Hotel Kimball, Springfield, Mass

The Hotel Kimball, seen from the Apremont Triangle at the corner of Pearl and Bridge Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

The Hotel Kimball is one of the most historically-significant early 20th century buildings in Springfield. It was opened in 1911, at a time when the city was at its peak of prosperity as a major commercial and manufacturing center, and it was regarded as the finest hotel in the city. It was constructed at a cost of $1 million – about $27 million today – and featured a Renaissance Revival exterior that was the work of architect Albert Winslow Cobb. On the interior, it originally included 309 guest rooms, a dining room that could seat 450 people, and the largest ballroom in the area.

An advertisement in the 1912 city directory declared the Hotel Kimball to be “A Modern Metropolitan Hotel Unexcelled in New England. Affording 500 Guests Every Comfort, Convenience and Safety.” The ad also provided the room rates, which started at $1.50 ($40 today) for “Rooms with use of Bath.” This presumably meant a communal bathroom, because “Rooms with Shower Bath” started at $2 ($53 today), while “Rooms with Bath” would cost a traveler $2.50 and up ($66 today). However, the most expensive option was “Suites of Parlor, Chamber and Bath,” which started at $5.50, or $144 today.

Aside from its importance as the city’s finest early 20th century hotel, the Hotel Kimball was also significant as the home of one of the country’s first commercial radio stations. Radio broadcasting was still in its infancy in 1921, when WBZ was licensed to Westinghouse. It transmitted from the Westinghouse facility on Page Boulevard, but in 1922 the station opened its studios here in the Hotel Kimball. The station remained here until 1931, when it relocated to Boston, but this building continued to be used by its affiliate station, WBZA, which served the Springfield market during the mid-20th century.

In the meantime, the Hotel Kimball was significantly expanded in 1923, with a large addition that is visible in the distance on the left side of both photos. It would remain an important hotel for many years, and attracted a number of prominent guests during this time, including presidents Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy. Other celebrity visitors included Babe Ruth, who stayed here in the 1920s and 1930s along with the rest of his Yankees teammates, prior to their exhibition games against the minor league Springfield Ponies.

In addition to its popularity with visitors to Springfield, the Hotel Kimball also housed a number of long-term residents. The 1930 census, for example, lists 52 residents of the hotel. These included at least eight hotel maids and housekeepers, plus the hotel manager and his family. There were also a few other middle class residents, such as an accountant, an engineer, and several salesmen, but most were members of Springfield’s upper class, with professions that included a physician, several attorneys, a banker, and a number of business executives. The monthly rents ranged from about $50 to $475 (about $760 to $7,200 today), but one resident was also listed as having a rent of $10,000 – an implausibly-high number that must have been an error.

Of these residents who lived here in 1930, the most prominent was Frederick H. Gillett, a politician who was then serving in the U.S. Senate. Born in Westfield in 1851, Gillett began practicing law in Springfield in 1877, and in 1892 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served in the House for 32 years, from 1893 to 1925, and he was also the Speaker of the House from 1919 until 1925, when he was elected to the Senate. He went on to serve one term in the Senate, from 1925 to 1931, and then retired from politics. Throughout much of his political career, Gillett lived here at the Hotel Kimball. He was here as early as 1912, just a year after it opened, and he would remain here until at least the early 1930s, although he may have lived here until his death in 1935.

During the 1940 census, which was done only a year or two after the first photo was taken, there were a total of 38 residents living here. There appears to have been more middle class workers than in 1930, with occupations such as an accountant, a mechanic, a clerk, a nurse, an electrician, and a few salesmen, in addition to five hotel employees who lived here. However, there were still a number of wealthy residents living at the hotel, including three attorneys and a few business owners.

The 1940 census enumerator not include their monthly rent, but their salaries are listed, which provides valuable insight. Most of the hotel maids earned $703 per year ($12,700 today), and the middle class workers such as the electrician, mechanic, and nurse all made a little over $1,000 ($18,000 today). The wealthier residents earned between $3,000 and $5,000 ($54,000-$90,000 today), and any incomes over $5,000 were recorded as “$5,000+” on the census. This was the case for two Kimball Hotel residents, who each earned the modern equivalent of over $90,000: John Haggerty, whose occupation was listed as “electrotypes” for a publishing company, and Chester McGown, the president of American International College.

Around the early 1950s, the hotel was acquired by Sheraton, which had been founded in 1937 in Springfield. This property became the Sheraton-Kimball Hotel, and it was declared to be “The Leading Hotel in Western Mass.” in a 1955 directory. The advertisement went on to list its “Town Room – Coffee Shop (Excellent food, Superb Service) Pickwick Cocktail Lounge (Entertainment Nightly),” and it also mentioned how the hotel specialized in wedding receptions and private parties.

However, despite this glowing description of the hotel, the mid-20th century was a difficult time for grand downtown hotels across the country, as interstate highways and suburban motels began changing the way Americans traveled. The Sheraton-Kimball closed by the early 1960s, but the building avoided demolition. Instead, it was converted into apartments, and it was renamed the Kimball Towers. Then, in 1985 it was converted into condominiums, with a total of 132 units. Today, it is still in use as a condominium building, with few exterior changes since the first photo was taken some 80 years ago. It remains an important downtown landmark, and it forms the centerpiece of the Apremont Triangle Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Bridge Street, Northampton, Mass

The view looking west on Bridge Street, from near the corner of Market Street in Northampton, around 1890. Image from Picturesque Hampshire (1890).

The scene in 2018:

The first photo shows downtown Northampton as it appeared around 1890, prior to the construction of a railroad bridge over Bridge Street. At the time, the tracks crossed directly over the street, and the crossing was marked by both signs and gates. This was a busy area for both street and railroad traffic; the crossing is located at the eastern end of the downtown area, and Bridge Street was the main road out of Northampton to the east. In addition, the crossing was the site of the junction between the New Haven & Northampton and the Connecticut River Railroads, and an 1873 map shows six tracks passing over Bridge Street.

At the time, the two railroads maintained separate passenger depots, which were located out of view to the left, on the other side of the tracks along Strong Avenue. However, this arrangement would change only a few years after the first photo was taken, when the tracks were raised and Bridge Street was slightly lowered in order to build a bridge that would eliminate the busy grade crossing. This work was completed in 1897, and it coincided with the completion of a new Union Station that replaced the two older stations.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, many of the commercial buildings in the distance are still standing. Some of the other buildings were constructed soon after the photo was taken, including the yellow brick Masonic Building, located just beyond the bridge on the right side of the scene. Completed in 1898, it is perhaps best known as the building where Calvin Coolidge had his law offices prior to his political career. Closer to the foreground, the most significant change from the first photo is the railroad bridge, which still carries rail traffic over Bridge Street. However, while it has prevented rail and street traffic from interfering with each other, it has caused problems of its own with its low clearance. Despite prominent signage, trucks frequently end up stuck in the underpass, and locals have dubbed it the “truck-eating bridge.”

Post Office, Northampton, Mass

The post office at the corner of Pleasant and Armory Streets in Northampton, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2018:

This post office was constructed between 1903 and 1905, and it features a Classical Revival-style design that was popular for buildings of this period. It was designed by the office of James Knox Taylor, who served as Supervising Architect of the Department of the Treasury from 1897 to 1912. During this time, Taylor’s responsibilities included designing hundreds of federal buildings, although it does not seem clear as to what extent he – rather than the other architects in his office –  was actually involved in designing this post office.

The building originally had a rectangular footprint, with the main entrance here on Pleasant Street, flanked by two Ionic columns. However, the building was significantly expanded in 1938, as part of a New Deal-era program that constructed many new federal buildings across the country. Here in Northampton, the post office was more than doubled, with a large addition on the left side. The original design was essentially duplicated, though, so the newer half is almost indistinguishable from the older section. However, in order to preserve the symmetry, the original main entrance was closed and turned into a window, and a new entrance was opened in the middle of the Pleasant Street facade.

The expanded building remained in use as Northampton’s post office for nearly 40 more years, but it closed in 1976 when the current post office opened on Bridge Street. The building has been preserved, though, and the interior has been converted into offices. It stands as one of the many late 19th and early 20th century buildings that still line the streets of Northampton, and it is now a contributing property in the Northampton Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Connecticut Hall, New Haven, Connecticut (2)

Connecticut Hall, seen from across the quadrangle on the Old Campus of Yale University, around 1901-1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in an earlier post, Connecticut Hall was among the earliest buildings to be constructed on the Yale campus. It was completed in 1752, and it originally featured a Georgian-style design that was modeled after Massachusetts Hall at Harvard. At the time, there were only a few buildings here at Yale, so Connecticut Hall served many different purposes in its early years. There was space for a dining room, library, recitation hall, chapel, and dormitory rooms, and the ground floor also housed the buttery, where students could purchase beer, tobacco, and other products not available in the dining hall.

Over the years, as Yale steadily expanded, Connecticut Hall was joined by a group of similar buildings that all stood in a line parallel to College Street. Collectively known as the Old Brick Row, these buildings alternated between long dormitories and shorter academic buildings. Connecticut Hall eventually became exclusively a dormitory, and was known as South Middle College. In the midst of this expansion, Connecticut Hall was altered around the turn of the 19th century, and the original gambrel roof was replaced with a peaked roof, as seen in the first photo.

The Old Brick Row was at the center of Yale for much of the 19th century, but by 1870 the school had adopted a new plan that called for new Gothic-style buildings along the perimeter of the campus, with a large open quadrangle in the middle, where the Old Brick Row stood. The buildings around the quadrangle were largely completed by the mid-1890s, and demolition of the old buildings began around the same time. By the turn of the 20th century, only three remained, and two of these – North College and the Lyceum – would be demolished in 1901. This left South Middle College as the sole survivor of the Old Brick Row, and at this point it was almost entirely walled in behind modern buildings, including Welch Hall on the left, Osborn Hall in the distant center, and Vanderbilt Hall on the right side of the first photo.

The old building was nearly demolished, but this threat sparked an outcry in favor of its preservation. As a result, it was instead renovated, soon after the first photo was taken. The most noticeable change on the exterior was the reconstruction of the gambrel roof, and the building was renamed Connecticut Hall. It would continue to be used as a dormitory throughout the first half of the 20th century, but it underwent another major renovation in 1952-1954, when the interior was gutted and converted into office space. Today, the building still stands, and it currently houses the offices of the Department of Philosophy. Now over 250 years old, it is the oldest surviving building on the Yale campus, along with being one of the oldest college buildings in the United States.

Farnam Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Farnam Hall on the Old Campus of Yale University, around 1894. Image from Yale University Views (1894).

Farnam Hall in 2018:

For much of the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Yale campus was dominated by the Old Brick Row, a group of buildings than ran parallel to College Street between Chapel and Elm Streets. However, in 1870 the school began converting the campus into a quadrangle, surrounded by new buildings along the perimeter. The first of these new buildings was Farnam Hall, a dormitory that was completed in 1870 near the northeastern corner of the campus. Like the older buildings, its exterior was constructed of brick, but it featured a Gothic-style design that was very different from the comparatively plan buildings of the Old Brick Row. It was the work of Russell Sturgis, a prominent architect who would go on to design the other nearby buildings, including the Battell Chapel, Durfee Hall, and Lawrance Hall.

The first photo was taken less than 25 years after its completion, but very little has changed since then. Farnam Hall is now the oldest dormitory in use at Yale, and it currently houses freshmen students of Jonathan Edwards College. The only noticeable difference between the two photos is the loss of the two cupolas on the roof, but otherwise the building has remained well-preserved. The adjacent buildings – Battell Chapel on the left and Lawrance Hall on the right – are also still standing, and together these they form the northeast corner of the quadrangle, which is now known as the Old Campus.

Durfee Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Durfee Hall, on the Old Campus of Yale University, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Durfee Hall in 2018:

As discussed in previous posts, the Yale campus underwent dramatic changes during the last three decades of the 19th century. The Old Brick Row, which had been the defining feature of the school since the late 18th century, was steadily replaced by new buildings that surrounded a central quadrangle. One of the first of the new buildings was Durfee Hall, a dormitory that was completed in 1871. Its design was the work of noted architect Russell Sturgis, who also designed several other buildings at Yale, including the adjacent Battell Chapel and the nearby Farnam and Lawrance Halls.

The four-story Dufree Hall was built with 20 bedrooms and 10 common rooms on each floor, with all of the common rooms on this side of the building, facing the campus, and all of the bedrooms on the north side, facing Elm Street. This arrangement was similar to the older dormitories at Yale, but otherwise its design was a significant departure from tradition, with ornate Gothic-style architecture and a brownstone exterior that contrasted with the older, comparatively Old Brick Row.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, very little has changed in this scene. Durfee Hall is still standing, without any noticeable exterior alterations, and so is the Battell Chapel on the right side. Along with the other dormitories on the Old Campus, Durfee Hall is now used as freshman housing, with students living here for a year before moving into one of the residential colleges for the rest of their time at Yale. Over the years, its residents have included Anderson Cooper, who lived here during his freshman year, and it was even the home of the fictional Rory Gilmore in the television show Gilmore Girls.