The South End is one of the largest Victorian neighborhoods in the United States, with over 525 acres (compared to 379 acres for the Back Bay). That said, there are comparable Victorian neighborhoods in Brooklyn, such as Crown Heights (864 acres) and Park Slope (659 acres). The neighborhood's tree-lined streets are lined with attached brick rowhouses, brick sidewalks, wrought-iron gates and fences, and a number of garden squares where the rowhouses surround small parks with fountains.
The South End was developed beginning in the 1840s, and based partly on designs by Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844), the first American-born professional architect – although not the first professional architect working in the United States, which was either the British-born Peter Harrison (1716-1775) or Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820). Thomas Jefferson prepared an itinerary of Europe for Bulfinch early in his career, and the buildings he saw on that trip helped shape his distinctively American style. Bulfinch designed buildings in Beacon Hill, as well as Boston Common, the Massachusetts State House, and the U.S. Capitol).
The South End is one of many Boston neighborhoods that were built on reclaimed land
. Until the 1840s, it was originally a narrow strip of land surrounded by marshes. The Boston Neck (or Roxbury Neck), as it was known, connected Boston with the (then-town) of Roxbury
. Throughout the 1800s, Boston expanded its land area by over 2,000 acres by adding gravel and soil to marshes and even the bay, changing the shape of the waterfront across the city. However, this reclaimed land can settle over time, causing foundation issues and increased risk of flood exposure. In addition, changes in the water table can lead to rot for the wooden pilings which underpin the brick buildings.
Elegant parks, and community gardens.
The original Bulfinch plan for the South End was inspired by the wealthy Georgian enclaves of London, with rowhouses around pocket parks. The South End contains eleven of these small parks, often with cast-iron fences and a central fountain. There are also 16 community gardens (including the sprawling and beloved Berkeley Gardens
at the corner of E. Berkeley and Tremont streets) and newer pocket parks, now operated by the Trustees of Reservations
. Lastly, Southwest Corridor Park
follows the Orange Line over four miles, from Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain
to Back Bay
The South End has become a dining destination, particularly around the Boston Center for the Arts (539 Tremont St.). However, what began as a way to cater (heh) to the theater crowds soon expanded to serve the increasingly-affluent residents of the evolving neighborhood. Stalwarts include Aquitaine
(569 Tremont), Beehive
(541 Tremont), and the Elephant Walk
(1415 Washington), as well as several Barbara Lynch restaurants, including B&G Oysters
and the < href="http://www.thebutchershopboston.com
">Butcher Shop, and Stir
(102 Waltham St.), a teaching kitchen and cookbook store.
A lively arts district
. The SoWa Arts District
, south of Washington on Harrison Avenue, is filled with art galleries and artists’ studios. The neighborhood is anchored by the
Boston Center for the Arts
, an 1884 building with a copper skylight dome that contains three theater companies and an art gallery. The BCA also operates the Calderwood Pavilion
(527 Tremont) with the Huntington Theatre.
The South End was built on reclaimed land, and the original vision for this new land was a mansion district of large freestanding houses with gardens. However, very few land parcels sold under this plan, and it was revised in favor of the neighborhood we see today – a district of connected brick rowhouses.
Built on reclaimed land. Filled land in the South End was originally eight feet above sea level, but is now four feet, as fill settles. The original shore line of Boston Neck crosses in front of 40 St. George Street, (formerly 11 James Street), and tapers to the narrowest point on the Neck at Dover Street. Blackstone and Franklin Parks are solid land on the original neck, but clam and snail shells are just beneath its surface, as high seas would occasionally overrun the Neck.
Parts of the South End were modeled after Georgian neighborhoods of London developed in the 1700s, with clusters of rowhouses overlooking small parks. Today, these garden squares are some of the most desirable real estate within the neighborhood. In the 1860s, the neighborhood design shifted from English to French, when tree-lined Columbus Avenue was created in the manner of a Parisian boulevard.
The plan included building connected brick bow-front (bay window) townhouses, with iron railings and tiny gardens surrounded by iron fences, and scattering small green parks, often with a fountain in the middle, throughout the area. The South End is built mostly of mid-nineteenth century bowfronts—aesthetically uniform rows of five-story, predominantly red-brick structures, of mixed residential and commercial uses. The most common styles are Renaissance Revival, Italianate and French Second Empire, though there are Greek Revival, Egyptian Revival, Gothic Revival, and Queen Anne style houses, among several other styles. Row houses built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, especially along the present Southwest Corridor Park show the influence of Charles Eastlake in the incised decoration on stone trim. Despite the style, a common palette of red brick, slate, limestone or granite trim, and cast iron railings provide great visual unity.
The South End has a significant amount of artist-focused live/work spaces for rent and purchase through its ArtistSpace
). According to the Boston Planning department, these are often in buildings between industrial and residential neighborhoods, or in locations that do not lend themselves to traditional housing.
The South End is divided into several smaller sections, used to determine city planning:
(roughly between I-93, Harrison, East Brookline, and East Berkeley streets) is primarily a light industrial and artist-focused area. There is concern among local businesses that the area could be rezoned for additional residential buildings, forcing out the industrial tenants.
(roughly between the highway, Massachusetts Avenue, Franklin Park, and East Brookline St.)
New York Streets
(between Herald, East Berkeley, Albany, and Tremont Streets) was perhaps the section of the South End most affected by urban renewal, although it is being redeveloped into residential purposes and is anchored by the South End's only Whole Foods.
(South of Washington Area) (roughly between Albany to Washington and East Berkeley to Mass Ave.)
Significant historic protections
to retain historic appeal and property value. After seeing the effects of the misguided urban renewal
programs in other neighborhoods like the West End
and a href="/neighborhoods/208">Government Center, residents organized to fight against the demolition. Through their efforts, the South End is both listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Boston Landmark District, which offers it more architectural protections. The South End Historical Society
works with the Boston Landmarks Commission on historic preservation. The South End National Historic District (PDF
) covers much of the neighborhood. The annual South End House Tour
, held in October, is a self-guided tour of private homes and public spaces.
The South End has five major garden squares as well as a number of smaller, more intimate residential parks scattered throughout the neighborhood. The original neighborhood plan was by Charles Bulfinch
(1763-1844), regarded as the first American-born architect – and Thomas Jefferson encouraged him to travel Europe, and even provided him with an itinerary of cities, squares, and buildings to see. These influences helped shape Bulfinch's Federal style of design – and his original plan for the neighborhood was modeled after the elegant Georgian garden squares of London. Several of these were laid out in 1850-1851, but the plan gradually shifted to the Victorian rowhouses that characterize the neighborhood today. However, the South End's squares include:
Blackstone and Franklin squares
Blackstone and Franklin are the only 'squares' which are actually square in shape – although it was actually designed as a circle. (Editor's note: We never said Boston real estate made sense).
Franklin Square was completed in 1849, and Blackstone in 1855. Charles Bulfinch had originally intended these to be a single park called Columbia Square. The Olmsted Brothers
, the successor firm to legendary designer Frederick Law Olmsted (who created Boston's Emerald Necklace of parks, as well as New York City's Central Park) created landscaping plans for both squares in 1913. The squares have retained their 1850s appearance of central fountains, and diagonal paths across broad lawns, and the Blackstone-Franklin Neighborhood Association
is active in enhancing quality of life in the area around the park.
(Massachusetts Ave. between Tremont St. and Shawmut Ave.) as originally developed, was the most grand of the original squares. The very large central park was lavishly landscaped ... surrounded by 70 townhouses, mostly Italianate but some Gothic Revival and Moorish as well. However, in the 1950s, a road was cut through the park, cutting it into two sections. The Chester Square Area Neighborhood Association
is active in neighborhood issues.
Concord and Rutland squares
are smaller, linear parks rather than enclosed squares. The Rutland Square Neighborhood Association
serves the needs of residents.
... is an enclosed urban square overlooking an oval park with two fountains ... The Union Park Neighborhood Association
represents residents' interests.
and ... between Harrison and Shawmut avenues, anchored by the Allen House
(1682 Washington St.): According to The Bostonian Society, this fashionable home was built in 1859 for a furniture dealer named Aaron Hall Allen, and it is a blend of Italianate and French Second Empire styles. Over time, the building has been home to a variety of social clubs and now it is a condo building.
42 Worcester Square
is the former residence of seminal science fiction author Isaac Asimov.
Best blocks and notable buildings
A few surviving buildings predate the rowhouse plan for the South End. These include the Porter Houses (1724 Washington St.), the Allen House.
The Allen House
at Worcester Square and Washington Street was built in 1859.
(1724 Washington St.) These back-to-back Federal mansions are the oldest documented houses in the South End, and were built for distiller William Porter and his son in 1806-1807. They have since been converted to condos.
5 Wellington Street
During the 1950s, the early members of what would become Malcolm X
's Mosque No. 11
convened at a home of one of the members located at 5 Wellington Street. As the membership grew, a larger facility became necessary, and in 1957 members organized a month-long donation drive that enabled them to place a down-payment on a former recreation hall located at 35 Intervale Street in Grove Hall in Roxbury.
And there are many other buildings notable for their residents more than their architecture:
Virginia Williams House
(19 Clarendon St.) This is the former residence of E. Virginia Williams
(1914-1963), the founder of the Boston Ballet
, now the fourth-largest professional ballet company in the United States.
21 Holyoke St.
Martin Luther King was a dinner guest of the owners of this South End townhouse.
Susan King Taylor House
(23 Holyoke St.). Former residence of Susan King Taylor (1848–1912) is honored by a marker at this site. Born a slave, she and her family escaped during the Civil War, serving as a teacher and as a nurse in the Union Army. After the war, she opened a school for African American children in Savannah, Georgia. In 1902, she wrote A Black Woman’s Civil War Memoirs, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp
Site of Harriet Tubman House
(25 Holyoke St.). Julia O. Henson donated her townhouse at this site to the Harriet Tubman Crusaders, a group which provided residences for African-American women who were excluded from the city's college dormitories and rooming houses. Harriet Tubman herself visited on several occasions. In 1960, the Harriet Tubman House merged with other settlement houses, and were demolished and replaced by a new building.
Martin Luther King residence
(397 Massachusetts Ave.) This is the only address of Nobel Peace Prize-wining civil rights activist Martin Luther King
(1929-1968) in Boston where a plaque commemorates his tenancy.
League of Women for Community Service
(558 Massachusetts Ave.). Coretta Scott lived here while she was dating Martin Luther King.
Martin Luther King residence
(396 Northampton St. #5) This was his address in 1954, likely his first home after his marriage to Coretta Scott
Louise Chandler Moulton House
(28 Rutland Sq.). Former residence of author and critic Louise Chandler Moulton
(1835–1908), who held influential weekly literary salons here and in London. Her Boston salons included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the Sargents. Her London ones included the Brownings, T.S. Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and the pre-Raphaelites including William Morris, William H. Hunt, and Edmund Burne-Jones. In fact, she was largely responsible for raising awareness of their work in the United States.
23 Warren Ave.
is a townhouse designed by Arthur D. Vinal, the City Architect of Boston, in 1881.
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes House
(9 Willow St.) The literary couple lived here briefly in the late 1950s before moving to England.
Commercial and retail
The primary business thoroughfares of the South End are Columbus Avenue, Tremont Street, and Washington Street, all between West Newton Street and Berkeley Street.
is often described as "Restaurant Row."
follows the trajectory of the original Boston Neck, once flanked by salt marshes.
The South End is one of many Boston neighborhoods built almost entirely on reclaimed land, made by filling in the salt marshes which flanked the long isthmus connecting the Shawmut Peninsula (downtown Boston) with Roxbury. The historic road along the original neck is today's Washington Street.
In 1801, self-taught architect Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844) (who was responsible for ______ and _______) was part of the team developing Beacon Hill, as well as a small section of South Boston. Bulfinch proposed filling in part of the marshes flanking Washington Street in order to create a neighborhood of large houses surrounded by gardens and expansive grounds, yet walkable to the heart of Boston. This would have been like [parts of Brookline or Harvard Square's Tory Row]. However, few people bought the lots, and by the 1820s, the plan was revised in favor of smaller and more affordable parcels that would favor rowhouses rather than freestanding houses. This is the South End that we know today.
At the same time, and in phases, the landfill operations began in the 1820s and continued for decades. (By 1857, work had begun on the filling of the Back Bay to create that neighborhood.) At the time, the new land was the southernmost neighborhood of Boston, and became known as the South End. However, today the South End feels like it is in the heart of Boston, in part because many more towns were annexed, expanding the land to the south. These included Dorchester (DATE), Roxbury (1868), and South Boston (DATE), Hyde Park (DATE), and Roslindale (DATE). REVISE
The neighborhood's original period as a wealthy enclave was relatively short-lived. Several financial panics in the 1880s, along with the development of the desirable enclave of the Back Bay in DATE ... many of the houses were divided into tenement apartments, rented by the room.
myths of a dramatic white flight in the 1880s are not entirely true. A series of national financial panics (see e.g., Panic of 1884, Economic history of the United States), combined with the emergence of new residential housing in Back Bay and Roxbury fed a steady decline of whites of English Protestant ancestry. Whites remained in the neighborhood, but increasingly they were Irish Catholic and recent immigrants.
By the close of the nineteenth century the South End was becoming a tenement district, first attracting new immigrants and, in the 1940s, single gay men. The South End also became a center of black middle class Boston life and culture.
A burgeoning middle class moved to the South End including business owners, two mayors, bankers, and industrialists.
The South End had only a brief period of _______ before __________.
But then came the Panic of 1873, which was a nationwide financial crisis brought about by the closing of a banking firm heavily invested in the widespread railroad construction at the time.
“Shortly after the buildings were constructed, the recession and panic occurred,’’ said Meghan Hanrahan Richard, the preservation planner for the South End Landmark District Commission. “So they were only single family homes for a short period of time. They turned to lodging houses.’’
The trend intensified after World War II, according to the Landmarks Commission study. Some people also moved during this time against their will, Goldman said.
“People start losing their homes in the mid 20th century because of urban renewal projects,’’ she said. “Whole neighborhoods were razed.’’
By the 1960s, however, crime and poverty had overtaken the area, and its buildings and gardens were neglected and in physical decline. Nevertheless, considerable numbers of middle-class families and professionals, attracted by its urban location, began to move into the South End, restoring its Victorian townhouses. The South End Historical Society formed at this time to preserve the architecture and culture of this historic district. Because of the work of this organization, in 1973 the South End was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as “the largest urban Victorian neighborhood in the country” and named a Boston Landmark District in 1983.
Jazz mecca. Until the 1950s the South End and bordering Roxbury was a jazz mecca, with clubs such as the Royal Palms, Eddie Levine's, the Pioneer Club, Handy's Grille, Tic-Toc, Connolly's, Estelle's, the Hi-Hat, The Savoy, The Cave, Basin Street, Louie's Lounge, and Wally's Paradise. Wally's is the only venue to have survived to the present day. From 1915 to 1970 the American Federation of Musicians Local 535 was the top black musicians' union in the country, with local and national musicians such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Chick Webb, Earl Hines, and Jimmie Lunceford. Its offices were originally above Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe (whose walls are lined with photographs of the jazz stars who ate there), but moved to 409 Massachusetts Avenue around 1930. In 1970 it and the white union (Local 9) were ordered to merge by the courts (Boston Musicians Association Local 9-535) and most of the black musicians left.