735 Commonwealth Avenue

Walking Tour of Historical Boston University

735 Commonwealth Avenue

Boston, Massachusetts 02115, United States

Created By: Boston University


As we walk around this building, you might notice aspects of it that remind you of The Castle. That’s because this building makes use of the Neo-Gothic style, and it’s the very first building to take its architectural cues from the ethos of the University itself. Schelling, a German philosopher, likened Gothic architecture to music, specifically music frozen in space and time. By designing this building, and the School of Theology and Marsh Chapel in Gothic, BU was hearkening back to a historic past, a deep tradition in higher education, and a religious foundation. It appealed to the spiritual over the material, and sought to inspire a vision of greatness.

In fact, when you look at this building, you’ll often see symbols hidden in the design of a grand tower.

It’s a relief of a grand tower. In fact, you’ll see the exact same symbol above every doorway leading into these Gothic buildings as well and in stained glass inside Marsh Chapel. It’s an image of the Old Boston Stump from Boston’s namesake in Boston, England. Otherwise known as the St. Botolph’s Cathedral. When President Marsh was building these buildings, he had hoped to also build a magnificent tower that would have stretched 355’ above Marsh Chapel (see photos). In Marsh’s mind, this tower would fire the imagination of all who looked upon it, letting people know that an education at Boston University just might propel them to heights unknown. And that’s what the progressive mission of BU did for many:

· In the mid-late 1800s, many women were prevented from accessing a higher education, but not at BU.

· In the late 1800s, many African-American students were prohibited from accessing the resources of a large municipal university, but not at BU.

· In the early 1900s, schools such as Harvard had quotas on the number of Jewish students they would admit, but not at BU.

· After Pearl Harbor, many Japanese-Americans were precluded from obtaining an education, but at BU.

· And during the Great Depression, many poor students were turned away, but not at BU. In fact, at one point, Maurice Tobin referred to BU as “a school for poor boys and poor girls.”

· And, again, this tower was intended to symbolize those educational possibilities for all.

Unfortunately, that building was never constructed so all we’re left with are the ghosts of it that are left here.

Pres. Marsh's signature achievement was, perhaps, the construction of Marsh Chapel, which was constructed in 1949 and named in his honor. The building embodied his emphasis on character formation amid his educational philosophy and, by way of meticulous details etched into the building itself, it sought to capture the accumulated wisdom of the ages.

The University's educational ethos extends out into the plaza with the University's Coat of Arms as well as the Free at Last statue designed by Sergio Castillo to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Walking Tour of Historical Boston University


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