Boston Walking Tour: Avenue of the Arts
This is a 2 1/2 mile tour starting in the Back Bay where a number of Museums and Performance Halls are located. This area also borders the Boston Fens one of a series of 6 parks designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. And the tour ends at the Boston Red Sox's home, Fenway Park, but also has other famous baseball stops along the way.
On this tour we start at the Christian Science Plaza where one can walk inside the glass world globe at the Mapparium and can see the First Church of Christ. We then continue on to Symphony Hall, Boston YMCA, the historical baseball sites of Huntington Avenue Grounds and South End Grounds, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Then we enter the , Emerald Necklace Conservancy Shattuck Visitor Center, The Kelleher Rose Garden, Fenway Victory Gardens and ends with the Boston Red Sock at Fenway Park. The walk is 2 ½ miles long and would take approximately 2 hours if walking from point to point.
Start the Avenue of the Arts Tour
Stop 1. Ayer Mansion
(395 Commonwealth Avenue, ayermansion.org)
The house that Tiffany designed. This a rare surviving example of the residential work of artist Louis Comfort Tiffany who revolutionized the art of stained glass. The Ayer Mansion is one of only three surviving intact Tiffany residential commissions although the other two are redesigns (the 1881 Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) House in Hartford, CT and the 1906 Pierre Ferry House in Seattle, WA). The Ayer Mansion is the sole example of a house designed from its inception by Tiffany.
The Ayer Mansion also has the only known example of a surviving Tiffany exterior decoration still in its original place. While he designed many interiors the only two known exteriors were this mansion and Tiffany’s own house on Long Island which unfortunately burned down in the 1950s. Tiffany regarded the chapel he created at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago as one of his masterpieces and the interior of the Ayer Mansion is of a similar design.
Access to the mansion is only through tours which are usually only offered on one Saturday and one Wednesday each month. The tours last about 1 ¼ hours and reservations are required in advance.
Stop 2. Berklee Performance Center
(136 Massachusetts Avenue, berklee.edu)
The Berklee College of Music’s performance space showcases students, alumni and other musicians.
Berklee College of Music
Berklee is the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world known for the study of jazz and modern American music. Its alumni have won 310 Grammy Awards more than any other college. In December 2015 the school merged with the Boston Conservatory and together they are now known as Berklee.
The school was founded in 1945 by Lawrence Berk and known as the Schillinger House which specialized in Joseph Schillinger’s system of harmony and composition. At the time of its founding almost all music schools focused primarily on classical music, but the Schillinger House offered training in jazz and commercial music with an emphasis on learning from practitioners, as opposed to academics.
Stop 3. Fenway Studios
(30 Ipswich St # 1, fenwayartstudios.org)
Fenway Studios is a building dedicated to artists' studios. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998 and is now the oldest purpose-built structure in the country constructed for and dedicated solely to artists’ space.
The building was built in 1905 after a fire destroyed the artist’s studios at Harcourt Studios on Irvington Street. Business and civic leaders helped to acquire the land and hire Architects Parker and Thomas who designed the building so that every one of the 46 studios had 12 foot high north facing windows and 14 foot high ceilings inspired by 19th century ateliers in Paris. The exterior was built with clinker brick in the Arts and Crafts style.
Numerous Boston artists and teachers worked in the studios, including Marion B. Allen, Lila Perry Cabot, Joseph Decamp, Philip Hale, Lilian Westcott Hale, Charles Hopkinson, György Kepes, George Loftus Noyes, William Kaula, Lee Lufkin Kaula, Lillian and Leslie Prince Thompson, William Paxton, Marion L. Pooke, Edmund Charles Tarbell, and Mary Bradish Titcomb.
The building is open to the public one weekend a year for the annual Open Studios.
Stop 4. Boston Conservatory Theatre
(31 Hemenway St, https://bostonconservatory.berklee.edu/)
The Boston Conservatory Theatre’s performance space showcases students, alumni and other artists.
Boston Conservatory at Berklee
The Boston Conservatory was an independent private college with accredited programs in music, dance, and theater and after its 2015 merger with the Berklee School of Music became known as the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. The school was founded in 1867 by violinist and composer Julius Eichberg.
Stop 5. Christian Science Plaza
Mary Baker Eddy Library
(200-250 Massachusetts Ave, marybakereddylibrary.org)
Mary Baker Eddy founded the Church of Christ, Scientist in 1879. She wrote many books and articles and founded The Christian Science Monitor, the Christian Science Sentinel, The Christian Science Journal, and The Herald of Christian Science. The library holds her manuscripts and letters and is situated in the Christian Science Center, also known as the Christian Science Plaza, which is a 13.5 acre section of Boston that also includes the First Church of Christ, Scientist (the original Mother Church and an extension), the Christian Science Publishing House (which now houses the Mary Baker Eddy Library and the Mapparium), three buildings (Reflection Hall, The Colonnade, 177 Huntington) designed by Araldo Cossutta of I. M. Pei & Associates and a reflecting pool.
Admission to the library is free, but there is a fee to view the Mapparium.
(https://www.marybakereddylibrary.org/project/mapparium/, Adults-$6, Kids & Students-$4)
The Mapparium is a 3-story tall, 608 stain-glassed panel globe with a 30’ foot bridge through the equator which allows a person to view the globe from the inside without the distortions most maps cause. The idea of the globe came from Chester Lindsay Churchill, the architect of the Christian Science Publishing Society building, as a symbol for the global outreach of the Christian Science Monitor. The Mapparium was opened in 1935 so the map of the globe shows countries as of that date. Since the 2000s, a sound and light show have been added to demonstrate how the world has changed since 1935. A side effect of the globe and rigid glass panels is that the Mapparium is a great whispering gallery and echo chamber.
First Church of Christ, Scientist (the original Mother Church and Extension)
The First Church of Christ, Scientist is the administrative headquarters and mother church of the Church of Christ, Scientist, also known as the Christian Science Church. The original Romanesque church was built in 1894 and then as the church grew, a much larger domed Byzantine-Renaissance extension was built in 1906. Free 20 minute tours are offered most days beginning on the hour and the ½ hour.
Stop 6. Horticultural Hall / William Morris Hunt Memorial Library / Brown Hall
(300 Massachusetts Avenue)
The Horticultural Hall was built in 1901 as the third Horticultural Hall for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. The building was designed in the English Renaissance Revival style by architects Wheelwright and Haven. The building's larger lecture hall could seat 300. It was home to many organizations including the Benevolent Fraternity Fruit and Flower Mission, the Wildflower Society, the Garden Club Federation, the Boston Mycological Club, the New England Gourd Society, the New England Gladiolus Society, the Herb Society of America, and the Boston Aquarium Society.
On the 2nd floor of the building is The William Morris Hunt Memorial Library which is the main research library of the Museum of Fine Arts. The library is open to the public Monday to Friday between 1-5pm. The collection is non-circulating and available for use only in its reading room. The museum also has eight smaller satellite libraries and across of these are more than 500,000 items including artist monographs, catalogues raisoneé, periodicals, auction catalogs, collection catalogs, and artists' books as well as pamphlets and ephemera collections.
The building also contains Brown Hall, which is one of the New England Conservatory of Music’s performance spaces.
Stop 7. Symphony Hall
(301 Massachusetts ave, bso.org)
Symphony Hall is the home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops. The building designed by McKim, Mead and White, opened in 1900 with room for an audience of 2,625. It was built specifically for the Boston Symphony Orchestra which had to leave its original home at the old Boston Music Hall (its inaugural concert was on October 22, 1881, under conductor Georg Henschel, founded by Henry Lee Higginson) due to difficulties with road-building and subway construction.
It was one of the first auditoria designed in accordance with scientifically derived acoustical principles and has often been cited as one of the best sounding classical concert venues in the world. In 2006 it was decided to finally replace the original concert stage floor but to avoid any change to the sound of the hall, the new floor was built using same methods and materials as the original including even hand cutting the nails to make them the same size and construction as the originals.
The Symphony Hall offers behind the scenes tours and kid friendly shows.
Stop 8. Huntington Avenue Theatre
(264 Huntington Ave, http://www.huntingtontheatre.org/)
The theatre was built in the early 20s, designed by J. Williams Beal and Sons, and opened with Sheridan's The Rivals on November 10‚ 1925. At that time it was known as the Repertory Theatre of Boston and was the first tax-exempt theatre established in the US. It was built to be a permanent home for the Henry Jewett Players‚ a Boston–based repertory theatre company. During the 1930s and 1940s‚ the theatre was known as the Esquire Theatre and was mainly used as a movie house.
Stop 9. New England Conservatory of Music
(290 Huntington Avenue, https://necmusic.edu)
The New England Conservatory of Music is the oldest independent music conservatory in the United States. It was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjée in seven rented rooms off of Tremont Street. Currently the school enrolls around 750 students in various undergraduate & graduate degrees. Jordan Hall (30 Gainsborough Street) is the Conservatory’s primary concert hall, which opened in 1904, is designed by Edmund M. Wheelright and has long been regarded as one of the world's top concert halls for its superb acoustical qualities.
Stop 10. Boston YMCA
(316 Huntington Avenue, ymcaboston.org)
In 1851 a group of evangelists and sea captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan established the first YMCA in the USA to provide a "home away from home" for young sailors on shore leave and based it on the YMCA that had originated in London in 1844. The "Y" quickly expanded and relocated in Boston several times and in 1912 moved into this building at 316 Huntington Ave where it has remained the headquarters for the Boston YMCA. The main entrance is surrounded by a great archway and topped by other intricate masonry work.
In 1896 the YMCA reorganized its popular series of self-improvement lectures into courses and named it the "Evening Institute for Young Men." In 1898 law classes were added, followed by business and engineering programs. Additional subjects were added and over time with further expansion these courses developed into Northeastern College in 1916 and then in 1922 into Northeastern University. In 1929 the YMCA purchased the old Red Sox field on Huntington Avenue began adding buildings to the university.
Stop 11. Museum of Fine Arts (MFA)
(Avenue of the Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, mfa.org)
The Museum of Fine Arts is the 14th-largest art museum in the world measured by public gallery area containing nearly 500,000 works of art and receives more than 1 million visitors each year. It is a very large building with a range of artwork from a wide variety of art movements and cultures. It also maintains a large online database with information on over 346,000 items from its collection.
Highlights from its collection include: ancient Egyptian artifacts including mummies, Dutch Golden Age paintings, French impressionist paintings, 18th- and 19th-century American art, including many works by John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and Gilbert Stuart and the largest collection of Japanese artworks under one roof in the world outside Japan.
The Museum was found in 1870 and was located at the top floor of the Boston Athenaeum and most of its initial collection came from the Athenæum's Art Gallery. In 1876 the Museum moved to Copley Square and then in 1909 the museum moved to its current location.
Architect Guy Lowell designed the museum so that it could be built in stages as funding became available. The first stage was completed in 1909 with the grand rotunda, the second stage opened in 1915, with a wing along the Fens to house paintings galleries. The Decorative Arts Wing was built in 1928 and later parts of the building were added in 1966, 1976, 1981 (I.M. Pei’s West Wing), 1988 (the Tenshin-En Japanese Garden), 1997 (Norma Jean Calderwood Garden Court and Terrace), 2010 (Arts of America Wing).
Admission is $25 for adults, $10 youth (10-17). Wednesdays 3pm+ reduced admission $5.
Stop 12. School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts
(230 The Fenway, https://smfa.tufts.edu/)
SMFA is Tufts University’s art school offering undergraduate and graduate degrees dedicated to the visual arts and affiliated with the Museum of Fine Arts. The school was founded in 1876 under the name School of the Museum of Fine Arts and was housed in the basement of the original Museum of Fine Arts building in Copley Square. When the Museum moved to Huntington Avenue in 1909, the School moved into a separate, temporary structure and moved into its existing building (designed by Guy Lowell) in 1927. In the 1960s the school developed a Master of Fine Arts program in coordination with Tufts University and in 2016 the school became part of Tufts University. The Art Galleries at the school are open to the public.
Stop 13. Emerald Necklace (Back Bay Fens)
The Emerald Necklace is a chain of six parks in Boston designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (who designed Central Park) that look like the chain of a necklace. By 1878 the section of the Back Bay where the Muddy River met the Charles River had become a stagnant saltwater marsh that flooded and threatened public health. Olmsted combined landscape architecture with sanitary engineering to transform a foul-smelling tidal creek and swamp into a scenic pool within wooded banks. He spend twenty years working on this creating a park that followed the meandering course of the water and looked as if it had always been there, a natural, not man-made landscape.
In 1910 after the Charles River was dammed, the Back Bay Fens turned from a saltwater to a freshwater marsh. In the 1920s and 30s, landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff added new features such as ball fields and the Kelleher Rose Garden.
From May through October guided walking and bike tours are led by Emerald Necklace Conservancy docents. Guided walking tours are free, but a suggested $10 donation is requested.
Stop 14. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
(25 Evans Way, gardnermuseum.org)
Isabella Stewart Gardner began collecting seriously after she received a large inheritance from her father in 1891. After her husband died in 1898, she he purchased land in the marshy Fenway area of Boston, and hired architect Willard T. Sears to build Fenway Court, a museum styled as a 15th-century Venetian palace. After the building was completed, Gardner spent a year installing her collection, mixing paintings, furniture, textiles and objects from different cultures and periods among well-known European paintings and sculpture. The museum opened to the public in 1903. Gardner filled her museum with visual and performing artists, organizing concerts, lectures, and exhibitions, and encouraged artists to make themselves home in the museum. When Gardner died in 1924 she left an endowment and stipulated that the arrangement of her artwork should not be altered and no items were to be sold or bought into the collection.
The museum has a very intimate atmosphere. Much of the artwork is unlabeled and there is low lighting throughout. 3 floors of galleries surround a flower filled courtyard which is a mix of Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance elements and stone columns.
By the 1990s the museum was suffering with wear and tear of so many visitors and the existing building required upgrades. It was decided to build a new building designed by Renzo Piano, the Pritzker-Prize winning architect, and would be connected to the original building via a glass walkway. It opened in 2012.
The museum also gained notoriety when in 1990 13 works of art were stolen valued at over $500 million. The case remains unsolved.
Admission is free for under 18 and for anyone named Isabella
Stop 15. Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt)
MassArt Art Museum (MAAM)
(621 Huntington Ave, https://massart.edu & https://maam.massart.edu/)
Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) is a public college of visual and applied art and one of the nation’s oldest art schools and the first art college in the US to grant an artistic degree. In 1873 the Massachusetts Normal Art School was founded in response to the Massachusetts Drawing Act, a progressive 1870 mandate requiring all cities of over 10,000 residents to include drawing in their public school curricula. The school would provide drawing teachers for the public schools as well as training professional artists, designers, and architect (“normal schools” were the precursors to teachers’ colleges). Two of the college’s art galleries in 2020 were turned into the MassArt Art Museum which is a free contemporary art museum open to the public.