Affluent Back Bay is a shopping and dining destination. Along Newbury Street, well-heeled locals frequent designer boutiques, fashion chains, art galleries and patio cafes set in elegant brick townhouses. Expansive Copley Square is flanked by 1800s landmarks Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library. Mansions dot the neighborhood’s tree-lined streets, many on Paris-inspired Commonwealth Avenue.
It is most famous for its rows of Victorian brownstones —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. Initially conceived as a residential-only area, commercial buildings were permitted from around 1890, and Back Bay now features many office buildings, including the John Hancock Tower, Boston's tallest skyscraper. It is also considered a fashionable shopping destination (especially Newbury and Boylston Streets, and the adjacent Prudential Center and Copley Place malls) and home to several major hotels.
Before its transformation into buildable land by a 19th-century filling project, the Back Bay was a bay, west of the Shawmut Peninsula (on the far side from Boston Harbor) between Boston and Cambridge, the Charles River entering from the west. This bay was tidal: the water rose and fell several feet over the course of each day, and at low tide much of the bay's bed was exposed as a marshy flat. Present-day Back Bay itself was filled by 1882; the project reached existing land at what is now Kenmore Square in 1890, and finished in the Fens in 1900. The project was the largest of a number of land reclamation projects which, beginning in 1820, more than doubled the size of the original Shawmut Peninsula.
The Back Bay is traversed by five east-west corridors: Beacon Street, Marlborough Street, Commonwealth Ave, Newbury Street, and Boylston Street. These are interrupted at regular intervals by north–south streets named alphabetically: Arlington (along the western border of the Boston Public Garden), Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield, Gloucester and Hereford Streets. All of the west-east streets, except Commonwealth Avenue, are one-way streets.
Back Bay Properties
About the Neighborhood
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