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.

Kneeland Street Station // 1847-1918

All Aboard!! The Kneeland Street Station was built at the southern edge of Downtown Boston in 1847 for the newly established Old Colony Railroad Company. By the early 1840s, the city of Boston had six major rail lines connecting it with other places including Lowell, Maine, Fitchburg, and Salem to the north, Worcester to the west and Providence to the southwest. The southeastern part of Massachusetts had yet to be served by a rail link to Boston. On March 16, 1844 the Old Colony Railroad Corporation was formed to provide a rail connection between Boston and Plymouth. Construction of the line began in South Boston in 1844 and the line opened to Plymouth in 1845. The company needed a more accessible station to the residents and businessmen of Downtown Boston, so they acquired a large parcel of land on Kneeland Street to extend the line. The corporation hired architect Gridley James Fox Bryant, who designed this stunning railroad station constructed of brick with strong stone trimmings. As was common, a large clock was affixed to the building to allow waiting passengers to know how long they would be waiting. From 1845 to 1893, the Old Colony railroad network grew extensively through a series of mergers and acquisitions with other established railroads, serving lines to Providence, Newport, Fall River, New Bedford and down the Cape. The railroad was acquired in 1893 by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, and sought to consolidate the many local stations into a larger building. They soon after began construction on Boston’s South Station, re-routing lines to that new building. They sold off the excess stations, including this one on Kneeland Street, and it was eventually demolished in 1918.

B. F. Keith’s Boston Theatre // 1894-1952

The other day, I was walking in Boston Common along Tremont Street, when I noticed this oddly ornate building wedged between larger, modern buildings. I HAD to investigate! The building was actually constructed as an arcade/covered walkway which ran to Mason Street behind, with a tunnel running under that street into the B.F. Keith’s Theatre. In 1892, Benjamin F. Keith and his business partner E.F. Albee purchased land off Mason Street, a scarcely trafficked street between the busy Tremont and Washington Streets in Boston’s Theater District, with the goal of creating the city’s finest vaudville theatre. The duo hired J. B. McElfatrick & Son, architects who specialized in theatres, to design the new B.F. Keith’s. Due to the site being wedged between two main streets, entrances were built off both Tremont and Washington with flashing lights and marquees, guiding patrons inward. The Tremont facade was especially grand so that B. F. Keith’s New Theatre could be advertised on, and approached directly from, Boston Common, with lights flooding the park. The theater opened in 1894 and was over-the-top with intricate details and sculpture all over, appealing to the city’s wealthy as a place to see the arts. Although it was primarily a vaudeville house during Keith-Albee’s ownership, famed inventor Thomas Edison demonstrated his new Vitascope movie projector here on May 18, 1896. This was the first projection of a movie anywhere in Boston. As live shows made way for motion pictures, the theater adapted, but suffered around the Great Depression when would-be patrons decided to save their limited money. In 1939, the theater was converted to a movie theater named the Normandie. The theater was demolished in 1952 for a surface parking lot to provide better service to the Opera House (originally B.F. Keith’s Memorial Theatre, confusing I know) and Paramount Theater. Today, all we have left of the once beloved B.F. Keith’s Theater is the small annex, which is virtually unrecognizable from historic images as most of its decoration and the top two stories were removed.

1906 image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Commonwealth Trust Company // 1908-c.1974

Ca. 1910 image courtesy of Boston Public Archives.

Located at the corner of Summer and Devonshire Streets in Downtown Boston, the Commonwealth Trust Company’s two-story marble banking house commanded the corner, despite its short stature. The building, completed in 1908, was constructed with Lee marble and decorated with ornate wrought and cast-iron grilles over windows. The building was designed by the architectural firm of Parker, Thomas & Rice in the Classical mode with large, fluted Corinthian columns and boxed corner pilasters framing the recessed center entrance, Corinthian pilasters ran along the side facade. At the inside, the building was coated with Cararra and Blanco marble with paneled oak offices. At the ground floor, offices and banking stations framed the outer walls, with the safety deposit boxes located on the second floor. The building was demolished by the 1970s and replaced with a one-story minimalist Modern building (I could not figure out why the former building was razed). The new building was demolished after a few decades with a larger building, better fitting the commercial district.

Mount Vernon Church // 1844-1968

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.

Ca. 1895 image of Mount Vernon Church as Isaac Rich Hall courtesy of BPL.

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.

Dr. Buckminster Brown House // ca.1860-1890

Originally located at 59 Bowdoin Street at the southern corner of Bowdoin Court, this narrow three-story home was the dwelling of Dr. Buckminster Brown, one of the most prominent Boston doctors at the time. Buckminster Brown (1819-1891) was born into one of Boston’s most illustrious families, with his ancestors traced back to John Warren, an original settler in Salem in 1630 on the ship Arbella. His great-grandfather, Joseph Warren, one of the founders of the Harvard Medical School known as the “Surgeon of the Revolution” who took part in the Boston Tea Party, Battles of Lexington and Concord and later died in the Battle of Bunker Hill. His father, John Bull Brown was credited as bringing the speciality of orthopedics to America.

1860 image of 59 Bowdoin Street, Josiah Johnson Hawes, Photographer.

Buckminster Brown was born with Pott’s Disease, a form of tuberculosis that occurs outside the lungs where the disease is seen in the vertebrae, often causing a “hunchback” appearance. Buckminster Brown attended Harvard Medical School and later travelled around Europe learning from the orthopedic specialists there who led the field before returning back to Boston to practice. In consequence of his disease, Dr. Brown lead a shut-in life, in spite of his deformity though, he practiced for fifty years. Dr. Brown married in 1864 to Sarah Alma Newcomb and they likely had this home built for them with close proximity to the hospital. Dr. Brown often stayed in his home allowing patients to stop by for appointments and tending to his studies as he did not like to leave the safety of his home. Sadly, due to an expansion of the Massachusetts State House in 1890, his house was acquired by the Commonwealth via a taking and he moved to Newton, where he died that same year.

1883 view of Dr. Buckingham Brown’s home on Bowdoin Street at corner of Bowdoin Court.

American Unitarian Assoc. Building // 1886-1925

The American Unitarian Association (AUA) opened its first headquarters in Boston in 1865, forty years after the AUA was founded. The rapidly growing church group occupied a few sites before settling in its recently completed new building at the corner of Beacon and Bowdoin Streets in 1886. The gorgeous Romanesque building was designed by Peabody & Stearns and constructed of brownstone. The handsome building featured prominent arches and carvings, typical of the architectural style; however had Italian Gothic windows on the third floor which a unique feature. The building was utilized for conferences and events of the American Unitarian Association until 1925 when the group (who already occupied an annex building across the street due to overcrowding) decided to sell the buildings and relocate to 25 Beacon Street. The building was acquired by the Hotel Bellevue who demolished the Romanesque structure and had the architectural firm of Putnam & Cox design a large addition to their building which remains today.