Amazing adaptive reuse in Boston

I love it when historic buildings are saved from the wrecking ball and either restored to former glory or transformed into a dazzling new space. A good adaptive reuse project always intrigues me. While I was visiting Boston, a friend there suggested we have drinks at the luxurious Liberty Hotel on Charles Street. He promised I would be amazed.

Liberty is a word that is used often in Boston, given the city’s leadership during the American Revolution. So it’s not surprising that there is a hotel with that name. What is supremely ironic is that the Liberty Hotel was built in 1851 as the Charles Street Jail and was designed by one of Boston’s most accomplished and prolific architects of the time, Gridley James Fox Bryant. In a departure from the austere prison designs, Bryant designed a progressive public building that was renowned for its masonry exterior.  The Charles Street jail was the first constructed American design to appear in a foreign architectural magazine (Britain’s The Builder) and is considered an outstanding example of “Boston Granite Style” architecture.

After 120 years of service as a prison housing some of the city’s most infamous criminals, the building was declared “unfit and in violation of the inmates’ constitutional rights.” It closed in 1973.


When it opened as a hotel in 2007, the planners had consulted Bryan’s original architectural drawings to ensure adherence to much of his vision. The 90-foot high central atrium is stunning and serves as the core of the hotel. The cruciform shape has four radiating wings.  The central building is octagonal with four ocular windows. Bryan’s inclusion of so many windows was progressive and showed a desire to improve conditions for the inmates.

The stunning central atrium offers a suggests a tension between fortress and cathedral. With harsh stone everywhere, a maze of catwalks above and a surround of airy windows, its contrasts captivate the eyes. Bryant’s original design called for a dramatic cupola that due to budget restraints was reduced in size during construction of the prison. By 1949 the cupola had been removed. The hotel’s architects brought it back and followed Bryant’s original design giving the building a new look that would no doubt please Bryant. I wonder what Bryant would think of his prison today.

My friend gave me various options that perfect summer evening and I really wanted to sit outside somewhere. However, his promise of amazement proved accurate and you can rest assured that a future trip to Boston will include a trip to the Liberty Hotel.

More history of the building:

About Tim

Author, public historian, and consultant. Author site: - My fifth book, Star Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem, was published in May 2020. Consulting site: I specialize in exhibition development, interpretive planning, education strategy, and history relevance. I'm passionate about helping history organizations of all sizes and kinds make history more relevant for their communities and the people they engage with. I'm happy to consider many types of writing projects for informal learning organizations. Reach me at or
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3 Responses to Amazing adaptive reuse in Boston

  1. I went there for drinks about 18 months ago & was similarly amazed – glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Pingback: Boston favorites | historyplaces

  3. Pingback: Sadness in Chocolate town | historyplaces

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