Architectural Styles of Greater Boston: Second Empire Style

For the Francophile in all of us, Second Empire architecture has delivered a touch of Parisian elegance to Boston. Walk the Freedom Trail and you’ll stumble upon a number of these classic buildings, with no finer example than the Old City Hall on School Street.


Cambridge Realtor, Ferle Bramson says “Take a walk down Inman Street in mid-Cambridge between Cambridge Street & Broadway or Rice Street in North Cambridge and enjoy the wealth Mansard-style homes up close & personal.”

An amalgamation of earlier European styles, this architectural form came to be when Napoleon III commissioned a complete facelift to the city of Paris in 1853, a massive undertaking that has come be known as “Haussmannization”. The mansard roofs, wide avenues, and public squares that today are synonymous with the French capital are largely the result of this project; its visual appeal was immediately apparent and began appearing around the United States shortly thereafter.

Other than the mansard roof, Second Empire does not necessarily adhere to a strict set of guidelines, but rather allows the architect to incorporate architectural elements from other styles. They are, however, usually imposing and monumental in appearance. A prime residential example in Boston is the Crowninshield House on Marlborough Street, listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designed by famed American architect Henry Hobson Richardson.

To learn more about Second Empire Architecture, visit our guide. Also view our previous posts on Greek Revival Style and Queen Anne Style