60-64 Marlborough (294 Berkeley): First Church Boston

60-64 Marlborough (294 Berkeley) (2013)

60-64 Marlborough (294 Berkeley) (2013)

Lot 175' x 112' (19,600 sf)

Lot 175′ x 112′ (19,600 sf)

60-64 Marlborough (294 Berkeley) is located on the SW corner of Marlborough and Berkeley, with the First Lutheran Church to the east, across Berkeley, 66 Marlborough to the west, 53 Marlborough to the north, across Marlborough, and 282 Berkeley (29 Commonwealth) to the south, across Alley 423.

60-64 Marlborough (294 Berkeley) was designed by Ware and Van Brunt, architects, and built in 1867-1868 for the First Church in Boston, a congregation founded in 1632 and which became Unitarian Universalist following the Civil War.

Prior to moving to the Back Bay, the church had been located on Chauncy Place. On June 29, 1865, the proprietors of the First Church agreed to sell its property on Chauncy and buy property for a new church.

First Church Boston (ca. 1869), detail from photograph taken soon after its completion; courtesy of Historic New England

First Church Boston (ca. 1869), detail from photograph taken soon after its completion; courtesy of Historic New England

On September 15, 1865, the Church entered into an agreement with the City of Boston to purchase the land at the corner of Marlborough and Berkeley. Under the agreement, the Church paid $3 per square foot, payable ten percent in cash and balance in nine installments at six percent interest. The final payment was made in 1876 and the City transferred the land to the Church on April 20, 1876. The land was part of a larger parcel on the south side of Marlborough extending 250 feet west from Berkeley which the City had acquired from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on July 7, 1859, as partial settlement of its dispute with the Commonwealth over rights to lands in the Back Bay.

Click here for an index to the deeds for 60-64 Marlborough (294 Berkeley), and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Marlborough and Alley 423, from Berkeley to Clarendon.

The cornerstone of the new church was laid on April 4, 1867. The first services were held on May 17, 1868, and the church was dedicated on December 10, 1868.

Susan and Michael Southworth’s AIA Guide to Boston comments that the “architects looked to the English country churches of the middle ages for inspiration.” The Southworths note the “slender octagonal stone spire, a broach spire, becomes four-sided at its base, the juncture pointed up by four small Gothic windows, called lucarnes. The base of the tower widens as it approaches the ground and has diagonal buttresses at the corners.”

The History of the First Church in Boston: 1630-1880, by Arthur B. Ellis, includes a description of the original interior of the church written by Ware and Van Brunt. Click here for an excerpt.

1908 Bromley map, showing location of John Winthrop statue

On June 27, 1904, the church transferred a plot of land to the City of Boston for use as the site of a statue of John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts, who had attended the church. The statue previously had been located at the corner of Cornhill and Court Streets in Scollay Square (now Government Center), and was required to be removed because of subway construction. The new location was in front of the Marlborough Street façade of the church, about 36 feet west of Berkeley, with the statue facing north. The deed specified that if First Church ceased to use its building as a church or the statue was removed, the land would revert to the church.

In October of 1952, the church acquired 66 Marlborough to serve as its parish house.

First Church following March 29, 1968 fire; photograph by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, courtesy of the Boston Athenaeum

First Church following March 29, 1968, fire; photograph by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, courtesy of the Boston Athenaeum

The church was severely damaged by fire on March 29, 1968.

In 1970, the congregation merged with the Second Church (a congregation founded in 1649 and which most recently had occupied a church designed by architect Ralph Adams Cram in Audubon Circle).

The church was rebuilt to a design by architect Paul Rudolph which preserved the tower, porch, and end wall, and created an amphitheater-like entry on Marlborough Street.  The rebuilt church was dedicated in 1972 as the First and Second Church in Boston.

The statue of John Winthrop, which had been damaged in the fire, was moved further west on Marlborough, to a location at the western entrance, with the statue facing east.

In 2005, the congregation voted to change its name to the First Church in Boston.