The Charles Street Jail, designed by architect Gridley James Fox Bryant and prison reformer Rev. Louis Dwight with high windows and natural light, was considered a model prison when it opened in 1851. In its original form, the granite building had four wings extending from an octagonal rotunda with a 90-foot atrium and 33-foot-high arched windows. Used for the short-term incarceration of defendants awaiting trial, the Charles Street Jail housed many famous individuals, including Mayor James Curley and Sacco and Vanzetti. By the 1970s, however, the facility had become overcrowded and was declared unfit for occupation. The jail finally closed in 1991, and the adjacent
Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) later acquired the property.
Ten years after acquiring the National Historic Landmark building, MGH decided to develop the western part of the site into a hotel, reserving the eastern portion for an ambulatory care facility. The remarkable transformation of this infamous prison into the luxurious Liberty Hotel incorporates the building’s historically significant features into its design in many ways. The rotunda is the hotel lobby, and balconies once used by guards and prisoners now connect guest rooms to conference spaces; guests can even dine in an adapted jail cell environment. Many significant historic features, including circular windows and wood trusses, have been restored, and a cupola that had been removed was rebuilt according to Bryant’s original plans.