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The lower portion of the Custom House, begun in 1837, resembles a Greek temple, but the federal government wanted something grander, so in 1913 it exempted itself from local height restrictions and financed a 500ft tower. Nowadays there are many taller buildings, but the 22ft illuminated clock makes this gem the most recognizable part of the city skyline. Twice a day (weather permitting), the 26th-floor observation deck opens up for fabulous views.
One of Boston’s first skyscrapers, the Custom House now houses a Marriott hotel. But that doesn’t mean you have to dole out big bucks to appreciate the building’s history and aesthetics. The public is always welcome to the 1st-floor rotunda, a work of art in itself, which houses a small exhibit of maritime art and artifacts from Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum.