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Back Bay

Summary

Back Bay

The South End lies south of the Back Bay, northwest of South Boston, northeast of Roxbury, north of Dorchester, and southwest of Bay Village. Despite the name, it is not directly south of the center of downtown Boston. Located just minutes from downtown and the Back Bay, in recent years the South End has become one of Boston's most popular neighborhoods. You will be sure to notice the South End's renowned Victorian brownstone buildings and homes as you walk along Tremont Street, Columbus Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue. Small business owners also enjoy the amenities of the South End and are supported by the national award winning Washington Gateway Main Streets Program. Some of Boston’s finest restaurants, a thriving arts community and nearly 30 parks also call the South End home.

The South End was once bordered to the north and west by the Boston & Providence Railroad, which terminated at the B&P RR Station bordering the Public Garden. The railroad line is now covered by the Southwest Corridor Park and terminates at Back Bay Station. Most of the cross streets in the neighborhood are named after cities and towns served by the railroad: Greenwich, Connecticut, Newton, Canton, Dedham, Brookline, Rutland, Vermont, Concord, Worcester, Springfield, Camden, Maine, Northampton, Sharon, Randolph, Plympton, Stoughton, Waltham, Dover, Chatham, Bristol, and Wareham.

The neighborhood is built upon a former tidal marsh, a part of a larger project of the filling of Boston's Back Bay (north and west of Washington Street) and South Bay (south and east of Washington Street), from the 1830s to the 1870s. Trains brought in fill from large trenches of gravel excavated in Needham, Massachusetts. The South End was filled and developed first, before the Back Bay, which was mostly built after the American Civil War. Nineteenth century technology did not allow for driving steel piles into bedrock and instead a system of submerged timbers provided an understructure for most South End buildings.

The South End is built mostly of mid-nineteenth century bow fronts — 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. Today, the South End is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Boston Landmark District. It is North America's largest existing Victorian residential district. A citizens' group, The South End Historical Society, works with the Boston Landmarks Commission, on matters of historic preservation.

A series of eleven residential parks are located across the South End, most are elliptical in shape with passive-use green space located in the middle. They take inspiration from English-inspired residential squares first laid out by Charles Bullfinch downtown. Many of the parks have a central fountain and are bordered with cast iron fencing. Complimenting the nineteenth century residential parks are several newer parks, and a series of sixteen community gardens and pocket parks operated by the South End Lower Roxbury Open Space Land Trust.

The primary business thoroughfares of the South End are Tremont and Washington Streets, from West Newton Street to Berkeley Street. Washington Street, the original causeway that connected Roxbury to Boston, experienced considerable change in the 1990s. The Washington Street Elevated, an elevated train that was moved to below Southwest Corridor Park in the 1980s, once defined the street. Today Washington is the route of the Silver Line, Boston's first bus rapid transit line. Columbus Avenue, the third main street of the South End, also has numerous restaurants and provides a remarkable straight-line view to the steeple of Park Street Church. Today the modern MBTA Orange Line rapid transit train runs along the partially covered Southwest Corridor, with neighborhood stops at Back Bay (also an MBTA Commuter Rail stop due to its proximity to the Copley Square employment center) and Massachusetts Avenue.

Boston College (BC) first opened in the South End in 1863. A few of the original college buildings on Harrison Avenue still stand, though BC moved from the South End to then-rural Chestnut Hill as a result of rapid growth and urbanization in the late nineteenth century.

Today, the South End is home to the Boston Ballet, the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA), Boston University Medical Center, and many art galleries and artists’ studios.

Virtual 360 Degree Interactive Tour

West Newton at Columbus Avenue
 
Berkeley Street at Tremont Street

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Areas of Interest

• B.U. Medical Center • Southwest Corridor Park • Washington Street
• Prudential Center • Boston Ballet • Tremont Street
• John Hancock Building • Boston Center for the Arts • Park Street Church
• Historic Row-houses • Proximity to Boston Theater District  

Colleges and Universities

• Boston University Medical School • Northeastern University • Emerson College
• Berkeley School of Music    

Transportation

The South End is conveniently located on the MBTA Orange Line. Stops closest to the South End are: Back Bay and Massachusetts Ave.

In addition, the #1 bus runs along Massachusetts Avenue throughout the day. The #1 runs from Massachusetts Ave. and Washington Street all the way up and into Cambridge.

For more information on public transportation in the Back Bay, please contact the MBTA.


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