Finding the Right Illusion With the Scarlett O’Hara House

Scarlett O'Hara House

It can be easy to forget that there are little neighborhoods nestled into the streets of downtown Boston. Just a step from the Boston Public Gardens are actual apartments where people go about their daily lives, walking their dogs down the craggy, red-brick sidewalks and picking up their newspapers from their tiny front porches. These homes are, of course, wildly expensive, but knowing that this is someplace where I could never dream of living makes it even more fun to wander through.

Despite the impossibility of ever entering a house, I love wandering through the neighborhoods. I might take a turn down Joy St. and dive into the quaint Beacon Hill neighborhood. Maybe I’ll take a right, then a left, maybe another right, and lose myself in the maze of townhouses peppered with tiny convenience stores and little public parks. In the wintertime, maybe after one of Boston’s many snowstorms, the area—with tree branches creating archways over the sidewalks because of the snow weighing them down and icicles glimmering as they hang down from the roofs and the gutters—looks like a postcard image from a story-book ski village. The uniformity of the red-brick buildings is soothing to the eye of passersby, but the patina of age on the bricks prevents it from becoming boring.

It is quite possible that I will wander down Revere St., where a flash of bright white buried within a short alleyway known as Rollins Place breaks up the pattern of red brick and stops me in my tracks.

Secured behind a short, iron-wrought gate, the short span of Rollins Pl. extends down an aisle of brick town houses, three or four on each side, before ending abruptly with short, white house tightly crammed in between the red brick buildings. And this house is beautiful, but boy does it look out of place.

Aside from the fact that this building is almost impossibly skinny—making it look like some kind of doll house come to life—the architecture of the building is distinctly un-Boston. With curling white columns supporting the porch and the second-story alcove and crisp white shutters popping out again clean white planks of the façade, the house looks more like a stately Southern home than the standard Boston townhouse.

I happen to be a terrible snoop, which makes fighting the urge to see this thing from just a little closer nearly impossible (which you definitely shouldn’t try to do because Rollins Pl. is private property). Half-convinced that an indignant inhabitant of Rollins Pl. would run outside and yell at me, I cautiously opened the gate, wincing at the squeak that the hinges made. Thankfully, no one jumped out from behind their doors, so I scurried down the pathway and stopped by the softly glowing streetlight in front of the tiny house’s porch.

When I climbed the steps, I became slightly confused because instead of the grand door that I expected on this kind of house, there were two slightly smaller (but still quite nice looking) doors to the far-right and far-left side of the porch. Although Boston’s rent is high, it didn’t seem possible that such a small structure could house two people, and as I peeked at the tightly closed shutters, something seemed off about the whole place—almost like it wasn’t real. It turns out it wasn’t. This strange building, shining out from between the red town houses, is an incredibly detailed trompe l’oeil more commonly known as the Scarlett O’Hara House. According to one of the few records of the ‘house,’ the façade was created over 30 years ago as creative way of obscuring an unsightly concrete wall from the public view.

Especially in light of the importance of facts and reality in the current political climate, I have been under the impression that creating illusions to embroider the world around us is not the best idea. But there is a time and a place for everything, including fantasy.

No one can argue against the danger of placing too great a distance between oneself and reality, but every once in awhile, a little artful illusion to soften the concrete walls of the world around us might be just as important as acknowledging that the concrete walls are there.

About Madeleine D'Angelo 91 Articles
Madeleine is the metro editor for The Heights. She is from Chevy Chase, MD, and would like to thank her mom and dad for reading down this far on the page. You can follow her on twitter @mads_805.
  • Kathy

    I loved your story, Madeleine. I felt like I was tiptoeing behind you as you took your meandering walk around Beacon Hill, ending up with your ‘daring’ investigation and the surprise ending! We must do it again sometime!….Kathy