You are here

Automobile Row

-A A +A
Commonwealth Ave.
  • Automobile Row (Keith Morgan)

The automobile industry invaded the West Back Bay for one long mile from Kenmore Square into Brighton, driving away potential residents. Boston University has converted most of these formerly industrial structures for institutional use. In 1983, John Carl Warnecke remodeled a 1910s loft building (590 Commonwealth Avenue), formerly the regional distributor for General Tire and Exide Batteries, as part of the Boston University Science Center. The New England Headquarters for Shell Oil (1931, Gilbert Miles Ramsey, 785 Commonwealth Avenue) is now Boston University Academy.

The imposing size, expense, and prominent location of the Peter Fuller Cadillac Showroom (1928, 808 Commonwealth Avenue), known as Fuller's Folly, were intended to convey the feeling of opulence and self-confidence of a top-of-the-line car. Internationally recognized as a master of organizational efficiency, architect Albert Kahn produced an industrial structure in polite dress; restrained classical vocabulary ranges from the exterior “wheel” capitals on top of shallow fluted pilasters to the luxurious showroom interior of terrazzo flooring and gilded ceiling coffers.

At 855 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston architect Arthur Bowditch successfully employed an industrialized English Perpendicular Gothic in the Admiral Building for Noyes Buick (1919). Carved rosettes, shields, and elaborate copper lanterns punctuate the exterior street arcade of Tudor arches that once held display windows. Inside, the showrooms and work spaces have been converted into uses for the College of the Arts. The Boston University Art Gallery contains powerful Gothic piers supporting capitals deeply undercut with fruit and naturalistic foliage and enlivened by twentieth-century auto mechanics usurping the role of traditional medieval figures.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "Automobile Row", [, 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, 202-202.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.