The last Sunday of the month is Tour of the Month day on on June 28th Boston By Foot presented a tour of Bay Village. The neighborhood, once known as the Church Street District, is a small area neighboring Chinatown, the Theater District, and Back Bay. For some reason despite being pretty much in the heart of the city, Bay Village is a hidden neighborhood. It’s quiet, shady lanes are a nice respite from the buzzing commercial districts surrounding it. Sadly, in some areas th experience is somewhat marred by the roaring noise pollution of the MassPike.
The tour began with an exploration of commercial buildings along Columbus Avenue, including the Park Plaza Hotel (formerly the Statler), the First Corps of Cadets Armory, the Youth’s Companion Building, and the Pope Building (the latter I remember because the name is conveniently carved on the top). Then the tour ducked into the residential area of Bay Village.
Things I learned on this tour:
- Columbus Avenue intersects with Isabella St. and the two once formed a triangle with Ferdinand St., but the latter was renamed as an extension of Arlington Street.
- An narrow street called “Broadway St” once connected Bay Village to Broadway in South Boston.
- The houses in Bay Village were built at the same time and in the same style as Beacon Hill, but on a smaller scale and less ornate as these were homes for artisans rather than the wealthy.
- Our Lady of Victories is still a French National Church although no services are conducted in French.
- The entire neighborhood was jacked-up and filled-in 12-18 feet in the 1860’s due to flooding in basements from ground water after the Back Bay was filled in.
- Edgar Allan Poe was born here, although not at the site of the condo that bears his name and plaque.
- In the 1930’s Bay Village was home to Boston’s film industry, including warehouses for MGM, Pathe, RKO, and Columbia. The surviving buildings lend an Art Deco flair to the neighborhood.
- The Cocoanut Grove nightclub stood here before being engulfed in a fire that killed 492 people. A memorial plaque designed by the youngest survivor is embedded in the sidewalk.
- The Motor Mart Garage proves that even parking structures can be attractive.
The tour of Bay Village will be offered again next year on October 25, 2009, so check it out if you didn’t make it this time.
Learn more about the neighborhood from the Bay Village Neighborhood Association website.