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.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Townhouse // 1860

152 Beacon (center) and 150 Beacon (right) demolished. Courtesy of Boston Athenaeum.

In 1860, David Stewart, a merchant from New York, built a townhouse on Beacon Street in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood as a wedding present for his twenty year old daughter, Isabella Stewart, and her new husband, John (Jack) Lowell Gardner. The house was originally numbered 126 Beacon, but re-numbered as 152 Beacon ca. 1862 when homes were built on the south side of the street. The home was the city dwelling of the young couple, who also owned “Green Hill” in Brookline, and an estate on the North Shore. Isabella Stewart Gardner began amassing a large collection of art and their Back Bay home was insufficient to display it all. In 1880, John purchased the neighboring home at 150 Beacon from Andrew Robeson, a wealthy merchant from Fall River, who’s main home is now the headquarters of the Fall River Historical Society. Soon thereafter they combined the two houses, with the address of 152 Beacon, to provide greater space for the display of the growing art collection being assembled by Isabella. After her husband’s death in late 1898, Isabella Gardner pursued plans for a new home that would provide a suitable setting for her art collection. She purchased land in the Fenway and began construction on her mansion, Fenway Court, now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. One year after completion of Fenway Court, the two townhomes were purchased by Eben Draper, who razed them for his mansion in 1904 (see last post).