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76 4 Transforming Boston Bryant’s success in winning commissions for public buildings garnered the architect considerable publicity, as well as important contacts with wealthy citizens. In the early 1850s Bryant’s office was turning out drawings for the almshouses in Boston and Cambridge and large jails in Boston, Cambridge, Dedham, Lawrence, and Northampton. At the same time, the architect was busy working to secure the major prize of designing an addition to the Massachusetts State House. Bryant did not hesitate to supplant other architects when he thought he had a better solution. In the days before the establishment of professional standards through organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, his aggressive competition may have caused resentment among his peers, but it was not considered unethical. In 1851 the Committee on Public Buildings of the state legislature endorsed a plan by Bryant for constructing two additional stories on the 1831 north wing at the rear of the State House designed by Isaiah Rogers. The principal concern in this expansion was to provide a fireproof area for the State Library. Bryant’s proposal was not accepted, and in 1852 the committee procured three alternate plans for a new north wing by the architectural firm of Towle and Foster. The legislature adopted one of these schemes, at an estimated cost of $65,000. For unknown reasons, Bryant was then hired to supervise the project.1 By the time construction began in 1853, Bryant had persuaded the governor and Governor’s Council to adopt his own newly revised scheme for the north wing. This substitute far exceeded the Towle and Foster proposal and ended up costing $243,203. Adding insult to injury, Towle and Foster had to petition the legislature to be paid for the preparation of their plans. Bryant’s attitude toward his Transforming Boston 77 fellow architects in this matter has not been recorded. Presumably, all was fair in the marketplace of ideas. In this case, it is highly likely that the recent burning of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., was a factor. The architect of the United States Capitol, Thomas U. Walter, had designed a new “fireproof” library in 1851 that included the first cast iron ceiling in the country. Undoubtedly Bryant was aware of Walter’s innovation , as his design for the new wing of the State House, which was to include the library, featured both exterior and interior finishes of cast iron.2 For much of the nineteenth century, cast iron was thought to be one of the most fireproof materials available.3 The extensive use of cast iron in the new wing, however, made the addition much more expensive. The columns supporting brick segmental arches for the floors as well as most of the interior and exterior finishes were cast iron. Even the doors and the inside window architraves were iron. The roof was made of wrought iron covered with sheet copper. In terms of the exterior design, it was stylistically compatible with the original State House by Charles Bulfinch. Bryant, who clearly distinguished the new work from the old by providing a setback in the east and west walls, employed the same neoclassical vocabulary used by Bulfinch, albeit with the addition of larger-scale embellishments characteristic of the period, such as heavy architrave trim around the windows and doors. In 1856, two years after the addition was completed, the London architectural journal The Builder published a perspective view, plan, and description of the design, showing the twin “turrets” Bryant had proposed but which were never built (fig. 4.1). These small towers were intended to balance visually the large Bulfinch dome, which, owing to the extension formed by the new north wing, would no longer be in the center of the structure. It is possible that Bryant’s inspiration for the two towers derived from Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Certainly the architect would not have hesitated in drawing upon such a major English landmark.4 By 1860, Gridley Bryant had become one of the most successful architects in Boston. According to Henry Bailey, Bryant’s income rose steadily from $1,000 in 1840, to $5,000 in 1843, to $13,500 in 1845, to $25,000 in 1865.5 Since we do not have income figures for other architects, it is useful to compare personal worth as recorded in tax records for Bryant and his contemporaries. Bryant’s taxable personal estate increased from $8,000 in 1849...


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