Central Congregational Church, Providence, RI

The Central Congregational Church on Angell Street in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The church in 2016:

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Established in 1852, the Central Congregational Church was originally located on Benefit Street, in the western part of the College Hill neighborhood. However, within 40 years the congregation had outgrown their first home, and in 1893 they moved into this building on Angell Street. This area is located on the opposite end of College Hill, furthest from downtown Providence, and was developed as a residential neighborhood in the last decades of the 19th century.

The new church building was designed by Carrère and Hastings, a prominent New York architectural firm who designed a number of prominent Beaux-Arts style buildings at the turn of the 20th century. Designing at the height of the Gilded Age, the firms’s works ranged from grand hotels in Florida, to mansions in Newport and the Berkshires, to the New York Public Library. However, their Renaissance Revival-style design for the Central Congregational Church was among their early commissions.

With yellow brick and plenty of terra cotta, it has a Mediterranean appearance that almost seems out of place in New England, but it has stood here for over 120 years. The original tops of the two towers were damaged in a hurricane in the 1950s, and were replaced with far less ornate ones, but otherwise the church’s exterior appearance has remained the same in both photos. Today, the building is still home to the Central Congregational Church, and it is a contributing property in the Stimson Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fifth Avenue from 42nd Street, New York City (2)

The view looking south on Fifth Avenue from 42nd Street, with the New York Public Library on the right side, around 1912. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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This view is similar to an earlier post, with the only difference being that it is a little further back and angled further to the right. The first photo here was probably taken around the same time as the one in this previous post, as they both show the Taft-Sherman campaign banner across Fifth Avenue in the distance. Based on the fact that the trees to the right don’t have many leaves left, the photo was probably taken in the fall of 1912, maybe in late October or the first week of November.

President Taft had actually visited this location about a year and a half earlier, when he presided over the opening ceremonies for the New York Public Library. Today, not much has changed in this exterior view of the library building. Another building still standing from the first photo is the Knox Hat Building, in the center of the photo at the corner of 40th Street. This incredibly ornate building was designed by architect John H. Duncan and completed in 1902 for the Knox Hat Company, who used the first two floors for retail space and had offices in the upper floors. It was later used as a bank, and it is now owned by HSBC. They combined it with the modern glass skyscraper behind it, but the historic building still retains its distinctive appearance.

New York Public Library, New York City (2)

The New York Public Library, seen from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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The first photo here was taken a few years before the one in this earlier post, and it shows the library shortly before its completion. At this point the building had been under construction for about six years, and although the exterior was mostly finished, there was still about three more years of work left to do. The grounds had not been landscaped yet, and instead the library was surrounded by dirt and debris, with a simple brick wall and metal picket fence around the construction site. Also missing from the first photo were the two lion statues that now flank the front steps. Originally nicknamed Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after two of the library’s greatest benefactors, they were designed by sculptor Edward Clark Potter and were installed by the time the library opened in 1911.

New York Public Library, New York City

The main branch of the New York Public Library, seen from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 40th Street around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The library in 2016:

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The New York Public Library system has its origins in a number of 19th century private libraries, including the Astor Library and the Lenox Library. In 1985, these were consolidated into a single, city-wide public library, but the organization was in need of a suitable building. In the 1890s, the Boston Public Library had set the standard for grand city libraries, and New York City followed suit with this central library, located along Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. This spot had previously been the site of the Croton Distributing Reservoir, a massive 50-foot tall granite structure that was built in 1842 and could hold up to 20 million gallons of drinking water. It was demolished around 1900 and construction on the library began in 1902.

The interior of the library is known for its elegantly-designed public spaces, such as the marble Astor Hall, the walnut-paneled McGraw Rotunda, and the two-block long Main Reading Room, but there is far more to the building than just what is publicly accessible. When the library opened in 1911, its collections were stored in seven levels of stacks underneath the Reading Room, which had 75 miles of shelf space. The library eventually outgrew this space, though, and in the 1980s the stacks were expanded underneath Bryant Park, which is located behind the library.

Since 2008, the building has been officially named after Stephen A. Schwarzman, a businessman who donated $100 million toward renovating and expanding the library. Its exterior has remained largely unchanged from the first photo, but virtually everything else around it has changed in the past century. Today, Midtown Manhattan has grown up around the library, and while the backdrop of the first photo is a sky filled with white puffy clouds, today the view of the sky is now almost entirely obscured by modern skyscrapers that literally overshadow the library.

Astor Hall, New York Public Library, New York City

Astor Hall, at the entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library, around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Like the photo McGraw Rotunda in the previous post, this early photo of Astor Hall was probably taken around the time that the main branch of the New York Public Library opened in 1911. This marble entryway is named for the prominent Astor family. Upon his death in 1848, John Jacob Astor, the family patriarch, left funds to establish the Astor Library, a free public library that was later merged to form the New York Public Library system in 1895. The present-day main branch was built several years later, and not much has changed in this scene in the century since the first photo was taken, but the marble walls now bear the names of various benefactors of the library, including, appropriately, several generations of the Astor family at the top of the list.

McGraw Rotunda, New York Public Library, New York City

The McGraw Rotunda on the third floor of the New York Public Library Main Branch, around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:New York Public LibraryN

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The main branch of the New York Public Library, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, was completed in 1911, and the first photo was probably taken soon after, as it is part of a series of photos that the Detroit Publishing Company took to show the interior of the new building. The rotunda includes walnut paneling and a valuted ceiling, and the present-day photo also shows the murals that were added after the first photo was taken. Located on the walls and on the ceiling, the murals are entitled “The Story of the Recorded Word,” and were painted in 1937 by Edward Laning. One of them depicts Johannes Gutenberg holding a page from his famous Bible, which was the first book to have been printed using movable type. Appropriately, the McGraw Rotunda is also home to the New York Public Library’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible, which can be seen in the center of the 2016 photo. It was the first Gutenberg Bible in the United States, when James Lenox brought it here in 1847, and today it is one of only 49 existing copies in the world.