At barely six square blocks, Bay Village is Boston's tiniest official neighborhood. Within that sliver-y slice of the municipal pie, however, there is plenty to take in. Shall we?
The houses on Fayette and Melrose streets. Bay Village is full of picturesque townhouses and squat brick rowhouses-turned-apartment-buildings throughout, most in the Federal style.
That's because, according to one theory, the folks who actually built the grander townhouses of Beacon Hill in the 19th century lived in Bay Village and mimicked that area's development. Check out Fayette and Melrose streets for the best examples. (Melrose also has excellent examples of the later Greek Revival style.)
Art Deco on Winchester and Piedmont streets. Because of its proximity to the once-booming movie-house trade in the neighboring Theater District, Bay Village has converted Art Deco warehouse spaces formerly used by the film industry, particularly along Winchester and Piedmont streets. The building at 45 Church Street, for instance, was once Columbia Pictures' distribution center in Boston.
These spaces are invariably condos and apartments now (Bay Village is primarily residential and has been for decades).
1 Bay Street. Two windows up, two windows across, the tiny house dating from 1830 is an excellent example of the early architecture of the neighborhood.
Cocoanut Grove. Bay Village has the unfortunate distinction of also being home to one of the deadliest fires in U.S. history: the immolation of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub at 18 Piedmont Street in November 1942. The blaze killed 492 people, and led to several fire-safety and -prevention measures.
There is a commemorative plaque embedded in the sidewalk near the site of the nightclub (part of which is now a luxury condo development).
Yes, there’s a castle-like building in Bay Village. In the 1890s, the castle-like building at Arlington Street and Columbus Avenue went up to house the old First Corps of Cadets, a quasi-military outfit under the command of Massachusetts’ governor. The building has not been used for the now-defunct corps in ages—it currently caps a Smith & Wollensky steakhouse—but its crenelated exterior remains a striking feature of the neighborhood.
Jefferson Street. The drag may be the shortest street in Boston (not including dead-end alleys).
Edgar Allan Poe’s birthplace. The famed writer was born in Bay Village in 1809—his parents were actors in the nearby Theater District—but his family split the neighborhood and the city ASAP. Not even the street where Poe was born remains (it was off Fayette), though there’s now an Edgar Allan Poe Square off the Common a few blocks to the north.
Sunken backyards. The massive mid-19th-century infills that spawned Back Bay and much of the South End caused an epic sewage backup in Bay Village—simply put, the neighborhood couldn’t expel its waste.
The powers that be finally arranged to raise hundreds of houses and dozens of shops 18 feet to bring Bay Village above sea level and therefore to create a natural runoff. Curiously, though, several backyards and gardens alongside the houses were raised only 12 feet. They remain sunken features of the neighborhood.
[Sources: "Discover Bay Village" from Boston Discovery Guide; "From Residential Neighborhood to Film Distribution Center and Back," Boston.com]