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Beacon Street Development

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1886, Frederick Law Olmsted. Beacon St. from Audubon Circle to Cleveland Circle, Boston and Brookline.

In 1886 streetcar magnate Henry Whitney hired Frederick Law Olmsted to prepare a design for the transformation of a country road into a grand tree-lined boulevard. Whitney's vision was to create an extension of Commonwealth Avenue in Boston with a green mall running down the center of the widened street. He also wanted trolley tracks for commuters into the city. Whitney's West End Street Railway Company purchased large sections along Beacon Street, thereby ensuring its major role in the development. Whitney introduced electric trolleys, making Beacon Street the site of one of the oldest continuously operating electric trolley line in the country. Olmsted planned a 200-foot-wide boulevard with tracks down the center. Rows of trees separated the tracks from the adjacent carriage and bridle paths. The plans Whitney purchased were no more detailed than schematic drawings, but they establish that there was to be a tree-lined circle at either end that would be connected to the Emerald Necklace park system. In the end, the Town of Brookline (where most of the street is located) allowed for only a 160-foot-wide road with no control on the type of development. Although initially large single-family homes were built on sections of the street, the introduction of the trolley in 1889 made it financially attractive for developers of row houses and apartment blocks. At each end, circles were indeed built, though both lie in Boston. At the east end, Audubon Circle survives in a recognizable form with turn-of-the-century buildings on its periphery. Cleveland Circle, intended to provide a link to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir park, became only a confusing traffic intersection.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "Beacon Street Development", [Boston, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 495-496.

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