in the Romanesque arches and heavy massing of the building. The church has a collection of some of the most stunning stained glass windows in the region, many of which are designed and signed by Louis C. Tiffany.
The only church in the Pill Hill neighborhood of Brookline, the former Swedenborgian Church, while fairly small, makes a large architectural statement. This Gothic Revival church, designed by William Ware (of Ware and Van Brunt) and Edward Philbrick, is one of the few non-residential buildings in this area. The simple rectangular chapel and 3-sided apse are constructed in Roxbury pudding stone and trimmed with limestone. The Stick style bracketed porch and porte-cochere were added in the 1870s. The Swedenborg faith ‘followed a rational approach to love, wisdom, and order, and a belief that salvation was not possible through faith alone but must also be based on good works. Swedenborg also believed that Africans were particularly attuned to the Deity — thus part of the appeal of Swedenborgianism for Abolitionists’. The church is now occupied by the Latvian Lutheran Church of Boston.
One of the most visited buildings in New England is the stunning Old North Church in the North End of Boston. Old North Church (originally Christ Church in the City of Boston) was established when the cramped original King’s Chapel, then a small wooden structure near Boston Common, proved inadequate for the growing number of Anglicans in the former Puritan stronghold. Subscriptions for a new church were invited in 1722. The sea captains, merchants, and artisans who had settled in Boston’s North End contributed generously to the building fund, and construction began in April, 1723. The church was designed by William Price, though heavily influenced by Christopher Wren’s English churches.
Before the American Revolution, both Patriots and Tories were members of the church, and often sat near each-other in pews, clearly adding to bubbling tensions. The enduring fame of the Old North began on the evening of April 18, 1775, when the church sexton, Robert Newman, and Vestryman Capt. John Pulling, Jr. climbed the steeple and held high two lanterns as a signal from Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea across the Charles River and not by land. This fateful event ignited the American Revolution.
A full scale restoration of Old North was carried out in 1912-14 under the direction of architect R. Clipson Sturgis and a number of 19th century alterations were then eliminated. In this work, floor timbers and gallery stairs were replaced, the original arched window in the apse at the east end was replaced, and the old square box pews and raised pulpit were reconstructed. Additionally, the interior woodwork was incorrectly repainted white rather than the rich variety of original colors described in the early documents of the church, clearly submitting to Colonial Revival sensibilities. The iconic white steeple is also not original. The original steeple of the Old North Church was destroyed by the 1804 Snow hurricane. A replacement steeple, designed by Charles Bulfinch, was toppled by a hurricane in 1954. The current steeple uses design elements from the original and the Bulfinch version. Even with all these differences, Old North lives up to her name and stands proudly as a symbol of freedom and revolution.
The second and final church built in the Longwood area of Brookline, is the Church of Our Savior, built in 1868. The church was built by brothers Amos Adams Lawrence and William R. Lawrence, in honor of their father, textile industrialist and philanthropist Amos Lawrence. It was designed by architect, Alexander Rice Esty, a notable architect who designed many churches and other buildings in Boston and metro west. A rectory, designed by architect Arthur Rotch of the firm Rotch and Tilden, was the gift of Sarah Appleton Lawrence (wife of Amos A. Lawrence) and was dedicated in 1886 in memory of her late husband. When she died, her children had a transept chapel designed by the firm Sturgis and Cabot built as a connector between the church and the rectory. This chapel is similar to the Christ Church “Sears Chapel” in that it was basically a family memorial chapel for a prominent developer and citizen of Longwood. The steeple blew off in 1923 and was replaced a decade after. The steeple was again removed after 1977 and is capped with battlements, appropriate for the Gothic Revival style.
The stunning Mount Vernon Church in Boston was built in 1844 in the very popular Greek Revival architectural style at the edge of Beacon Hill. Located on Ashburton Place, the granite church, designed by famed architect Richard Bond, had just 47 members at its inception led by pastor Edward N. Kirk. The congregation ballooned to 1,600 members until Kirk’s death in 1871, slowly decreasing after that. The church in 1892, followed the shifting Boston population to the developed Back Bay neighborhood and built a new place of worship at the corner of Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue. Ever-dwindling membership caused the church to become absorbed by the established Old South Church in 1970. The second Mount Vernon church in Back Bay burned in 1978, and was redeveloped into Church Court Condominiums by architect Graham Gund in 1983.
Back to the original building… After the church relocated to the Back Bay, the building was acquired by Boston University Law School and renamed Isaac Rich Hall, after an original founder of Boston University. The former church was renovated to contain a lecture hall, library, classrooms and offices (talk about adaptive reuse!) The granite building with its symmetrical facade was razed by 1968 for the more mundane (and tall) McCormack Office Building on Ashburton Place.
Located in North Square in the North End of Boston, the Seaman’s Bethel, now Sacred Heart, is one of the oldest and historic places of worship in the city. The church was run by the Port Society of the City of Boston, a missionary group associated with the Methodist Episcopal Church. Founded in 1828 to provide moral and religious instruction to seamen, the society established the nonsectarian Seamen’s Bethel with the Rev. Edward Thompson Taylor (1793-1871) as minister. Reverend Taylor was raised by a foster mother in Virginia, and he later ran away from home at the age of seven to begin a career as a sailor, settling in Boston. As a young man, he heard a sermon at the Park Street Church and wished to become a preacher. He sailed around the coast, delivering sermons to various port towns until he settled in Boston again and established the Seaman’s Bethel alongside the Port Society. Father Taylor drew admiration from esteemed scholars and academics and always filled the pews in the church, until his death in 1871. The Seaman’s Bethel later fell unto hard economic times and sold their church building to the Catholic Church by 1884.
The architect of the church is unknown, but some accounts list Gridley J. F. Bryant as responsible. It would have been among his first professional works in Boston. Bryant went on to design iconic buildings including the Massachusetts State House and Boston’s Old City Hall. The Federal style church is four bays across and seven bays deep, this 1½-story gabled building on a raised basement features a pedimented facade with square center tower that was remodeled, apparently ca. 1898, with the addition of arched parapet walls at the roofline ornamented with cartouches. The building retains most of its original full-height round-arched window openings in brick surrounds.