The Elms, Newport, Rhode Island (2)

The garden on the south side of The Elms in Newport, in 1914. Image taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Johnston Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As in the previous post, the first photo here was taken by noted photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston. Her specialties included photographs of gardens, and many of these – including this photo – were hand colored on lantern slides, for Johnston to use in her various lectures. This photo is one of several that she took here at The Elms in Newport, and is shows the meticulously-landscaped garden on the south side of the house. At the time, Newport was still one of the most desirable summer resorts in the country, and The Elms had been built 13 years earlier by coal tycoon Edward Julius Berwind.

The family spent many summers here, and after Edward’s wife Sarah died in 1922, he continued to visit here, accompanied by his sister Julia. She inherited the property after his death in 1936, and it remained her summer home for the rest of her life, until her death in 1961 at the age of 96. Up until this  point, the house was still staffed by an army of 40 servants, long after most of the other massive Gilded Age mansions in Newport had been either demolished, converted to other uses, or preserved as museums. By the early 1960s, such homes had long since fallen out of fashion, and no other members of the Berwind family were interested in taking on the expense of maintaining a 48-room, 60,000-square-foot summer house.

As a result, the house was nearly demolished in 1962 in order to construct a shopping center here on the site. However, several weeks before it was to be demolished, The Elms was instead purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County and opened as a museum. Both the house and the grounds have been preserved, and it is now one of many historic Newport properties maintained by the Preservation Society. This particular garden scene is not completely identical to its early 20th century appearance, particularly with the lack of hedges in the foreground, but the statue in the distance is still there, as are the ones on the patio to the left. Overall, the scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo, despite more than a century since Johnston captured this view in the first photo.

The Elms, Newport, Rhode Island (1)

The gardens on the south side of The Elms in Newport, in 1914. Image taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Johnston Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo is from a lantern slide that was taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, who was among the first prominent American women photographers. One of her specialties was garden photography, and in 1914 she took some photos of the gardens at The Elms, the summer estate of the Berwind family in Newport. These photos were taken in black and white, as color photography was still in its infancy at the time, but the resulting glass lantern slides were then hand colored, and Johnston used them in various lectures that she gave to garden clubs, museums, and other organizations.

This scene shows the gardens at the southwest corner of The Elms. The house had been constructed between 1899 and 1901, and it was used as the summer residence for Edward Julius Berwind, a Philadelphia native who had founded the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company. After making his fortune in the coal industry, Berwind joined the many other Gilded Age aristocrats who were building palatial homes here in Newport. He hired noted architect Horace Trumbauer to design the house, which was modeled after the Château d’Asnières, and the grounds were laid out by Ernest W. Bowditch, a landscape architect whose other Newport commissions included the grounds of The Breakers. Overall, the house cost about $1.4 million to build, equivalent to over $40 million today.

The house remained in the Berwind family for over 60 years. Edward and his wife Sarah had no children, but after her death in 1922 and his death in 1936, the property was inherited by his sister Julia. By this point, in the midst of the Great Depression, the heyday of the grand Newport mansions had passed. Such homes were increasingly seen as white elephants from a previous era, and many were either demolished or converted into different uses. However, life here at The Elms remained largely unchanged through all of this, with Julia continuing to spend her summers here, accompanied by 40 servants who ran the house.

The Elms was ultimately one of the last of the large Newport mansions to be staffed by such a retinue servants, and it was also one of the last that was still owned by its original family. This continued until 1961, when Julia Berwind died at the age of 96. Her nephew, Charles E. Dunlap, who was himself in his 70s at the time, then inherited the house. He had no interest in taking on the expense of maintaining the house, though, so he subsequently sold the property to a developer who intended to demolish the house and replace it with a shopping center.

This demolition nearly occurred in 1962, but at the last minute the property was sold to the Preservation Society of Newport County, becoming one of the organization’s many historic house museums here in Newport. Today, The Elms remains open to the public as one of the largest of the Gilded Age Newport mansions. Along with the house itself, the grounds have also been well-preserved during this time, including the sculptures visible here. Overall, very little has changed in this scene, with the gardens still looking much the same as they did when Frances Benjamin Johnston photographed them more than a century ago.

Underwood Building, Springfield, Mass

The Underwood Building at the corner of Main and Worthington Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2018:

This two-story, Classical Revival-style commercial building was constructed in 1916, and over the years it has housed a variety of businesses. Its name comes from one of its early tenants, the Underwood Typewriter Company, which had its Springfield offices here. In its early years, the upper floor of the building was occupied by the Knights of Columbus, which met here until 1929, but perhaps the most noteworthy tenant here was the Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition, which had its offices in the building from 1917 until 1949. Later named the Eastern States Exposition, but better known as the Big E, this annual agricultural fair has become one of the largest in the country, and it is still held every September at the fairgrounds on the other side of the river, in West Springfield.

The Eastern States Exposition offices were still located here in the Underwood Building when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and the photo shows a variety of other commercial tenants on the ground floor, including Bill’s Liquor Store, which occupied the corner storefront. Since then, the exterior of the building has remained largely intact, although it has steadily declined over the years. In 2012, it was damaged by a nearby gas explosion, and, as the 2018 photo shows, it is now vacant and boarded up. It was recently threatened with demolition, prompting an attempt to have the city designate it as a one-building local historic district. This effort failed, and the mandated nine-month demolition delay expired in 2018, but as of January 2020 it is still standing.

Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, on April 12, 1943. Image taken by Ann Rosener, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Jefferson Memorial is, along with the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, one of the three major monuments to prominent United States presidents here in Washington, D.C. It was built on the south side of the Tidal Basin, nearly in line with the White House and the Washington Monument, and its construction was championed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who admired Jefferson.

The design of the memorial was the work of noted architect John Russell Pope, who was also responsible for the National Archives building and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art. Like these other two buildings, Pope’s designs for the Jefferson Memorial drew heavily from classical architecture, and it features a large columned portico on the front. It bears a particularly strong resemblance to the Pantheon, with its domed rotunda behind the portico.

However, Pope never lived to see the project completed; he died in 1937, two years before the cornerstone was laid. The construction took four years, but it was completed in 1943, in the midst of World War II. The memorial was formally dedicated on April 13, 1943, just one day after the first photo was taken. This was the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth, and the ceremony was attended by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who gave the dedication address.

Today, more than 75 years after the first photo was taken, essentially nothing has changed in this scene except for the size of the trees on either side of the memorial. During this time, the only significant change to the memorial has been the 19-foot statue of Jefferson in the center of the rotunda. This statue, which is not visible from this particular angle, was delayed because of wartime shortages of bronze, but it was installed in 1947, and it has stood here ever since, facing across the Tidal Basin in the direction of the White House.

White House, Washington, DC

The north side of the White House, seen from Pennsylvania Avenue around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The White House in 2018:

Construction on the White House started in 1792, although it would not be occupied until 1800, when the national capital was moved to Washington and John Adams moved into the house. However, the White House has undergone significant changes since then, and today very little survives from the building that John and Abigail Adams moved into nearly 220 years ago.

The original design for the White House was the work of Irish-born architect James Hoban. He likely modeled the north facade, shown here in this view, after Leinster House in Dublin, and the south facade may have been inspired by Château de Rastignac in France. The north facade also bears a strong resemblance to the Charleston County Courthouse in South Carolina, which had been designed by Hoban several years earlier.

In 1814, the White House was burned by invading British forces, completely gutting the building and leaving only its exterior walls still standing. The White House was soon rebuilt, but most of the walls had to be reconstructed, leaving only a small portion of the original structure in the new building. James Hoban was involved in this reconstruction work, as was Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who also worked to rebuild the Capitol after it was likewise burned.

The new White House was completed in 1817, although without its distinctive porticoes on either side. The curved south portico was constructed in 1824, during James Monroe’s presidency, and the portico here on the north side was added five years later, at the start of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Subsequent presidents would make further changes to the White House, although these generally involved the interior. It would not be until 1902 that the building itself would be expanded, with wings on the east and west sides of the original structure.

The first photo was taken only a few years later, about halfway through the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. The wings that he had added – which would later be replaced by the current East and West Wings – are not visible from this angle, but the photo provides a good view of the original section of the building as it appeared at the turn of the 20th century.

By far the most dramatic change to the White House came during the presidency of Harry S. Truman, nearly 50 years after the first photo was taken. By this point, the building was almost 150 years old, and it was beginning to show its age. The various renovations and additions over the years had severely compromised its structural integrity, and by the late 1940s the second floor was in imminent danger of collapse.

As a result, the White House underwent a massive renovation starting in 1949. For the second time in its history, the interior was gutted, leaving nothing but the exterior walls. A new interior was built with a steel frame, and the rooms were reconstructed inside of it, with few changes to the overall layout of the first and second floors. Much of the historic fabric of the interior was salvaged during the demolition process, and some of it was incorporated into the rebuilt White House, although other materials were sold to the public as souvenirs. The project was completed in 1952, with Truman returning to the renovated White House near the end of his second term.

Despite these dramatic changes to the interior, the exterior has not changed much in more than a century since the first photo was taken. One major difference, though, is the level of security at the White House and the surrounding area. The public once had unrestricted access to both the White House and the grounds, but over the years this has been steadily limited due to security concerns. Pennsylvania Avenue, seen in the foreground, has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1995, because of its proximity to the White House. More recently, the street and the south sidewalk have been closed to pedestrians, and today visitors must view it from across the street at Lafayette Square, as shown in the 2018 photo.

US Capitol, Washington, DC

The dome of the United States Capitol, seen from the southwest side of the building, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The history of the United States Capitol dates back to 1793, when George Washington laid the cornerstone of the building. It was first used by Congress in 1800, when the south wing was completed, and the north wing followed in 1807. However, the Capitol was burned by British forces during the invasion of Washington in 1814, and it would not ultimately be completed until 1826. At the time, though, the building looked very different from its current appearance. As shown in this earlier post, it consisted of only rotunda, topped by a low dome, and a small wing on either side of it.

It was not until the 1850s that the Capitol began to take on its current exterior appearance. As the nation grew, so did the size of Congress, and this required the construction of new legislative chambers here in the Capitol. This led to new, larger wings next to the old chambers, along with a larger dome to better suit the scale of the expanded building. The new House and Senate chambers were completed in 1857 and 1859, respectively, but the dome would take longer. As discussed in another previous post, it was still very much unfinished at the outbreak of the Civil War, but it was ultimately completed in 1866.

This dome would become the most distinctive part of the Capitol, serving as a symbol for both Congress and the federal government as a whole. Unlike the rest of the building, the dome is made of cast iron, and at 288 feet it is the tallest cast iron dome in the world. It was the work of architect Thomas U. Walter, who based his design on notable European domes, such as those of the Pantheon and St. Paul’s Cathedral. At the top of the dome is the Statue of Freedom, a 19.5-foot, 15,000-pound bronze statue that was designed by sculptor Thomas Crawford and installed in 1863.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, the Capitol had largely assumed its modern-day appearance. Aside from a late 1950s expansion of the east front, on the opposite side of the building, nearly all of the work done to the building since then has involved conservation and restoration. Today, more than 115 years after the first photo was taken, this particular scene has remained virtually unchanged. However, perhaps the only difference is the level of security at the Capitol. The first photo shows a group of five people descending the steps, but today these steps are closed, and the only public access to the Capitol is through the Capitol Visitor Center, located on the opposite side of the building.