Boston's Back Bay gained its name because the area was, in fact, before it was filled in literally a "back bay" in the city of Boston. A wide bay opened between Boston and Cambridge, with the Charles River entered at the west side. The Back Bay neighborhood was created when the parcel of land was created by filling the tidewater flats of the Charles River. This massive project was begun in 1857. The filling of present-day Back Bay was completed by 1882; filling reached Kenmore Square in 1890, and finished in the Fens in 1900.
Back Bay and nearby Beacon Hill and The South End are considered Boston's most upscale and desirable neighborhoods, with townhouses selling regularly for millions of dollars. Newbury Street and Boylston Street are popular shopping destinations, with many local shops as well as some national chains. From the elegant Taj Hotel to Louis Boston to Ralph Lauren, shopping goes from upscale to funky as you make your way from Arlington Street to the end of Newbury Street at Massachusetts Avenue, where a Best Buy store anchors. Architecturally the neighborhood is dominated by Victorian brownstone buildings in its northern, more residential portion; the southern part of the neighborhood is far more commercial and is home to some of Boston's tallest buildings, such as the Hancock Tower and the Prudential Tower.
The Copley Square area features The Collonade Hotel, Westin Copley Place, Fairmont Copley Plaza and the Marriott Copley, as well as numerous stores in two enclosed malls - the upscale Copley Place Mall, featuring many stores including Barney's, Neiman Marcus and Tiffany's and the Prudential Mall across the street, connected by a skywalk. The Boston Public Library, designed by McKim, Mead and White is a leading example of the Beaux-Arts style in the United States. It is located directly across from Trinity Church, one of the most photographed churches in the country, due to it's position in the reflective glass of the dark blue 60 story Hancock Tower.
The Copley Square area is close to the Back Bay MBTA Station. Boylston and Newbury Streets are near the Copley and Arlington Street Green Line.
The boundaries of the Back Bay, as defined by the Neighborhood Association of Back Bay, are "the Charles River on the North; Arlington Street to Park Square on the East; Columbus Avenue to the New York New Haven and Hartford right-of-way (South of Stuart Street and Copley Place), Huntington Avenue, Dalton Street, and the Mass. Turnpike on the South; and Charlesgate East on the West." The block between Charlesgate and Kenmore Square is often included as it retains Commonwealth Avenue's central park and pedestrial mall.William Dean Howells, writing of memories of his first visit to Boston, recalled "There are the narrow streets, stretching saltworks to the docks, which I haunted for their quaintness... There is Beacon Street, with the Hancock House where it is incredibly no more, and there are the beginnings of Commonwealth Avenue, and the other streets of the Back Bay, laid out with their basements left hollowed in the made land, which the gravel trains were yet making out of the westward hills."
To the W. C. Fields character, con artist Cuthbert W. Twillie, it came as naturally as breathing to feign that he was "one of the Back Bay Twillies." However, there was a subtle social distinction between the Back Bay neighborhood and the older Beacon Hill district. A 1921 novel, By Advice of Counsel, characterizes one Bostonian by saying:
uate of Harvard, a Unitarian, an allopath, belong to the Somerset Club and date back ancestrally at least to King Philip's War."