Built environment

Today, the NEHGS headquarters at 99—101 Newbury Street stands eight stories tall, several stories higher than the neighboring buildings. However, the present building at 99—101 Newbury was not always the tallest on the block. It began as a three-story bank building.

After the Back Bay was filled in during the second half of the nineteenth century, a new neighborhood sprang up, filled by desirable Victorian brick rowhouses. Newbury Street was no different. It had been built up by 1890 and families had moved in. Numbers 99 and 101 Newbury Street were two separate residences (though attached, like all the other row homes in the area) which faced the Massachusetts Institute of Technology buildings across the street.

Early residents of the 99 Newbury residence were Sophia Grace Robbins Potter and Henry Staples Potter. After the Potter family came the Pratts. The Pratts sold their home to Clara Nelson in 1904, when it was described as “one of the finest estates on Newbury St., consisting of a four-story swell-front brick house and 2576 feet of land.”[1] The house changed hands a few more times, and in 1922 Boston University leased part of the building to use as offices for its College of Business Administration.[2]

“[One] of the finest estates on Newbury St., consisting of a four-story swell-front brick house and 2576 feet of land.”

Next door at 101 Newbury Street, the Mott-Smiths had moved in by 1890. Like its neighbor, 101 Newbury was home to several families over the next two decades. By 1923, the Boston University College of Business Administration’s “girls’ clubrooms” were located at that address.[3]

However, in April 1924 both lots were purchased by Henry G. Brookings. Soon after—Brookings’s role in this is not clear—the buildings were torn down. On that site rose the new branch of the New England Trust Company.

Click on image to expand it.

The new branch office, designed by architects Ralph Coolidge Henry and Henry P. Richmond in a Renaissance Revival style, would “house under one roof complete banking facilities for those who require uptown banking services.” The building was said to be one of “unusual beauty” with “many refinements.”[4] When the office opened in the summer of 1929, it was touted as a place where customers would find both comfort and convenience, and was also noted for its top-of-the-line security devices. The Boston Globe reported on the installation of the 28,000-pound fireproof bank vault door.[5]

In 1963, NEHGS purchased the building and turned the three-story bank into an eight-story library and office building. The Society moved into its new home the following year, and has now been going fifty-six years strong on Newbury Street.

Notes

[1] “The handsome residence…,” Boston Globe, 17 February 1904, 3.

[2] “Boston University has Department Moving Day,” Boston Globe, 23 March 1922, 10.

[3] “Dinner Party and Social on Wednesday Evening,” Boston Globe, 26 February 1923, 2.

[4] “Crowd Watches Installation of Door Weighting 28,000 Pounds,” Boston Globe, 7 May 1929, 16.

[5] Ibid., and “New England Trust Company Opens Branch in Back Bay,” Boston Globe, 29 June 1929, 18.

Hallie Borstel

About Hallie Borstel

Hallie Borstel has a BA in history with minors in art history and German language from American University, as well as an MA in historic preservation from Tulane University. She joined NEHGS after several years working in architectural restoration and preservation in New Orleans. She has also worked at the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society, the West Virginia Railroad Museum, and Bender Library at American University. Her research interests include Germany, New York City, immigration history, and 19th-century America.

5 thoughts on “Built environment

    1. Thanks, Peter! I believe it’s the vault door, not the front door, that weighed 28,000 pounds, and we still have a vault in the building!

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