Given its history, architecture, and topography, it’s no wonder that Boston has so many distinct and memorable features. But some are more distinct and memorable than others.
These dozen images are among the best known, whether through the sheer volume of their reproduction in TV shows, on postcards, in media coverage, etc., or through their simple representativeness. A glance at them shouts “Boston.”
The Citgo sign
For better or worse, the 60-foot-by-60-foot fossil fuel ad atop the commercial building at 660 Beacon Street in Kenmore Square stands as probably Boston’s most famous sign—which explains why there was such a scramble to save it when a developer bought its building from Boston University in 2016.
George Washington equestrian statue
The 38-foot bronze of the capo di tutti capi of the Founding Fathers—who had quite a history with the area—is a seemingly irresistible backdrop-slash-focal-point for photos of the surrounding Public Garden as well as the Back Bay skyline. Thomas Ball sculpted the statue, which includes 11 feet of underground anchoring and which was unveiled in 1869.
It’s pretty much impossible to get a non-memorable shot of this Back Bay plaza named for painter John Singleton Copley. Hey, there’s the Boston Public Library! And Trinity Church! And 200 Clarendon, one of the tallest U.S. buildings north of New York City! These and other landmarks are just off Copley, which itself is pretty beautiful.
Red Line going over the Longfellow Bridge
This image invariably takes in not only the Red Line trains—which might appear quaint to those who don’t have to rely on them—and the 113-year-old Longfellow Bridge itself. Large swathes of Boston or Cambridge usually make it into shots, depending from which city the train is coming, and the Charles River crops up, too.
Completed in 2002 and opened a year later, the cable-stayed expanse between Charlestown and downtown is an aesthetic (and engineering) wonder to behold, all the more so at night, when it lights up.
The Dorchester pear
Snicker, but artist Laura Baring-Gould intended for people to do a double-take when they saw her 12-foot bronze creation in Dorchester’s Edward Everett Square, which has become an obligatory stop on any tour of unique Boston highlights since its 2007 installation. Incidentally, the 10 smaller bronzes around the pear each represent an aspect of the area’s history, as does the pear itself—a breed called the Clapp’s Favorite was developed in the neighborhood.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
This modern masterpiece from I.M. Pei on Dorchester’s Columbia Point dates from late 1979, and remains one of the most recognizable structures on the Boston waterfront. That’s no easy feat, for there are many notable attractions along the city’s coastline.
Massachusetts State House
The exterior of the State House cuts a particularly striking figure when viewed from Boston Common just below. Finished in early 1798 and built on a Beacon Hill cow pasture John Hancock once owned, the Charles Bulfinch-designed property is one of the oldest such government hubs in the United States. The wood shingles that originally comprised its dome gave way to copper and then to a 23-karat gold coating (which looks neat, yes, but was also practical: It prevents leaks).
The city’s—nay, the nation’s—most aesthetically beautiful street. Postcard perfect. Literally.
Major League Baseball’s oldest ballpark doesn’t have a bad angle, but probably the best and most enduring image of it is from the air—specifically, images that show how the stadium fits in snugly with the city around it.
These three-family homes are a byproduct of Boston’s immigrant-driven history—an estimated 16,000 such homes went up in Boston from 1880 to 1930 to house a growing population of new arrivals. Airy and light-filled, unlike the cramped and dark tenements seen elsewhere at the time, triple-deckers also afforded immigrants a path to homeownership: Own one of the three apartments and rent out the other two.
This might not have made the list a few years ago—though Boston’s traffic has been steadily worsening, according to anecdotal and statistical evidence—but traffic jams have come to typify the city. Boston even makes those rankings of the worst traffic on the planet, not just in the United States.
Are there any iconic Boston images left off here that should have been included?