Okay, I admit it: I love lanterns. I find them evocative of past centuries even as they brighten the city with modern lighting. It seems appropriate to talk about lanterns at the darkest time of the year, when we celebrate with Christmas lights and New Year’s fireworks.
Even in a city that’s “only” 392 years old, they give the city an air of European gentility. Architectural lanterns come in all shapes and sizes, use different materials, and express the art of many eras.
Most Bostonians are familiar with the sweeping Italianate lanterns by Charles Follen McKim on the BPL’s Central Library in Copley Square. Boston’s buildings have many other lanterns of all shapes and sizes, however, and they appear around the city. I have written about some of the buildings they illuminate but others are “freestanding.” Here are a few of my favorites.
Christian Science Mother Church
Sets of these lanterns adorn the domed church added on to the adjacent, smaller church built in 1894. This building is the center of the Christian Science Center a complex of multiple buildings in the Back Bay. I like the “crown” of six spikes atop each lantern with a larger central spike rising from the roof of the lantern.
The New Riding Club
Willard T. Sears – 1892
Tudor Revival Style
I wrote the history of this building back in 2021. I love the warm golden tone of its stone and brickwork, especially when contrasted against a bright blue sky.
The New Riding Club, now a residential building, has several lanterns that hang from scrollwork iron brackets. This one partially frames Henry Cobb’s One Dalton Street in the background, providing a contrast of blue sky and red brick, old and new.
First Republic Bank
This bank across from the Post Office Square Park has golden lanterns on either side of the huge front door. I like them for their bright shine, the fiddlehead coil, and the interesting shadows they throw on the plain granite wall behind them.
The lanterns proudly evoke safety, stability, status and wealth — all the things a customer could possibly want in a bank investment firm, or insurance company.
Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts
186 Tremont Street, Boston
Loring and Phipps – 1899
I wrote about this building in a previous post but gave short shrift to the lanterns, so let me make up for that here.
These lanterns also bracket the old front door, supported by eight curved brackets. They have crowns made of curved spikes that arch outward – long and sharp enough to give pause to even the hardiest pigeon. Acanthus-leaf decorations appear between the spikes.
The glass panels have rounded tops, like church windows and the frame between resembles columns. It gives the lanterns an ecclesiastical look.
The Lawyer’s Building
11 Beacon Street, Corner of Somerset Street
Although this is a simple granite office building, I have always liked the carved granite medallion that adorns it on the corner of Somerset Street. The lanterns are modern and there are four of them: one on either side of the two doors on Beacon Street.
The simple glass globes project from the building’s façade on metal brackets but also hang from chains that attach higher on the wall. The lanterns’ simplicity allow you to appreciate the intricate stone carving above the entryways as well as the metal work above the doors.
The Mystery Lantern
I took this photo during a Boston By Foot walking tour of Taverns and Tea Houses. From the pictures that come before and after it in my camera, I think it’s located on Washington Street in the vicinity of Pi Alley.
The shape attracted me with its interesting roof, slender curved glass panels, and the way it hangs from the ribbed scrollwork bracket.
If you know where this lantern is and what building it illuminates, please let me know. I would like to update this post with the correct information.
More Lanterns Everywhere
The city’s buildings have many more lanterns, particularly in the Financial District and other areas with a concentration of nineteenth-century commercial buildings. The older and more residential parts of the city have fewer of them.
Boston has such a mixture of buildings from different periods, though, that you can find lanterns almost anywhere you walk. Just look up, look around, pay attention to doorways and entrances, and you will find them.
If you discover some you really like, please send me some pictures and the location. I will be happy to use them for another post.