French Second Empire 1860-1875

Baron von Haussmann's remaking of Paris under Emperor Napoleon III in the 1850s-1860s had a profound influence on the intensive development of the Back Bay and the South End here in Boston in the following decades. This is reflected in the neighborhoods’ gridded wide streets and boulevards, consistent building heights, and in the style of buildings lining those streets.

French Second Empire buildings used a mix of classical architectural elements organized in repeating horizontal layers, often with details varying slightly between levels. Centrality and symmetry were important organizing principles, frequently demonstrated by a projecting central pavilion and flanking side pavilions. The opulence of Paris’ redevelopment was well-suited to express the tastes of wealthy Bostonians who quickly made the Back Bay the city's most fashionable and prestigious place to live. The style is reflected in block after block of brick mansard-roofed row houses, with their dormer windows and continuous cornice lines creating unified streetscapes while still observing height restrictions.

The style became popular for homes across the Boston metropolitan area during this period, and also was adopted for some larger commercial and civic buildings including Old City Hall.

Image: Old Boston City Hall, ©Yonward, 2017