Have you ever walked down a city street and taken notice for the first time of a building you’ve passed almost every day? Have you ever wondered why that building is so much bigger or smaller than those around it? Why it’s set apart from its neighbors in some way? What makes it special?
Haberstroh and Bachrach
Boston has quite a few such buildings and, while they don’t exactly hide in plain sight, it can be very easy to pass by without registering much beyond the fact that it’s unusual. One structure that has fascinated me is the Haberstroh Building on Boylston Street, snugged up against the Parish House of the Old South Church.
I never knew it was the Haberstroh Building. When I was in college I thought of it as the Bachrach Building because it housed a Boston branch of the famous photographers. Their elegant portraits of notable people peered out from the ground floor windows of the building’s elaborate copper bay.
It was that bay—detailed and ornate with beveled and colored glass elements—that intrigued me. It seemed like a piece of Medieval London that had been dropped into the Back Bay.
Built on Speculation
Although the ground floor now holds an AT&T store on what has become a popular shopping street, the building at 647 Boylston Street was designed (without that copper bay) by George Wilton Lewis and built on speculation to be a private home. Its flat, quarry-faced surface of the large square-cut stones known as ashlar, blended well with the Old South Church’s Roxbury conglomerate and freestone facade next door.
Between 188 and 1902, Dr. Edward Newton Whittier moved in. A captain in the Union Army, Dr. Whittier received the Medal of Honor for gallantry during the Battle of Fisher’s Hill near Strasburg, Virginia in 1864. In Boston he served on the staff of the Harvard Medical School, which was then located where Massachusetts General Hospital is today. He would have had a pleasant walk to work through the Public Garden and then down Charles Street to the HMS building.
After Dr. Whittier’s death in 1905, Albert Haberstroh, owner of L. Haberstroh and Son, purchased the building and converted it to business use. He designed the four-story copper bay and entrance and moved in, thus gaving the building its name. His design incorporates Gothic and Elizabethan elements that were executed by the Van Noorden Sheet Metal Company. This company was located in Roxbury at 100 Magazine Street.
Albert Haberstroh was the son of Lucas Haberstroh, who emigrated from Germany and founded an interior decoration and painting firm. Albert became a partner in the company and took over upon his father’s death in 1883. He then moved the L Haberstroh and Son from School Street to the Society of Arts and Crafts in another interesting building at 9 Park Street. This is Charles Bulfinch’s Amory-Ticknor House, located across Beacon Street from Bulfinch’s Massachusetts State House. In 1905 Mr. Haberstroh purchased 647 Boylston Street as the company’s offices.
You can hear a lot more about the Amory-Ticknor House on Boston By Foot’s Hub of Literary America walking tour.
Still a Residence
Although 647 Boylston Street is no longer a single private home but people live in modern condominiums on the second and third floors. These residences sell for over two million dollars each. The interiors give us the best view of the beautiful glass work in the bay as the sun shines in through them.
Details and Directions
647 Boylston Street is located between Dartmouth and Exeter Streets across from the Boston Public Library’s McKim building and a short walk from the BPL’s newly renovated Johnson Building, which is also worth a visit. While you’re there, check out the MBTA’s historic Copley Station headhouse.