Boston - Around Town : Chinatown, the Theater District, & South End (part 1)

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Boston's compact Chinatown is the third most populous Chinese neighborhood in the US, concentrating a wealth of Asian experience in a small patch of real estate. Theater-goers find the proximity of Chinatown to the Theater District a boon for pre- and post-show dining. The Theater District itself is among the liveliest in the US, and its architecturally distinctive playhouses are nearly always active, often with local productions. Adjoining the Theater District to the south is South End, once an immigrant tenement area and now Boston’s most diverse neighborhood by race, cultural background, and sexual orientation. The country’s largest historical district of Victorian townhouses, South End has been undergoing gentrification since the 1980s and today is home to a burgeoning and energetic club, café, and restaurant scene.

Sign, Theater District

South End’s Festival Betances (third weekend in July) is a celebration of Puerto Rican culture. Call 617 927 1707 for information

More than 200 South End artists’ studios open to the public in September. Call the Boston Center for the Arts (617 426 5000)

  1. Wang Theatre

    With a theater modeled on the Paris Opera House and a foyer inspired by the Palace of Versailles, the opulent Wang Theatre (opened 1925) is a grand venue for touring musicals, blockbuster concerts, and local productions .

    Grand Lobby, Wang Theatre
  2. Boston Center for the Arts

    The massive Cyclorama building is the centerpiece of the BCA, a performing and visual arts complex dedicated to nurturing new talent. The center provides studio space to more than 40 artists, and its Mills Gallery mounts rotating visual arts exhibitions. The BCA’s four theaters, home to four companies, host avant-garde productions of dance, theater, and performance art .

  3. Tremont Street

    The section of Tremont Street between East Berkeley and Massachusetts Avenue is the social and commercial heart of the South End. Many of the handsome brick and brownstone townhouses have been restored to circa-1890 perfection, some with a boutique or café added at street level; others remain boarded up and awaiting renovation. The liveliest corner of the South End is the intersection of Tremont with Clarendon and Union Park streets, where the Boston Center for the Arts and a plethora of restaurants and cafés create a compact entertainment and dining district.

    Victorian townhouses, South End
  4. Beach Street & Chinatown

    As the periphery of ethnic Chinatown becomes increasingly homogenized, Beach Street remains the purely Chinese heart of the neighborhood, home to the traditional apothecaries and other merchants who serve a primarily immigrant population. An ornate Dragon Gate at the base of Beach Street creates a ceremonial entrance to Chinatown. The wall behind the adjacent small park is painted with a dreamy mural of a Chinese sampan boat.

    Beach Street, Chinatown

    Contemporary city mural, Chinatown
  5. Piano Row

    In the late 19th century, the HQs of leading piano makers Steinert, Vose, Starck, Mason and Hamlin, and Wurlitzer were located on the section of Boylston Street facing Boston Common, giving the block (now a historic district) its nickname as Piano Row. Nearly a century later, those Beaux Arts buildings still echo with music. The Colonial Theatre, its ornate interior fully restored to the sumptuous 1900 original, is an active venue for drama and musicals, while Boylston Place is a small-scale club and nightlife center.

  6. South Station

    A brick temple to mass transportation, the Neo-Classical Revival South Station was erected in 1898 at the height of rail travel in the US, and was once the country’s busiest train station. Following extensive restoration in 1989, it now serves as an Amtrak terminal for trains from the south and west of the city, as well as a “T” stop and a social and commercial center with a lively food court and occasional lunchtime concerts.

    South Station
  7. Holy Cross Cathedral

    Holy Cross, the largest Roman Catholic church in Massachusetts, acts as the seat of the archbishop of Boston. The cathedral was constructed in 1875 (on the site of the municipal gallows) to serve the largely Irish-American workers who lived in the adjoining shantytown. Today the congregation is principally of Hispanic origin. Of note are the magnificent stained glass windows, which include rare colored glass imported from Munich in the 19th century, and the powerful Hook & Hastings organ, which seems to make every piece of Roxbury puddingstone in the building reverberate.

    • 1400 Washington St

    • 617 542 5682

    • Open 9am–3pm daily

  8. Villa Victoria

    Villa Victoria is a virtually self-contained, primarily Hispanic neighborhood that grew out of a unique collaboration among Puerto Rican community activists, flexible city planners, and visionary architects. With its low-rise buildings, narrow streets, and mom-and-pop stores, Villa Victoria replicates the feel of Puerto Rican community life. At its heart, the Center for Latino Arts sponsors classes and exhibitions, and becomes a dance and social club in the evenings – one of the hottest places in Boston for Latin dance.

    • Area bounded by Shawmut Ave, Tremont St, W Newton St, & W Brookline St

    Center for Latino Arts

    Stained glass, Center for Latino Arts, Villa Victoria
  9. Union Park Square

    Constructed between 1857 and 1859, this small park surrounded by English-style brick row houses was built to contrast with the French-inspired grid layout of nearby Back Bay. Graced with lovely trees and fountains and verdant with a thick mat of grass, the square was one of the first areas in the South End to be gentrified.

  10. Southwest Corridor Park

    The first section of the five-mile (8-km) Southwest Corridor Park divides South End and Back Bay along the “T” orange line corridor. In the residential South End portion, a path strings together numerous small parks. Between Massachusetts Avenue and West Roxbury, the park broadens to include recreational amenities.

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