Back Bay is an officially recognized neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It is most famous for its rows of Victorian brownstone homes—considered one of the best preserved examples of 19th-century urban design in the United States—as well as numerous architecturally significant individual buildings, and cultural institutions such as the Boston Public Library. It is also a fashionable shopping destination (especially Newbury and Boylston Streets, and the adjacent Prudential Center and Copley Place malls) and home to some of Boston’s tallest office buildings, the Hynes Convention Center, and numerous major hotels.
Prior to a colossal 19th-century filling project, Back Bay was a literal bay. Today, along with neighboring Beacon Hill, it is one of Boston’s two most expensive residential neighborhoods.
Buildings around Copley Square
Copley Square features Trinity Church, the Boston Public Library, the John Hancock Tower, and numerous other notable buildings.
Trinity Church (1872–1877, H.H. Richardson), “deservedly regarded as one of the finest buildings in America.”
The first monumental structure in Copley Square was the original Museum of Fine Arts, begun 1870 and opened 1876. After museum moved to the Fenway neighborhood in 1909 its red Gothic Revival building was demolished to make way for the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel (1912–present).
The Boston Public Library (1888–1892), designed by McKim, Mead, and White, is a leading example of Beaux-Arts architecture in the US. Sited across Copley Square from Trinity Church, it was intended to be “a palace for the people.” Baedeker’s 1893 guide terms it “dignified and imposing, simple and scholarly,” and “a worthy mate… to Trinity Church.” At that time, its 600,000 volumes made it the largest free public library in the world.
The Old South Church, also called the New Old South Church (645 Boylston Street on Copley Square), 1872–75, is located across the street from the Boston Public Library. It was designed by the Boston architectural firm of Cummings and Sears in the Venetian Gothic style. The style follows the precepts of the British cultural theorist and architectural critic John Ruskin (1819–1900) as outlined in his treatise The Stones of Venice. Old South Church remains a significant example of Ruskin’s influence on architecture in the US. Charles Amos Cummings and Willard T. Sears also designed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Boston Common (also known as the Common) is a central public park in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. It is sometimes erroneously referred to as the Boston Commons. Dating from 1634, it is the oldest city park in the United States. The Boston Common consists of 50 acres (20 ha) of land bounded by Tremont Street (139 Tremont St.), Park Street, Beacon Street, Charles Street, and Boylston Street. The Common is part of the Emerald Necklace of parks and parkways that extend from the Common south to Franklin Park in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Dorchester. A visitors’ center for all of Boston is located on the Tremont Street side of the park.
Boylston Street is the name of a major east-west thoroughfare in the city of Boston, Massachusetts. From west to east, Boston’s Boylston Street begins at the intersection of Park Drive and Brookline Avenue as a two-way, six-lane road in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood where it runs through three blocks of recently developed and currently under construction (as of 2015) high-rise, mixed-use buildings one block south of Fenway Park before forming the northern boundary of the Back Bay Fens at the Storrow Drive/Commonwealth Avenue right-of-way. Traffic traveling west on Boylston here cannot continue on Boylston Street, and must use Ipswich Street to continue west. Then, Boylston Street enters the Back Bay neighborhood where it becomes a major commercial artery carrying three lanes of one way traffic eastbound after Dalton Street. As it travels through the Back Bay, it forms the northern boundary of busy Copley Square and provides the southern limits to the Boston Public Garden before becoming a two-way street running along Boston Common’s southern edge from Charles Street to Tremont Street. After Tremont Street, Boylston returns to carrying one way traffic east before ending at Washington Street in the downtown area where it changes to Essex Street.