The Charles River Campus has a rich architectural history. A number of buildings along Commonwealth Avenue, constructed from the 1870s through the 1940s, once featured automobile showrooms and service centers, attracting residents from the Back Bay and Cambridge. The avenue featured Packard, Fuller Cadillac, Peerless Motor Company, Noyes Buick, and the Shell Oil Company, among others.

According to Boston University’s Historic Preservation Plan, the University purchased land on the north side of Commonwealth Avenue in 1920 and between 1938 and 1948, and built the College of Liberal Arts complex in Gothic Revival. Two teams of architects worked on the original buildings: Cram and Ferguson developed the campus master plan and the original buildings that form Marsh Plaza; Cooley, Shepley, Bulfinch and Abbott, the successor firm to the great 19th century architect H.H. Richardson, designed buildings that extended along the avenue. Following World War II, the University developed plans for an expanded campus and began large-scale construction in the 1960s.

Beginning in 1971, Boston University undertook a broad based adaptive reuse program to preserve its historic buildings. By 2005, an official Historic Preservation Plan was drafted in response to an agreement between the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) and the Trustees of Boston University. The plan included an inventory of all University properties built before 1958 and recommendations for achieving preservation goals.

Many of the refurbished automobile showrooms along Commonwealth Avenue are now home to academic buildings such as the College of Fine Arts, the College of Communication, the Admissions building and BU Academy. In 1949, the fashionable Myles Standish Hotel became the Myles Standish Hall student residences. In 1954, the Sheraton Hotel became Shelton Hall.

Boston University purchased 10 acres of land in 1953 and constructed West Campus. In 1987, BU purchased an additional 10 acres to build the student village complex, which includes FitRec and Agganis Arena.

Aside from its historic buildings, the University also maintains extensive landscaping and several pocket parks to add a bit of green. The Commonwealth Avenue Improvement Project (completed in 2008) included the presence of new trees, shrubs, plantings and flora, attractive lighting, street furniture, raised planters, and sidewalk pavement treatments, reflecting the boulevard character of Commonwealth Avenue.