Newbury Street

Newbury Street
A mix of architectural styles along Newbury Street near the Boston Public Garden.

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 lined with historic 19th-century brownstones that contain hundreds of shops and restaurants, making it a popular destination for tourists and locals. The most expensive boutiques are located near the Boston Public Garden end of Newbury Street. The shops gradually become slightly less expensive and more bohemian toward Massachusetts Avenue. West of Mass Ave the street abuts the Mass Pike on its southern side, with no buildings to speak of; the northern side is mainly loading docks and garages of buildings fronted on Commonwealth Ave. A proposed, major decking project over the Pike in the area would reestablish the southern side of the road and expand the shopping district to Brookline Ave.

Newbury Street is an eclectic mix of shops in renovated brownstone buildings, with stores at all levels, -- physically (basement, street level, and above), stylistically (elegant to shabby), and financially (affordable to upscale). It is touted as one the most expensive streets in the world. High-end 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, as well as many more.

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."[1]



Newbury Street's name celebrates the victory of the Puritans in the 1643 Battle of Newbury in the English Civil War.

The first building completed in Back Bay after it was filled in 1860 was Emmanuel Church at 15 Newbury Street. Today, Emmanuel Church is an influential Episcopal church that also 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 Academic style was built as the Museum of Natural History in 1864. It is prominently sited between Newbury and Boylston Streets fronting at Berkeley Street, and currently houses fashionable clothier Louis, Boston. Lyndon describes it as "a remarkably serene Classical building with none of the latent boosterism of its near contemporary, Old City Hall."

Newbury Street was the original location of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in another Preston building adjacent to the Museum. MIT moved across the river in 1916; the edifice has since been replaced by a life insurance building.

The first retail shop on Newbury Street opened in 1905 at 73 Newbury, now the location of a haute couture salon. A list of former Newbury Street boutiques would be long indeed. The shops included "Daree" at 12 Newbury, Joseph Antell and Frederick Freed. One of Newbury's oldest and most established retailers is the tony Brooks Brothers, at the corner of Berkeley across from the Louis, Boston edifice.

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 theatre 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 theatre'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.

Sadly, after a remarkable 70-year run, the Exeter Street Theatre quietly closed in 1984, due to declining box-office revenues caused by the growing home-video market. Its illustrious interior was dismantled and rather ruthlessly transformed into a trendy Conran's furniture store. After the failure of Conran's, it became a popular 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 next door. (Ironically, the fire itself was very minor.) Later, it briefly housed an ill-fated dot-com named Idealab. Since 2005 the Kingsley Montessori Elementary School has occupied the building.

(Note: 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 demolition of the old hall, cannot be disputed.)

Beginnings of a shopping district

Newbury Street's 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.[citation needed]

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."[2]

"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.[citation needed]

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 2002. (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,"[3] 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."[4] 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.

New additions to the upscale shopping destination include True Religion (1,984 sq ft.) and Zara (24,000 sq ft.).

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."[5]


  1. ^ Lyndon, Donlyn (1982) The City Observed: Boston, A Guide to the Architecture of the Hub. Vintage Books.
  2. ^ Campbell, Robert (1991), "360 Newbury: A Bold Beauty". The Boston Globe. December 6, 1991. p. 59
  3. ^ Hemp, Paul (1991); The Boston Globe. November 7, 1991. p. 61
  4. ^ Muro, Mark. The Boston Globe. October 5, 1991. p. 16
  5. ^ Abelson, Jean (2008), "Newbury Street Icon Louis Seeks Someplace Trendier," The Boston Globe, May 30, 2008

Coordinates: 42°20′57″N 71°5′3″W / 42.34917°N 71.08417°W / 42.34917; -71.08417

External links

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