Tag Archives: historic mansion

Street Tour of Union Park in Boston’s South End

Union Park is arguably the most iconic and desirable block in the South End neighborhood of Boston. Union Park is the section of the street located between Tremont Street and Shawmut Avenue, whereas the rest of the street is known as Union Park Street. The evolved neighborhood aspect of the area are a large draw, as is the proximity to many of the city’s best dining options. The location also provides  an easy commute to offices in Back Bay, the Financial District, and Downtown. The sunny nature of the wide street built around a park is another reason the block is sought after, but the combination of all Union Park offers is what sets it above other blocks in the area.

Another aspect to the appeal of Union Park is the large footprints of the buildings, with Union Park lots offering some of the widest lots in the South End. Chester Square on Massachusetts Avenue and Worcester Square are the other two South End blocks known for their wide lots.

The Union Park block was inspired by the elegant garden squares of London and followed Charles Bullfinch’s use of park squares in downtown Boston. Union Park and Worcester Square, another South End park square, were laid out as parks in 1851. Construction of the houses surrounding Union Park was complete by 1859.

The original design of the park included fountains topped by the mythological “Leda and the Swan” and featured a central path of crushed stone. The path was lined trellises and flower beds with a row of elm trees along each side. The fourteen original trees survived until the 1990′s and it is said their high canopy formed a cathedral over the park, which was particularly beautiful when covered with snow.

The original cast-iron fence surrounding the park matched the one around Beacon Hill‘s Louisburg Square. The fence present today replaced the original in 1913 and was restored in 2009.

The homes surrounding Union Park consist of both flat and bow-front brick row houses originally built as single-family mansions. The homes feature Victorian details such as their ornate cast-iron fences and railings, operable wood shutters, and carved limestone headers above the windows and entryways. Examples of various architectural styles are present around the block such as Greek Revival, Italianate, and Renaissance Revival.

Union Park in the South End neighborhood of BostonStone stoops leading to the parlor level are another feature of Union Park homes. Warm summer nights often result in residents enjoying  the weather with their neighbors. A couple of years ago, the stoops were filled with wine-drinking residents watching Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones film a scene from the movie Company Men.

Whole buildings sold in the last 10 years as either single-family homes or multi-family buildings sold between $1.22 million and $4.55 million with a median price of $2.2 million. These buildings are around 35,000 square feet, which means they sold for an average price per square foot of $480.

Many of the the houses built at single-family homes have been divided into condos over the years. These condos range from a two bedroom/1 bath with 811 square feet that sold for $426 thousand to a 3 bedroom/3.5 bath condo with 3400 square feet that sold for $3.275 million. The median price of condos on the block was $685 thousand over the last ten years with an average of $661 per square foot.

Former famous residents of Union Park include:

  • 4 Union Park - John Quincy Adams Brackett, Governor of Massachusetts. The house last sold in 2006 for $4.55 million.
  • 5 Union Park - Samuel Stillman Pierce of S.S. Pierce & Co. The grocery magnante got his start by bartering with ship capitains in Boston Harbor, exchanging provisions for delicacies from foreign ports. His business thrived in part because of celebrity clients Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, and Oliver Wendall Homes, Sr. The house last sold in 2005 for $2.1 million.
  • 16 Union Park – H.P. Kidder, founder of the stock brokerage firm Kidder, Peabody, and Co.
  • 34 Union Park - Alexander H. Rice, politician. Rice was a founder of the Republican party in Massachusetts and the first Republican Mayor of Boston. During his tenure as Mayor, Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood was developed. Rice went on to serve as a member of Congress during the Civil War and then as Governor of Massachusetts.
  • 51 Union Park - Dr. Joseph H. Warren, medical aide to Abraham Lincoln.

For more information on Union Park homes for sale and apartments for rent, contact the Realtors of Matthew and Alisa Group Real Estate.

Subscribe to our real estate blog via RSS or email

Posted in Boston Property, Video Tour, Where to Live | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Restoration vs Development in South Boston

After viewing the unique property at 928 East Broadway in South Boston recently, I started thinking about the line separating historical preservation and new development. The client who was interested in the property is an investor whose intent was to tear down the existing structures and build a new condo development on the land. It is not as though the developer could not appreciate the charm and significance of the Second Empire mansion built in 1867, but the land would be worth more to him with a new building than with the existing structure. He’s not alone as most of those who have shown interest in the property have had similar plans.

South Boston mansion at 928 E BroadwayAs a single-family home of over 6066 square feet the mansion with a mansard roof offers a significant amount of space for any neighborhood in Boston’s downtown neighborhoods. The current price of 2.3 million dollars looks good considering any other property in Boston’s central neighborhoods with over 6000 square feet is asking for over 4 million dollars. But once you factor in an adjustment for location (the competing properties are all in Back Bay or Beacon Hill) and the need for a total renovation the perceived savings disappear. Consider a middle of the road 250 dollar per square foot renovation and you are looking at a 1.5 million dollar restoration project.

The cost concerns are one reason most potential buyers have been looking at the property for development, but the other reason is the half acre of land located on East Broadway a block from the beach and Pleasure Bay. Only one property on the market in Boston’s central neighborhoods offers as much land and it is a parcel in New Market Square zoned for commercial use.

“Given the investment potential of a half acre corner lot a block from the Atlantic Ocean, why has it not sold?”

Good question.

Part of the answer has to do with two parcels existing on one deed, each with encumbrances on each other, but the biggest potential hurdle may be resistance to leveling an historic residence. The property is not listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places or any other list of protected property, but it is an historic property.

928 East Broadway was built in 1867 for James Collins, a wholesale liquor distributor and a real estate investor who developed much of the City Point area of South Boston during the late 1860’s to late 1880‘s. The remaining large scale frame mansard residences in Boston include the Manning/Johnson House at 69 Thomas Park and 928 East Broadway. The home features an unusually deep set-back, in part because Colins owned the entire block now bordered by East Broadway to the South, Farragut Road to the East, East 3rd Street to the North, and P Street to the East. Before Day Boulevard was constructed, the plot of land owned by Collins was oceanfront property.

Collins built brick homes at 936-942 East Broadway for his children

The Queen Anne brick row houses Collins built for his children

In 1884, Collins hired architect Patrick W Ford to build the Queen Anne brick row houses located adjacent to his residence at. Collins built these homes for his children and in 1890 he built the more utilitarian row houses at 823-833 East Third Street for his employees.

The recent history of 928 East Broadway is more humble as it served as a boarding house as recently as 2006.

I assume, as have most of the potential investors, proposals to tear down the existing building will be met with objections from abutters and the neighborhood association.

I can see the argument for historical preservation and love Boston for its sense of history, especially when it comes to its wide-ranging examples of different architectural styles. The problem is when those with no financial stake have the ability to restrict progress and affect the finances of a landowner. It is a fine line, one that must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and in better ways than I have seen recently.

Personally, I would love to see the mansion at 928 East Broadway restored to the elegant single-family home it once was. But without the checkbook to see it through, does what I want matter?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I would like to know what you think about 928 East Broadway and regarding restoration vs development in general.

Subscribe to our real estate newsletters

Posted in Boston Property, Investment Property, Property for Sale, Real Estate Development, Renovation, Restoration, ROI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Is the Benjamin Mansion Boston’s Finest Restoration?

It is not often I walk through a home and see so many correct choices made on a development project.

I recently had the honor of previewing the single-family home for sale at 74 Beacon Street for an international buyer client I have been working with. The townhouse was originally built in 1828 by architect Asher Benjamin, who was best known for the Old West Church and the Charles Street Meeting House. Some say the wealthy buyers of these Asher Benjamin mansions chose the Beacon Street location because they viewed the newly formed “flat of Beacon Hill” as a superior location to the steep slope of Mt. Vernon Street. Although, in reality, these mansions were located near the city dump at the bottom of Beacon Street when built. Not until Back Bay was filled in did the area start to transform into the prime real estate we consider it today.

The Benjamin Mansion at 74 Beacon Street

One of the developers involved in the restoration grew up in a townhouse in London and her knowledge was an asset as the development team undertook a three-year gut-renovation project. The result was a restoration blending old-world detail and modern amenities. Some of those amenities include a heated rooftop endless infinity lap pool, deeded parking and a Brimmer Street garage space, an elevator, two roof decks, a patio, smart home technology, and a laundry room GQ found worthy of a Tom Brady photo shoot.

The price does reflect the quality at $1769 a square foot which is a price usually reserved for the first block of Comm Ave, Louisburg Square, and high-end buildings such as the Mandarin Oriental or the Carlton House.

Schedule a consultation with a Realtor

Posted in Boston Property, Property for Sale, Real Estate Development, Renovation, Restoration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mason House: Back Bay’s Latest Historic Mansion for Sale

The Mason Home: Million-Dollar Historic MansionNot too long ago I wrote about the Ames Webster Mansion at 306 Dartmouth St in Boston’s Back Bay, the incredible historic mansion that has been on the sales market for just shy of 800 days. At the time I wrote about the Ames Webster Mansion, there was no comparable property in Boston proper. This has now changed as The Mason House has come onto the sales market.

I recently had the privilege of touring The Mason House at 211 Commonwealth Ave and I feel it was a privilege. The Mason House is a single-family mansion built in 1883 by Rotch & Tilden architects in the Colonial Revival style for William Powell Mason. Situated across from the Commonwealth Mall between Exeter St and Fairfield St, every aspect of this home was designed with meticulous attention. The facade of the building is a seemingly simple brick exterior, but once inside, the grandeur within is revealed to the fortunate few to walk through the entrance. The moment you open the immense door and are welcomed into the incredible foyer, you do feel like one of the fortunate few.

The Mason Home's Formal Salon at 211 Comm AveThe basics of this brick mansion are as follows: 5 floors, 11 bedroom, 9 bathrooms, 14 fireplaces, private terrace, enclosed garden, elevator, au-pair suite, two wet bars, butler’s kitchen, and a heated garage that fits up to 5 cars. All of these features found in one Back Bay home is unique, but what truly sets this home apart from other multi-million dollar mansions are the exquisite details. For example, the beautifully patterned moldings along the crown, walls, and fireplace in the formal salon gives an air of delicacy and refinement. The formal dining room with coffered ceiling and restored mahogany paneling exudes formality and regality.

The Mason Home features an incredible music roomThe piece de resistance has to be the music room added in 1897. I believe the music room is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy with a stained-glassed skylight set into the coffered half-dome ceiling at the room’s entrance. The dome in the center of the room is believed to be the first architectural element in Boston designed specifically for electric lights, which were used to illuminate the stucco ceiling details. The music room was added by Fanny Mason, the daughter of the William Powell Mason, who founded the Boston Symphony and the Peabody-Mason Music Foundation. In this room, Fanny Mason hosted many musical performances by renowned artists of the time.

The Mason House seems immense and overwhelming as a whole, but each room achieves an intimacy that can make you feel comfortably at home. This trophy property is available for the asking price of $17,900,000 and since the previous owners have renovated many of the rooms (including the kitchen) for our modern times, very few renovations would be needed for the new owners to call it home.

Schedule a consultation with a realtor

Posted in Boston Property, House, Property for Sale | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boston’s Historic Mansion Nobody Wants…

Various Highlights of Ames-Webster Mansion in Back Bay

Boston is filled with historic real estate. Originally built to house the elite, many properties in Boston have been converted into luxury condos, commercial spaces, or museums. There are a few, however, that retain their original glory as single-family mansions. One in particular is the Ames-Webster Mansion in Boston’s Back Bay.

The Ames-Webster Mansion is located at 306 Dartmouth Street, situated on the corner of Dartmouth Street and Commonwealth Avenue at the heart of Back Bay. A 26,000 square foot brick mansion such as the Ames-Webster is not common in Boston real estate and to be honest nothing about this multi-million dollar mansion is common.The Ames-Webster Mansion holds 50 rooms, 28 fireplaces, and 6 parking spaces.

The original building at 306 Dartmouth Street was designed and built by renowned architectural firm Peabody and Stearns in 1872. John Sturgis, who also designed the original Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, is credited with the redesign and enlargement of the property in 1882 to a single family home for Frederick Ames, who was, in his time, called “the hub’s richest man” by the Boston Globe. The home has had few owners since which means few renovations and the survival of the original ornate detail intact throughout the home, such as the stained glass skylight designed by John La Farge and the murals Benjamin Constant painted around the skylight.

This historic mansion is a true example of a trophy property. It has everything: location, size, prestigious pedigree, and it’s zoned for commercial use as well as residential. Yet it has been for sale for over 700 days and was originally priced for $23 million with the price dropping to $18 million last November.

With the economy the way it is, not too many people have $18 million on hand, but there are properties in the United States of this magnitude (and greater) that have sold over the last year. How has this one stayed on the market? Many theories could answer this question, but I like to believe it is haunted, a detail the owners would have to disclose* to potential buyers. I’m not saying it is haunted, but if it were, that could be scaring away potential buyers.

Boston Historic Ames Webster Mansion at 306 Dartmouth Street in Boston's Back Bay

*Fun Fact: The only instance of the term “paranormal activity” in Massachusetts Law is in relation to stigmatized property.

Update: It turns out someone wanted the Ames-Webster mansion after all. The property sold on March 15, 2013 for $14,500,000.

Schedule a consultation with a realtor

Posted in Boston Property, House, Property for Sale | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment