Built five years before the Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, the Temple Kehillath Israel on Harvard Street employs a similar architectural aesthetic of the Byzantine Revival style. The Jewish community of Brookline had grown significantly since the early 1900s, reaching a population of 4,000 by 1921. The congregation which constructed this temple had temporary quarters in a building at Harvard and Thorndike streets. By March 1921, it was decided to build a temple, and in 1922, the cornerstone was laid for a building which would cost an estimated $150,000 and have a capacity for 1,000. Plans submitted by architects architects Albert MacNaughton and George E. Robinson showed the large structure with space to build outbuildings as the congregation was expected to keep up with growth.
In 1948, an Art Deco Community House, designed by Samuel Glaser, was constructed of stone replicated the materiality of the temple, but with Modern features, a connector addition was added in 1958. The congregation is currently in the midst of a huge building campaign, which began with the exterior restoration of the temple building, followed by a modernization and restoration of the interior. In 2019, the 1948 Community House was razed to make way for an affordable housing development, called the Brown Family House.
The Triple-Decker housing type is extremely iconic around New England and every medium-to-large city can claim them in their neighborhoods. The style became prevalent after the American Civil War, when immigrants from Europe came to New England in force for manufacturing jobs. Many working-class immigrant families moved near factories and mills for work, but at first many scrounged for a place to live. They jammed into stables, cellars and even tents, until higher density options became available. Investors and developers saw an opportunity to build three-story flats in mass, and gave new residents the opportunity to pool money and purchase the buildings, with the ability to rent out the other two floors to family.
Lesser-known, by the end of the 19th century, “immigration reformers” under the guise of public safety, pushed for the banning of triple-deckers in Brookline and other affluent towns. Men including Prescott Farnsworth Hall, noted that these dense wood-frame structures with kitchens above the ground floor were a fire hazard, citing the Great Chelsea Fire of 1908, but it was clear that the reformers were against the idea of immigrants entering the middle-class and purchasing homes. Under pressure from such groups, Massachusetts in 1912 passed a law allowing cities and towns to ban triple deckers. Not in so many words, though. The language said municipalities could prevent construction of any ‘wooden tenement’ in which ‘cooking shall be done above the second floor. In 1915, Brookline banned the housing style.
What they lost out on was more gorgeous dense housing, as an alternative to the later Pillbox (boxy, lacking detail or depth) apartment structures that sprouted up after WWII. This triple-decker in North Brookline was built for Ms. Paul, a widow who sought income after her husbands death. Ms. Paul sold her large single-family home just a couple streets over and hired an architect to design an attractive multi-family home where she could have a steady stream of income from the other two units. This property was larger than many and featured pleasant shingle-style detailing and a large recessed off-center entry, judging by the mailboxes near the door, the property has more than three units, providing dense housing with appropriate design, a win-win!
The (general) perception of apartment buildings is monolithic monstrosities plopped into neighborhoods with little ornamentation or intrugue, but that is not the case for the Rudnick Apartments in North Brookline. Located at the intersection of Coolidge and Gibbs Streets, these Classical Revival apartments were designed by Frederick A Norcross, who may just be the busiest architect in the early 20th century around Boston. Norcross designed many apartment and commercial buildings in Boston, Brookline and Cambridge, being the unsung hero of many walkable urban neighborhoods in sections of these cities. The apartments were built for Morris Rudnick (1875-1970), a Russian born Jew who settled in Boston before starting a coal business in Cambridge with his brothers and cousins. He later bought land in North Brookline and developed areas with attractive single family homes and apartment buildings.
The red brick building dominates the corner lot with the clipped corner, red brick and contrasting glazed stone to resemble marble. Elaborate door surrounds, window lintels and the parapet make the apartment building an elaborate example of the Classical Revival style.
Believe it or not, the iconic Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline was originally built as a church. In 1906, the church was constructed as the Beacon Universalist Church and designed by C.Howard Walker. The new church building included four stores on the ground floor to both provide income for the building via rent and service the bustling Coolidge Corner area of Brookline. There was a central entrance to gain access to the church itself for partitioners. By the 1930s, the commercial character of the area overtook the need for a church, and the building was sold.
In 1933, after many years of trying to get a moving picture theater at Coolidge Corner, this building was converted at an estimated cost of $75,000 into an Art Deco movie house. Architect Ernest Hayward was hired to design the extensive remodel of the church into a theater and public hall. When completed it was called “The Brookline” and was the first theater built in the suburban town of Brookline. The movie house originally seated approximately 1,000 people, with about 700 seats on the main floor and 300 in the balcony. Most of the original fine Art Deco details still remain, notably ceiling decorations, bas-relief sculptures, and various lighting fixtures both in the lobbies and on the side walls of the auditorium. As with many smaller theaters in America in the 1970s, large cineplexes with over ten screens overtook the business of smaller, more historic theaters and the Brookline Theater was sold, but never closed!
In 1989, the Brookline community successfully rallied together in a grass-roots campaign to save the theater. Today, the Coolidge Corner Theater Foundation runs a diverse program of art films, popular films, independent films, first-runs, local filmmaker showcases, and children’s matinees and is a great asset to Brookline and the greater Boston community.
One of the hidden gems of Brookline has to be the Chapin-Sullivan House in North Brookline. Originally built in 1872 for Ebenezer D. Chapin, a parter of Gass, Doe and Chapin, butter and cheese merchants at Faneuil Hall market in Downtown Boston. The company later was renamed Doe, Sullivan & Co., and many of their clay vessels they sold their product in can be found for sale online. They purchased claygoods from the Dorchester Pottery Works and sold their products to Bostonians craving dairy products. With his money, Chapin built a brick mansard mansion on five acres just off Brighton Avenue, since renamed Commonwealth Avenue at this section. He lived in the home until his death in 1883.
A later owner, T. Jefferson Coolidge purchased the estate and subdivided the land, creating a road with building lots just off main street, seeing an immediate success on his investment. He sold off all lots to builders and the former Chapin house to William J. Sullivan. Sullivan was a prideful contractor who specialized in stonework for many estates and apartment buildings in Boston and the surrounding towns. He developed the idea to remodel his own home and showcase his materials and craftsmanship in 1908 and turned the home into what we see today. Sullivan faced all the brick walls with limestone, cut detailing, rounded bay window and large full-height pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The home appears to have been converted to a multi-family residence, but retains all the amazing features that it had in 1908!
This unique home at 44 Amory Street in Brookline, MA was built in 1905 for Harry Cotton. Harry Cotton was worked in a senior position for the American Tube Works Company, established in 1851 in Somerville. The home is an interesting blend of architectural styles, perfected by the architect William Gibbons Rantoul. Colonial Revival massing and roof dormers, Arts and Crafts stucco siding and entry portico, and a Flemish gable on the central bay, all strangely work together perfectly! The home was even featured in American Architect & Building News Journal in 1907 with a great image.
Located at 78 Powell Street in North Brookline, the Kramer House is an excellent example of the variations that can occur with the Colonial Revival style. Built in 1895 as one of five speculative houses by developer Albert Jewell, the home was one of the first to sell, likely due to its many interesting features. The original owners were Grace and Edwin Kramer. Kramer was superintendent for R.H.White & Co., the large dry goods store in Boston. R.H. White & Co. was eventually bought out by Filene’s and the flagship store struggled after WWII, as with many downtown shopping establishments. By 1901, the home was owned by Dr. Nathaniel W. Emerson, a surgeon. A few years later it passed to H.B. Duane, who was in the grocery business.
Designed by J. Williams Beal, an architect who got his start as a draftsman for the firm of McKim, Mead & White, this home stands out for its interesting design features and materiality. The home has a traditional gambrel roof configuration which is accentuated by a shed dormer and eyebrow dormer, and the design is particularly distinctive for the use of ashlar stone veneer for the front sections of the house. The large gable roof dormer has twin oriel windows set in a stone veneer beneath the over-hanging gable end, which is sheathed in slate shingles, showcasing the contrasting, yet soothing use of materials.
This house at 11 Powell Street in North Brookline was built in 1906 for Charles H. Owens, Jr., and his wife, Nellie. Charles Owens was listed in the directory as a “house decorator”, which presumably was an early term for interior designer. The architectural firm of Loring and Phipps designed the home in the Federal Revival style with a rectangular form with shallow hipped roof. The symmetrical main facade has flushboard siding which provides the smooth texture, compared to more traditional clapboard siding. There is an elliptical portico at the entry with a large stair hall window above. While I personally am not a fan of the lemon yellow, the home is an amazing addition to the streetscape and neighborhood. Historic New England has a collection of historic images of the property’s interior and exterior which showcase Owen’s personal style.