Berkshire County Savings Bank, Pittsfield, Mass

The Berkshire County Savings Bank building, at the northeast corner of North and East Streets in Pittsfield, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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It is rare for the same building to house the same company in both the “then” and “now” photos, but Berkshire Bank has been located in this building since its completion in 1896. The bank itself is actually much older, having been established in Pittsfield in 1846 as the Berkshire County Savings Bank. Fifty years later, the bank moved into this building at Park Square, in a prominent location at the corner of North and East Streets. The six-story Renaissance Revival building was designed by Boston architect Francis R. Allen, and overlooks the center of the city, directly adjacent to the First Church on the right.

More than 170 years after it was founded, the bank’s name has since been simplified to Berkshire Bank. After a series of mergers, it is now the largest bank based in Western Massachusetts, but it is still based out of this building. The building itself still retains its original appearance, although it has grown over the years. At some point it was expanded to the left along the North Street side, replacing the smaller building in the first photo and making the building roughly square. The addition is barely noticeable at first glance, though, and seamlessly blends in with the original section.

There have been even fewer changes to the First Church on the right. This Gothic church was completed in 1853, and was designed by prominent architect Leopold Eidlitz. Both the church and the bank building are among the many historic 19the century buildings around Park Square, and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Park Square Historic District.

Main Street from Central Row, Hartford, Connecticut

Looking north on Main Street from in front of the Old State House, on November 25, 1903. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

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Main Street in 2016:

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Aside from a few buildings several blocks away in the distance, none of the buildings from the first photo are still standing. The Old State House, which is just out of view to the right, is still there, but otherwise this section of Main Street has undergone a complete transformation since the early 20th century. The buildings on the left side of the first photo were known as Bankers’ Row, and included some of the city’s most prominent financial institutions. Just out of view to the left, at the corner of Main and Pearl Streets, was the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance building. Next to it, starting on the left of the 1903 photo, was the 1850 State Bank building, the 1874 Phoenix National Bank building, and the 1870s Corning Building, home to the Connecticut Trust & Safe Deposit Company. On the other side of Asylum Street, near the center of the photo, is the Catlin Building, which was built in 1898 and, a few years after the first photo was taken, was purchased by the Hartford National Bank.

All of these buildings were gone by 1930, starting with the Phoenix National Bank, which was extensively rebuilt in 1906. The stone phoenix on top of the building dated back to 1827, when it was put atom the company’s first building, and it remained on top of the reconstructed building until its demolition in the early 1920s. The State Bank building was demolished around 1907 and replaced with a new building, which is also no longer standing, and the Catlin Building, just 13 years old, was replaced in 1911 with a new building that stood until 1990. The last survivor in the foreground of the first photo was the Corning Building, which was replaced in the late 1920s with the current building at the corner of Main and Asylum Streets.

Waldorf-Astoria and Knickerbocker Trust, New York City

Looking south along Fifth Avenue toward the intersection of 34th Street, around 1904, with the Knickerbocker Trust Company building in the foreground and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel beyond it. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The two buildings in the first photo, the Waldorf-Astoria and the Knickerbocker Trust Company Building, have been discussed in further detail in earlier posts, but this photo here provides a particularly good view of the architecture of the Knickerbocker building, which had been completed around that time. It was designed by McKim, Mead & White, a prominent architectural firm whose other significant works of the era included the Boston Public Library and New York’s Penn Station. Unfortunately, although the bank building is technically still standing here, subsequent alterations have completely destroyed the original architecture, including the addition of 10 stories on top of it in 1921 and the replacement of the facade in 1958 with the bland exterior that it now has. As for the Waldorf-Astoria, it is obviously no longer standing; the famous hotel was demolished in 1929 and the Empire State Building was built in its place.

Fifth Avenue from 33rd Street, New York City

Looking north on Fifth Avenue from 33rd Street, around 1905-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Fifth Avenue in 2016:

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Notice the extremely wide sidewalks in the first photo. Fifth Avenue was originally designed to have a 40-foot roadway with 30-foot sidewalks on either side, but this changed in 1908, shortly after the first photo was taken. To accommodate the growing automobile traffic on the street, it was widened to 55 feet, and the wide sidewalks were trimmed down. Despite over a century of change, though, there are a remarkable number of buildings that have survived from the first photo, especially on the left side. When the first photo was taken, this section of Fifth Avenue had just recently become a major commercial area, and as a result most of the buildings were new at the time.

Perhaps most surprising from the first photo is that the Knickerbocker Trust Company Building – the short building with columns in the center of the photo – is technically still standing, although it has long since been altered way beyond recognition. It was built in 1904 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street as the headquarters of one of the nation’s largest banks, but soon after the bank inadvertently played a major role in causing the Panic of 1907. This banking crisis occurred around the time that the first photo was taken, after the Knickerbocker president, Charles T. Barney, attempted to corner the market in copper using the bank’s money. The plan failed, and in the days before FDIC-insured deposits, account holders rushed to the bank to withdraw their money as other banks announced that they would no longer accept checks from Knickerbocker accounts. Ultimately, the bank survived, although Barney was forced to resign and he committed suicide soon after. As for the building, it was significantly changed in 1921 with the addition of ten stories on top of it, and in 1958 the facade was altered to its current appearance, removing any exterior elements from the original structure.

Despite the number of surviving buildings from the first photo, there are several notable ones that have since been demolished. In the distance, at the corner of 37th Street, is the steeple of Brick Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1858 when this area was still largely residential, and it stood there until 1937. Probably the most famous building from the first photo, though, is the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, on the left side in between 33rd and 34th Streets. This massive hotel is only partially visible in this view, and it stood here until 1929, when it was demolished to build the Empire State Building, which now stands on the site.

Post Office, Monson, Mass

The post office at the corner of Main and State Streets in Monson, around 1893. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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The building in the first photo was built in 1855 for the recently-established Monson National Bank.  In 1872, Monson Savings Bank was also created, and the two companies shared the same counter, tellers, and vault within this small building until 1893, when a larger one was completed just a short walk down Main Street from here.  That same year, the nearby Central Block, which housed the post office, was destroyed in a fire, so the post office was moved to the recently-vacated bank building.  It later moved back to the Central Block location when a new building was completed on the site.

I don’t know exactly when it was demolished, but it would have been sometime before 1925, when the original Monson High School was built here.  The school building was converted into the town offices in the early 1990s, but it sustained heavy damage in the une 1, 2011 tornado, and it was demolished in 2013.  A new town office building, seen to the right in the 015 photo, was completed earlier in the year.

Monson Savings Bank, Monson, Mass

Monson Savings Bank on Main Street, around 1893-1910. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The building in 2015:

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Monson’s first bank was Monson National Bank, which opened in 1854. It was a commercial bank, so it primarily served the business community in town, rather than on individual checking and savings accounts. So, in 1872, Monson Savings Bank was established, which enabled middle class workers in town to open savings accounts.  The two banks were officially separate, but they shared the same building, and the same vault, counter, tellers.

This arrangement continued until 1893, when this building was completed.  Although still located in the same building, they were separated, with Monson National on the left and Monson Savings on the right.  Monson National merged with the Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Company, which in turn merged with Shawmut Bank.  Shawmut continued to operate a branch in this building until the 1960s, when Monson Savings Bank acquired the entire building.

Over 120 years after this building was completed, Monson Savings Bank is still here, although the building itself has undergone dramatic changes.  The two upper floors were removed at some point, and in the 1960s the front facade was completely rebuilt.  Another renovation in 1985 added office space in the back and a drive-up teller window to the left, so today the only surviving parts of the original exterior are the walls on the left and right.