Since 1998, Jeanne Pelletier, Esq. a longtime South End resident active in numerous local community projects, has been the Preservation Advisor to the Campaign for the Ayer Mansion, the only surviving mansion designed entirely by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Known mostly as the creator of magnificent stained-glass windows and luminous stained-glass lamp shades, Louis Comfort Tiffany was also an amateur architect and a talented decorator who pioneered interior design as a profession. He designed five houses in New York City, none of which survive today. The Ayer Mansion, located at 395 Commonwealth Avenue on the outbound side, is the only Tiffany-designed building that remains.
With architect A.J. Manning, Tiffany created the mansion for Frederick Ayer and his second wife, Ellen Banning Ayer. Born poor, Ayer founded a patent medicine company with his brother James, and became fantastically rich from marketing such products as Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral and Ayer’s Hair Vigor. Ellen Banning Ayer was a trained actress and socialite who likely pushed Frederick to create a home in Boston where she could be closer to the theater and social events. Built between 1899 and 1902, the Ayer Mansion was unlike the conventional brick-and-brownstone Boston townhouse or the European revival styles prevalent at that time. Tiffany created a striking white granite and limestone façade punctuated with Moorish stone mosaic panels, elaborate, stained-glass screens, massive bright copper-clad doors, and grand stone columns embedded with glass and gold foil. The interior of the mansion builds on this palette, with lavish glass and gold mosaics and grand architectural flourishes.
Tiffany’s approach aimed to ensure that the Ayer Mansion and its nouveau-riche owners would not be overlooked. It might also have been a snub to the old Boston society the Ayer couple couldn’t join. After the Ayers’ death in 1918, the house was sold to a succession of businesses, and the Ayer Mansion’s lavish stained glass and magnificent Tiffany interior and exterior artwork began to quietly decay. In 1998, new owners, Bayridge Residence and Cultural Center, together with the Campaign for the Ayer Mansion, began to restore this hidden gem. In 2005, the house was named a National Historic Landmark, the nation’s highest ranking for historic properties.
The house is open for public tours and events. For more information, click here.
Local/Focus is a program sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library to connect the South End branch of the BPL with local artists, non-profit institutions and creative entrepreneurs through informative and interesting installations in the library’s Tremont Street window(s).