Boston: Brick Sidewalks and Boot Scrapers


Edge of Beacon Hill from the Public Gardens

I HAD VISITED BOSTON only twice, so long ago and so briefly I couldn’t even tell you which neighborhoods I was in. So when the time came to plan a little birthday outing for myself, I lit upon the idea of Boston. I was thinking of a magazine picture I kept on my bulletin board for years, of a steep cobbled street in Beacon Hill, with black shutters on red-brick houses. I wanted to see that street.


Hilly Acorn Street in Beacon Hill


Brick sidewalks and boot scrapers


Elegant Louisberg Square in Beacon Hill, onetime home of Louisa May Alcott, present home of John and Theresa Kerry, with townhouses built from 1833-47



Freeestanding mansion on Mt. Vernon Street, Beacon Hill


I did a little advance reading, and discovered that as recently as the 1980s, Boston was a city in decline — losing population and losing heart. And that for a decade or more, the whole downtown area was a miserable construction site, as they dismantled and re-routed the elevated highway that ran through some of the city’s most historic parts. Well, no more. Boston is now scrubbed clean and spiffy, organized and attractive, with obvious pride in itself, its architecture, and its heritage.


The extraordinary 1713 State House in downtown Boston, once seat of the British Colonial government

In a whirlwind day, a friend and I walked through sections of residential Back Bay and Southend, sprawling Victorian neighborhoods that call to mind Park Slope, and Beacon Hill, which has been a National Historic District since the 1950s and whose brick row houses, built in the 1830s and ’40s, have elegant arched doorways and fanlights, curved bowfronts, and fanciful ironwork.



An early frame house in Beacon Hill


Unusual wood facade in Beacon Hill


Wavy window glass on a curved bowfront building facade

To get an inside view of a Beacon Hill townhouse, we toured the four-story Nichols House Museum on Mt. Vernon Street, an 1804 Federal last lived in by Rose Standish Nichols, an ahead-of-her-time women’s rights activist and suffragist who never married and supported herself as a garden designer. The house is filled with arty, eclectic furnishings, faded Oriental rugs, paintings, and accessories brought back from London and other travels.


Staircase in the Nichols House, added later


The dining room, with lincrusta wallpaper and a smallish breakfast table (the last homeowner didn’t entertain much)


Aqua bedroom in the Nichols House


The pink parlor, Nichols House


View of Beacon Hill’s front gardens from the Nichols House

And I had to see the c.1680 Paul Revere House, one of (if not the) oldest standing example of urban architecture in the country, restored in 1908 to its original medieval-English appearance, diamond-paned windows and all. It now looks as it did even before Revere, the silversmith famed for his 1775 night ride to warn American patriots of British troop movements, lived there with his family in the last three decades of the 18th century.


Paul Revere House, the only surviving 17th century building in Boston


Rear view of Paul Revere House

Somehow we managed, with Zagat’s as a guide, to fit four meals into 24 hours, all more than fine: dinner at the cozy, red-walled Franklin Cafe in Southend; French toast for breakfast at diner-cum-cafeteria Paramount in Beacon Hill; a late lunch of oysters, fish chowder, and pale ale at the Union Oyster House, America’s oldest restaurant (since 1826) and a national landmark; and another dinner at the authentically French and justifiably popular Petit Robert Bistro, near our hotel, which, after walking at least five miles yesterday, was all we could manage.

I can enthusiastically recommend the Inn@St.Botolph, in a converted 19th century red-brick building on the border between Back Bay and Southend — crisply decorated, quiet, and central, but with a neighborhoody vibe.

Historic Rhinebeck under 400K

512113186(2)THE CHELSEA CLINTON WEDDING EFFECT on real estate prices in Rhinebeck, N.Y., if ever there was to be one, seems like a non-starter. As we head into the best time of year for house-hunting — the dead of winter, when only the most serious shoppers are on the case — the mid-Hudson Valley is still very good value, especially compared to eastern Long Island, where for $400,000 your choices are nil but for the dreaded ranch.
In the Rhinebeck area, venerable architecture is not too much to ask for 400K. Were I in the market for an upstate place at this moment — and gosh, maybe I should be — I’d look at these two, a rare brick Federal-style farmhouse for 379K, above, and an 1830s Carpenter Gothic, offered at 399K, right. The listing agent for both is Paul Hallenbeck.

Brick houses are fairly unusual in this part of New York State (most are frame). To find a stately 1849 farmhouse on River Road, very near the Hudson River and the Bard College campus, is a double-whammy (there are no ‘bad parts’ of River Road). The 1.1 acre lot is high and open; the house has 3BR, 2baths, and original details including woodwork, floors, doors, and built-ins, with updated mechanicals, baths, and windows (pics below). Period barn and wildflower meadow included.



Rhinebeck village has almost exclusively old houses, many with some pedigree. The 3BR, 2-1/2 bath on Montgomery Street (all pics below) is an 1830s Carpenter Gothic reminiscent of Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Tarrytown. It’s on 1.4 acres, with mature trees and a fenced garden; the house has 9-foot ceilings and a large porch, and there’s a classic red barn. The taxes are high for the area at $8,306/year (twice that of the house above), which is a drag.


For more pics and info on both houses, go here.

Note: I am not a real estate broker, nor do I have any financial interest in the properties mentioned on this blog. I just like spreading the word about old houses on the market and what I feel are viable investment opportunities.

Walking and Stalking

UPDATE, April 2011: The photos that originally accompanied this post, which I took while looking over the moon gate of this cottage as described below, were accidentally deleted from my WordPress media library, along with the photos on several months’ worth of other posts from 2009. (Don’t ask.) I have been gradually restoring the bad posts, but in some cases, I can no longer retrieve the original photos to use in my fixes. This post is one example, so I’m using images from the Zillow listing of sold properties, because I want to preserve the post for reference. The cottage sold in September 2010 for $520,000.


THERE’S NOTHING ILLEGAL about taking pictures of other people’s houses, is there, and publishing them on a blog? What about courtyards, if you have to peek over the fence to get the shot? Well, let’s hope not, because today, on a brisk stroll around the neighborhood, I saw the charming, simple courtyard, above, and had a vision for my own front yard.


I found this corner property in the Maidstone Park area awfully inspiring. It’s a bit uber-cottagey for me, but I love the concept and the execution: a moon gate, an arbor, boxwoods, a shed with French doors, and a sunny brick dining patio. There’s no driveway, just a parking pad covered with pea gravel in front of the moon gate, big enough for one SUV.

It’s all going into the mental hopper as I continue my extended decision-making process regarding a place to park the car(s) and whether/what kind of gate and fence to have at the entry (to exclude deer, or simply to provide a sense of enclosure?)

My ultimate solution will be quite different from this one (I have no need for a dining table in front of the house when I have almost half an acre in back), but the symmetry of this scheme really appeals to my orderly side.

It’s a magazine cover if I ever saw one.

One Weekend in Maine


CAPE PORPOISE, MAINE – Maine fulfilled my pre-conceived notions: rugged coastline, superior lobster, and lots of Revolutionary-era cottages and Victorian mansions — almost nothing but old houses, in fact, in the area around Kennebunkport.

I particularly love the over-the-top yellow and white gingerbread castle, below. Looks like it was originally a brick Colonial, amended in the 1840s with the addition of carved wood detail in the Gothic style that was then the rage.


Scroll down for more Maine scenes, from grand to humble, that caught my eye…








Walkabout with Montrose on Brownstoner

I WANT TO TURN YOU ALL ON to a new weekly feature on Brownstoner, the powerhouse Brooklyn real-estate website without which I would have about one-fifth of my readership.


“Walkabout with Montrose” is the work of a Crown Heights resident, adept with camera and keyboard, who styles herself Montrose Morris after the Renaissance Revival architect of the same name (active in Brooklyn in the late 19th century, he built the over-the-top Alhambra apartments on Nostrand Avenue, as well as the Renaissance, the Imperial, and other then-prestigious buildings).


Montrose trolls the streets of central Brooklyn with a sharp eye for architectural detail, amassing a body of invaluable documentation you won’t find in books.


The first in the series was ironwork on March 31, followed by terracotta on April 7, and my favorite so far, the esoteric and totally undocumented automobile row on April 14 — the great Art Deco showrooms and other auto-related businesses that sprouted on Bedford Avenue in the ‘teens and ’20s.


This week, on April 22, Montrose focused on brick; go here for the whole post.

Thanks, Montrose, for your scholarly contribution to Brooklyn’s rich architectural history, and for wearing out your shoe leather (or rubber soles, as it were) so the rest of us can benefit.