Boston: Bay Village
Community Profile
Bay Village offers the flavor of Beacon Hill on a budget

By Kathleen Howley, Globe Correspondent, 4/01/2000

Bay Village at a glance
Settled: 1795

Area: One-quarter square mile
Population: 2,100
Tax rate: $13.15 residential, $34.21 commercial
Form of government: Boston mayor, city council
Services: Boston Edison, Boston Gas, city water and sewer
Library: Boston Public Library
Public schools: Boston Renaissance Charter School.
Transportation: Orange and Green line subway stations
Cultural/recreational: Our Lady of Victories Church, Seaman's House, several theaters

Jo-Ann Ross and George Klauber live in downtown Boston, a two-minute walk from the Public Garden or the theater district. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

"We both love the theater. We can leave our home at 10 of 8, and be in our seats, program in hand, at 5 of 8," Ross said.

But, when they first moved into their Bay Village town house four years ago, none of their friends could find them, Ross said.

"If you say Bay Village, people say, `Where is that?' It's like a hidden neighborhood," she said.

Bay Village is Boston's smallest neighborhood, barely one-quarter of a square mile, bound by the Massachusetts Turnpike to the south, Columbus Avenue to the west, and Tremont Street to the east.

And, it is also one of the city's most distinctive neighborhoods. Its narrow streets are lined with gaslights and brick row houses. But, the feeling here is different than Back Bay or the South End, the areas that border it.

Anthony Sammarco, author of more than a dozen books on the history of Boston's neighborhoods, said the difference is due to 19th-century class distinctions.

"It was built for middle-class shopkeepers and artisans, rather than extremely wealthy merchants and Brahmins. It's the same red brick that was used to build Beacon Hill, but the houses are much simpler," he said.

It's a distinction that makes the area more appealing today, he said.

"In this day and age, what's more manageable - a 40-room Beacon Hill mansion or a nine-room Greek Revival town house," Sammarco asked.

The first Bay Village town houses were constructed in 1795, in the region of what is now called Stuart Street, said Sammarco. As the city filled in the mudflats of the South Cove, it opened more land for building. By the 1840s, Bay Village was fully developed, he said.

In 1809, writer Edgar Allan Poe was born in Bay Village, on Carver Street, now the location of the Massachusetts Transportation Building. His parents were actors.

"Many of the people who lived in Bay Village in those days were what you might call `middle-class bohemians' - actors and artists," Sammarco said.

In 1942, one of the deadliest fires in the nation's history occurred in Bay Village. A blaze at the Coconut Grove, a nightclub located where the 57 Restaurant & Bar now stands on Stuart Street, killed 492 people on Nov. 28.

The fire resulted in revisions to city's building codes that are still in force today, said Sammarco.

In the 1970s, the Village had become an area known for prostitution, Sammarco said. In the early 1980s, residents began fighting back by writing down the license plate numbers of suspected "Johns" and sending them letters at their homes asking why they were cruising the neighborhood.

By then, Bay Village had attracted a number of residents from Boston's wealthiest families - "You start to see Social Register families listed in the Village in the first half of the 1900s," Sammarco said - as well as a number of gay residents and several gay bars.

It all added to Bay Village's bohemian flavor, he said.

"Be they drag queens or dowagers, they banded together to take down license plate numbers, sitting on lawn chairs on the sidewalk. You might see a dowager in a Chanel jacket sitting next to a guy in a leather jacket. It really brought people together," Sammarco said.

And, it also made a big dent in the prostitution problem, he said.

Today, Bay Village is one of the most unified neighborhoods of Boston, said Mary Kelleher of Prudential Gibson Real Estate in the South End.

"It is a very diverse neighborhood that is very, very close-knit. It's like a world of its own," said Kelleher, who has been selling real estate here for almost 20 years.

It has the same flavor as Beacon Hill, but it is less expensive, she said.

"A single-family that would list for $1.7 million on Beacon Hill would list for $800,000 or $900,000 in Bay Village," she said.

Her firm lists a three-unit rental building in Bay Village for $1.15 million. It has hardwood floors, and many original architectural details, she said.

Also, Coldwell Banker Hunneman & Co. lists two condominiums in Bay Village. A 1,296-square-foot unit is listed at $559,000, and a 1,823-square-foot unit is listed for $699,000.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 4/01/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company
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