The Sacred Places of Beacon Hill

This past Sunday, the New England Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians organized a walking tour of the sacred places of Beacon Hill.  The tour was well attended and the weather was fantastic, a better Sunday afternoon could not have been possible.

The tour was an excellent opportunity to learn more about the many sacred places in Boston’s Beacon Hill  neighborhood, especially since I had only seen the interior of one of them (the Vilna Shul synagogue) before this tour. Below are some images I snapped of some sites.

H.H. Richardson and the Arts and Crafts Connection in New Hampshire

Ever since taking my first architectural history survey at the University of New Hampshire, I became fascinated with the Arts and Crafts Movement and the architecture of Henry Hobson Richardson.  I wrote my first paper ever, in any architectural history class on the libraries of H.H. Richardson and I am a docent at Trinity Church, one of Richardson’s masterpieces.  What’s the connection between the Arts and Crafts Movement, H.H. Richardson and New Hampshire, you might be wondering?

See, every summer I’ve made it a goal of mine to explore a historic house in the New England region and learn as much as I can from my visit. The past few summers, I’ve gone to Salem, MA, Newport, RI and most recently, New Canaan, CT to visit the Philip Johnson Glass House. This summer, I traveled to New Hampshire and visited Lucknow or “Castle in the Clouds,” a 16 room Arts and Crafts Mansion situated atop one of New Hampshire’s mountains overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee.

Located a short driving distance from Wolfeboro, one of America’s oldest resort towns, to experience the architecture of “Castle in the Clouds” visitors must take a trolley from the Carriage House to the peak of the mountain.  At the sight of the Carriage House, I immediately started recalling certain characteristics of Richardson’s architecture and began drawing connections between the architecture of the Carriage House and Richardson’s buildings, most notably the estate for Robert Treat Paine in Waltham, MA.

Lucknow, completed in 1913-14 was the home of Thomas Plant (1859-1941), a businessman with very strong connections to Boston.  There is no doubt in my mind that Plant was exposed to the architecture of Richardson, not only those buildings in Boston, but in the suburbs as well. Thomas Plant made his fortune in the shoe manufacturing industry in Massachusetts and retired a millionaire at age fifty-one. Mr. Plant was allegedly the architect of Lucknow (one of the tour guides mentioned that his brother was the architect and that Thomas Plant himself had control over the drawings, but Thomas took the title of architect. Oh the gossip!) and the Richardsonian influences could not have any less visible. From the bold massing and the harmonious integration of  the building with its surrounding landscape to the “eyelid or eyebrow” windows made famous by Richardson and later architects, Mr. Thomas Plant was without a doubt influenced by Richardson as well as the ideas behind the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

The Arts and Crafts Movement (1830-1870) springs out of the Gothic Revival in England by emphasizing a strict design morality(1) and rebelling against the often uninspiring machine made objects by placing emphasis on hand crafted ornamentation and details. Spearheaded by artists and theorists like William Morris and John Ruskin, who collectively with their art and writings became the driving force that integrated social and moral ideologies into the art and architecture that was produced in America beginning in Richardson’s  time. To decorate his mansion, Mr. Thomas Plant commissioned the best artists and craftsmen working in the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. The glasswork found in the mansion was commissioned to Louis Comfort Tiffany, lighting by the Edward F. Caldwell Company of New York and custom woodwork and furnishings by A.H Davenport/Irving and Casson of Boston, Richardson’s furniture maker.

The prestigious furniture makers and carvers at A.H. Davenport and Company(2) who later in 1916 merged with Irving and Casson executed most of Richardson’s furniture commissions including the Court of Appeals in Albany, New York, the Crane Library in Quincy, Massachusetts, the Billings Library in Burlington, Vermont and the Converse Library in Malden (3).  A.H Davenport became one of the largest and most prosperous furniture makers of the time after purchasing The Boston Furniture Company in 1880. Albert Henry Davenport himself had been the bookkeeper at Boston Furniture Company until 1866 (4). Known for their exquisite craftsmanship and attention to the most inconspicuous details, Davenport and Company went on to make furniture for the mansions of the wealthy residents of the Back Bay, the White House under President Roosevelt and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City (5). The woodwork and furnishings at Lucknow are impressive and harmonize beautifully with the exposed joints  of the architecture.

Richardson died prematurely at the age of 48 (died in 1886) and did not live to see the tremendous influence his architecture had in America, Canada and Northern European countries.  The breathtaking mansion of Lucknow or “Castle in the Clouds” is a testament to the power of Richardson’s architecture and the exquisite craftmanship of A.H. Davenport/Irving and Casson masters of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America.

H.H. Richardson’s Stonehurst; The Robert Treat Paine Estate in Waltham, MA

I’ve conducted an extensive research on Richardson’s furniture which culminated in a talk at one of his most ornate buildings. Perhaps, I can write a small post on the furniture of H.H. Richardson for all of you to enjoy. As long as you all want me of course!

1 Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan, The Arts and Crafts Movement (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991) 14
2 Marian Page, Furniture Designed by Architects (New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1984) 68
3  Anne Farnam, “A.H. Davenport and Company, Boston Furniture Makers” Antiques 1055
4 Anne Farnam.  Antiques
5 Anne Farnam, “A.H. Davenport and Company, Boston Furniture Makers” Antiques 1048

Reflections on Water

I can’t swim to save my life. As a matter of fact, I can’t even doggy paddle. I thought I’d tell you now before you read any further. I must also tell you that I’ve never experienced any life altering incidents involving water (in case you wanted to know). In fact, some of the fondest memories I have as a child have dealt with water has playing a prominent role. I’m just not a water type of person I guess.

The sight of water alone re-energizes my senses and brings back memories of places and people I’ve encountered along my path in life. Up until recently, I lived about a 10 minute walk from the ocean. Whenever I needed to clear my mind or fill my lungs with the cool sea breeze, I would engage in a conversation with the waves crashing upon the shore. I no longer have that “luxury.” Ever since my move to another neighborhood in Boston, it requires more planning than I thought it originally would using public transportation.

Lucky for me, Boston is home to Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace – a series of picturesque parks linked as the name suggests, like a necklace by parkways and waterways.  In a spur of the moment decision, I ventured out to Jamaica Pond in Jamaica Plain earlier this week to connect with the pond and its beautiful surroundings.

Bounded by the town of Brookline and located within walking distance from the home and studio of both Frederick Law Olmsted and the architect Henry Hobson Richardson, Jamaica Pond is a popular destination for city dwellers looking to go sailing, fishing, jogging or walking. Both Olmsted and Richardson were friends and collaborated on many outstanding projects in Massachusetts which integrated the architecture with its surrounding landscapes.

The architecture at Jamaica Pond consists of a boat house and bandstand designed by the firm of Stickney and Austin and the now demolished Pinebank Mansion; the Queen Anne style house designed by John Hubbard Sturgis, of Sturgis and Brigham; designers of the Museum of Fine Arts that once stood on Copley Square.

I hadn’t been to Jamaica Pond since I was about 11 years old. As I approached the pond from Pond Street, memories of family picnics and bike rides started to flow. I briskly walked along the pond’s edges, calmly awaiting the sunset.  As the sun began to set and colors emerged from behind the clouds, the architecture of Stickney and Austin became so much more intense contrasting with the soft glow of the sun. This moment reminded me of how much we all intrinsically benefit from the natural and designed landscapes that surround us.  And although I cannot swim, I try to engage and interact as often as I can with landscapes and architecture where water plays a prominent role like Jamaica Pond.

To learn more about the Emerald Necklace and the work being done to preserve and restore this magnificent cultural resource, click here.

Learn more about the Olmstead Historic Site in Brookline and the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation

To read about Stickney and Austin, see postshereandhere.

June 2010 The Evolving Critic

The Cochituate Standpipe, built in 1869

The more I explore Roxbury, the more I fall in love with it. Its colorful history is reflected in its rich architectural heritage, from the Georgian Shirley-Eustis House to the Heroic Modernism of Madison Park High School to the recently constructed Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the landscape of Roxbury could be read as a survey in New England architecture and planning. Roxbury, like Jamaica Plain and surrounding neighborhoods was once a streetcar suburb of Boston.

Cooper Community Garden with Tour Attendees

Sam Bass Warner, Jr. in Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 traces the development patterns of the two-mile radius city that was once Boston, to the suburban metropolis that we experience today. The development patterns, the arrangements of streets and buildings throughout Boston’s streetcar suburbs are a reflection of the nineteenth arrival of the street railway and people’s aspirations of home and land ownership (Sam Bass Warner, Jr. Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press and the M.I.T Press), 1962) 15).

In the nineteenth century, the idea of living surrounded by nature and open space drove the middle class to escape the crowded city and purchase land in places like Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and in other surrounding cities and towns like Brookline and Cambridge (14). On Saturday June 25th, I attended a tour co-sponsored by Discover Roxbury and Common Boston of the gardens of Highland Park, Roxbury. This opportunity allowed me to experience the urban gardens created by neighborhood residents and also pay close attention to development patterns within Highland Park (a theme I had explored in depth in a Boston Architecture course at Boston University).

Cooper Community Garden with Attendees

Highland Park is an incredibly culturally diverse neighborhood in Roxbury and its gardens embody the resilience, passion and collaborative nature of its residents. As one resident of Highland Park noted in her welcoming statement to the group, the gardens act as a forum in which real contact can be made and dialogues rich in multicultural, ethnic and racial points of view are nurtured and fostered.

Fostering and nurturing enriching dialogues is at the core of preserving the character and history of Highland Park. The gardens were all stunningly beautiful and the gardeners were highly enthusiastic and welcoming. Their passion and determination is not only reflected in their gardens, but in the fabric of the neighborhood as well. These gardens not only act as a forum in which dialogues rich in multiculturalism are exchanged, but are also avenues for educating community members and residents of Boston on pursuing a sustainable way of life.

If you would like to explore more of the gardens of Roxbury, Discover Roxbury will be leading a trolley tour of the Historic Moreland Street District and Mission Hill on July 10th from 10:00am-12:30pm. For ticket information click here.

Garden in Highland Park


The Carpenters Center, Home of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters is the latest building in Boston to be praised by critics, architects and residents alike for its design sensitivity and carefully thought out details. The Carpenters Center building has once again placed Dorchester on the architectural map of Boston! The craftmanship of the building has been characterized as exquisite and nothing short of the fine work executed by those affiliated with the NERCC.

Designed by ADD Inc, the building opened in March of 2010. For more on this building, check out their blog

Rendering by ADD Inc. of Boston, the architect on the project taken from, May 29, 2009

The Glass House, Philip Johnson. Completed in 1949.

Recently, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City organized an exhibition titled “Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum” which exhibited the works of nearly two hundred invited artists, architects, and designers to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Modernist masterpiece. Most importantly, these artists were celebrating the void which has influenced countless of site specific art installations at the Guggenheim.

Like the artists, architects and designers who contemplated the void at the Guggenheim, a year ago I boarded a bus from Boston to Stamford, CT where I would catch a train to New Canaan, CT to contemplate  one of the most important icons of Modern architecture: the Philip Johnson Glass House.  After the long and exhausting bus ride (which was late to Stamford by the way), I missed my train to New Canaan and with less than 40 minutes until the beginning of my two hour tour of the House, I hopped on a 30 minute taxi ride to New Canaan (the next train to New Canaan did not leave until 2:45PM and my tour was scheduled for 2:00PM). I made it to the visitor center in downtown New Canaan with just ten minutes to spare! Phew! What a relief!

The Painting Gallery, completed in 1965.

Visiting the Philip Johnson Glass House proved to be an exhilarating experience in my exploration of Modern architecture. The tour was well organized and the guide was very knowledgeable on modernism, in particular on Modern Art as she was an artist herself.  At a cost of $45 for a two hour tour with photography allowed, I not only got to see the Glass House, but Johnson’s other architectural experiments in the 47 acre property surrounding the house. One of my favorites was the Painting Gallery which recalls the Treasury of Atreus (Mycenae) in its entrance, but nothing quite like it in the interior (judging from what the interior of the Treasury of Atreus looks like today as it may have been completely different around 1250BCE when it was constructed). Its soft and “sexy” interior and floor plan are visually stunning in contrast to the fortress like exterior of the Gallery.

Inside the Painting Gallery. Works by Frank Stella.

The connection between this blog on Boston, the Glass House in New Canaan and Philip Johnson is that Johnson had attended Harvard University graduating with a Bachelor’s in Architecture in 1943. While a student at Harvard he designed his own house now located in Cambridge, MA and his presence as an architect in the city of Boston is seen in the addition to the Boston Public Library and at 500 Boylston Street (the Post-Modern Palladian inspired skyscraper) which was featured on the television drama series Boston Legal.

As a student of life, art and architecture, a preservationist and a lover of Modern architecture, visiting the Glass House was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Being in New Canaan was all I needed to take my breath away last summer let alone visiting the Philip Johnson Glass House.

(If someone knows or has a connection to the current owners of the Johnson house in Cambridge, please let me know! I’d love to see it up close instead of climbing up the stairs of the building across from it to get a peek).

The Lake Pavillion completed in 1962.


Venustas: vĕnustas , ātis, f. 1. Venus, I.loveliness, comeliness, charm, grace, beauty, elegance, attractiveness, etc. (syn.: pulchritudo, formositas).

In defining the qualities of good architecture, the Roman architect Vitruvius believed that  firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality), and venustas (beauty) in a building were its most important qualities. It comes as no secret that the name for this blog was in part inspired by venustas, the quality of beauty, charm, elegance and attractiveness.

Exploring the beauty of Boston and its surrounding communities continues to be the focus of this blog. I hope you enjoy the following images of some buildings in Boston and its surrounding communities which I find to be inspiring and beautiful (another building which takes my breath away every single time is Trinity Church, I hope everyone knows what this building looks like).

The Woburn Public Library, taken by John Michael Garcia.

The Woburn Public Library, Woburn, MA. Taken by John Michael Garcia.Saarinen’s Kresge Chapel, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyThe Boston Public Library by McKim, Mead and White

This year, Historic New England (formerly known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities), celebrates its Centennial as the oldest preservation organization in the United States. To celebrate this landmark achievement, the organization opened the doors to all of their 36 historic properties for FREE this past Saturday.

Of course, who in their right mind would let this opportunity go by and not visit at least one of their properties? I visited the Pierce House in Dorchester, a First Period house and one of the last surviving examples of seventeenth-century architecture in the city of Boston.  The house was built in 1683 and was once part of a 20 acre farm in Dorchester which none of it remains today, but its rich history and relationship to the land have been recorded in its architecture.

Today, the house is primarily used for school groups, but it is open to the public on selected dates. If you’re in the neighborhood on July 22, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. and October 9, 1:00 – 4:00 p.m., consider taking a tour of the Pierce House and learn more about this important 17th Century gem in Boston.