CommonBoston, June 2016

Stumbled upon info about CommonBoston, the Boston Society of Architects’ weekend festival of art & design, and immediately planned to make a day of it. And what a day!

CommonBoston “promotes a greater appreciation of the built environment, inspires discussion about excellence in design, planning, and preservation, and broadens awareness of the rich architectural and cultural traditions present in diverse communities throughout greater Boston.” On the first weekend in June, they   celebrated ten years of Common Boston programming in an “open house” format (free!). Ten years? Where have we been!

We focused on downtown Boston, but there were events in lots of neighborhoods, over in Cambridge, and more. We started on Beacon Hill:

Louisburg Square, where U.S. Secretary of State/former Senator John Kerry has a home. Other famous residents included architect Charles Bulfinch, painter John Singleton Copley, and teacher A. Bronson Alcott and his daughter, author Louisa May Alcott (who died there). The Greek Revival-style townhomes are currently valued at $10 million+. Double-click photos to enlarge.

Our first tour of the day was the Nichols House at 55 Mt. Vernon St., built in 1804 and owned by the Nichols family from 1885 until Rose Nichols’ death in 1960. Fascinating family – Rose, who never married, was a landscape architect, writer, and suffragist.

Because it stayed in one family so long, nearly all the items in the Nichols house are original, including faux-leather wallpaper, Rose’s hand-embroidered linens, her woodworking handiwork, and sculpture by their friend Augustus St. Gaudens!

All 3 Nichols sisters were active in the suffragist movement to gain voting rights for women. Middle sister Marian immediately ran for the state legislature in 1920 as soon as women could vote, but she lost (to a man).


Rose’s father Dr. Nichols was pretty perceptive himself -his 1914 words are a perfect analysis of 2016 America:IMG_7842

Walked down Beacon Hill towards Cambridge Street, enjoying a little more architectural treats:


State House back, also by Bulfinch


On to the 1796 Harrison Gray Otis house, a 3-story brick mansion in the Federalist style, also by Bulfinch, on the edge of the West End. Fascinating history of the home, from mansion to medical spa featuring “champoo baths” to genteel boarding house, to rooming house to a museum, which had to be moved back 15 feet to make way for Cambridge Street construction. We put on surgical shoe-cover booties to protect the carpets from our shoes while touring the elegant home.

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Check out the current view of Otis House, compared to this photo of it at the Museum, before it was restored.




West Church is next to Otis House

The Otis house is a rare West End structure that survived “urban renewal,” a sorry process documented at the free West End Museum.

IMG_7866 IMG_7868 IMG_7869

We then walked along Causeway Street to the North End, past the flying Bobby Orr statue in front of the Zakim Bridge.


That’s the first half of the day.




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