My intentions are always sterling—to post a short, concise essay and two or three pictures about something that I hope will be of passing interest to those who are inclined to be interested by such things.  But things always go astray, and before I know it, I’ve rambled on.  Therefore, as a public service, a demonstration of how my short ideas become long ones:

First, something catches my fancy.  In this case it is a painting by the distinguished interior portraitist, David Payne (1907-1985),  of the drawing room in the Beacon Hill town house of Mr. & Mrs. Ronald Lyman.  The picture was published in House & Garden’s New England issue–August, 1937, if I remember correctly.  I like the room very much—architecturally elegant with its crisp woodwork, curving wall, and beautiful Italian statuary marble fireplace, with caryatids supporting a classical frieze.  It is old school New England, stylish and rich, with its Italian sofa, french chairs, damask walls, and at the right, a Bilbao looking glass, no doubt brought back in an ancestor’s ship.

Of course, I then should mention that the Lyman House at 40 Beacon Street is one of a pair of brick bow front townhouses designed by the great Alexander Parris, overlooking the Boston Common. Parris was one of the first New England architects to break out of the box with elegant Greco-Federal designs with oval rooms, curved walls, segmental arched ceilings and other details that gave weight to the aspirations of the early 19th century plutocrats for whom he designed.  In his interiors one can see forms which Delano and Aldrich would make seem modern all over again in some of their most elegant designs of the 1920’s and 30’s.  But already I’m off the subject.  It is worth mentioning that the land on which these houses sit was owned in the 18th century by the painter John Singleton Copley.  The Lyman house was built for hotelier Daniel Parker, and its mirror twin at 39 for Nathan Appleton, whose daughter Fanny married the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow there in 1843.  These houses, in what was the finest location in Boston in their day are quintessentially with the elegant bow fronts that define their neighborhood, yet with their long second story drawing room windows , they also recall Regency London, the unruly Common sitting in for an English square.
 Historic American Buildings Survey, LOC
And there the post could end—but of course, it won’t.   A fourth floor was added to the houses in the 1880s.  By 1914, the Appleton house at 39 had become The Women’s City Club of Boston.  In 1938, just one year after the painting above was published, the Lyman House was purchased by the Women’s City Club and annexed to its neighbor.   And that same year, the house was recorded for the Historic American Buildings Survey, and a photograph of the drawing room, post-Lyman, its damask wall covering in tatters, was taken as it was being renovated.
And there too, the post could end, but wait, I found a picture of the drawing room as it appeared in the Women’s City Club era, all  bland good taste, very period room, with ‘correct’ furniture and safe decorations—gone is the rich cosmopolitanism of the Lyman era.
But one can’t end a post without a picture of the exteriors of numbers 39 and 40 can one?  Below is a view of Beacon Street from the Common in taken in 1938.  Number 40 is at the right.  The gray granite building at left center is the Somerset Club, remodeled from the David Sears mansion, also designed by Alexander Parris, who was also architect of Quincy Market. 
Courtesy Boston Public Library Photostream, Flickr
Numbers 40 & 39 Beacon Street, present day view  (Wikipedia Commons)
By this point, I really could end the post, and it would still be of reasonable length, but how can I?  For the House & Garden article also included another David Payne painting—of the Lyman’s dining room at Number 40, with yet another handsome mantel, a beautiful Chinese rug, and family portraits.

And, in for a penny, in for a pound, I might as well include a photograph from the Historic American Buildings Survey, of one of the beautiful interior hardware of the Lyman House, early 19th century cut glass, either English or American, and notice the beautiful close grain of the Honduran mahogany doors.

At which point I’ve decided to include the other interior views I found along the way, including the vestivule, with its inexplicable addition of an 18th century cupboard:


The hall, with its complex arches and false dome, is as sophisticated  as anything of its era in New England, and recalls, to my mind at least, John Soane.

And as few things make me weaker than early 19th century American classical architecture, this view, with elegant interior fan, and built in bookcases by one of Boston’s fine early Federal era cabinetmakers, must be included.

And of course, this extraordinary Retour de l’Egypte chimney piece must be included, a bit of Thomas Hope in Federalist Boston:

And the third floor stair hall, with its unexpected coffered dome:


The Women’s City Club, no doubt inspired by the Colony Club in New York, added this trellised dining room, as well as a ballroom and roof terrace.

The 20th century history of the two houses is too complicated to unravel on a simple trip through Google—too many writers, especially of the real estate variety, have garbled, joined and confused the separate stories and identities of the houses.  Many more photographs of interiors exist for both, but for now I have stuck with the Lyman half of the building—after all, even I have to end somewhere, right?

In the early 1990’s, the Women’s City Club disbanded, and sold the twin houses.  A developer turned them into condominiums, although four of the five Lyman house units were occupied as a single residence by Jack Welch (yes, that Jack Welch) until he moved back to New York.  More recently, the Lyman house has been on the market, selling for 27,000,000, a Boston residential record.

And that, kiddies, is how a Dilettante post gets so long.  And at that, I resisted the temptation to ramble on about what a pleasure it was to visit the houses back in ’79, when the WCCB opened the house to the public in an attempt to raise funds.  Also, I resisted the temptation to include a picture of Alexander Parris, who managed to live long enough to have his photograph made, or of his great work, Quincy Market, and I even almost gratuitously included Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy, just because I liked the depiction of Quincy Market in the background.   I also avoided a segue into the story of social progressive Helen Storrow, wife of Boston Mayor James Storrow.  It was she who purchased the Appleton House for WCCB in 1914, because I would no doubt have wandered further off track into one of her pet projects, the moving of early American buildings to the Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds, creating an idealized New England village called Storrowtown, the precursor of many of today’s assembled village msueums from Cooperstown to Sturbridge.  And for a brief second I even considered a segue into Daniel Parker’s famous hotel and the dinner rolls that bear its name.  But I resisted.  So many tangents, so little time.

But, perhaps you might like to see this Luxist story from 2008, about the sale of the Lyman House.  Click HERE (or if you just want pictures, click HERE.)  And for an earlier Dilettante post about the ancestral country seat of the Lyman family, click HERE