Back Bay Art and Architecture Walk

In the folklore of American neighborhoods, Boston’s Back Bay stands alongside New York's Park Avenue as a symbol of chic. In the 1850s, Boston's power brokers built Victorian mansions amid lush green spaces and by the time the Great Depression hit, the Back Bay was the city’s poshest address.

Copley Square

The Back Bay’s hub embraces a range of architectural styles from Romanesque Revival to Bauhaus-inspired skyscrapers. The Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel's Oak Long Bar + Kitchen, with its catbird seats, offers a perfect place to begin your walk. Designed in 1912 by Henry Hardenbergh, five years after his famed Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, the hotel underwent a $20-million centenary renovation. Boston Public Library, housing 9 million books, was conceived by architects Mead, McKim, and White, who opted for an Italian Renaissance palazzo. Modern architect Philip Johnson’s 1972 wing respectfully reflects the original.

The Pru and Commonwealth Avenue

Heading up Boylston Street with the library on your left, you’ll find the 52-story Prudential Tower, built in the 1960s, and affectionately dubbed "The Pru" and today is a retail mecca. With the Pru behind you, take Gloucester Street across Newbury to Commonwealth Avenue, where if you look to the right, you will see the Mall—a linear park that stretches all the way to the edge of the Public Garden. The Mall's 32 acres were designed in the French boulevard style by Arthur Gilman in 1856. Turn left, and cross Massachusetts Avenue to 395 Commonwealth, where you'll see Louis Comfort Tiffany's famous Ayer Mansion.

Boston Public Garden

At the bronze statue of George Washington at the foot of Commonwealth Avenue, enter Boston Public Garden, America's oldest botanical garden sheltering 24 acres of weeping willow, elm, spruce, and dawn redwood. The garden pond is spanned by a faux-suspension bridge while the garden itself abuts Boston Common. Exit with Washington behind you, walk one block to Newbury Street, turn right and head toward the Gothic Revival Church of the Covenant, on Newbury Street at Berkeley, built in 1867.

Trinity Church and Hancock Tower

Take Berkeley one block to Boylston Street then head back up Boylston to Copley Square to visit its crowning centerpiece, Trinity Church. This 1877 Romanesque Revival masterpiece conceived by Henry Hobson Richardson exhibits sumptuously carved interior woodwork, ornamented ceilings, and intricate stained glass. Another architectural award winner is the John Hancock Tower, behind Trinity Church on St. James Street. Architect Henry Cobb managed to construct this modernist 58-story building without disrupting the square’s scale and proportion in part by having the glass panels mirror Trinity Church.

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