New Haven County Courthouse, New Haven, Connecticut

The New Haven County Courthouse, at the corner of Elm and Church Streets in New Haven, around 1918. Image from A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven County (1918).

The courthouse in 2018:

This courthouse was built in 1914, and it stands as an excellent example of the Beaux-Arts and Classical Revival styles of architecture that were popular in the early 20th century, particularly for government buildings. It was the work of local architect William H. Allen, and he designed it to resemble an ancient Greek temple, with classically-inspired features such as Ionic columns on the front and sides of the building, and a front portico with a pediment that was decorated with carved figures. These figures are allegorical representations of Justice, Victory, Precedence, Accuracy, Common Law, Statutory Law, Progress, and Commerce, and they were the work of noted sculptor John Massey Rhind.

Around the time that the building opened in March 1914, the Hartford Courant published a lengthy article about it, which included the following description of the interior:

Its lower walls are of marble, as are the stairways and the walls of the court rooms. The highest walls are tinted and are artistic and pleasing to the eye. A great dome of various colored glass adds to the beauty of the rotunda and the offices are all large and well appointed and handsomely furnished. Every piece of furniture in the building is of mahogany and all the trim is of the same wood. The offices of the county commissioners, sheriff, clerks of the court and the common pleas and superior and supreme court are on the first and second floors. The supreme court room on the second floor is a handsome place: the most beautiful by far of all the courtrooms, because of its large and impressive appearance. Each of the judges will have a private room and there will be all of the comforts and conveniences of home, including a modern tub and shower bath upstairs.

Over the years, this courthouse has been the site of several notable cases. These included Griswold v. Connecticut, a landmark Supreme Court decision that originated here in this courthouse in 1961, when Estelle Griswold and C. Lee Buxton were each fined $100 for violating Connecticut’s anti-contraception laws. This case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction and set a major precedent for the right to privacy. Other important events here included the 1970 Black Panther Trials, which occurred after the arrest of nine Black Panther Party members in connection with the 1969 murder of Alex Rackley. The trials sparked large protests, with tens of thousands of demonstrators gathering on the New Haven Green outside of the courthouse, and most of the high-profile defendants were ultimately either acquitted or had the charges dropped.

The building was threatened by possible demolition in the 1950s, at a time when urban renewal projects were transforming the downtown areas of many cities across the country. However, it ended up being modernized instead, and it continues to be used as a county courthouse. Overall, very little has changed in its exterior appearance since the first photo was taken, and some of the nearby buildings are also still standing, including the Ives Memorial Library on the left side. Because of its historical and architectural significance, the courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island (3)

The view of The Breakers in Newport, seen from the south side of the property, around 1895. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was apparently taken around the same time as the one in the previous post, and shows the southeastern and southwestern sides of The Breakers, around the time that it was completed in 1895. The Classical Revival-style mansion was the work of noted architect Richard Morris Hunt, and the grounds of the 14-acre property were designed by landscape architect Ernest W. Bowditch. Some of this landscaping is visible in this scene, including the south parterre, which was planted with a variety of flowers in its formal garden.

The Breakers was the largest of the many opulent mansions that were built in Newport during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it was originally the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife Alice. Cornelius had inherited a substantial fortune from his father, William Henry Vanderbilt, and his grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and upon his death in 1899 he had a net worth of about $73 million – equivalent to about $2.2 billion today. The house would remain in the family for several more generations, with their daughter Gladys Széchenyi inheriting the property after Alice’s death in 1934, and Gladys’s daughter Sylvia inheriting it in 1968.

During this time, the house itself remained well-preserved, but the grounds underwent some changes. The 1938 hurricane caused only minimal damage to the house, but it significantly altered Bowditch’s landscaping. Over the years, the landscaping also suffered from neglect, and by the late 1950s the garden here on the south parterre were replaced with turf. Beginning in 1948, The Breakers was leased to the Preservation Society of Newport County for the nominal sum of $1 per year, and it was opened to the public for tours. The family continued to occupy the third floor of the house, but in 1972 Sylvia sold the property to the Preservation Society for $365,000, with the stipulation that she be allowed to use the third floor apartment for the rest of her life.

Today, the grounds look very different compared to their appearance over 120 years ago. However, the garden on the south parterre was replanted at some point after the Preservation Society acquired the property, and it now features a symmetrical design similar to what Bowditch had envisioned. In the meantime, the house itself has remained well-preserved on both the exterior and interior, and in 1994 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. It is also the most popular tourist site in Rhode Island, drawing around 400,000 visitors each year.

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island (2)

The Breakers in Newport, viewed from the southwest corner of the property, around 1895. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The scene in 2017:

As discussed in an earlier post, The Breakers is the grandest of all the Gilded Age mansions that were built in Newport in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The 70-room, 125,000-square-foot “cottage” was built between 1893 and 1895, and was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife Alice. The Vanderbilts had purchased the property in 1885, which at the time included a smaller house that was also named The Breakers. This house burned down in 1892, and the Vanderbilts quickly commissioned noted architect Richard Morris Hunt to design its replacement.

The first photo shows The Breakers around the time of its completion. This is actually the side of the house, and it features a portico outside of the first floor music room. Directly above it is the rounded exterior wall of Alice Vanderbilt’s bedroom. At the time, mansions such as The Breakers were typically built with separate bedrooms for the husband and wife, and Cornelius’s was located directly to the left of hers, on the western corner of the house. On the left side of the house is the porte-cochère at the main entrance, and around the corner to the right is the terrace on the southeastern side of the house, which faces the ocean.

Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1899, only a few years after The Breakers was completed, but Alice continued to own the property until her death in 1934 at the age of 89. She had not only outlived her husband and four of her seven children; she had also outlived the Gilded Age and the philosophy of conspicuous consumption that had led to the construction of The Breakers. The house, like many of the other mansion in Newport, had become an expensive white elephant, with astronomical operating costs from the property taxes, utilities, and the nearly 60 servants who were required to run the house.

Of Alice’s three surviving children, only her daughter Gladys had any interest in the property. She was the wife of Hungarian count László Széchenyi, and she inherited The Breakers after her mother’s death. She continued to own the house until her death in 1965, but starting in 1948 she leased it to the Preservation Society of Newport County, which opened it to the public for tours. Her daughter Sylvia would subsequently sell The Breakers to the organization in 1972, for $365,000, although she was allowed to retain a third-floor apartment for the rest of her life.

Sylvia died in 1998, but her children – the fourth generation to spend summers here in the house – were allowed to continue to use the third floor until early 2018, shortly after the second photo was taken. In the meantime, the first two floors have been open to the public for many years, drawing over 400,000 visitors annually. It is one of nine historic houses owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County, and in 1994 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its historical and architectural significance.

Holyoke Public Library, Holyoke, Mass

The Holyoke Public Library, seen from the corner of Maple and Essex Streets in Holyoke, around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The library in 2017:

The Holyoke Public Library was established in 1870, and originally consisted of around 1,200 books that were housed in the Appleton Street School. Then, in 1876, the library moved to a room in city hall, where it was located for the next 25 years. However, in 1897 the Holyoke Water Power Company offered this lot, bounded by Maple, Cabot, Chestnut, and Essex Streets, to the library. The only stipulation was that the library must, within three years, raise enough money to construct a building on the site. This goal was ultimately achieved, thanks in part to the contributions of some of Holyoke’s prominent industrialists, including silk manufacturer William Skinner and paper manufacturer and former Congressman William Whiting, who each gave $10,000. Another $10,000 came from the prominent financier J. P. Morgan, whose ancestors had once lived in Holyoke.

The building was designed by noted local architect James A. Clough, who provided the plans free of charge. The exterior was built of limestone, and included classically-inspired elements such as a columned portico, which gave the building the appearance of a Greek temple in the midst of a modern industrial city. It was completed in 1902, and Whiting, who had served as the library’s president since 1870, gave the dedication address. At the time, the the library’s collections had grown to more than 20,000 volumes, and the building featured space for periodicals, reference works, and a children’s department. Within a decade, it would also house a natural history museum, which was later moved to the Wistariahurst museum.

The first photo shows the library as it appeared around the early 1910s. Since then, it has continued to serve as the city’s library for more than a century, although it has recently undergone significant changes. Between 2011 and 2013, it was renovated and expanded, with a large addition to the rear on the Chestnut Street side of the building. This project involved demolishing the old wing that housed the library stacks, and replacing it with a modern steel and glass structure that sharply contrasts with the original architecture of the building. However, the rest of the building was preserved as part of the renovations, and very little has changed from this view, aside from a small portion of the addition that is visible on the far right.

Phoenix Building, Holyoke, Mass

The building at the corner of Maple and Dwight Streets in Holyoke, around 1910. Image from Holyoke: Past and Present Progress and Prosperity (1910).

The building in 2017:

This large, mixed-use commercial and residential building stands at the corner of Maple and Dwight Streets in downtown Holyoke. It is just a block away from City Hall and the central business district of High Street, and it overlooks Hampden Park, which is located directly across Dwight Street from here. Although completed more than a century ago, the building’s appearance seems very modern in many ways. With its boxy design, numerous balconies, and relative lack of ornamentation, it could almost pass for an early 21st century condominium complex that was made to look old, instead of an early 20th century building that actually is old.

The first photo shows the building soon after its completion in 1910, and was published in Holyoke: Past and Present Progress and Prosperity, along with a glowing description of the new building:

There is no doubt about the fact that Holyoke is progressing along the building line as well as in the many other lines, for with the erection of the Phoenix building during 1909 and 1910, Holyoke has gained a great modern and metropolitan structure, comparing favorably with the most modern of the buildings in larger cities. Located in the commercial heart of the city, facing Dwight and Maple streets, it is ideal for both business and residential purposes. The outward structure is of brick. The entire weight of the building is sustained by a heavy steel frame. This steel frame is covered with Portland cement construction. The floors are of Portland cement. All partitions are made of hollow tile blocks. There are six stories, and a basement of one hundred and twenty feet both on Dwight and Maple streets. There are nine stores of handsome and substantial finish and most stylish entrances and show windows.

There are many offices, each provided with hot and cold water, ample light and air; when one considers the central location of these offices and that this building is fireproof throughout together with elevator service, then it is realized that here is a good place to do business. A word should be said about the plumbing. This work is being done by the well known firm of Carmody & Sullivan, and is of the best and latest constriction for this kind of a building.

Besides the offices there are here many first class chambers, arranged to suit the most critical, an ample supply of light, air, hot and cold water, new furniture and fixtures are provided and of course the fireproof qualities and the elevator apply to this part of the building also. These rooms are rented in single or suite with or without private bath. On the two upper floors, where the view and the air are still better and it is quieter, there are a number of apartments ranging from two to five rooms, all fitted up with the latest improvements. Inspection of this modern and fireproof building is invited. The owners are the Phoenix Realty Associates, the trustees of which are E. L. Lyman, E. C. Bliss and J. J. Ramage.

Mr. L. L. Bridge of Springfield was the architect and engineer. Mr. F. H. Dibble took the contract to finish the building when the steel and cement work was finished.

The 1920 census shows a number of residents here in this building, including 14 families who rented apartments. These included one of the building’s owners, Edmund C. Bliss, who worked as the secretary and assistant treasurer of the Springfield Blanket Company. Other tenants included a mechanical engineer, a sales manager, a railroad freight agent, the physical director of the YMCA, a merchant, a tailor, and several foremen who worked in factories. Most of these families consisted of just a husband and wife living in an apartment, but there were also several families that had children.

However, the majority of the building’s residents during the 1920 census were listed as lodgers, presumably living in the single rooms that were described in the excerpt above. There were a total of 80 such lodgers, nearly all of whom were either single or widowed. In a city that was largely comprised of immigrant factory workers during this period, nearly all of these lodgers were born in the United States, although many were the children of immigrants. Like those who rented apartments, the lodgers tended to hold middle-class jobs, including office clerks, machinists, milliners, dressmakers, stenographers, and one resident was even listed as a bank vice president.

By the 1940 census, the building still housed a variety of middle class residents. None were listed as lodgers, although nearly all of them lived alone, and were either single or widowed. Monthly rents ranged from $15 to $75 (about $275 to $1,370 today), but most tenants paid around $20 to $25 (about $365 to $457 today). Of those who worked for a full year, annual salaries ranged from $600 (around $11,000 today) for an attendant at a state school, to $3,280 (around $60,000 today) for a mechanical inspector who worked at an army air base.

Today, more than a hundred years after the first photo was taken, Holyoke is no longer the prosperous industrial center that it had been during the first half of the 20th century. However, the city has many historic buildings that are still standing, including the Phoenix Building. It has lost the balustrade atop the roof, and the ground-floor storefronts have been altered, but overall it has remained well-preserved over the years, and it survives as a good example of an early 20th century mixed-use development here in Holyoke.

Essex County Registry of Deeds and Probate Court, Salem, Mass

The Essex County Registry of Deeds and Probate Court, on Federal Street in Salem, around 1909-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The courthouse in 2017:

As mentioned in an earlier post, Federal Street is the site of four Essex County courthouse buildings, representing a wide range of architectural styles, from mid-19th century Greek Revival to 21st century Postmodernism. The oldest of these, just out of view on the far right of this scene, was built in 1841, and was followed by a second courthouse in 1862, which can be seen in the distance on the right side of these photos. However, both of these buildings were subsequently dwarfed by the much larger Registry of Deeds and Probate Court building, which was completed in 1909 and is seen here in these two photos.

The Classical Revival-style courthouse was the work of Clarence H. Blackall, a prominent turn-of-the-century architect whose other works included a number of theaters in Boston. This style of architecture was particularly popular for public buildings of the era, and features a granite exterior with a large pediment above the main entrance, supported by six Ionic columns. Other classical elements include the carving above the door, which includes the head of a woman who is wearing a Greek helmet, presumably symbolizing Athena.

Today, this scene looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken a century ago. The building was used by the Registry of Deeds and the Probate Court for many years, and was expanded from 1979 to 1981 with a large addition to the rear. More recently, it was joined by a new county courthouse, which was completed in 2012 and stands just out of view on the left side of the scene. The two 19th century courthouses were subsequently closed, but this courthouse underwent a major renovation that was completed in 2017. This $50 million project included preservation of the original 1909 structure, along with the demolition and reconstruction of the 1979-1981 addition, and the building now houses the Essex County Probate Court and Family Court.