Faneuil Haul

Art you can see for free, in the middle of the city

custom2Photo: Les Wood

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vershadowed by the great Chicago fire 13 months before, the great Boston fire of 1872 remains to this day the fourth-costliest conflagration in U.S. history. It prompted fearful city leaders to impose a 125-foot height restriction on new construction. But the federal Customs House was exempt from this law, and became Boston’s first skyscraper when the 16-story tower was added in 1913 to the original 1837 base and spectacular cupola. Now a hotel, the Custom House has a small and little-known collection just above the ground-level lobby of art and artifacts from Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum, including maritime paintings, Chinese export vases and tea sets, navigation instruments and telescopes, and a 19th century painted wooden toy horse and rider from Zanzibar. There’s a free tour at 2 p.m. every day except Friday, including a ride to the top of the tower for a great view of the harbor and the city. Marcus

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When it was built, the Custom House stood at the edge of the waterfront, but what was once part of the harbor has since been filled in. Each of its its 36 Doric columns was carved from a single 42-ton piece of Quincy granite. Half are decorative and don’t bear any weight.

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