The South End, one of Boston’s most vibrant communities, is known for its tree-lined neighborhoods, restaurants, theater and galleries, and diversity. The neighborhood is situated just south of the Back Bay, spanning 1.034 square miles. It has a population of around 32,000. Haven’t been there? Here are five reasons why you should check it out.
Looking at the area today, it’s hard to imagine that the South End was originally a narrow strip of land called the Boston Neck. It was surrounded by a tidal marsh and connected Boston to Roxbury. Prior to the 1840s, the area included only a few mansions set in open fields. But, as Beacon Hill and downtown became overcrowded, the city added land to the Neck by filling in the marsh. In the 1850s, renowned architect, Charles Bulfinch, created a plan to make over the region, building dozens of connected townhouses, fenced-in gardens, and public parks with fountains. The financial crisis in the 1870s hit the South End hard and many well-to-do families moved to the Back Bay or nearby suburbs. By the turn of the century, most of the original residents had moved out and the private houses were replaced with apartments and lodging houses. The cheap accommodations attracted a diverse group of residents who left their mark on the area. The growing African-American population, for example, helped make the area famous for its jazz clubs. While the area struggled with poverty through the 1960s, middle-class families and young professionals began to move due to its convenient location. This started major restorations of the Victorian townhouses and, in 1973, the South End was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as “the largest urban Victorian neighborhood in the country” and named a Boston Landmark District in 1983. Today, the neighborhood welcomes a mix of residents, from the increasing upper-middle-class community to the less affluent. The South End boasts some of the most diverse demographics in the city, catering to people from all walks of life.
Tremont Street in the South End was nicknamed “restaurant row”—and with good reason. Not only are there hundreds of restaurants, bars, and cafes within walking distance, the area offers a unique and diverse range of cuisines. You’ll find Ethiopian at Addis Red Sea, Senegalese at Teranga, Venezuelan at Orinoco Kitchen, rustic Italian at Coppa, Indian at Mela, classic brunch at the Beehive, French at Aquitaine, and Thai at the House of Siam, to name a few. Whether you’re in the mood for casual fare or something more fancy, the South End has a perfect restaurant and then some.
What makes the South End so stunning yet understated is its uniform aesthetic. The area is made up of mostly mid-nineteenth century brick or brownstone bowfronts (bay windows), lined up in organized rows and serving a mix of residential and commercial purposes. You’ll find many architectural styles, including the two most common: Renaissance Revival and Italian and French Second Empire. The majority are brick, painted with sandstone or stone trim, and finished with black window shutters and cast-iron railings. The district is well-kept, as it’s an official Boston landmark and one of North America’s largest existing Victorian residential districts. It also features a series of 11 nineteenth century residential parks and English-inspired squares with central fountains and cast iron fencing. Sixteen community gardens and pocket parks are also scattered throughout the community, adding to the South End’s picturesque charm.
Arts and Entertainment
It’s no secret that the South End is home to a booming art and theater scene. With over 21 galleries and numerous theaters in the neighborhood, you’ll find something for every preference. The Boston Center for the Arts offers community events and houses the Community Music Center of Boston, the Boston Ballet’s costume shop, as well as three small theaters. Swing by the the 23,000-square-foot Cyclorama and catch an avant-garde exhibition or a contemporary play. The real place to visit for new, young, and fresh art is SoWa, a group of blocks south of Washington Street. Here you’ll discover the city’s emerging artists at the 450 Harrison Building and studios at 500 Harrison Avenue, open to the public on the first Friday of each month in the summer.
The South End Open Market takes place every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through October, except for holiday weekends. This is not just your ordinary market. Here, you’ll come across vintage clothes sellers, young fashion and jewelry designers, artists, artisan cheesemakers and farmers, and antique dealers all settled beneath the white tents. It’s a great place to explore or pick up a few items from your grocery list.