Copley Square Hotel

47 Huntington Avenue, Back Bay
Copley Square Hotel, circa 1909. Source: Library of Congress.

When it opened on July 4, 1891, the Copley Square Hotel was the first and only hotel in the Back Bay. In 1896, the hotel served as the campaign headquarters for then-presidential candidate William McKinley. During the 1940s, the hotel housed the Storyville Jazz Club, which hosted, among others, the famed Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Less known is the occupant of a second-floor suite from 1939 to 1942: the New England chapter of the Christian Front and its leader, Francis Moran, an agent of Nazi Germany.

Father Charles Coughlin, the antisemitic and fascistic priest from Detroit whose weekly radio broadcasts enjoyed a national audience of millions during the 1930s, established the Christian Front in the United States. Soon, the organization, a variant of which originated in Europe, had a large presence in Boston. Indeed, under the capable leadership of Moran—several hundred would often attend the organization’s meetings at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury—the city emerged as the epicenter of the Christian Front’s activities in the United States.

The membership of the Boston-area Front was composed mostly of Irish Catholics and largely of people on the socioeconomic margins. It also enjoyed significant support within Boston’s police force, within organized labor, and among key elements of the area’s political establishment. According to historian Charles Gallagher, “fronters” perceived themselves as under threat and as engaged in a holy war of sorts, one in which Communists and Jews—overlapping categories in their eyes—were the enemy. Many Catholic priests soft-peddled the far-right politics of the Christian Front while providing theological leadership. Meanwhile, the Church hierarchy did nothing to challenge, while often effectively sanctioning, the organization’s hate-filled propaganda.

Recruited by Germany’s consul general on Beacon Hill with the goal of helping to build support for U.S. neutrality during World War II, Moran would become a Nazi agent soon after the Christian Front’s establishment in Boston. Eventually, Frances Sweeney, head of Boston’s Irish American Defense Association, exposed Moran as a Nazi propagandist.* With the United States having recently declared war on Germany, this led the Boston Police Department to shut down the Christian Front’s operations and its office at the Copley Square Hotel in January 1942. Nonetheless, the Front continued to operate, clandestinely, in the Boston area until 1945 or so.

The Copley Square Hotel advertises itself as “the city’s second-oldest hotel in continuous operation.” However, it closed at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic for reasons of renovation. It reopened in April 2022. The hotel’s worker’s are unionized, members of UNITE-HERE Local 26.

Photo by Suren Moodliar, October 2021.

Getting there:

Green Line to Green Line to Copley station; 0.2 miles (4-minute) walk. Orange Line or Commuter Rail to Back Bay Station; 0.4 mile (8-minute) walk.

To learn more:

Charles R. Gallagher, Nazis of Couple Square: The Forgotten History of the Christian Front, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2021.

Gal Tziperman Lotan, “Workers protest as hotel closures drag on and on,” The Boston Globe, October 28, 2021.

*See our entry on South Boston High School in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston to learn more about Frances Sweeney, the Irish American Defense Association, and the Christian Front.

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