Blanchard Building // c.1855

Image courtesy of Boston Archives.

Did you know that Boston once had it’s own Hogwarts? While we didn’t have wizards and witches in the streets, we did have young magicians learning the tricks of the trade! The Boston School of Magic was founded in the 1880s by William Davis LeRoy (1862-1919), a professional magician who also served as President of the Conjuror’s Club of Boston. Upon opening its doors, the Boston School of Magic was one of a handful of such schools in the country. For $75, you could learn how to escape from a pair of handcuffs from a professional instructor at W.D. Leroy’s “School of Magic”, and even buy some magic items for shows from his large catalogue. Mr. LeRoy was also friends with the famous Harry Houdini, who purchased items from his store and consulted with him on new acts. Houdini was extremely popular in Boston and held many acts and feats of strength here. The Boston School of Magic was located in the second floor of the Blanchard Building at 103 Court Street, a brick commercial building with stone facade constructed in the middle of the 19th century. The building was demolished in the 1920s and replaced with a two-story structure, which too was razed for Government Center.

Glapion-Middleton House Ell // c.1800

Less than a dozen wood-frame buildings exist on Beacon Hill in Boston, and this curious building is one of them, and also happens to be one of the oldest structures in the neighborhood! Built by 1800, this structure was constructed as an ell/addition to the Glapion-Middleton House at 5 Pinckney Street in Boston. The Glapion-Middleton House (previously featured) was constructed in 1787 after two Black men, George Middleton and Louis Glapion and their wives, built a small double house in the abolitionist center of Boston, Beacon Hill. In recent years, some have speculated that due to this living arrangement and other accounts, that Glapion and Middleton were in-fact gay men, but this is unsubstantiated. After the home was constructed, a two-story, five-bay ell was constructed which connected the home to Joy Street at the corner. The ell served as additional space for the two families and they appear to have had a workshop or store in part of the building. In 1855, owners demolished the center bay of the ell and erected a brick townhouse, similar to others in the neighborhood. The ell in this building was occupied as a store for the majority of its life and became an Italian restaurant and soon after a “Boyer’s Creamery Luncheon”. The property has since been converted to a residence.

Beacon Hill Studio Building // 1914

Located on Charles Street in Beacon Hill, Boston, you’ll find this charming Tudor style commercial building, which appears as if it was plucked from the England! The Studio Building was built in 1914, and replaced a livery stable on the site (not really necessary with the growing popularity of the automobile). The building was designed by the architectural firm of Loring & Leland for William Coombs Codman of the Brahmin Boston family as an investment. The building was constructed on a prominent corner lot with commercial/retail use at the ground floor and artist studios above. Just six years after the building was complete, Charles Street was widened, and the building was shaved back over 10′ with all new openings seen here.

Roberts Mansion // 1871

The Charles Roberts Mansion in Beacon Hill maintains its architectural integrity and is an extremely rare example of the Egyptian Revival and Second Empire styles in Boston. The mansion was constructed in 1871 for Charles and Mercy Roberts, likely as a boarding house for transient legislators working at the Massachusetts State House nearby and other middle-class citizens. The mansion was designed by William Washburn, a prolific architect who lived nearby and is credited with iconic early Boston buildings like the Revere and American Houses (early Boston hotels), the original Tremont Temple, and the old Charlestown City Hall, all since demolished. This mansion is the only extant building by Washburn to my knowledge. The brick and sandstone building features paired columns at the entrance with Egyptian Revival lotus leaf capitals, additionally, the triangular dormers at the mansard roof provide a slight Egyptian Revival note. The Egyptian Revival style was rarely used in American domestic architectural design. More frequently used in the design of cemetery entrance gates and memorials in the form of obelisks, the Egyptian Revival made sporadic appearances in the design of American buildings between the 1820s and the 1870s. Another period of the Egyptian Revival architectural style also occurred in the 1920s, with design of silent movie theaters, which coincided with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.

Brattle Street Church // 1772-1872

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.

Sentry Hill Place // 1844

Unlike the historically more fashionable South Slope that has always defined Beacon Hill’s character, the steeper, less accessible North Slope began with a 19th-century free black population and an integrated working-class community, but the architecture still stands out! In the 1840s, before massive land-making projects resulting in the Back Bay and South End neighborhoods, Boston-area developers had to think of creative ways to develop housing in the dense blocks of Boston. One solution was to purchase a larger parcel and lay out smaller house lots bordering narrow, dead-end ways, similar to this little enclave in Beacon Hill. Sentry Hill Place (originally named May Street Place) was so named in the 1910s by the residents in honor to the wooden sentry post that stood atop Beacon Hill
prior to the 1780s. Sentry Hill Place is comprised of seven near-identical brick rowhouses, all built in 1844 when the alley was laid out. At the terminus of the alley is a wood-frame structure which encloses the block and provides access to the two end units, an addition from the 1880s, to obscure what was once the rear of a barn which was accessed off the street to the north. Today, the once working-class enclave of homes is one of the more desirable in the neighborhood, for obvious reasons!

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.

Paine’s Furniture Factory // 1871

Founded in 1835, Paine’s Furniture 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, his son-in-law. Upon the death of Shearer in 1864, the name of the firm was changed to Paine’s Furniture Company. The company occupied a couple wooden and metal buildings on this site in the Bulfinch Triangle until a fire destroyed the complex. The growing firm took this opportunity to hire one of the most successful architect Gridley J. F. Bryant who worked with a colleague, Louis P. Rogers, to design the fire-proof building. The Second Empire style building with mansard roof was split into three sections with the rear two rented out to other companies, while Paine’s occupied the south-facing (main) facade. When Paine’s moved to their new building in the Back Bay, they sold this building and later alterations severely diminished the original design of the building. The current hodgepodge of alterations creates a mess of what was once an undeniable architectural landmark.

Harvard Medical School – Countway Library // 1965

I know some of you hate Brutalist architecture, but give this one a chance, its one of my favorites! In the 1960s, the Harvard Medical School’s cramped research library on the second floor of the Administration Building (1905) was not suitable for the esteemed doctors behind those doors, and a larger, modern library was required. There was one issue… They did not have any room to build a suitable library! Architect Hugh Stubbins, who always thought outside of the box, decided the best option was to close a street and build up. Reportedly the largest university medical library in the country at the time of its completion, the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is named after Francis Countway, the bookkeeper for Lever Brothers, a local soap company, who later became president in 1913. He supported his sister, Gussanda “Sanda” Countway, throughout her school years. When Francis died, Sanda Countway created the Countway Charitable Foundation in his memory. The funds collected by this foundation, including Sanda’s own donation, allowed Harvard University to build the Countway Library in his name. The concrete building features a massive atrium inside with a curvilinear staircase which contrasts the bold proportions with a sleek design feature. The library is home to the Warren Anatomical Museum, one of the few surviving anatomy and pathology museum collections in the United States, which includes some medical and anatomical marvels!

Harvard Medical School – Vanderbilt Hall // 1928

When Harvard Medical School opened its doors in 1906 at its new Longwood campus in Boston, students were forced to live in private dormitories or travel long distances to the sparsely developed neighborhood near the Fens. Hospitals at the time had private dormitories for nurses and other employees, but Harvard did not fill this need until 1928 when Vanderbilt Hall opened. The building is Renaissance Revival in style, which mimics the style of the Boston Lying-In Hospital which was built in 1922 across from Vanderbilt, and the famous Gardner Museum. Vanderbilt Hall is unique in the neighborhood as a dormitory, recreation, and athletic center built to house 250 students of the Medical School. As part of its funding campaign, subscriptions from 1,519 doctors and 618 “non-medical friends” were obtained, along with a gift of $100,000 from New York Central Railroad President Harold S. Vanderbilt, for whom the building was named. The stunning building has a curved concave corner which mimics the Boston Lying-In Hospital and elegantly frames the small circular park in the street.