History of Monmouth Street Area
Formerly Known as Fire Station #3
The BAC occupies a former fire station in the Longwood District of Brookline. The neighborhood consists of mid to late 19th century houses, many of which are still single-family homes. The area abuts Beacon Street and is close to the Boston Line. The easterly section of Monmouth Street (below Carlton Street) is composed primarily of late 19th century brick row houses – built in the 1870s by wealthy textile merchant Amos A. Lawrence – and a smaller group, adjacent to the BAC, built in 1894. There are three free-standing houses, two dating from c. 1855 and the third from the 1860s, all built by the Lawrence family.
From 1850 on, as Brookline became increasingly attractive to Bostonians for residential use, Amos A. Lawrence and his brother, Dr. William R. Lawrence, began to buy property in this area. This part of Brookline (next to David Sears' "Longwood") was called "Cottage Farm" and developed by the brothers for friends, family and business associates. The Church of Our Saviour, built in 1867-8 at the corner of Monmouth and Carlton Streets, served as the Lawrence family church for many years. The adjacent rectory and cloister (1885) was designed by Arthur Rotch.
In 1864, the Town of Brookline bought the lot at the corner of Monmouth and St. Mary's Streets. Most of the lot was purchased from Dr. Lawrence for the grand sum of $901.90 and smaller portions were bought from the nearby landowner and developer David Sears, as well as from the Goddard Family. The land was acquired by the Town as a site for the Longwood School, which was built in 1865 and occupied the center of the lot until 1886. In that year, the Town, needing new housing for its chemical fire engine, moved the schoolhouse closer to St. Mary's Street, and built the firehouse beside it, with housing for the engine on the first floor and a tenement above for the driver. Having pleaded their case to the Town for two years, the Fire Engineers in February 1887 reported their success:
"An appropriation was voted last season for a new chemical engine house at Longwood, which is now completed and ready for occupancy. It has all the modern improvements, and does credit to the builders."
The architectural firm Peabody and Stearns, whose fees for the building amounted to $395.95, designed the building. (Total bills for the fire station project, exclusive of land cost some 30 years before, amounted to $10,000). Peabody and Stearns, architects for the Custom House Tower in Boston, designed a number of buildings for the Town of Brookline, especially schools. Most have been torn down, but the Lynch Recreation Center on Brookline Avenue (Old Winthrop School) remains. Other Brookline commissions include St. Mary's Church on Harvard Street and the rectory for St. Paul's Church on Aspinwall Avenue, as well as several residential designs. Both Robert Swain Peabody (1845-1917) and John Goddard Stearns (1843-1917) were Brookline residents.
The Longwood Schoolhouse remained in use as a neighborhood school until the 1930s, when it was demolished. The fire station served the Town as Station #3 until September 1965, when it was officially closed and abandoned.
In 1966, the BAC began efforts to acquire or lease the empty firehouse, and in early 1968, the Town consented to its use as an arts center. During the Summer of that year, volunteers and professionals worked to clean and refurbish the building to bring the first floor up to code. While unoccupied, the building had been thoroughly vandalized: the fire pole was gone, all windows were broken, copper piping had been removed. On November 4, 1968, the BAC opened its first classes on the premises, and in that initial year, enrolled about 100 children. Since then, the building has been in continuous use by the BAC.