A Letter From Our Concierge
The arrival of spring and the improvement of the Covid-19 pandemic, which increasingly makes being outdoors safer, allows us to take advantage of some wonderful walks in “America’s Walking City.” The Eliot is fortunate to be located on majestic and historic Commonwealth Avenue, and the central park-like mall running its length in our Back Bay district. The mall includes public art in the form of sculptures in the middle of each block. Here, adapted from the website of “Friends of the Public Garden” is historical information you may find enhances your walk from our front door to the Public Garden.
The Commonwealth Avenue Mall is a grand allée of shade trees forming the central axis of the Back Bay, connecting the Public Garden to the Back Bay Fens. Designed by Arthur Gilman, who was inspired by the new Parisian boulevards, the Mall was set out from 1858 to the 1870s under the Back Bay Development Plan. From its inception, the Mall has been a vital amenity for both residents and visitors. Winston Churchill praised it as “the grandest boulevard in North America.” Originally planted with American and European elm trees, the Mall today is a mixture of hardy large-scale shade trees. Even though the statues were not part of Gilman’s plan for the long, uninterrupted allée of trees, they have become a focal point for people’s enjoyment. Today, the trees, statues, benches, and walkway are important elements of this historic park.
Commonwealth Avenue and its Mall were part of the bold plan to fill Boston’s Back Bay, one of the greatest examples of urban planning in America. Beginning in 1857 and continuing for nearly forty years, new land was made from gravel brought by train from nearby Needham. At the height of the Back Bay’s creation, trains arrived every forty-five minutes, and two new house lots were created each day.
The new streets were laid out in a grid pattern according to an 1856 plan by architect Arthur Gilman, who was only in his twenties but well-traveled. Inspired by Parisian boulevards and London’s green squares, Gilman designed long, wide straight streets with extended vistas and a strong central axis. Wide, straight, and paved with crushed stone, this “noble central avenue” was an immediate draw for promenades, carriage races, and parades, as well as a route to the open country. It served as a model for boulevards across America. Linking the parklands of the Public Garden with those of the Fens, the Mall would come to form a precious link in Boston’s “Emerald Necklace.”
The street was the site of the grandest new mansions, setting a tone of elegance for the entire district. The houses had to be set back twenty feet from the property line, giving extra breadth to the two-hundred-foot-wide boulevard with its two roadways and central Mall. The variety of building styles was unified by the trees on the Mall; the architecture and planting reinforce each other in a unique and powerful way. The green corridor of the Mall enhances and complements some of the country’s finest examples of nineteenth-century residential architecture.