Old John Hancock Building

The Old Hancock Tower, also known as the Berkeley Building, is a landmark of Boston located in the cities famous Back Bay neighborhood. The first building of its kind in the Back Bay area which at the time was “a Boston neighborhood dominated by row houses and tree-lined avenues.” (A Digital Archive of American Architecture). The Back Bay would continue to grow in the coming years and in 1947 the tower, standing at 26 stories, 495 feet would be completed. It would become the new home for the Boston based John Hancock Insurance Company.

John Hancock is an insurance company that was started in 1862 in Boston, Massachusetts which made its name from life insurance policies during World War II. Between 1941-1944 the company sold over 7 million life insurance policies: 1/10 of all life insurances policies in America (“John Hancock Life Showed Greatest Progress in 1943”, Boston Globe). The massive influx of business drove Hancock Financial to pursue a newer and larger corporate headquarters which would develop to be the Old Hancock Tower. The building was designed to be a bold standout building among the Boston Skyline. It was also designed to have a giant atrium and auditorium to host beautiful galas and events that could hold thousands of people. The initial contract was for $15,000,000. In today’s money, this comes out to a little under $164,000,000 (“John Hancock Building Job Goes to New York Company”, Boston Globe). The project was the first of many in an architectural revolution in Boston.

The New England architecture firm Cram and Ferguson was chosen to design the building. Cram and Ferguson chose an Art Deco styling, fitting of the period it was created. The buildings unique architecture has made it one of the most prominent buildings in Boston’s skyline. The Art Deco façade distinguishes the Old Hancock Tower from other large scale structures in Boston. The outer face of the building is decorated with stone featuring art deco styling such as geometric features tucked into its ledges and corners. In addition to its architectural style, the Old Hancock Tower “…makes a uniquely identifiable form on the skyline, with its truncated stepped pyramid and weather beacon” (Southworth 224). At the top of the pyramid style roof to the tower, a large, 60 foot, illuminated spire is mounted in view for the entire city. The famous beacon of the Old Hancock Tower is not only an architectural work of art but also a cultural staple of living in Boston.

Almost every Bostonian knows the hundreds of neon lights along the spire of the tower tell the weather forecast for the day to the people of Boston. Adrianna Borgia of Boston Magazine explains the relevance of the weather beacon to the people of Boston, “There are bigger buildings and brighter lights that dot our skyline, but at this time of year—when New England weather is at its trickiest—none draw Bostonians’ eyes to the skies like the Berkeley Building and its famous storm beacon.” (Borgia 1). A different sequence of lights translates to the weather forecast for the day. A short poem was written by Bostonians to decipher the forecast of the Hancock Tower weather beacon:

Steady blue, clear view
Flashing blue, clouds due
Steady red, storms ahead
Flashing red, snow instead

In addition, in 2004, after the Boston Red Sox historic World Series win a second line was added to the poem: “Flashing blue and red, when The Curse of the Bambino is Dead!” to celebrate the cities championship win. Boston residents have a connection to the weather beacon and the information it sends to the city. The beacons connection to the residents of Boston and the cities beloved baseball team makes the Old Hancock Tower a staple in the culture of Boston. The Old Hancock Tower is a coveted landmark to the people of Boston.

Images

Creator: Dylan Freitas View File Details Page

Creator: Dylan Freitas View File Details Page

Creator: Dylan Freitas View File Details Page

Street Address:

200 Berkeley Street, Boston MA [map]

Cite this Page:

Charlie Pigott, Dylan Freitas, Thomas Lefavor, “Old John Hancock Building,” Boston History, accessed April 20, 2018, http://explorebostonhistory.org/items/show/18.

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