The Architecture of Stickney and Austin – Part 2

Nahant Beach Reservation

Nahant Beach Bathhouse, Courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

If Revere Beach Reservation became the playing ground for Boston’s working class during the early 20th century, Nahant Beach was Revere’s direct opposite. The increasing patronage at the bathhouse at Revere Beach led to the acquisition of Nahant Beach by the Metropolitan Park Commission. Unlike Revere Beach, the architecture of Nahant Beach Reservation is ostentatious and highly sophisticated, reflecting the social classes of the beach’s surrounding towns.

 Located in Essex County, Nahant Beach catered to the upper class residents of Boston’s distinguished North Shore who were building their lavish estates in Beverly, Manchester by the Sea and other coastal communities. The architecture of Nahant Beach reflects the influential wealth associated with these people as well as the influence of New York masters like McKim, Mead and White and Carrere and Hastings on Stickney and Austin.

Refreshment and Waiting Room, Courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

When the Metropolitan Park Commission took possession of the Nahant Beach Reservation, it contained a high number of privately owned properties which sacrificed the beauty of the beach. These proprietors were notified to vacate their buildings in order to demolish or removed them and “convert the land into a public park.” Nahant “was the most popular resort on the coast, and was the home of so many distinguished men that visitors to the [Nahant] hotel were attracted from all parts of this country as well as from foreign lands.”

William Austin designed “an attractive building for the Lynn-Nahant Beach Bathhouse” which was completed “in time for use during the summer of 1905.” It opened “as a branch of the Revere Beach Bathhouse” and “excellent service was maintained…and the patronage was generally satisfactory, considering the coolness of the month of August [of 1905].” The scale of the Bathhouse is grand and its importance and opulence is emphasized in the Beaux Arts tradition of Carrere and Hastings. The building’s core activities are organized around two hipped roofed towers each flanked by an arcaded loggia following in the footsteps of Carrere and Hastings’ 1887 Ponce de Leon Hotel and 1888 The Alcazar Hotel, both in St. Augustine, Florida.

Nahant Beach Police Station, Courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

Other buildings in Nahant Beach include the Refreshment and Waiting Room, the Men’s and Women’s Sanitary and the Police Station. The Police Station at Nahant Beach recalls McKim, Mead and White’s Naugatuck National Bank of 1892-1893, in its brick and limestone trim, both a simple rectangle with bold decorative details at the windows and cornice. The scale these buildings in contrast to the Bathhouse for Nahant Beach is significantly reduced to emphasize the grandness and importance of the Bathhouse which like Revere Beach, must have been the focal point of the Reservation.

Nahant Beach Women's Sanitary, Courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

The architecture of Stickney and Austin for the Metropolitan Park Commission played an important role in reflecting the ideals and social classes of the time in Boston. It remained democratic in the sense that the poor and working class could relate to the surroundings and the architecture as is the case of Revere Beach. By examining the driving influences behind the work of Stickney and Austin for Nahant Beach Reservation, the case speaks in favor of Boston’s upper class for whom the architecture reflected the opulence, pomposity and grandiosity present in the works of McKim, Mead and White and Carrere and Hastings. Stickney and Austin proved with their work for the Metropolitan Park Commission that they could design in a variety of architectural styles capturing the vision of Charles Eliot of designing buildings and their surroundings as one harmonious composition.

“The Finest in the State” The Architecture of Stickney and Austin, Part 1

Revere Beach Reservation

Revere Beach Bathhouse, Courtesy: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

In a review of Italian Gardens by Charles A. Platt, Landscape Architect Charles Eliot writes that “our public has still to learn that only by designing buildings and their surroundings as one harmonious composition can a happy result be secured in either the formal or the picturesque style [of landscape design].[1]” The review best captures and reflects the ideals of Charles Eliot and his interest in architecture enhancing and complementing the natural environment. Eliot believed that ordinary citizens were the guardians of natural scenery and that they should consider themselves true trustees of nature.[2] As a fierce advocate for open spaces for the enjoyment of everyone, Eliot believed that his work with a public commission should and would benefit all levels of society including ‘the common people’, ‘the ordinary people’, and the ‘crowded populations.’[3]  In 1893, as a result of his tremendous vision, the Metropolitan Park Commission was established, launching in local stardom the careers of two extraordinary architects, Frederick W. Stickney and William D. Austin.

The scholarship on the work of Stickney and Austin for the Metropolitan Park Commission is lacking. Their work in designing facilities for recreation in the metropolitan areas of Boston played a role in reflecting the ideals and social classes of the time. Through the examination of the possible driving influences behind the work of Stickney and Austin for Revere Beach Reservation, much light can be shed into the men behind the architecture and the people who sought leisure in these places.

The Metropolitan Park Commission originally consisted of 12 cities and 24 towns which comprised the metropolitan area of Boston.[4] In a letter written to Governor Russell in 1890, indicating a pressing need for open spaces and of the possibility of a metropolitan system of parks, Charles Eliot urged the governor to include remarks on metropolitan parks in his forthcoming address to the 1891 session of the General Court[5]. The eloquence and persuasiveness of Eliot led to the creation of the first metropolitan system of parks in America.[6]

As a landscape architect and consultant to the Commission, Eliot believed that one of the first goals of the Commission was to make the acquisition of ocean areas a priority.[7]Revere Beach, just north of Boston, became one of Eliot’s first successes with the Commission of which he commented “the present condition of this beach is a disgrace.”[8] The Metropolitan Park Commission not only did manage to protect and preserve the natural scenery of Boston, but also commission Stickney and Austin to design facilities which further enhanced and harmonized with the surroundings, reflecting the social classes of Boston for whom these public lands were set aside for.

For the architecture of Revere Beach, Eliot envisioned “a row of buildings which most eventually face the public beach throughout its whole length and should compelled to conform with exactness to this long and grand sweep.”[9]

Revere Beach Police Station, Stickney and Austin. Courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

Stickney and Austin designed eight bathing pavilions, a Bandstand, a Bathhouse, a Police Station, and the Superintendent’s House. The architecture of Revere Beach reflects the influence of the Italian Renaissance Revival which evokes “a Mediterranean flavor for this seaside reservation.”[10] One of the first buildings to be completed at Revere Beach was the Bathhouse which opened in time for the summer season.[11]  “The gigantic bathhouse to be put up for the accommodation of the bathers at Crescent Beach” soon became one of the grandest and most celebrated buildings on the reservation.[12] The first of three buildings planned by the commissioners for Revere Beach, it was constructed of brick with terracotta trim and terracotta tile roof topped with an elaborate, multistoried windowed cupola. It contained a central administration building, an office, a laundry, a steam plant, a toilet room, and a detention area. Unfortunately, the bathhouse was demolished in 1962 to make way for a more “modern” facility which was in turn demolished a few years later for a highway.

Superintendent's House, 1905, Revere Beach. Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives

The Police Station at Revere Beach, completed in 1899, follows the Italian Renaissance Revival influence observed in the Bathhouse. Designed with an imposing 62-foot campanile bell tower used to survey the beach, the Station also featured an arcaded brick façade, a granite base course and molded terracotta tile caps for the roof.[13] The development of Revere Beach as a reservation for the people represents a change in America in the beginning of the 20th century which is reflected not only in the social class that frequented the Beach, but also in the buildings of Stickney and Austin. The result of “developing the public property for the advantage and comfort largely of the poorer classes” is in recorded in the large number of the working class who resorted to Revere Beach to enjoy the outdoors.[14]

The architecture of Stickney and Austin is best summarized in an article published in the Boston Daily Globe in 1895 in which the newspaper praises and refers to The Norman School Building in Lowell, designed by the firm as the “envy of all of Massachusetts.” The Globe writes that “Lowell will have one of the best equipped normal school buildings in the State.”[15] It is clear that the author was praising the school building as one of the finest in the state, even at its initial stages of design, but the artistic skills of the architects behind the building place Frederick Stickney and William Austin among the finest architects in the state of Massachusetts in the first part of the 20th century.

Both of these architects were graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and had been exposed to the works of Stanford White, Peabody and Stearns, Hartwell and Richardson, and Carrere and Hastings as well H.H. Richardson. As architects, Stickney and Austin not only managed to designed most of the structures for the Metropolitan Park Commission, but also for the City of Boston, shingle style houses in Maine and mansions for the wealthy in Long Island. They proved with their work for the Metropolitan Park Commission that they could design in a variety of architectural styles capturing the vision of Charles Eliot of designing buildings and their surroundings as one harmonious composition. Their architecture reflected the social classes of the time and at Revere Beach this is captured in the massing of the structures and the grounded “feeling” projected in the Police Station and Bathhouse. Revere Beach was the ultimate destination for the working and poor classes of Boston while Nahant Beach, another reservation acquired by the Commission became the destination of Boston’s upper class.

(Nahant Beach will be discussed in the next post)

This post was adapted from a research paper I wrote on the architecture of Stickney and Austin for the Metropolitan Park Commission. The seminar which inspired the topic was on the architecture and planning of Boston taught by Professor Keith Morgan at Boston University.


[1] Charles W. Eliot, Charles Eliot: Landscape Architect (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 549.

[2] Leah A. Schmidt, Images of America: Revere Beach (Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002), 11.

[3] Keith N. Morgan, Introduction to Charles Eliot: Landscape Architect, by Charles W. Eliot (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), xxxvi.

[4] Norman T. Newton, Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), 330.

[5] Ibid, 323.

[6] Ibid, 323.

[7] Leah A. Schmidt, Images of America: Revere Beach (Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002), 11.

 [8] Charles W. Eliot, Charles Eliot: Landscape Architect (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999)

 [9]Ibid, 535.

[10] Keith N. Morgan, “National Register of Historic Landmark Nomination Form Revere Beach Reservation,” (National Park Service and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, December 18, 2000), 19.

[11] Ibid., 19.

[12] “To Accommodate 1000,” Boston Daily Globe, March 12, 1897, 2.

[13] Leah A. Schmidt, Images of America: Revere Beach (Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002), 11.

[14] “Boston’s Park System,” Boston Daily Globe, June 4, 1895, 8.

 [15] “Finest in the State,” Boston Daily Globe, June 30, 1895, 24.

Multicultural Threads of Boston

Mission Hill Mural

Since its settlement around 1629-30, immigration has dramatically altered Boston’s built environment, shaping the city as we know it today. The impact of immigration on the development of architecture in the metropolitan region of Boston is reflected in the city’s distinct architectural fabric and planning patterns. The influence of immigration from abroad, migrations within the United States and the migration of populations across Boston from the initial settlement until the 21st century is not only reflected in the city’s unique development patterns, but also in the character of many of Boston’s neighborhoods. The aspirations and realities of the immigrants that arrived from abroad as well as those that migrated from other parts of the city and country are traced in the architecture of Boston.

Like the Irish who have migrated from one neighborhood of Boston to another, the African American Diaspora migrated from the Southern part of the country to the North where they settled on the north slope of Beacon Hill. The African American community succumbed to the economic pressures of Beacon Hill and relocated to the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, but not without leaving their imprint on the Hill. The African Meeting House which was built by free African American artists and the Abiel Smith School serve as testament to the powerful impact of cultures and immigration on the architecture of Metropolitan Boston.

Islamic Society and Cultural Center of Boston

The 20th century witnessed the fall and rise of neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan with the influx of immigration from other parts of Boston and the revitalization of Boston Main Streets. Although populated predominantly by African Americans, these areas of Boston have become increasingly culturally and economically diverse. As recent as 2008, the Islamic Society and Cultural Center of Boston opened its doors in Roxbury, standing as a symbol of Boston’s ethnically-diverse communities.

The Basilica of our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church)

Another example of an immigrant group who left their mark on Boston’s architectural heritage are the Germans who settled on Mission Hill in Roxbury.  Mission Hill gets it names from the architectural gem that sits on top of one of the hills, the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The church stands a testament of the impact of immigration in Boston.

Designed by two New York architects, William Schickel and Isaac Ditmars, “Mission Church” as it is commonly known, was built by the Redemptorist Fathers who were of a German Catholic order in 1874-1878. It is a handsome Romanesque Revival structure with Gothic elements on its exterior. The church is constructed of Roxbury Puddingstone, the official state rock of Massachusetts. Its interior is grand yet elegantly restrained, surrounding its users with a golden shimmer radiating from the octagonal cupola and the numerous stained glass windows.  

Mission Church - View looking West, Octagonal Lantern

Mission Church has been ‘rediscovered’ with the recent passing of Massachusetts’ Senator Edward M. Kennedy. On a tour of the church, sponsored by Discover Roxbury, a local non-profit organization, I learned that people have flocked from all over the country to experience its architectural grandeur and beauty.

Boston’s patterns of immigration have impacted the development of architecture and planning to the extent of evoking the aspirations and realities of those who have settled in the city and its metropolitan region. Neighborhoods like the South End and Jamaica Plain have witnessed an influx of new Americans coming from the Caribbean; in particular Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. These New Bostonians have already left their mark on the city’s built environment, most notably in Villa Victoria, a section of the South End whose architecture is a coherent compromise between American Modernism and Puerto Rican Vernacular.