Category Archives: Hidden Gems

Hidden Gem: The Bonsai Collection

IMG_0103A trip to the Arnold Arboretum is not complete unless you visit the Larz Anderson Collection of Japanese Bonsai Trees. Located approximately 10 minutes from the Arborway Main Entrance is a beautiful wooden structure that houses 35 bonsai trees.

This collection of Japanese Bonsai Trees at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain was originally imported into the United States by Larz Anderson in 1913, after his return from serving as ambassador to Japan. When Anderson died in 1937, his wife Isabel Anderson donated the majority of their bonsai collection (30 plants) to the Arnold Arboretum. When Isabel died in 1949 the rest of the collection came to the Arboretum. The core of the collection consists of 6 bonsai that are between 150 and 275 years old.  Since the donation of the original collection additional bonsai have been added for a total of 35 trees.

In Japan, the cultivation of Bonsai dates back 1,000 years. With the use of techniques such as pruning, root reduction, defoliation, and grafting, bonsai growers create attractive miniature trees identical in shape and style to full-size trees.

Normally bonsai can be left outdoors all winter with minimal protection but with New England’s severe climate the plants need to be protected. During the winter months the plants are stored in a concrete-block structure. The plants go into cold storage in November and come out in mid-April.

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The collection is on view daily from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. from mid April through mid November, excluding holidays.

 Source: The Arnold Arboretum
Photos: Angela Mark

Hidden Gem: Japanese Temple Bell


Located near a path in the Back Bay Fens is a 17th century Japanese Buddhist temple bell. Cast in 1675 the 450-pound bell rang for centuries in religious ceremonies at the Manpuku-ji temple in Sendai, Japan. The bell was original dedicated to Bishamon, a Buddhist god of children and good luck.

During WWII the Japanese government pressured its citizens to donate metals to be smelted down and turned into artillery, including all temple bells.  Japan lost 95% of all their temple bells as a result. During the American invasion of Japan, Navy soldiers found over 500 bells waiting to be turned into weapons of war. Sailors from the USS Boston (CA-69) salvaged the bell and presented it to the city of Boston in 1946. In 1953, Kyukichi Anzai, Representative of the Believers’ Committee of Manpukuji Temple, Sendai (Japan), formally donated the bell to Boston to create a cultural bridge between the citizens of Boston and the citizens of Sendai as a link for the attainment of peace in the world. In 1993, the bell was restored through funding from the Japan Foundation and can be seen today in the War Memorial area of the Fens.

Image Credit

Hidden Gem: Martini Junction in Needham


Martini Junction: A Miniature Railway Village in the Forest

Outside of Boston, in a small but densely wooded forest in the town of Needham lies a world populated by miniature locomotives, people, plastic superheroes, pigs, and dinosaurs. Known as Martini Junction, the miniature railway, consisting of over 120 feet of tracks that wind through the trees was created in the early 2000s by Jim Metcalf, a retired design engineer.  Over a decade ago, Jim and his wife, Evelyn, discovered the small wooded habitat near a brook on one of their many hikes. Thinking that it would a nice place to relax and have a martini, Jim built a bench and a table so he and his wife could picnic at the spot. Hence the name Martini Junction!

In the ensuing years, Martini Junction has grown in popularity and many visitors have left random toys for others to play with. The train is only in action when Mr. Metcalf is there to run the train.

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Image and Source Credit

Hidden Gem: Kelleher Rose Garden


Tucked away in the Back Bay Fens behind the Fenway Community Gardens is a Keyhole shaped rose garden, known as The Kelleher Rose Garden. The garden features over 200 varieties of roses, a reconstructed 1930’s-era fountain surrounded by cherubs, benches with trellises adorned with roses and a statue that is a copy of Desolation, a 1907 sculpture by Joseph Llimona that is in the collection of the National Art Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona.

RosesThe English-style rose garden was commissioned by Boston Mayor James Michael Curley in 1930 and designed by Arthur Shurcliff, a well-known Boston landscape architect.  Previously, Shurcliff worked under Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Boston’s Emerald Necklace which includes the Back Bay Fens.

When the garden opened in 1932, it won james-p-kelleher-rosethe Massachusetts Horticultural Society award for excellence. In 1975, the garden was named the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden in honor of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department’s Superintendent of Horticulture. The garden is opened from mid-April through October with early summer as the best time for viewing the roses in full bloom.

Image Credit: Foursquare and TripAdvisor

Hidden Gem: The Jamaica Pond U-Shaped Bench


Tucked in among a row of benches at Jamaica Pond, in Jamaica Plain, is a curious u-shaped bench.

It is not possible to use the bench since it curves up into a u-shape making it impossible to sit on. Leading one to wonder how such a bench came about?

W1siZiIsInVwbG9hZHMvcGxhY2VfaW1hZ2VzLzA1NTNiNzA0ZjJlZTkwOTE5Yl9CZW5jaCAxLmpwZyJdLFsicCIsInRodW1iIiwiOTgweD4iXSxbInAiLCJjb252ZXJ0IiwiLXF1YWxpdHkgOTEgLWF1dG8tb3JpZW50Il1dJamaica Pond is part of the Emerald Necklace of parks in Boston designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 1880s. Identical benches have graced the park’s path until 2006 when a Massachusetts College of Art & Design associate professor named Matthew Hincman decided to change that.

Himcman installed the bench as a “guerrilla” piece of public art which he snuck into a row of benches without official Parks Department approval. It took the City of Boston about a week to discover that the bench was there and another 4 days to realize it was not an approved city project. The bench was then removed but it did win the respect of the City Parks Director. Hincman then petitioned and was granted approval from the Boston Art Commission to have it re-installed. Thus is the story behind the curious u-shaped bench on Jamaica Pond.

Image and Source Credit: Atlas Obscura

Hidden Gem: Back Bay Castle


At the corner of 97-105 Arlington Street and 130 Columbus Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts sits Boston’s own four-story granite castle.

Originally built in 1897 as the Amory of the First Corps of Cadets, the building was designed to withstand mob violence due to political unrest during the period of construction. The structure was designed by William Gibbons Preston and construction began in 1891 and completed in 1castle3897. It was designed in the Romanesque Revival style and its most distinguished feature is its six story tower. The building not only boasts of a tower but has oriel turrets, moats, and crenelated parapet walls. The buildings staircases, as well as some tower vaults, are built using the Guastavino system. The Guastavino system is a technique for constructing sturdy, self-supporting arches and architectural vaults using interlocking terracotta tiles and layers of mortar to form a thin skin, with the tiles following the curve of the roof.

The Amory was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973[1] and designated as a Boston Landmark by the Boston Landmarks Commission in 1977. Also known as the Park Plaza Castle it was used as a banquet facility up until 2014 and owned by the adjacent Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers. Currently the space is now managed by another company and is referred to as the “Castle at Park Plaza” where it continues run as event facility and is home to the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse.

Image Credit: Wikipedia and Castle at Park Plaza

Hidden Gem: The Tiffany Mansion


The Ayer Mansion built between 1899 and 1902 is one of only three known surviving residences designed by Louis Tiffany. Located at 395 Commonwealth Ave in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, The Ayer Mansion was built for business man Frederick Ayer, owner of The American Woolen Company.

The other two surviving homes with Tiffany designed interiors are the Mark Twain House in Harford Connecticut and the Ferry House in Seattle, Washington. Named a National Historic Site in 2005, the Ayer Mansion is unique in that Tiffany not only designed the interior of the property but designed mosaics for the exterior. Laurelton Hall, Tiffany’s private residence was the only other building know to have exterior mosaics but it was destroyed in a fire in the 1950s.

The interior of the Ayer Mansion is ayer3filled with stained glass and mosaics using techniques and materials that were pioneered by Tiffany’s studio. The Marble Entrance Hall includes Tiffany’s signature opalescent glass, a semi-transparent glass backed by metallic foil, and “plated” surfaces. A fanlight over the main entrance, three exterior bow-front exterior window screens, and an elaborate transom screen in the Drawing Room along with a magnificent laylight all adorn the imperial stair to the second floor. All of which reflect Tiffany’s interest in the arts of the Near East, Japan and North Africa.

Image Credit: Damianos Photography

The mansion is currently home to the Bayridge Residence and Cultural Center, a residence for single women attending undergraduate and graduate programs in the Boston area. The Ayer Mansion is open monthly for scheduled public tours and by appointment as well as during its annual lecture series and other public events.

There are two public tours coming soon: Wed, January 11th, 2017 at 12pm and Sat, January 21st, 2017 at 3:00pm.

Source & Image Credit: Ayer Mansion Website

Hidden Gem: Boston Public Library Dioramas


Image Courtesy of americanantiquarian on instagram

Magical Dioramas at the BPL

On the third floor of the Boston Public Library in the far corner of the Wiggins Gallery is a small dark room. Upon entering twelve brightly lit dioramas will transport you with their magical splendor into another world. Each obsessively detailed miniature is a vivid three dimensional scene of a famous artist at work in their studio. Artists depicted include Whistler at Luxembourg Gardens, George Bellows sketching a boxing match, Honore Daumier looking down on a Paris street, French printer Jean-Louis Forain in his studio proofing prints and Rembrandt etching a copperplate.

The twelve dioramas were created by Louise Stimson of Lexington in the 1940’s. Louise Stimson (1890-1981) was born in Brooklyn Heights, NY but spent most of her adult life as an artist in Lexington, MA. She created nearly 50 historical dioramas from the 1940s to the 1960s. Reportedly, Stimson created the dioramas for her older sister, who was bedridden most of her life. Fortunately the dioramas were donated to the library where they can be enjoyed by all.


Image courtesy of Wally Gobetz on Flickr

Image Credits: Instagram and Flickr

Boston Public Library – Central Branch

Hidden Gem: The Scarlett O’Hara House

Scarlett O'Hara House

The Scarlett O’Hara House by Ed O’Connor

Hidden on a private way, off Revere Street on Beacon Hill in Boston, is the Scarlett O’Hara House. A two-story Greek Revival-style home with a brilliant white facade and iconic columns. The house is a stark contrast to the brick homes that abut this Gone with The Wind house.

The reality is that it is a Trompe-l’oeil painting, (French for “deceive the eye”), painted onto an old brick and concrete wall. The optical illusion was created to obscure the wall and give the illusion of another well-kept home. Painted over 30 years ago it is an exceptional example of Trompe-l’oeil that is worth seeing. It is said that residents hang a wreath on the front door of the “house” each December, and one can notice that the ornamental flower boxes below the “porch” are kept neat and beautiful.

Image Credit: Flickr – Ed O’Connor

Hidden Gem: Art Deco Beauty Throughout Boston


While the Art Deco style didn’t take off in Boston as it did in cities like Miami and New York, Boston has many beautiful art deco buildings. The United Shoe Machinery Corporation Building is one of the finest examples of Art Deco in Boston. Built in 1928, as an office building at 138-164 Federal Street in the Financial District of Boston, it is a 24 story, plus 2.5 story penthouse, roofed with gold-colored terra cotta tiles. At the time, the United Shoe Machinery Corporation was an industrial leader with control of 98% of the nation’s shoe machinery business. This building is the most intact interior and exterior Art Deco skyscraper in Boston.

united_shoe_11-2_med The building incorporates many elements common to the Art Deco style. A ziggurat massing (a series of successively smaller vertical geometric blocks set one on top of the other), decorative motifs of geometric shapes and lines, stylized flowers, leaves, fruit, fountains, eagles, abstracted nude figures and machine parts adorn the exterior. The lobby of the building with its brilliant bronze door, gilded ceilings and suspended frosted glass light fixtures is unchanged from its original.  Some of the outstanding decorative features of the lobby are the entrance foyer with its gold leaf ceilings, original bronze mail chute and box; .hanging light fixtures of bronze and white frosted glass, brass and bronze doors and ornamental bronze radiator screens. Also magnificent are the original bronze elevator doors incised with stylized scenes of fountains, flower baskets and birds that Art Deco is best known for.

united_shoe_07-2_medIn 1980, The United Shoe Machinery Corporation Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1983 was designated as a Boston Landmark by the Boston Landmarks Commission.

Other buildings such as the Suffolk County Courthouse, the former Shepards Department store at 48-50 Winter Street, the Paramount Theatre, the Batterymarch Building, Second National Bank, and several others line the streets of Boston with their stunning art deco exteriors and some well kept interiors.

Visit Art Deco Boston to learn more about the art deco building around town, how you can help preserve them, and to see photos of these incredible buildings.

Image Credit: Art Deco Boston