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Marriott's Custom House (U.S. Custom House)

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U.S. Custom House
1837–1847, Ammi B. Young; 1915, Peabody and Stearns; 1997, Jung/Brannen Associates. McKinley Sq.
  • (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)
  • Marriott's Custom House (U.S. Custom House) (Peter Vanderwarker or Antonina Smith)
  • (Damie Stillman)
  • (Damie Stillman)
  • (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)
  • (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)

Long a symbol of Boston's oceangoing commerce, the U.S. Custom House stands in the heart of what was the city's nineteenth-century waterfront. In its present form the building combines the original Greek Revival–style structure completed in 1847 with that of an office tower added in 1915. The building was designed in a public competition held in 1836 that was won by Ammi B. Young. Young's design featured Doric porticos supported on monolithic granite columns 32 feet high (continued around the building in attached columns). As originally built the custom house featured a great hall surmounted by a dome supported on twelve marble columns. Taking ten years to complete and costing over $1,000,000, it was one of the most expensive public buildings in the early nineteenth century. Although at the time of its completion the Greek Revival style was no longer fashionable, the Custom House was considered an important symbol of the city's commercial prosperity. Its designer went on to serve as the supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury from 1852 to 1862.

By the end of the century, Boston's Custom House had outgrown its original space. Peabody and Stearns constructed a tower on top of the existing building, superimposed on the dome of the great hall. This solution was possible because the original granite structure could support the weight of the tower, which has a granite veneer and a structure of hollow terra-cotta tile and steel. It rises 495 feet and was Boston's first skyscraper. Because it was federal property, the Custom House was not subject to the city's 125–foot height limit. Tower and base might have seemed incongruous, but the refined elegance of the Peabody and Stearns tower does not visually clash with the simplicity of the Doric order employed on the original building. With little exterior alteration, the building was converted in 1997 into the Marriott Vacation Club resort and retains its impressive dome, which can still be seen from the hotel lobby.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


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Keith N. Morgan, "Marriott's Custom House (U.S. Custom House)", [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, 83-84.

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