The “Kensington Lions”

Bill Tarkulich, May, 2013

The story of how Grahm Junior College adopted the lion as its school mascot is bathed in an interesting history, before, during and after the college.

In 1958, the Cambridge School (predecessor to Grahm Jr. College) moved to 687 Boylston Street, known as the “Hotel Kensington.”[i]  This was the schools fourth location since its founding in 1951. 

The Hotel Kensington opened in 1884, predating the Boston Public Library across the street by ten years.[ii]  It was to be seven stories high with two suites of apartments, ten rooms on every floor each with a fireplace.  It was claimed to be one of the best private residences in the city.  The owner was Mr. Henry Bigelow Williams of the Brunswick Hotel.

In 1899 Mr. Alexander Pope, a Boston sculptor and painter, was commissioned by Wallace to create the “Kensington Lions”.[iii] The lions measured six and one-half feet in height, modeled after a pair of African lions cast in cement and colored to match the building.  “Knowing that the lions stood guard in Kensington Gardens in England, [Wallace] was determined to give his hotel and authentic stamp.”  Pope modeled the statues after a real lion named Wallace, a resident at the old Boston Zoo.”[iv]

Kensington Hotel, 1929, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection


In 1922 a poem by “C. K. Powers” of Boston was published,

O the Kensington Lions on Boylston street,

Are a most blue-blooded pair,

There’s a haughty turn to their haughty heads,

And a cultured curl to their hair,

And they gaze on the common folk who pass

With a very High-Brow stare!


O the Kensington Lions on Boylston street,

They deserve a place of their own!

They ought to be moved out to Beacon Hill,

Or they ought to be guarding a throne

For the Lowells or the Cabots or the Coolidges,

Or some other of “Boston’s Own.”


The Kensington Lions on Boylston street,

When I meet them face to face,

And I bow to them most demulrely,

In a manner most descreet,

For there’s many a High-Brow dwelling

On the wrong site of Newbury street![v]

Kensington Hotel, 1929, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Sometime after 1931, the rooftop lion was removed due to safety concerns.  Its whereabouts are unknown.[vi]

The Cambridge School moved to the building in 1958, remaining until its relocation to Kenmore Square in 1966.  During the period, school chairman Milton Grahm and director Jack Nesson saw the need to identify a school mascot.   The mascot choice became obvious when one passed into the building every day.

In 1960, the Rockland-Atlas Bank purchased buildings 675 to 691 Boylston Street for office expansion.  One building was demolished in order to make room for a parking lot.  The Kensington building became the new Bank offices on the first floor.[vii]  Most of this growth was due to the construction of the Prudential Center at the time.  The Cambridge School occupied two of the upper floors.  According to Nesson, the remainder of the building lay vacant.[viii]

After the demotion of the Kensington in 1967[ix], the lions remained street side, guarding the vacant lot, owned by State Street Bank.  The Rockland-Atlas Bank previously merged with State Street bank.

The lions continued to guard the parking lot until August, 1974, at which time they were moved to the Copley Square Hotel where they presently flank the hotel entrance.  Each lion weighs three tons.  The lions were gilded with gold paint.  In December of 1974 it was announced that an 18-story building was to rise where the Hotel Kensington once stood.[x]

[i] The New Hotel Kensington, Boston Daily Globe, Mar 10, 1884

[ii] Public Library will open Sept. 17, Daily Boston Daily Globe, Jun 12, 1894.

[iii] Massive Lions as Guardians, Boston Daily Globe, June 15, 1899

[iv] A new lair for lions, Boston Globe, July 27, 1974

[v] The Kensington Lions, pg. 22, Boston Daily Globe, November 14, 1922

[vi] A new lair for lions, Boston Globe, July 27, 1974

[vii] Rockland-Atlas Bank Moves to Copley Sq. Office, Boston Globe, August 29, 1960

[viii] Jack Nesson, oral history, recorded by Bill Tarkulich, April, 2013

[ix] A new lair for lions, Boston Globe, July 27, 1974

[x] 18-story apartment building to rise where lions sat in Back Bay, Boston Globe, Dec 8, 1974