Boylston fire

On January 13, 1910, firefighters fought from 4 a.m. until well into the late morning to extinguish one of the largest fires the Back Bay had ever seen. Photo courtesy of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater Boston (M13), University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Northeastern University.

Nuns fled from the Notre Dame Academy for Girls on Boylston Street into a dark and icy January morning in 1910. The smell of smoke and the sight of flames engulfing the neighboring YMCA building had forced them from their beds. Firefighters battling the blaze couldn’t save the edifice. The YMCA lost its headquarters, a place once overflowing with classes and popular clubs. Luckily, the YMCA Citizens’ Committee had begun raising money for a spacious new structure only months before. Shocked by the fire, Bostonians dug into their wallets. In just two weeks, the committee collected $514,377—more than $10 million in today’s dollars. The funds were used to purchase the current Huntington Avenue site.

Huntington Avenue offered more than enough space for the well-known architectural firm Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge to design a building large enough for the YMCA to expand its educational programs—and stylish enough to serve as a monument to its civic mission. With a tapestry brick facade and limestone detail, the elegant structure, dedicated with much fanfare in 1913, took its place among the museums, concerts halls, and cultural institutions that adorned this stretch of the Back Bay.

« On January 13, 1910, firefighters fought from 4 a.m. until well into the late morning to extinguish one of the largest fires the Back Bay had ever seen. Photo courtesy of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Greater Boston (M13), University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections Department, Northeastern University