The first church to be built in the Back Bay was the Arlington Street Church for the Unitarian Society, who solicited plans from several architects in 1859. Arthur Gilman's unusual design for the church reflected his admiration for eighteenth-century Georgian architecture and its antecedents in the Italian Renaissance. At this time, wealthy Brahmin congregations typically built in a Gothic style. Indeed, the original church for this congregation was an early-nineteenth-century structure with one of the first Gothic-style steeples in Boston. Yet, as critics commented at the time, eminent Bostonians of the previous century would have felt comfortable in the new interior.
The Arlington Street Church should not, however, be considered an early expression of the Colonial Revival movement. Instead, Gilman drew upon architectural details of Renaissance churches and borrowed from English Baroque architects James Gibbs and Christopher Wren for the temple-form massing, engaged portico, and frontal tower with telescoping steeple. At the same time, the proportions, detailing, and use of New Jersey sandstone for the exterior are clearly expressions of mid-nineteenth-century tastes.