Boston Art Club

William Ralph Emerson, 1881

What a fanciful building! At first glance the Boston Art Club may appear awkward, even ugly in its odd assemblage of dissimilar forms. An example of the Queen Anne style, it was inspired by a variety of picturesque medieval elements. A hexagonal tower with a double curved roof rises out of the square corner, the transition effected by means of another peculiar detail, a stone balcony visually supported on a single Byzantine column. Related to the tower roof is the charming small dormer on the Dartmouth Street façade over the handsome carved archway. Enormous carved terra-cotta scroll brackets visually reinforce the gable-roofed portions of both façades. Rusticated quoins, voussoirs, and lintels dramatize the form. The interiors were as highly decorated as its façades would suggest.

William Emerson, nephew of Ralph Waldo Emerson, also designed the “house of odd windows” on Beacon Hill, the Massachusetts Homeopathic Hospital on East Concord Street between Harrison and Albany, and the peculiar One Winthrop Square. Emerson always toyed with the traditional architectural vocabulary, testing its limits. Even today, more than a century after its construction, this building is a surprise and an enigma.

Image: ©Yonward