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115 6 Bryant and Gilman On the eve of the Civil War, Boston had finally recovered from the financial crisis of 1857 and was continuing the great period of residential expansion which had begun in the early years of the decade. Gridley Bryant had been very successful, both locally and regionally, and the fact that the country was about to enter a period of grave crisis did not significantly curtail his practice. The number of talented competing architects only continued to grow. Men such as Nathaniel P. Bradlee, George Snell, John R. Hall, Edward C. Cabot, George Meacham, and Alexander Esty were joined by new faces, including Henry Hartwell (later of Hartwell and Richardson ), Charles A. Cummings (later of Cummings and Sears), William R. Ware (later of Ware and Van Brunt), William G. Preston, and William R. Emerson. In the post–Civil War period, these firms would begin to supersede Bryant in competition for local commissions. If he was to meet the challenge offered by these talented architects, he needed to find another designer to work with on a regular basis. The growth of the city and the surrounding suburbs brought prosperity to the building trades. In particular, there was the continued expansion of the South End neighborhood toward Roxbury and Dorchester, and, in 1857, the decision to fill the Back Bay for a residential neighborhood of upper-class homes. While the South End was desirable for the middle and upper middle classes, the very wealthy did not have a new neighborhood of their own until the Back Bay began to be filled. The man responsible for the design of the Back Bay, as well as setting the architectural tone of the new neighborhood, was Arthur Delvan Gilman, one of the most enigmatic and forceful architects of his day (fig. 6.1). It was Bryant’s great good fortune that he was able to join forces with Gilman at this critical period in Figure 6.1. Arthur D. Gilman, circa 1870 carte de visite. Handsome, elegant, and a popular conversationalist, Arthur Gilman provided social connections Bryant lacked. (Courtesy Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.) Bryant and Gilman 117 the development of the city. Once again, Bryant recognized a route to advance his career by working with someone who could complement his own skills, thereby continuing to maintain his supremacy as the city’s leading architect. Arthur Gilman was born in Newburyport in 1821 and began to work as an architect in the early 1840s; yet his early fame (or notoriety) came through his opinionated architectural critiques that were widely publicized in the press at that time. Gilman’s practical training as an architect is not known. He burst into the public consciousness in 1843–44 with a series of letters, articles, and lectures in which he scathingly attacked Boston architecture in general and the Greek Revival style in particular. For reasons that shall become clear, it is likely that Gilman learned the rudiments of building design in the office of Gridley Bryant while poring over the architectural library of Alexander Parris.1 Gilman’s first known architectural commission came in late 1845. He had spent the two previous years antagonizing many potential clients with his critiques of contemporary architecture. His first published article in January 1843, reviews of Alexander Jackson Downing’s Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening and Cottage Residences, inspired the public to stop building houses in the form of mock Greek temples and adopt Downing’s theories of picturesque landscape design. Significantly, Gilman spoke fondly about vernacular architecture of the colonial period in comparison with what was currently being designed by architects. In language that calls to mind the early-twentieth-century romanticizers of the Colonial Revival style, he wrote, “If the artist would draw an American landscape, he rejoices not in the tall mansion, with its Grecian facade, and its kitchen after the manner of a tail in the rear; but rather in the steep-roofed work of antiquity, with its projecting upper floor, in which the obvious purpose of defense, against the snowstorms and savages of former days, give it grace of fitness, if it has no other.” Gilman found unbearably pretentious the image of a Greek Revival–style house and landscape with rows of well-ordered trees and symmetrical walks. In November of the same year, he engaged in a newspaper debate, offering strident criticism of Richard Bond’s design for the new Mt. Vernon Street Church on Beacon Hill. The severe granite...


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