Old Central High School, Pittsfield, Mass

The Old Central High School, seen from First Street in Pittsfield, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

This land between First and Second Streets had once been Pittsfield’s cemetery, but in 1872 the graves were relocated and the land was redeveloped as the Common. A few decades later, after Pittsfield’s high school building burned down, this location was seen as ideal for a new school. It opened in 1898, with a capacity of 600 students, but the city was experiencing rapid growth at the time. Between 1900 and 1920, Pittsfield doubled in population, and it did not take long for the new high school to be overcrowded.

A new, significantly larger high school opened in 1931, a few blocks away on East Street. The old building became the junior high school, and starting in 1961 it housed the newly-established Berkshire Community College. After the college moved to its current campus in 1972, the old school was again vacant. It was ultimately preserved, though, and was redeveloped into housing. Today, it still has all of the same architectural splendor that it had when it first opened, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, RI

The John Carter Brown Library on the campus of Brown University, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The library in 2016:

The John Carter Brown Library is one of seven libraries at Brown University, featuring an extensive collection of rare, colonial-era books published in the Americas. Its origins trace back to the private collection of John Carter Brown, who was a member of Providence’s prominent Brown family. His father, Nicholas Brown, Jr., was the donor for whom the school was named, and many other family members played an important role in the founding and development of the school.

After his death in 1874, John Carter Brown left his collection to his son, John Nicholas Brown. He, in turn, left instructions in his will to establish a library with the collection, to be named in memory of his father. Although his will did not stipulate a location, the library trustees chose Brown University, and it opened in 1904, four years after his death.

Like many other early 20th century libraries, the building is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture, and was designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, the firm that would go on to design Brown’s John Hay Library a few years later. The library’s opening in the spring of 1904 coincided with the completion of a nearby gate, which was donated by John Nicholas Brown’s widow and named for her late husband.

Today, the front facade of the library is unchanged from the first photo, but its holdings have significantly increased over the years. A new addition was completed in 1990, and named the Caspersen Building in honor of the parents of its benefactor, Finn M. W. Caspersen. The library now has over 50,000 books from the 19th century and earlier, along with thousands of rare maps, prints, manuscripts, and other documents.

Union Station, Worcester, Mass

The Union Station in Worcester, around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


Union Station in 2016:

Although Worcester’s Union Station looks largely the same now as it did over a century ago, the building has undergone dramatic changes in between. It was built in 1911, when the railroad tracks through downtown Worcester were raised above street level, requiring the replacement of the original 1875 Union Station, located just east of here. Although owned by the New York Central Railroad through their Boston & Albany subsidiary, the station served all of the railroads in Worcester, including the Providence & Worcester and the Boston & Maine. This new building was designed by the firm of Watson & Huckel, and its Beaux Arts architecture was very different from the Romanesque style of its predecessor, reflecting a major shift in architectural tastes from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries.

Although the twin towers of the building were its most iconic feature, the original ones lasted barely 15 years, and had to be removed in 1926 because of damaged caused by vibration from passing trains. The station, without the towers, remained in use for nearly 50 years, but by the mid-20th century passenger rail travel was in decline, and in 1972 it finally closed.

For more than 35 years, the station sat abandoned and decaying. Over time, the panes of glass in the skylight above the main concourse fell out, and for many years the interior was completely exposed to the elements. However, through decades of neglect the exterior remained structurally sound, and after several years of restoration work, the station reopened in 2000, complete with replicas of the towers that had been missing for nearly 75 years. Today, the restored building is a prominent Worcester landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, and from this angle is virtually indistinguishable from its original appearance.

Grand Central Terminal Whispering Gallery, New York City

The whispering gallery at the bottom of the ramp to the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

These photos were taken from the bottom of the ramp that is seen in an earlier post, which leads from the Main Concourse to the station’s lower concourse. Because of the curve of the ceiling here, two people can stand facing the walls on opposite corners and speak at a normal level. The acoustics of the ceiling will carry their voices across the arch and the other person will be able to hear them perfectly clearly. That is, in fact, exactly what the person on the far right of the 2016 photo is doing; his friend was standing just out of the frame of the photo on the left side. I don’t know whether it was deliberately designed like that, or if the man in the bowler derby and overcoat in the first photo ever tried it out, but it is one of Grand Central Terminal’s more unusual architectural features.

Grand Central Terminal Suburban Concourse, New York City (2)

Another view of the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

Like the photos in the previous post, this view shows the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal. It is located directly underneath the Main Concourse, and when the station opened in 1913, this level was used for suburban commuter trains. The row of windows on the right side in the first photo were the ticket offices of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, which provided commuter service to the north of the city, along the present-day Hudson and Harlem Lines on the Metro-North Railroad. The ramp in the center of the photo is the same one that appears in the first photo, and it leads up to the Main Concourse. Beyond it are more ticket windows, for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, which provided service along the current Metro-North New Haven Line.

Today, this concourse is still used by commuters to access the trains on the lower tracks, but it also doubles as the station’s food court. Several prominent New York City restaurants have locations here, including Junior’s in the foreground and Shake Shack beyond it. Most of the original features are still here, including the marble walls, decorative ceiling, information kiosk to the left, and the ticket windows to the right, which now display menus.

Grand Central Terminal Suburban Concourse, New York City

The lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, showing the ramp to the upper level, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

Grand Central Terminal is best known for its spacious Main Concourse, but when the station first opened in 1913 the upper level was only used for inter-city trains. Commuters to the outer suburbs departed from this significantly less breathtaking concourse located on the lower level, directly underneath the Main Concourse. The first photo was probably taken around the time that the station opened, but over the years its function has changed. As explained in the previous post, the station is no longer split between long-distance and suburban trains; instead, Amtrak uses nearby Penn Station along with the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit commuter lines, while Grand Central is exclusively a commuter rail station, used by the Metro-North Railroad.

Today, the lower concourse is significantly more crowded today than it was in the first photo. The lower tracks are still in use, but the concourse has taken on a second role as the station’s food court, with Shake Shack and other restaurants occupying the space on the left side where the ticket office windows were located in the first photo. Despite this, though, the underlying architecture has not changed much, and the station would still be recognizable to a commuter from the early 20th century.