Payton Chung from DC, USA / CC BY
Should I Purchase and Remodel a Home in the South End of Boston?
First of all, what exactly IS Boston’s South End? It’s not Southie or South Boston…and although you’ve likely heard of the South End and its creative vibe, you haven’t seen it in Goodwill Hunting or The Town. So what is Boston’s South End?
Boston’s South End is an artistic and vibrant neighborhood directly south of Back Bay and just northwest of a separate neighborhood by the name of South Boston. The South End is bordered by Chinatown and Roxbury, and is not directly south of the center of Boston so it’s a bit of a misnomer at first glance.
This beautiful neighborhood composed of arresting Victorian row houses and tree-lined streets has a vibrant lifestyle, culinary, and art culture all of its own. The South End is a haven and creative hub for artists, artisans, and makers with a unique lifestyle of creative non-conformity to corporate chains, uniform cubicles, and regimentation. It’s a safe space where artistic creativity can unleash and find both outlet and appreciation.
The South End stretches beyond 300 acres with over 25,000 residents. It has 11 residential parks throughout–many of them oval shaped with passive-use green space and fountains in the center. The South End has been included in the National Register of Historic Places since 1973, and there are additionally 16 gardens and pocket parks adding to the overall green aspect of the South End.
(To clarify, the South End of Boston can be confused with South Boston or “Southie,” an area which lies to the south and almost directly east of the South End. South Boston in its own right is a finite area of 3.1 square miles, with a population of approximately 33,000 which was annexed by Boston in 1804. South Boston has a strong blue-collar presence and was immortalized in films about Boston culture–thank you Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.
A Bit of South End History
As a point of orientation and South End history, this area of Boston was initially established in 1728. At this time the South End was considerably smaller and surrounded by numerous areas of tidal flats unsuitable for building.
As part of the larger evolution to create what is now Back Bay, much of the marshland of the South End was filled in with gravel and fill brought in by the trainload from Needham. This physical creation of much of what is now Boston’s South End occurred between 1830 and 1870–much of it before Back Bay was filled in and constructed. Back Bay was primarily built following the Civil War, while much of the South End was developed before this.
A catalyst to expanding Boston infrastructure and commerce in these years was the advent and development of the railroad in New England. The Boston and Providence Railroad was established and ran through the South End during these times. This railroad was opened in two stages in 1834 and 1835, connecting Boston to Providence by rail for passenger and freight transport. The Boston and Providence Railway was one of the first railways in the United States and many of the cross-streets in the South End were named after cities being served by this railroad. Thus, the South End has streets named after the towns of Greenwich, Newton, Canton, Dedham, Brookline, Rutland, Concord, Worcester, Springfield, Clinton, Stoughton, Waltham, Dover, Chadham and Wareham–all former service stops on the Boston and Providence Railway.
The South End has had its economic ups and downs and evolved over the years. This created what it is today–a high-end, energetic, and creative neighborhood home to many artists, creatives, professionals, and families who appreciate the maker atmosphere and special sense of Boston culture and community, including a vibrant gay and lesbian community. The unique atmosphere of individual shops, boutiques, art studios, and individual artisans and merchants give Boston’s South End a distinct creative ethos.
The brick and beam structures in the South End were manufacturing hubs in the 1800s for pianos, footwear, tinned goods, and other manufactured products. The redevelopment of these massive factory buildings into residential, retail and artistic use has created one of the most creative, tolerant and diverse cultures in New England.
Tremont Street is the main thoroughfare of the South End–it’s exceptionally trendy and renowned for its one-off shopping venues, cafes, and myriad delicious eateries ranging from casual to high-end, chef-owned restaurants. Cuisines range from French, Ethiopean, Brazilean, Indian, Korean, Tapas, Middle Eastern, and more–there’s literally something for everyone.
Tremont street also hosts a strong retail and services presence with many smaller locally-owned shops, as well as boutique spas for a variety of beauty treatments. There are also wonderful vintage clothing stores–a great place to find that hand-knit, vintage children’s sweater you were looking for.
SoWa (South of Washington)
Washington Street Divides the South End, delineating the SoWa district–or South of Washington area. This is a definitively artistic neighborhood of Boston and was ranked #2 in the entire US in 2015 by USA today when ranking the 10 Best Art Districts in the US. The SoWa district is roughly the lower half of the South End (everything south of Washington Street) and is home to many emerging artists and beautiful art galleries. Washington street formerly housed the elevated Washington Street Railroad, which was torn down in 1987.
Emerging in 2003, the Sowa Open Market is a celebration of Boston’s creatives, showcasing brewers, artisans, artists, chefs, sculptors, musicians and a host of creatives of every type. You can find some of the most original of Boston’s creative artifacts here, from hand-blown glass art, original paintings, handmade soap, and fresh vegetables to busking singers, artisan baked goods, and delicious food trucks.
The Sowa Open Market takes place every Sunday from 11am to 3pm and features over 175 local makers and thousands of guests. Having drawn comparisons to London’s Portobello market, the SoWa Open Market is an energetic affair that is operating currently with safety protocols in place and is an exceptional and special opportunity to shop local.
Architecture in The South End
Various styles of architecture are on display throughout the South End. It’s beautiful, dignified, and historical Victorian Row Houses are mixed with an array of beautiful residential parks and gardens throughout the South End. The South End is the largest district of intact Victorian row homes in the United States with an area surpassing 300 acres.
If you are looking to purchase a home in the South End, there are a variety of options ranging from lofts and 1 or 2 bedroom condos, to large 5-6 story single-family townhomes.
A variety of architectural styles exist–Renaissance Revival, Greek Revival, Egyptian Revival, Gothic Revival, and Queen Ann style housing, amongst others. The architectural landscape of the South End Includes the Cathedral of the Holy Cross–the largest such Church building in New England.
In some modern cases, Churches have been converted to stunning high-end condos–which makes for an utterly unique and rare home setting with beautiful exposed stone, arched windows, spiral staircases, and cathedral ceilings integrated with modern finishes. The Lucas at 140 Shawmut Street is an exceptional example–this 1874 German Trinity Church was converted into a boutique, 8-story condo building housing 33 luxury residences and complete with a concierge, gym, and 30 parking spaces while retaining the exterior majesty of a period Church.
South End Artistic & Cultural Hotspots
Boston Center for the Arts
539 Tremont Street, Boston
Boston Center for the Arts was opened to the public in 1970 and since this time has served as an incubator, creative hub, and protector of both the arts and artists in Boston. In 1970 the Boston Redevelopment Authority designated a full city block for a new arts center which the City of Boston then purchased to help revitalize the South End. It worked–and the BCA is now one of Boston’s premier art facilities and organizations. The iconic Cyclorama building was the original building of the BCA’s complex and is now used on a rental basis for both public and private events to support the BCA.
19 Clarendon Street
With a message of diversity, equity, and inclusion, the Boston Ballet was founded by E. Virginia Williams in 1963 as the first professional ballet company in New England. The life of Ms. Williams is an incredibly inspiring story in its own right. Raised in Melrose, MA she was a descendent of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and her mother’s family arrived in Plymouth in the first ship after the Mayflower. Following a love and passion for dance, she began teaching at the age of 16 and opened multiple dance studios throughout Massachusetts.
With Creative Director Mikko Nissinen at the helm, Boston Ballet is one of the world’s leading ballet companies. Having access to this artistic platform in one’s home neighborhood as a regular part of one’s life is truly special.
Boston Ballet’s upcoming performances this Fall:
Triple Bill, November 5-15, 2020
The Nutcracker, November 27 – December 31st
Boston Sculptors Gallery
486 Harrison Avenue
The Boston Sculptors Gallery is a members-run collaborative gallery with a roster of 37 sculptors creating beautiful pieces across an array of media. This creative collaborative was established in 1992 by 18 sculptors to foster and champion local sculpture in Boston. They seek to assist artists and have created a beautiful and welcoming space that can be enjoyed by emerging creatives seeking to hone their craft or those who simply appreciate beautiful art. Their exhibitions and shows are stunning and are exciting opportunities for both the artists and attendees.
Worcester Square is a comfortable sub-neighborhood of the South End nestled in its southwest corner, noted for its cozy park and surrounding brownstone homes. This enclave is beautiful, comfortable, and within close walking distance to everything the South End has to offer, including the Boston Medical Center.
South End Dining & Nightlife
The South End is a popular restaurant destination with over 86 eateries in the South End alone–Tremont Street is often referred to as Restaurant Row. There are simply too many to list–here are some of our favorites:
Kava Neo Taverna:
315 Shawmut Ave, Boston.
With nightly lines out the door in normal circumstances, Kava Neo Taverna is your neighborhood portal to the culinary delights of the Grecian seaside. A smaller establishment located on Shawmut Ave not directly in the eye of the South End’s bustle, they are one of the best reasons for coming to this vibrant part of Boston. At Kava you will find an array of Greek dishes and ingredients imported from the Mediterranean. The Seabass and Grilled Octopus are exceptional, and we also recommend the Saganaki Garides consisting of baked shrimp, peppers, onion, spicy tomatoes, and feta. Kava’s menu includes wine, beer, and liquor–also available daily for take out as well.
Frenchie Wine Bistro.
560 Tremont Street, South End.
Frenchies is a beautiful French Bistro opened in 2017 on Tremont Street. Owned and run by Sandrine Rossi, a native of Normandy and an engineer by trade, this cozy Bistro offers fine dining in a bit more casual setting. The aim is sophistication with an easier level of accessibility and comfort more along the lines of a French Cafe, with a variety of delicious meals served in small plate form. There is a beautiful patio in front on Tremont Street for open air dining, as well as a unique glassed-in greenhouse dining area at the back opening on the garden with a room-length wine bar aesthetically laid out inside. Along with a variety of French fare, the steak and homemade fries is delicious as is the more classic croque madame–a crunchy toasted ham and cheese sandwich with a sunnyside egg on top–garnering its name from the egg garnish resembling a woman’s hat. For dessert, it’s the Chocolate Bread Pudding all the way. We highly recommend this creative venue both for the food and atmosphere. Frenchie Wine Bistro also currently delivers with Uber eats and Doordash.
513 Tremont Street, South End
“Picco” stands for Pizza and Ice Cream Company, and Chef/Owner Rick Katz and Sous Chef Tony Lawrence are making things happen at this delicious pizzeria. This exceptional eatery is in the happiness business–serving amazing dishes of homemade pizza and ice cream as well as quality beer and wines. The flame roasted pizza crust is exceptional with a custom recipe using three pre-fermenting agents and a hint of sourdough, which makes for a crispy crust special to Piccos. Seasonal toppings exist such as pork belly, cider braised cabbage, gremolata, and fontina cheese. Or how about house-made sausage with pickled fennel and homemade ricotta, finished with basil pesto, and micro celery. The Alsatian pizza includes shallots, garlic, onions, caramelized with rosemary, sage thyme, finished with gruyere cheese, applewood smoked bacon, and creme fresh. Simply amazing.
The ice cream is also truly exceptional–all flavors are made in house, as well as all toppings right down to the roasting of the nuts. The menu expands to other New England staples such as spaghetti bolognese and delicious calzones. Piccos is on the South Ends Restaurant Row within walking distance from the Arlington stop on the Green Line or the Back Bay stop on the Orange Line.
Transportation in The South End
The South End of Boston is a beautiful place to walk, with easy access to life’s essentials such as groceries, retail shopping, and public transport. Urban cycling is popular and Boston has an expanding cycling scene with an increasing number of cycling lanes.
Popular ridesharing services Uber and Lyft both operate throughout the South End.
There are three MBTA train stops located along the Northern border of the South End: Back Bay, Massachusetts Ave, and Ruggles stops on the Orange Line.
Logan International Airport is 4.5 miles from the South End–an 11 minute drive when you take the I-90. Logan International Airport opened in 1923 and is the primary airport servicing New England. It’s the 16th busiest airport in the United States. (Logan Airport’s namesake is General Edward Lawrence Logan, a former US Army Major General, Harvard Law Graduate, Attorney, and member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives who was born in South Boston.)
Important Note: Pets in the South End
The South End is one of the most dog friendly parts of Boston with many of the shops and restaurants permitting owners to bring their pets inside. Peters Park is a 13,000 square-foot, off-leash dog park very popular with local residents. Want a treat for your canine? Polkadog canine bakery has you covered with its natural, hand-made treats. www.polkadog.com
Real Estate in the South End
The median listing price for a home in the South End is 1.1 million USD and there are currently 226 homes for sale in Boston’s South End, ranging from $300,000 to 7.2 million.
When looking to purchase a home in the South End, I would recommend reaching out to one of the following:
Gibson Sothebys International Realty.
556 Tremont Street, South Boston
Gibson Sothebys is Boston’s largest independent real estate company, established in 1962 in the South End of Boston by Betty Gibson–so the South End is Gibson’s home stomping grounds. It’s family run to this day and the people, professionalism, and service are exceptional. Larry Rideout is the CEO and founder, and his family and staff are warm, professional, and genuine. They’re always willing to go the extra mile to ensure a white glove experience. Gibson Sotheby’s South End office is located on 556 Tremont Street. The Gibson agents know this area intimately and are knowledgeable about properties currently on and off the market. We highly recommend working with them.
Campion & Company.
172 Newbury Street, Boston
Tracy Campion, the principal and owner of Campion & Company is one of the top real estate professionals in the country and does extensive work specifically throughout Beacon Hill and Back Bay and into the South End. She is dynamic, intelligent, professional, and extremely experienced. If you are dealing with property in Boston or the South End, Campion is truly world-class.
Keller Williams Realty.
607 Boylston Street, Boston
Keller Williams is a trusted real estate presence in Boston, dealing in Fenway, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, South Boston, and the South End. We have had excellent experiences with their staff and level of service, and we would highly recommend Keller Williams.
Remodeling Trends in Boston’s South End
Design-Bid-Build is the process which has been introduced over the past 150 years or so whereby you hire an architect to draft plans and design your project–to then have it bid out to contractors seeking to perform the project. This approach has many liabilities for the client, due in no small part to the fragmented spheres of responsibilities which exist. There is no single person or entity fully accountable to the client for the entire project’s success. Thus, you can have impractical and expensive design work, impractical planning, numerous change orders, shoddy craftsmanship, and projects which are off timeline and over budget. In the end the client can be left damaged. You may have experienced this in the past.
Design-Build is clearly the way to go if you want to save on time and money, reduce stress, and eliminate a fragmented sense of project responsibility in the people working for you.
Design-Build is turned to by professionals, families, and individuals as the cutting edge of efficiency, aesthetics, practicality, and accountability when it comes to designing and remodeling a home. This approach packages architectural and interior design services with skilled building and remodeling abilities. This natural synthesis makes for a simple, efficient, and accountable creative process and a streamlined, responsible execution–reducing cost, time of execution, and client stress through dealing with one fully accountable firm.
At New England Design & Construction we do sustainable Architectural Design-Build. Here are several examples of beautiful Design-Build remodels we have done in Boston’s South End.
In summary, Boston’s South End is a vibrant, energetic and truly exceptional place to live, work, and raise a family. One would be hard-pressed to find a more artistic, creative, and culturally rich environment to live. We are happy to help you create your home.
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