Newbury Street is located in the Back Bay area of Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States. It runs roughly east-to-west, from the Boston Public Garden to Massachusetts Ave. The road crosses many major arteries along its path, with an entrance to the Mass Pike westbound at Mass Ave.
East of Mass Ave, it is a mile long street lined with historic 19th-century brownstones that contain hundreds of shops and restaurants, making it a popular destination for tourists and locals. The most "high-end boutiques" are located near the Boston Public Garden end of Newbury Street (ironically referred to as "lower Newbury" due the street numbers). As the address numbers climb, the shops become slightly less expensive and more bohemian up to Massachusetts Avenue. West of Mass Ave the street abuts the Mass Pike on its unbuilt southern side; the northern side is mainly parking and rear service areas for buildings on Commonwealth Avenue. A proposed, major decking project over the Pike at the "annex" end would involve new structure(s) for the southern side beyond the confines of the Mass. Ave. intersection. This could allow for expansion of the shopping district.
Newbury Street has an eclectic mix of shops and eateries. Its renovated brownstone buildings feature stores at all retail levels, -- physically (basement, street level, and above), stylistically (shabby chic to elegant), and financially (affordable to exclusive). There are coffee shops, trendy cafes and an array of restaurants to suit many tastes. Yet due to the concentration of up-scale stores at its lower end, it is touted as one of the most expensive streets in the world. Luxury goods stores include Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Armani, Nanette Lepore, Ted Baker, Ben Sherman, Donna Karan, Burberry, Cartier, Loro Piana, Kate Spade, Bang & Olufsen, Valentino, Marc Jacobs and Ermenegildo Zegna.
Donlyn Lyndon writes that west of Clarendon Street,
- "Newbury Street develops its own very distinctive and appealing character and becomes one of the nicest shopping streets in Boston, or anywhere. Renovated town houses with large glass bays on the ground floor produce a delightful urban landscape.... Owners and tenants... have further animated the street by using the 25-foot (7.6 m) space between the building and the sidewalk for various purposes. Some areas are paved and used for displays or sidewalk sales. Others have thick planting... Some lots have stairs up and down to shops and galleries; others have show windows and display cases for flowers or fashions or other items for sale. But each contributes something extra, and together they make these blocks of Newbury Street genuinely attractive."
The first building completed in Back Bay after it was filled in 1860 was Emmanuel Church at 15 Newbury Street. Today, it is an influential Episcopal church that plays a significant role in the musical life of the city.
In the 19th century, Newbury Street was residential. The 1893 edition of Baedeker's United States catalogs Boston's "finest residence streets" as Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon Street, Marlborough Street, Newbury Street, and Mt. Vernon Street. William J. Geddis, however, notes that it was "the least fashionable Street in Back Bay."
Owen Wister's novel, Philosophy 4, set in the 1870s, mentions Newbury Street:
|“||When you saw [Harvard student Oscar Maironi] seated in a car bound for Park Square, you knew he was going into Boston, where he would read manuscript essays on Botticelli or Pico della Mirandola, or manuscript translations of Armenian folksongs; read these to ecstatic, dim-eyed ladies in Newbury Street, who would pour him cups of tea when it was over, and speak of his earnestness after he was gone. It did not do the ladies any harm; but I am not sure that it was the best thing for Oscar.||”|
A notable building designed by William G. Preston in the classical French Beaux-Arts architecture style was built as the Museum of Natural History in 1864. Lyndon describes it as "a remarkably serene Classical building with none of the latent boosterism of its near contemporary, Old City Hall." It is prominently sited between Newbury and Boylston Streets at 234 Berkeley Street. It was the site of the Boston Bonwit Teller Store from 1947 to 1989 and the exclusive men's retailer Louis, Boston from 1990 to 2010. In March 2013 the extensively renovated building re-opened as a Restoration Hardware flagship store.
Between 1865 and 1916, Newbury Street was the location of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its Boston campus grew to include two large academic buildings adjacent to the Natural History Museum, one of which was also designed by Preston. By the beginning of the 20th century, smaller scaled townhouses and social establishments filled in much of the length of street frontage. By 1939, MIT's grand structures were demolished and replaced by an insurance building. Gentleman's Clubs on Newbury Street included MIT's Technology Club at #83 across from the original main campus.
The first commercial establishments probably opened around 1905. By the late 1920s, lower Newbury Street had begun to establish itself as a destination for well-heeled society. With the establishment of Boston's Junior League in 1907, formal dances became very fashionable, and elegant apparel shops prospered. By 1911, 24 Newbury St. featured a salon for lessons in "social and aesthetic dance." As more retailers moved in, many lower floor shops began to feature wide glass windows to exhibit luxury goods. In the late 1950s fashionable boutiques included Darée, Charles Sumner, Miss Harvey (at #32), furriers and Joseph Antell. One of Newbury's oldest and most established retailers is the tony Brooks Brothers department store which occupies its original quarters at the corner of Berkeley St.
From 1970 until the late 1990s, lower Newbury Street was lined with posh up-and-coming art galleries. Newbury Street mavens and hipsters spent Saturday afternoons gallery hopping and enjoying the ubiquitous "wine and cheese" art openings. The Newbury Street gallery scene was a veritable mini-Soho for perhaps a decade.
The famous Ritz-Carlton Hotel (now The Taj), built in 1927, fronts on Arlington but once described itself as "a Boston landmark on fashionable Newbury Street." But Newbury Street was not always considered the hotel's fashionable side. Sports journalist Heywood Hale Broun told the story of proudly mentioning that his publisher had gotten him a room at "the Ritz," an honor accorded only to stars. His friend Lil Darvas had replied, "Which side, darling, the Newbury street side or the Public Garden?" "Sure enough," said Broun, "when I arrived, I found myself on the Newbury street side. 'Darling,' she had told me, 'if you're not on the Public Garden, you've got a long way to go.'"
On the corner of Exeter and Newbury Street—the address is given both as 181 Newbury Street and as 26 Exeter Street—is a striking building designed by Boston architects Hartwell and Richardson in the Romanesque Revival style. It was originally built in 1885 as the First Spiritual Temple, a Spiritualist church. In 1914 it became a movie theater, the Exeter Street Theatre. The movie theater was notable both for its ambiance ("You felt like you were in some kind of Tudor manor or English country church") and programming ("It was a theater where people did not call to see what movie was playing, but called only to determine if the movie had changed"). Beginning in the mid-1970s, the theater's midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show gave the movie a popular cult following, often attracting patrons dressed up in costumes based on characters in the film.
After 70 years the Exeter Street Theatre closed in 1984 due to declining box-office revenues. Its illustrious interior was dismantled and transformed into a Conran's furniture store. After the failure of Conran's, it became a Waterstone's bookstore, whose extensive inventory was ruined by massive flooding caused by sprinklers set off by a fire in the T.G.I. Friday's restaurant downstairs. (The fire itself was very minor.) Later, it briefly housed an ill-fated dot-com named Idealab. Since 2005 the Kingsley Montessori School has occupied the building, with offices on the upper floors and a restaurant at street level.
(It has been rumoured that the Spiritual Temple's original ghosts had haunted the Exeter Theatre and were perhaps quite unhinged by its 1984 demise. Whether or not one believes in ghosts, the fact that the building and its ensuing tenants have met with a string of disastrous blows since the gutting of the old hall cannot be disputed. Actually, the restaurants have done very well, and the school that is there is thriving and the office tenants on the upper floors are happy, so the ghost nonsense is not relevant anymore.)
Transformation of a Shopping District
The transformation that turned Newbury Street into a trendy shopping district for young people probably began in the 1970s with the opening of the original Newbury Comics. Now a chain of over 20 stores whose business (despite the name) is primarily the sale of CDs, "Comix" was founded by two MIT students in 1976, where it still stands today. Aimee Mann of 'Til Tuesday fame was a cashier at the flagship store through 1982. Directly across the Street was the famed Newbury Sound, where Boston bands such as the Cars recorded early hits. Musicians such as Peter Wolf and Ric Ocasek were street regulars of this bygone era. The adjacent organic food store Erewhon was another bohemian magnet; TMax, the publisher of the seminal Boston Music Fanzine "The Noise" was a popular "produce clerk" there for many years. And with the bustling Johnson's Paints selling fine art supplies on its second floor, the last block of Newbury Street became notorious for its arty stream of shoppers and swarm of talented gadabouts.
The legendary music instrument retailer "E.U. Wurlitzer Music and Sound" was a part of the greater Boston music scene since 1890, and the store had been located at 360 Newbury Street (on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue) after moving from its LaGrange Street address in the mid-1960s. The building was a plain yellow-brick building by the time the company went out of business in the mid-1980s. In 1989, it was renovated under the direction of architect Frank Gehry and won the Parker Award as the most beautiful new building in Boston. According to architecture columnist Robert Campbell, Gehry "took a blandly forgettable building and transformed it into a monument... It's the first significant example in Boston of a movement known as deconstruction. Deconstructionist buildings are designed to look as if their parts are either colliding or exploding, usually at crazy angles."
"The Slab" is a large flat rectangle of concrete between the JP Licks ice cream parlor and the Hynes subway station at Massachusetts Avenue. It is often occupied by spare-changings punks, bored suburbanites, the homeless, and folks busking for money. An attempt was made to fence it off in the early 2000s but failed.
Once famous for a wealth of bookstores, Boston, like its neighbor Cambridge, has suffered a steady decline in the number and quality of independent booksellers. The beloved 150,000-volume Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop on Newbury Street, one of the last holdouts, closed in 2004. (It did, however, outlast the comparably short-lived Waterstone's, the British chain whose giant, well-regarded store just off Newbury Street was a source of pressure on the independents. When Waterstone's closed, a Boston Globe staffer opined that "the Athens of America feels a bit more like Elmira.") Today, the youthful Trident Booksellers and Café on Newbury Street is amongst a small band of independent bookstores still remaining in Boston.
Close to Berklee College of Music, Tower Records at 360 Newbury Street was a favorite spot among music lovers for over a decade. A 1991 Boston Globe article says that "Tower Records stomped into Boston with the nation's largest music store three years ago," while another says that "When Tower Records opened its astonishing store on Newbury Street, it altered the Boston compact disk market forever, and remade Newbury Street's commercial scene." Long the largest record and CD outlet in the Boston area, its closing in 2002 marked the end of an era (though the space was soon occupied by another equally huge music store, Virgin Megastore) (Now also closed; a Best Buy store occupies that space).
On April 27, 2006, The Boston Globe reported: "Virgin Megastore is moving out of its Newbury Street digs to make room for a new high-end retailer at the landmark Frank Gehry building where luxury condominiums are opening this fall. Electronics retailer Best Buy signed a ten-year lease and opened a store in late July 2007 on 41,500 square feet (3,860 m2) of space in three above-ground floors and a basement that is used for storage.
Jake Spade recently opened in a 200-square-foot (19 m2) spot underneath the Kate Spade boutique, and is the second store of its kind in the world.
Two shops opened on April 1, 2010 of note. Raven Used Books at 263 Newbury street and shopCotelac at 168 Newbury St.. Raven Used Books, which also has a shop in Harvard Square in Cambridge, specializes in literature and the arts as well as stocking sections such as history, philosophy, children, cookbooks and much more, is a welcome addition. shopCotelac is a French womens' wear designer which brings something a little different to Newbury st with its feminine look that's marginal, and a little bohemian.
An end of an era may have been marked in 2008 when Louis Boston, an upscale retailer, announced that it would leave the area when its lease expires in 2010. Occupying the former home of the once indomitably chic Bonwit Teller store, the Louis edifice is an elegant and iconic 1864 building that once housed the Boston Museum of Natural History. The Boston Globe reported that the "Louis' move will mark the departure of one of the signature retailers from a street that has migrated away from its eclectic, locally-owned boutique roots to a mall-like scene dominated by chain stores." A spokesperson for the Neighborhood Association of Back Bay acknowledged that "There is a changing character from the funky shops to something more generic. And we regret that."
- Lyndon, Donlyn (1982) The City Observed: Boston, A Guide to the Architecture of the Hub. Vintage Books.
- Campbell, Robert (1991), "360 Newbury: A Bold Beauty". The Boston Globe. December 6, 1991. p. 59
- Hemp, Paul (1991); The Boston Globe. November 7, 1991. p. 61
- Muro, Mark. The Boston Globe. October 5, 1991. p. 16
- Abelson, Jean (2008), "Newbury Street Icon Louis Seeks Someplace Trendier," The Boston Globe, May 30, 2008
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