Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 3



Tremont Street in 1830, Showing the Tremont Theatre and the Tremont House facing or following page 218[unavailable]

This drawing of Tremont Street, used by Abel Bowen as the frontispiece for both his Picture of Boston and Snow’s Geography of Boston, is of the prospect toward the Park Street Church at the corner of Park and Tremont streets as observed from where Beacon Street enters Tremont from the right. The large structure which faced both on Tremont and Beacon streets, on the site of the present Tremont Building, is the Tremont House, opened in 1829. Immediately beyond it is the Granary Burial Ground. Directly opposite the Tremont House is the Tremont Theatre, built in 1827.

The competition between the new Tremont Theatre and the older Boston Theatre on Federal Street proved so ruinous to both in 1828 that the lessees of the Tremont Theatre took over the Boston Theatre for four years with the intent to keep the house dark. Hence it was that until the end of 1832 there was but one theater in Boston in which regular dramatic performances were given. The Tremont Theatre, which had been established by “persons who believed the time had arrived when something should be done to raise the character of the Boston stage,” soon became sufficiently successful so that it “receives patronage from the most wealthy and fashionable” (Bowen’s Picture of Boston, 2d edn., Boston, 1833, p. 204–206). The building was planned to be worthy of the patronage it sought. The architect clearly derived the façade of Quincy granite, with its four Ionic pilasters and Tuscan Doric antae supporting an entablature and pediment, from the west wall of the Erechtheum in Athens. He joined to this an Italianate podium containing three identical segmental-arched openings symmetrically placed within the rusticated central section and gave to the whole wide and ample proportions. An architectural rendering reflecting its quality appears on the jacket of Walter H. Kilham, Boston after Bulfinch, Cambridge, 1946. Within the arched doors was a wide hall from which a stairway ascended to the boxes, “the lobbies for the promenade, and separate drawing rooms, communicating with an elegant saloon in the centre” (Bowen’s Picture of Boston, 2d edn., p. 207). The building was sold to a Baptist Society in 1842, became known as the Tremont Temple, and burned in 1852.

The Tremont House, architecturally “an epoch-making work, original (almost revolutionary) in plan and with an exterior so simple as to be almost austere,” was at the same time perhaps the first hotel in America of the modern type (Talbot Hamlin, Greek Revival Architecture in America, New York, 1944, p. 112). When the New York Commercial Advertiser noted that “The Bostonians have boasted much of their great hotel, the Tremont House. But they have not boasted too much. It is indeed a noble edifice, and as a hotel ... above all praise,” the Boston Patriot proudly reprinted the tribute (3 August 1831, p. 2, col. 3). Within a year of its construction its importance was recognized by the publication of a handsome volume on the hotel, consisting largely of architectural drawings: William Havard Eliot, A Description of the Tremont House, Boston, 1830. The building of Quincy granite fronted 160 feet on Tremont Street xivand 104 feet on Beacon Street. Within were elegant public rooms, derived from Greek prototypes, and 170 rooms for guests. The portico at the principal entrance was 37 feet 6 inches long and its four Doric columns twenty feet high. The cost of the Tremont House when opened was $300,000; it remained in use until 1894 (same, p. 4–15; Bowen’s Picture of Boston, 2d edn., p. 215–218; Kilham, Boston after Bulfinch, p. 32–34).

The architect of both the Tremont House and the Tremont Theatre was Isaiah Rogers (1800–1869), who, after four years with Solomon Willard, had opened his own office in 1826; he remained in Boston until 1834, when he left to continue a notable career in New York and Cincinnati. “He was undoubtedly the greatest architect of the Boston group ... one of the most remarkable designers of the entire Greek Revival movement.” (Hamlin, Greek Revival Architecture in America, p. in, 114–117; Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936.)

Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.