American House, Pittsfield, Mass

The American House, a hotel at the northwest corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue, sometime in the 1800s. Image from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Vicinity (1900).

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The New American House on the same site, around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The American House was one of several important 19th century hotels in Pittsfield. It was built sometime before 1865, and in that year it was purchased by Cebra Quackenbush, a prominent resident who soon expanded the hotel. By the end of the century, though, the old wooden building had become outdated, so in 1899 he had it demolished and replaced with a larger brick hotel, named the New American House.

The second photo was taken shortly after the 1911 renovations, which added a fifth story to the building. Quackenbush, in his 70s at this point, still owned the hotel, although he was not involved in the day-to-day operations. Instead, he leased it out to different landlords over the years until his death in 1914, nearly 50 years after he purchased the property. After his death, the hotel continued in business for a few more decades, but it was demolished in 1937 and replaced with the one-story commercial building that stands here today.

Hotel Wendell, Pittsfield, Mass

The Hotel Wendell, at the corner of South and West Streets in Pittsfield, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The first photo was taken less than a decade after the completion of the Hotel Wendell. Located right in the heart of downtown Pittsfield, it opened in 1898 to much fanfare, with dignitaries including Lieutenant Governor Winthrop M. Crane, the paper magnate from nearby Dalton who later served as governor and US senator. It was designed by local architect H. Neill Wilson, in a Renaissance Revival style that was fairly common for hotels at the turn of the century, and included 110 guest rooms and a 250-seat dining room. At the time, Pittsfield was the urban center of the Berkshires, the Gilded Age playground of New York’s rich and famous, and a hotel here was a wise investment.

There is an interesting contrast in the first photo, between the large, elegant, modern hotel and the motley assortment of shabby, early 19th century brick buildings to the left. They appear to have once been houses that were later stitched together into a semi-coherent mass of a commercial block. Either way, they did not last long in the growing city. By the 1920s, the Hotel Wendell was expanding to the left, replacing these old buildings with two large additions. Completed in 1930, these additions nearly tripled the size of the hotel and made it the largest in the city.

However, the Hotel Wendell was peaking just as inner-city hotels were about to enter a precipitous decline. The Great Depression had just started and World War II would soon follow, and after the war automobiles and interstate highways drew business away from city centers. Pittsfield, once an important stop on the way from Boston to Albany and points west, was completely bypassed by the Massachusetts Turnpike, which opened in 1956, more than 10 miles to the south.

The Hotel Wendell closed in 1965, and was demolished soon after. Its replacement was a 14-story Hilton hotel, which opened in 1971. Now the Crowne Plaza Pittsfield, it is still the tallest building in the city nearly 50 years later. As seen in the 2016 photo, the new hotel is set further back from the road. The actual site of the old Hotel Wendell is now a three-story commercial building, which is part of the hotel complex and includes storefronts on the first floor along the west side of South Street.

Park Square, Pittsfield, Mass (2)

Another view looking west from Park Square, with the Hotel Wendell in the distance, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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Like the view in the previous post, this scene shows Park Square, a small public park that has been at the center of Pittsfield since the 18th century. The first photo shows a lively city center, with cars, horse-drawn carriages, and an electric trolley all moving along the streets in the background. In the foreground, a group of men are seated on the benches in the park. Two elderly men, one of whom is smoking a pipe, are sitting on the bench that faces the camera, engaged in conversation. Given their ages, it is entirely possible that they could be Civil War veterans. Many were still alive in the early 20th century, and like nearly every other city, town, and village of the time, Pittsfield had a monument to its veterans. Visible in the distant center, this monument was designed by sculptor Launt Thompson in 1872.

Today, Park Square has not changed much, and the Civil War monument is still standing on the western end of the park. However, most of the buildings in the background are gone, with the exception of the Berkshire Life Insurance Building on the far right. The most prominent building in the first photo, the Hotel Wendell, opened in 1898 and was later expanded in 1930, replacing the much older commercial buildings to the left. However, the hotel closed and was demolished in the 1960s, and its present-day replacement is a large development that includes the Crowne Plaza Pittsfield, the tallest building in the city.

American House, Greenfield, Mass

The American House at the corner of Main and Davis Streets in Greenfield, sometime around the 1880s. Photo from Greenfield Illustrated.

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The scene in 2016:

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In modern-day redevelopments, architects often attempt to preserve the facades of old buildings, even if everything else is being demolished and rebuilt, and incorporate them into new structures. Especially in historic urban settings, this helps to maintain the visual appearance of the street while at the same time allowing a new building to occupy the site. However, in the 1960s the trend was the exact opposite. Many historic buildings had their original facades removed or covered, which the rest of the structure survived more or less intact underneath.

This was the case for several buildings along Greenfield’s historic Main Street, including this architectural monstrosity in the center of the photo. It was originally built in 1876, a few years before the first photo was taken, and was known as the American House. At the time it was Greenfield’s largest hotel, with a hundred guest rooms on the upper floors. The first floor had several stores, including a clothing store that was purchased in 1896 by John Wilson. He turned it into a department store and soon expanded into the second floor, and his business has remained here in the building ever since.

As for the hotel, it went through several other names, including the Devens Hotel and the Hotel Greenfield. Over time, though, the department store gradually expanded into the former hotel section, and the hotel finally closed for good in 1944. The building is still standing today, although it is completely unrecognizable from its original appearance. In 1965 its exterior was remodeled, with a metal facade that covered the original Italianate exterior. This original facade is probably still hiding under there, though, so perhaps someday the bland, warehouse-like exterior will be removed and the building restored to its 1870s appearance.

Although the American House has survived more or less intact under its mid-century shroud, the same cannot be said for the other historic building from the first photo, the Colonnade Block on the right. It was built in the 1790s as the home of Jerome Ripley, a prominent resident whose children included George Ripley, a Transcendentalist writer who founded the Brook Farm utopian community. In 1842, Dr. Daniel Hovey added the columns and portico to the front of the building, and for many years it was a commercial building known as the Colonnade Block. It stood here until 1975, when the 18th century structure was demolished to build a bank building, which is now a branch of Greenfield Community College.

Bancroft Hotel, Worcester, Mass

The Bancroft Hotel, at the corner of Franklin and Portland Streets in Worcester, around 1912-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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The Bancroft Hotel opened in 1913 as the city’s grandest hotel, at a time when Worcester was a prosperous industrial city. Originally planned as a 225-room hotel, the 9-story building was expanded to 320 by the time it was completed. It was designed by the Buffalo-based architectural firm of Esenwein & Johnson, and reflects the Classical Revival style that was often seen in early 20th century grand hotels.

In 1926, the building was expanded in the back along Portland Street, which is visible in the distance of the present photo. This brought the hotel up to 500 rooms, and remained as Worcester’s premier hotel well into the middle of the century. However, as was the case in cities across the northeast by the 1960s, the population was in decline, and interstate highways shifted travelers away from downtown Worcester. In 1964, the hotel closed, but the historic building was preserved, and renovated into apartments. Today, it has 255 housing units, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Worcester Common, Worcester, Mass

The Worcester Common, seen facing west from the corner of Franklin and Church Streets, around 1914-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The Common in 2016:

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Today, Worcester is the second-largest city in New England, and the Common has been at the center of the city ever since it was a small colonial settlement in the 17th century. Set aside in 1669, more than 50 years before Worcester was formally incorporated as a town, the Common was originally used as a training ground for the militia, burial ground, and the site of the meetinghouse. It was once much larger, but as the city has grown up around it, this common land has steadily shrunk to its current dimensions, and at one point in the 19th century even had railroad tracks running across it.

The first photo was taken shortly after the completion of several prominent buildings along the Common, which are still standing today. These buildings, designed in the popular Classical Revival style of the turn of the 20th century, include the 1913 Bancroft Hotel on the left, the 1915 Park Building to the right of it, and the 1898 City Hall, which is mostly hidden by trees in the distance on the right. Along with the Common itself, all three of these buildings are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.