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The Custom House Tower in Boston: History and Beauty

The Custom House Tower.
The Custom House Tower: Now that’s grace and beauty!

All right, so our chat about Boston architecture has taken a rather irreverent turn, with articles on the Un-Sexiest Building in Boston (about a building so infamous that a Bostonian friend currently living in the Dominican Republic said she knew what the article was about without even opening it), followed by a post on two Sexy-Ugly Buildings.

But let’s get back to pure beauty.

Gaze, my friends, upon Downtown Boston’s Custom House Tower! I got all the dirt on this beauty during the Context Walking Seminar I rocked out this past weekend, so here goes:

  • When the Custom House was completed in 1849, it was capped with a short dome, not a tall tower! The building served as (surprise, surprise) a Custom House to collect taxes on incoming ships. “Ships?!” you may be asking now, “But there’s only concrete there!” Well, remember: so much of Boston is actually recent landfill, and thus back in 1849, the water’s shore came right up to the Custom House!
Custom House, Boston, by the Greenway.
The Custom House is an Ivory guardian of Boston’s new Greenway!
  • In 1915, there was increased shipping, and thus the government needed an increased Custom House. At the time, there was a ordinance in Boston outlawing any building being taller than the State House dome… but, sneaky sneaky, the Custom House was owned by the Federal Government, and thus could flout any state ordinance! A 496-foot tower was promptly built.
  • From when it was built in 1915 until the Prudential Building was erected in 1964, the Custom House Tower was the tallest building in Boston. That’s a long reign of altitude domination! As a six-foot tall woman, I can relate. :) The tower is now ranked 17th-tallest in Boston.
  • In 1997, the Custom House (no longer used for Customs, as the shoreline moved outward) was acquired by Marirott Hotels! Even if you’re not a Ritchie Rich who can afford to stay there, the (newly-named) Marriott Custom House Tour is open for free to visitors at specific times.
Custom House Tower, Boston.
Ooo my, that’s a taller tower than you realize at first!

Facts aside, the ivory gallantry of the Custom House tower really makes Boston’s skyline special.

Whether you glimpse it peeking above Faneuil Hall while you shop, or gaze at it side by side with glassy skyscrapers in the skyline from the Harbor, or whether you stumble across it on your way from the Aquarium to Downtown (“What’s THAT?!” many exclaim, never having noticed it before), the Custom House tower really reflects Boston’s classy, educated spirit.

In a city with so, so, so many institutions of higher education, it’s only fitting that we have a prominent Ivory Tower in our skyline.

And now I’ll let you in on my newest goal: to find a way to stay in one of those fancy Marriott rooms at the top of the tower!

How cool would that be?


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Abigail Bowers

Wednesday 13th of June 2012

I love the buildings, but I like to take nature shots

Amy H.

Sunday 15th of April 2012

I've lived in Boston for 13 years, but I never noticed this beautiful building before!

Herbert Morales

Friday 7th of October 2011

I think that Boston is the best city from what I know. I also think that every building is cool and interesting. Boston is an old city with great history that we can learn from them. I am glad that I live here. I just wish i could have time to go to China.

Ayub Sharif

Wednesday 5th of January 2011

These articles that you have tittled ''Bostons Sexiest Buildings" always teaches me to appreciate the building of Bostons, that are usually taken for granted and I really appreciate you doing this Ms.Marshall.

steph zizi

Thursday 23rd of December 2010

This is a pretty large building.

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