Known for its nightlife, Allston is a historic neighborhood anchored by Boston College, Boston University, and Harvard. In 2013, Forbes ranked Allston as one of the "hippest places to live in the United States," along neighborhoods such as Brooklyn's Williamsburg and Los Angeles' Silver Lake.
Allston has a long history of artistic cred. The neighborhood was named for artist Washington Allston (1779-1843), the first important American Romantic painter, friends with Samuel Coleridge and Washington Irving. One of Allston's students was a fellow by the name of Samuel F.B. Morse, who was training to become a portraitist – but who achieved lasting fame as the inventor of the telegraph. In addition, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow bought a large parcel of land in Lower Allston. Longfellow lived across the river in Harvard Square, and simply did not want his view changed by developments. We appreciate this. Over the years, Allston has been home to Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, actor Jared Leto, and Aerosmith. The neighborhood is also featured in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.
Today, Allston is home to the WGBH Studios (One Guest St.), and to the New Balance headquarters (100 Guest St.), which is the catalyst for Boston Landing, an extensive New Urbanist development. The project is being spearheaded by Jim Davis, the owner of New Balance, and will encompass several residential towers, shops at ground level, a sports complex with a running track, and an ice rink where the Bruins will practice.
Strong university presence. Located between Boston University and Boston College, and across the river from Harvard's sprawling Cambridge campus, Allston is home to a significant population of students and young professionals. In fact, a significant part of Harvard's Boston campus - including Harvard Business School, the Innovation Lab, and most athletic facilities (such as Bright Hockey Center, Harvard Stadium, and the Lavietes Pavilion) - is in Lower Allston. Berklee College of Music also has a rehearsal facility on Fordham Road. Because of its proximity to the Longwood Medical Area, the neighborhood is also an attractive destination for residents, interns, doctors, and medical professionals.
Harvard University expansion in Lower Allston. Over the past two decades, Harvard has quietly acquired over 350 acres of land and buildings in Allston for their long-term campus expansion, largely along Western Avenue and North Harvard Street. The university hopes to extend the liveliness of Harvard Square into Allston. Additional background can be found at Harvard magazine (and more) and the Harvard Crimson (and more).
Significant dining and nightlife in Upper Allston. The liveliest section of the neighborhood is along Harvard Avenue between Commonwealth Avenue and Cambridge Street, with considerably dining, shopping, and nightlife.
Noise issues. Parts of the neighborhood experience significant noise issues from the loud docking of the CSX Railroad train yard. The CSX Railroad operates the large Beacon Park freight yard which runs adjacent to the Mass Turnpike. That said, CSX has announced plans to move its yard operation west, allowing the plot to be redeveloped by Harvard, although this may result in noise issues for a different part of the neighborhood.
The neighborhood is bisected by the Mass Pike into two main sections, Lower Allston (also North Allston) and Upper Allston (also simply known as Allston).
Lower Allston is a quieter neighborhood of predominantly single-family houses and small apartment buildings between the Mass Pike and the Charles River, from Everett Street to Windom Street. There is currently fairly limited shopping, dining, and nightlife within the neighborhood itself, although it is a short walk to both Upper Allston and Harvard Square. This section of the neighborhood contains many of Harvard's current buildings and its 350+ acres slated for its campus expansion, and has the potential to improve significantly.
Upper Allston is a lively destination neighborhood of nightlife and restaurants along Harvard, Brighton, and Commonwealth avenues.
Within Upper Allston, Allston Heights is a compact section of the neighborhood south of Cambridge Street, from Commonwealth Avenue to North Beacon Street. The housing tends to be more substantial and stylish than the smaller residences north of Cambridge Street. Most of the residential development occurred after the Civil War, with ornate Queen Anne and Shingle Style houses. More information can be found at the Brighton-Allston Historic Society.
Housing stock varies considerably within the neighborhood, with pockets of elaborate single-family Victorian houses (some of which have been divided into student apartments), more modest houses, and brick and limestone buildings along the main avenues.
In 2011, the Boston Preservation Alliance prepared a historic preservation priorities report (PDF) highlighting the notable places and history within Allston.
Aerosmith apartment (1325 Commonwealth Ave. #41) is the first site on the Boston Music Trail. It was the former residence of bandmembers of Aerosmith from 1970-1972, where they wrote 'Mama Kin,' among other songs.
100 Brainerd Rd., childhood residence of billionaire and former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.
99 Hooker St., former residence of actress Emily Deschanel, while a student at Boston University.
26-28 Higgins St. (Thomas Gardner House) is the oldest surviving house in Allston. In 1747, Richard Gardner, the father of the celebrated Revolutionary War hero Thomas Gardner, purchased a 110-acre estate that included land on both sides of Harvard Avenue. The house was once at the northwest corner of Harvard and Brighton avenues, but was moved to its present site in 1850. Thomas Gardner is remembered in Allston's Gardner Street, and the Massachusetts town of Gardner, named in 1785. (As an aside, the Gardner family was one of the earliest colonial families, with Thomas Gardner (c.1592-1674) serving as one of the first governors of Massachusetts. His descendants include writers Robert Frost, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes; department store magnate R.H. Macy, coffee magnate James A. Folger, Henry Clay Folger (head of Standard Oil of New York); and educators Philips Brooks and Endicott Peabody, linked to Philips Academy, Groton Academy, and Brooks School.
581 Cambridge St. (John Gordon house) is an Italianate farmhouse built c.1850.
390 Cambridge St. (John English House). Built c.1870, it is the oldest surviving building in the commercial district, and the only remaining single-family house from its era. It evokes the late 1800s neighborhood with single-family houses on large lots.
40 Gordon St. is an especially ornate residence built c.1870 as an Italianate/Stick Style house, then redone in the Queen Anne style in the 1880s.
Upper Allston (the section south of the Mass Pike) has better transit options than Lower Allston. Within Upper Allston, the B branch of the Green Line runs along Commonwealth Avenue, with multiple stops in the neighborhood, including at Packard's Corner and Commonwealth/Harvard. However, residents of the northern parts of Lower Allston have proximity to the Red Line at Harvard Square.
Both sections of the neighborhood are convenient for drivers, with proximity to Route 2, Mass Pike, Storrow Drive, and Soldier's Field Road.
Allston is at the northwestern edge of Boston, adjacent to the neighborhoods of Brighton and Fenway/Kenmore, and with the towns of Brookline on the south and east, and the city of Watertown to the northwest. To the north, Allston is bordered by the Charles River, and is across the Andersen bridge from Harvard Square and Cambridgeport in Cambridge
The neighborhood is generally divided into two sections, Lower Allston (also known as North Allston) and Upper Allston (also known simply as Allston), bisected by the Mass Pike. Upper Allston contains a distinct subsection known as Allston Heights.
In 1868, Allston became the first neighborhood in the United States to be named for an artist, the painter and poet Washington Allston (1779-1843). While he actually lived and worked across the river in Cambridgeport, the neighborhood is thought to have been named for his painting, "Fields West of Boston." Also, it probably didn't hurt that Allston married the daughter of one of the city's prominent families, Martha Dana daughter of Chief Justice Francis Dana.
From colonial farmland to Paul Revere's ride. The low-lying, fertile land that would become Allston was formerly part of Brighton and was known as Little Cambridge, and it was long used as farmland and later, for livestock. In 1820, the affluent Winship family opened a horticultural business, Winship Flowers, and profited greatly during the American Revolution. When the Continental Army was headquartered in Allston in 1775-1776, the Winships opened the area's first cattle market and Allston-Brighton became known for decades for their stockyards. Allston played another role in the Revolutionary War when William Dawes - the lesser-known partner of Paul Revere - rode over today's Andersen Bridge and North Harvard Street to warn the residents of Lexington and Concord.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ... worth a lot more than you think. In 1870, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow acquired a significant parcel of land in Allston that extended from the sightline on his estate at 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge, in order to maintain open and attractive views. He deeded the land to Harvard with a restriction that it could only be used for open space use, thus stalling the expansion of the unsightly and stinky abbatoir, and allowing the eventual expansion of the Harvard athletic facilities. (For those interested, there is an parallel here to Rockefeller's acquisition of considerable land in the New Jersey waterfront to protect his views from his estate in Inwood.)
In 1869, the neighborhood became home to the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (40 Armington St.), the first public school for the hearing impaired in the United States. Helen Keller (1880-1968) attended the school, and Alexander Graham Bell's work at the school inspired him to begin experiments in an apparatus to help deaf children hear, a precursor of his invention of the telephone.
In 1873, the town of Brighton opted to annex itself to the growing city of Boston, joining Charlestown, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Roxbury, and West Roxbury (which then included Jamaica Plain and Roslindale). The annexation became official on January 1, 1874. As an historical aside, New York City was also growing through annexation, starting with several towns in and around the Bronx in 1873. These independent towns became neighborhoods of Boston.
Allston has witnessed several notable first, including:
1836: First strawberry farmed for Boston market by Abel Rice, at the corner of Everett and Holton streets.
1878: First bicycle race in the United States at Allston's Beacon Trotting Park, built for horse races.
1972: First closed captioning and descriptive video technology, at WGBH.
1980: First U2 concert in the United States, at the Paradise Rock Club.
Allston was almost the site for the John F. Kennedy presidential library. The idea of locating his library at Harvard had been discussed as early as 1961. By 1963, the president had selected a two-acre site in Lower Allston next to the business school. However, the neighborhood opposed the plan, in part because of the expected traffic, and it was eventually moved to Columbia Point in Dorchester.