Old Post Office, Washington, DC

The Old Post Office, at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 12th Street NW in Washington, DC, around 1909-1923. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2018, now the Trump International Hotel:

This massive Romanesque-style building was constructed between 1892 and 1899, and it was built to house the Washington, D.C. post office. It was the work of architect Willoughby J. Edbrooke, and it consisted of a granite exterior with a steel frame supporting the interior. Its northern facade, seen here facing Pennsylvania Avenue, had a symmetrical design that included a 315-foot clock tower, which made it the second-tallest structure in the city after the Washington Monument.

Although Romanesque-style architecture had been popular for public buildings in the 1880s, it had begun to fall out of fashion in the 1890s. By the time the post office was completed in 1899, architectural trends had shifted away from these medieval castle-like buildings, and its design was essentially obsolete even before the last stone was laid. As a result, the building’s architecture drew heavy criticism, but this was not the only problem with the building. Despite the building’s size, the post office facilities quickly became overcrowded, and much of the workmanship proved to be of poor quality. This was highlighted by an early tragedy that occurred on September 30, 1899, when former postmaster James P. Willett was killed after falling 90 feet down an open elevator shaft that had been insufficiently secured.

As it turned out, the Post Office would only use this building for 15 years before relocating to a new facility near Union Station in 1914. The older building became offices for other government agencies, but by the late 1920s it was in danger of being demolished as part of the Federal Triangle redevelopment project. This plan called for the wholesale demolition of the buildings in the blocks bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue to the north, Constitution Avenue to the south, and 15th Street to the west. They were to be replaced by new federal office buildings, and the plan originally included the demolition of the Old Post Office, which stood in the midst of the site. However, the Old Post Office ultimately survived – perhaps because of the perceived folly of tearing down a comparatively new building – and it remained in use as newer federal buildings rose up around it in the 1930s.

The Old Post Office was again threatened by demolition in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but local preservation activists managed to save the building. It was subsequently leased to a private company, which completed a major renovation project in 1983. The former government office building became a mix of retail and office tenants, but the property was never particularly profitable, and it finally closed by the early 2000s.

The building has since undergone another renovation, though, in order to convert it into a hotel. In 2013, the General Services Administration leased the property to Donald Trump, and three years later it reopened as the Trump International Hotel Washington DC. Although he was not yet a presidential candidate when he signed the 60-year lease, Trump’s ownership of the hotel has become a source of controversy. These include conflict of interest concerns over a government official benefiting from a government lease, along with questions about whether it is a violation of the emoluments clause if foreign dignitaries stay at the hotel.

Overall, the Old Post Office has generated many different kinds of controversy in the 120 years since its completion. However, despite criticism of its architecture and workmanship, proposals for various redevelopment projects, and recent questions about presidential ethics, the building has remained a landmark here on Pennsylvania Avenue. The interior has seen many changes over the years, but the exterior has remained remarkably well-preserved since the first photo was taken. Along with the other surrounding buildings, it is now a contributing property in the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site, which was designated in 1965, encompassing the section of Washington between the Capitol and the White House.

Trinity Methodist Church, Springfield, Mass

Trinity Methodist Church on Bridge Street in Springfield, probably sometime in the 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

Trinity Methodist Church was established in 1844 with about 40 members, many of whom had left the Union Street Methodist Church. The following year, the congregation moved into its first building, which was located on Pynchon Street, across the street from where City Hall is now located. However, as the city grew in the mid-19th century, so did the church membership, and within less than 25 years the Pynchon Street building had become too small for the church.

In 1869, Trinity Methodist relocated to this building here on Bridge Street, as shown in the first photo. Its exterior featured a Romanesque-style design, which was the work of local architectural firm Perkins and Gardner, and it measured 122 feet long and 74 feet wide, with a steeple that rose 185 feet above the street. The entire cost, including the land, was $73,000, which is equivalent to about $1.4 million today. By 1883, the membership had grown to 447 people, and the church also had a Sunday school that was staffed by 38 teachers, and had 377 students.

However, for such a large, elegant church, this site was a rather unusual location, tucked away on a side street with commercial buildings on one side and modest houses on the other. As downtown Springfield continued to grow, the church would become increasingly out of place here on Bridge Street. By the turn of the 20th century, it was the only church on or near Main Street in the mile between Court Square to the south and Memorial Square to the north, with the rest of this corridor becoming almost exclusively commercial.

Around the same time, residents were beginning to move away from the city center. Trolleys, and later automobiles, made it easy for people to live on the outskirts of the city and commute into downtown, and by the mid 20th century many of the downtown churches had followed their parishioners into the suburbs. Among these was Trinity Methodist, which moved out of this building on Bridge Street in the early 1920s, and into a new Neo-Gothic church that still stands on Sumner Avenue, in the city’s Forest Park neighborhood.

The Bridge Street church was demolished in 1922, barely 50 years after its completion, and it was replaced by a three-story commercial block. Named the Trinity Block in recognition of its predecessor, it still stands today, and it is visible on the right side of the 2018 photo. The only other historic building in the present-day scene is the Fuller Block, on the left side of the photo. It was completed in 1887, and both it and the Trinity Block are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Third Congregational Church, New Haven, Connecticut

Third Congregational Church, on Church Street in New Haven, around 1863-1869. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

New Haven’s Third Congregational Church was established in 1826, and was originally comprised of 29 members from the city’s two other congregational churches. They worshiped in temporary quarters on Orange Street for several years, before moving into a new church building in 1829, at the corner of Church and Union Streets. However, less than a decade the congregation lost this building due to financial difficulties, but subsequently built a new one on Court Street in 1841.

Third Congregational moved again in 1856, to this prominent site on Church Street, where it faced the other two congregational churches from across the New Haven Green. It stood directly adjacent to the Exchange Building, a brick, four-story commercial block that is partially visible on the right side of the photo. The Romanesque-style design of the church was the work of noted local architect Sidney Mason Stone, and it was constructed at a total cost of $53,000, which included $16,000 for the land.

This building was used by the church until 1884, when the congregation merged with the United Church on the other side of the Green. Then, in 1890, the former Third Congregational building was converted into the first long-term home of the New Haven Free Public Library, which had previously been housed in the second floor of a building on Chapel Street. Here, the library became an early example of an open stacks layout, where patrons could freely browse through the books. However, this was not necessarily done for philosophical reasons, but rather out of practicality, as the building proved inadequate as a library.

It did not take long for the library to outgrow this building, and in 1906 the city received a gift of $300,000 from Mary E. Ives to build a new library. Construction began in 1908, and it was completed in 1911, at the corner of Elm and Temple Streets. The old church-turned-library was demolished soon after, in order to build the eight-story Second National Bank of New Haven. This building was completed in 1913, and it is still standing today, in the center of the 2018 photo. However, the only building that has survived from the first photo is the Exchange Building, which has remained relatively unchanged on the right side of the scene, at the corner of Church and Chapel Streets.

The Cloister, New Haven, Connecticut

The Cloister, the residence hall of the Book and Snake society, at the corner of Hillhouse Avenue and Grove Street in New Haven, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Book and Snake is one of the many secret societies at Yale, and it was established in 1863 for students at the Yale-affiliated Sheffield Scientific School. In addition to having a meeting hall, the Book and Snake was one of several societies that also built its own residence hall, which was named the Cloister. This highly-ornate brownstone building was the work of architect H. Edwards Ficken, and it was completed in 1888. It was subsequently expanded in 1915, shortly after the first photo was taken, with a matching addition to the rear.

With the advent of Yale’s residential college system in the first half of the 20th century, privately-run dormitories such as the Cloister and the nearby Colony of the Berzelius society, were phased out, and the property was eventually sold to the college. The Colony was later demolished, but the Cloister is still standing, with few exterior changes aside from the 1915 addition. Today, the building is known as Warner House, and it is used for administrative offices, including the Yale College Dean’s Office.

Alpha Delta Phi House, New Haven, Connecticut

The Alpha Delta Phi house at 15 Hillhouse Avenue, on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1901. Image taken by William Henry Jackson, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This building was designed by local architect William H. Allen, and was completed in 1895 for the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. The Yale chapter of this fraternity had been established in 1836, but it was disbanded in 1873. However, it was revived in 1888, and in 1895 it became one of the school’s junior societies – as opposed to the senior societies such as the Skull and Bones. It moved into this building around the same time, and remained here until the early 1930s. During this time, notable fraternity members included author Stephen Vincent Benét, University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins, Time magazine and Life magazine publisher Henry Luce, Chicago Tribune editor and publisher Robert R. McCormick, and playwright Thornton Wilder.

Alpha Delta Phi again disbanded in 1935, and at some point around this time the property here on Hillhouse Avenue was sold to Yale. The fraternity would again return to Yale in 1990, although not to this building. Since 1960, it has been the home of the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, and during this time its exterior has seen few changes from the first photo. However, the surrounding area is very different from the turn of the 20th century, and the old fraternity house is now flanked by much larger academic buildings, birth of which are part of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Wolf’s Head Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Wolf’s Head Hall, at the corner of Prospect and Trumbull Streets in New Haven, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2018:

The Wolf’s Head was established in 1883 as one of Yale’s secret societies. It was intended as an alternative to the more established Skull and Bones and Scroll and Key societies, and it got off to a strong start with the completion of this clubhouse in 1884. The building was an early work by McKim, Mead and White, which would go on to become one of the leading architectural firms in the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first photo was taken nearly 20 years later, by which point the brownstone exterior was almost completely covered by ivy, obscuring much of its architecture.

This building was used by the Wolf’s Head until 1924, when the society moved to its current location on York Street. This property here on Prospect Street was then sold to Yale, who rented the building to several different organizations over the years. In 1994, it became home of the school’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and in 2006 it was joined to two neighboring buildings, with an addition that is partially visible on the left side of the 2018 photo. Today, the building continues to be used by the ISPS, and, despite the addition, its exterior has remained well-preserved, and from this angle the only other significant difference between the two photos is its appearance is the lack of ivy.