Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peace Jubilee Coliseum

Peace Jubilee Coliseum, 1869.

You can't talk about post-Civil War Boston and not discuss the Peace Jubilee - so I will. The Peace Jubilee was organized by famed bandleader Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, an Irish immigrant who was named 'the father of the American band' by the younger John Philip Sousa. After coming to Boston from Ireland, Gilmore played cornet in and lead some of the city's leading bands. During the Civil War, he enlisted as a musician, and while stationed in New Orleans was named bandmaster. During this time, he wrote When Johnny Comes Marching Home, which quickly became a classic.

Gilmore returned to Boston after the war, and in 1869 organized the first Peace Jubilee to raise money for the widows and orphans of the war. The Jubilee Coliseum was built to hold a stunning 30,000 audience members, an orchestra of 1,000, and a chorus of 10,000 singers. Famously, during Verdi's Il Trovatore, 100 Boston Firemen were engaged to strike anvils.

A second Peace Jubilee was organized soon after, this time to celebrate the end of the Franco-Prussian war. This time, the orchestra and chorus was doubled for the 18 day festival. Bands from France, England and Prussia performed, and Johann Strauss, the famous Waltz King attended and played a new waltz written for the event.

Peace Jubilee Coliseum location, 1872 (BPL).

The coliseum was built on new land in the Back Bay while it was still being filled and streets laid out. The map above shows the structure right at where the Boston and Albany and Boston and Providence railroad lines met in what had once been the shallow bay. Today, the site is just south of the Back Bay railroad station. The photograph below, taken from an 1872 stereograph, shows the Boston and Providence line running parallel to the building.

A new building was to be built for the second Jubilee, but it burned down during construction, so the first Coliseum was rebuilt.

Coliseum and Boston and Providence railroad 1872 (BPL).

Over the back right of the building, we can see a church steeple - probably one of two churches on the first two blocks of Newbury street. Over the front left roof, two tall buildings stand in the far background. These were probably located on Beacon street, which as the Mill Dam road had been built upon before the rest of the Back Bay was filled.

Interior, 1872 (BPL).

The photograph above is valuable in showing us what the Back Bay looked like during the time it was being filled. Note the raised roads crossing a lower ground level. This is how the entire Back Bay was filled. In order to keep costs down, the contracts that were signed to bring fill from Needham and elsewhere to fill the bay stipulated that the space between the future streets could be left filled lower than the streets themselves. This was because the construction of houses would require foundations be dug, so the house lots were filled to just above high water level, and foundations were build without digging. This saved the cost of a massive amount of gravel fill, and time as well. As houses were built, soil was brought in to fill around them as necessary.

The question is, where was this photograph taken from? I can't see any railroad tracks. In the right background, you can see water, and then hills. In the left background, there are buildings. I'll be damned if I can figure out where the camera was located.

Addendum: I just found this commemorative coin for sale on Ebay. It features Patrick Gilmore on one side and the Coliseum on the other.


  1. Is that last picture reversed? It would make a lot more sense if the rather substantial buildings in the background were on the right. Note also direction of traffic.

  2. I was just doing some research on this. I believe the coliseum for the first (1869) jubilee was demolished soon afterwards, meaning it wasn't available for reuse in 1872. I think the 1869 coliseum stood near the present site of the John Hancock Tower and the Copley Plaza hotel.

    The coliseum for the second (1872) jubilee did collapse during construction, but was rebuilt on a smaller scale. The 1872 coliseum is the one shown on the map and in the second photo above (next to the railroad tracks).

    I think the first and last photos above are of the 1869 coliseum, not the 1872 one. These two photos are similar, but they have significant stylistic differences with the second photo.

  3. Just looked at the last photo at a bigger scale. It is NOT reversed, you can tell from the advertising signs. Also note the angle of the sun -- it's off to the right. The street going from lower left to upper right may be Clarendon; the cross street, maybe St. James?

  4. Charles - thanks for the comments. More to think about.

  5. Origonally the 1869 Colliseum was to be built and erected in the Boston Common but after objections and a petition an alternate site was found in Back Bay . Some facts from a period token Medal I have state that the Colliseum was 500 ft long, 300 ft wide and 100 ft high , 2,000,000 ft of timber were used , 28 tons of nails , 25,000 ft of gaspipes and it seated 50,000. The concert was held for 5 days plus the Gilmore testimonial concert . The stadium also had 40 Water closets and a Press Room for 180 visiting newspapers from around the world . This pressroom was serviced by 10 telegraphs supplied by Western Union and the Mail was collected and delivered on the hour every hour for the duration of the Jubilee . An extimated extra 400,000 passengers were brought into Boston by the railroads . The origonal 1872 plan was for a stadium that was almost twice the size etc and as Charles comments above this construction was blown down , however they used the origonal 1869 plans and added ornamental additions such as the false towers and vents and this became the 1872 Colliseum . The 1869 event was envisaged by Gilmore as a method of Harmonising the Union with music and indeed both Confed and Union leader were invited . Gilmores great friend Pres Grant came and they had a cigar together on horseback as they rode around the site . A byproduct was indeed the Widows and Orphans Fund . The 1872 event was organised as suggested to publicly celebrate the end of the Franco Prussian War ,however Gilmores real reason was to measure his Band and that of the US Marines Band against the best of the Best in the World . The secondary name for this festival was the Intenational Music festival and here Gilmore got his answer . His Band was inferior , the Marines were dreadful and nothing in the US could measure up against the Europeans . It then took Gilmore a further 6 years to reform and develop what became a standard which America and the Marines follw to this day . In 1878 Gilmore and his band of 65 musicians toured Europe where they were acclaimed as the Greatest Band in the World by the Germans , French and the English . regards JJ MacNamara

  6. I think the steeple in the first picture is Arlington St. Church. Based on the map it looks to be taken from where Marriott at Copley Place is now. The Art Museum is where the Copley Hotel is now. The last picture would probably be from where Back Bay Station is today and you're looking on the far side at as-yet unfilled land where the Prudential Center is now. You can see the railroad causeway that runs along the approximate right-of-way the Mass Turnpike goes under the Prudential now. A very cool selection of pictures.

  7. The last picture IS confusing. I think we're looking southwest from approximately where Copley Sq. is now (not Back Bay Sta as I id'd in the earlier comment.). You can see trains running across a causeway in the right back ground. It think that's the Providence and Boston railroad and it goes below grade behind the building as it goes under Dartmouth St. (The current MBTA Orange line runs under the Southwest Corridor along the same line.) I think when the Coliseum was built it was out near the edge of the filled area of the Back Bay so the trains still ran on a causeway across the marsh.

    I'm not sure what we're seeing on the left side now, it would the South End which was built up earlier than the Back Bay. Probably some churches that may not be there anymore. The Brattle Sq. Church (Baptist Church in the Back Bay now) was built in 1872 and occupied in 1875 so it post dated the 1872 building and the last picture looks to be a photograph taken during construction.

    Here's a Google map of the area now.

    The building was roughly at the intersection of St. Botolph and Garrison St. next to Copley Place based on my interpretation of the contemporary and historic maps I can find.

    Now I'm obsessed with Copley Sq.'s architectural history.

  8. What we're seeing in the last pic is the intersection of Boylston and Clarendon looking southwest, meaning the 1869 Coliseum sat on the site of the future Trinity Church and faced Boylston because there was no Copley Square yet! And with this property becoming available in 1872 and Trinity losing their existing church to the Great Fire of that year, it makes sense that they would snatch up this well-situated and freshly available site. Lastly, given the height the photo was taken from, the photographer must've been looking out of a window of MIT's Rogers building, completed just a few years earlier in 1865. --Phil B.