Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2014 Preservation Award Winners
Photo of Frederick Ayer Mansion
 • Boston (Back Bay)

Frederick Ayer Mansion • Boston (Back Bay)

Rehabilitation & Restoration

The Frederick Ayer Mansion, a National Historic Landmark located in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, is a rare surviving example of the residential work of renowned artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, best known for his work in stained glass. In an unusual union of ornament and architecture, Tiffany designed the Classical Revival-style mansion’s lavish mosaic exterior for wealthy entrepreneur Frederick Ayer and his wife Ellen. Constructed between 1899 and 1902, the mansion’s façade boasts more than thirty different patterns of mosaic panels and banding. These multicolor stone mosaics in the Byzantine and Moorish styles define nearly every element of the façade. Elaborate stained-glass windows, copper-clad doors, and stone columns with inset glass echo the mosaic designs. With its bold, light-stone façade and unadorned windows, the building also is an early example of the modernist tendencies that would flourish later in the 20th century. In 1964, the Trimount Foundation purchased the mansion, and the building has since served as the Bayridge Residence and Cultural Center—a nonprofit residence for women attending undergraduate and graduate schools in Boston.

Although well cared for, the building began to show signs of decline over the years, as acid rain, mortar loss, water infiltration, and structural stress caused pieces of the mosaics to spall and flake. Some mosaic panels disintegrated altogether. Open mortar joints across the façade, and rusting steel in the base of the balcony parapet, weakened adjacent mosaic elements. A yellow-orange coating discolored exterior limestone and parts of the mosaic banding. In 2013, a team of preservation architects, stone conservators, mosaicists, preservation masons, and stained-glass conservators restored the Ayer Mansion’s balcony and façade, guided by an exhaustive 2009 study of the mosaics, and partly funded by a Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund grant. Masonry work, repair of structural steel, and repair and replacement of the roofing system addressed the building’s water infiltration issues. Tests confirmed that the yellow-orange staining was the result of coal pollution, combined with layers of white paint, presumably applied by a previous owner in an attempt to cover the staining. Conservators carefully cleaned the façade and temporarily moved the balcony to a stone conservator’s shop, where the missing panels were recreated using hand-cut stones that matched the originals, and surviving mosaics were restored. Careful repairs replaced the bandings’ missing fabric. Through meticulous planning and a high level of craftsmanship, this project has restored a significant and unique property, preserving for the future the only known surviving example of a Tiffany-designed architectural exterior.

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