Beaux Arts in Boston

1920 image of the Beaux Arts Boston Public Library

The Boston Public Library in Boston’s Copley Square owes its Beaux Arts opulence to nineteenth century architect Charles Follen McKim. This gelatin silver print was taken in about 1920.

McKim studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and, with his partners Stanford White and William R. Mead, brought lavish French ideas to America. 

With its elaborate ornamentation and arcaded gallery, McKim’s library building was called a “palace for the people.” Today, of course, the McKim Building is just one part of the expansive Boston library complex. Glass house architect Philip Johnson combined twentieth century ideas with graceful granite arches when he designed the 1972 addition, which has nine floors and a mezzanine.

Details from the Boston Public Library:

Boston Public Library occupies a conspicuous position in Copley Square. It is of the Italian Renaissance type and very satisfactory in design. The architects were McKim, Mead and White. The building is 225 feet long by 227 feet deep and surrounds a central court. On the Copley Square side is the inscription: “The Public Library of the City of Boston, Built by the People and Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning.” The corner stone was laid in 1888, and the building was opened to the public in 1895. Its cost, including land, was $2,500,000. Congregational (New) Old South, Copley square. The beautiful Italian Gothic tower of this building rises nearly two hundred and fifty feet and is an object of interest from a long distance. The building itself is charming in design, both in exterior and interior. A tablet in the arcade on the Boylston Street side tells in a few words the history of the society. 1699 Old South Church preserved and blessed of God for more than two hundred years. While worshipping on its original site corner of Washington and Milk Streets whence it was removed to this building in 1885 amid constant props of His guidance and loving favor. Qui transtulit sustinet.

Learn about Charles Follen McKim >>

Learn about Philip Johnson >>

Photograph by Leon H. Abdalian, ca. 1920. Public Domai.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *