Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2)

Another view of the Museum of Fine Arts, taken around 1909-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2015:

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It’s hard to tell, but the Museum of Fine Arts is still there; it is just mostly hidden by the trees in the median of Huntington Avenue. As mentioned in the previous post, this was the second home of the museum, after it outgrew its first permanent building at Copley Square.  Since it opened in 1909, this building has steadily been expanded, with the most recent addition opening in 2010.  From this angle, though, not much has changed.  Even the trolley tracks in the foreground are still there; most of Boston’s trolley lines were replaced with buses in the mid 1900s, but Huntington Avenue’s line is now the E Branch of the MBTA Green Line

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1)

The Museum of Fine Arts on Huntington Street in Boston, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The museum in 2015:

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This view of the Museum of Fine Arts really hasn’t changed much in the past century, although it is hard to tell with all of the trees blocking the view in the second photo.  The Museum of Fine Arts had been established in 1870, and its first permanent home was opened at Copley Square in 1876.  The original building soon became too small for the museum’s growing collections, though, and in 1899 they purchased this plot of land on Huntington Avenue, a little over a mile west of Copley Square.

The new museum was designed by architect Guy Lowell, who deliberately designed it so that it could easily be expanded as the museum grew and as money became available.  Since then, it has grown substantially beyond its original 1909 footprint, and is now over 600,000 square feet in area.  One major addition was the West Wing, now the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, which was designed by noted architect I.M. Pei in 1981, and the most recent was in 2010, when the new Art of the Americas wing was completed.  It is now one of the largest art museums in the United States, with an internationally-significant collection of nearly half a million works from around the world.  Much of their collection has also been digitized, and it can be viewed online through their website.  At least one of their works, an early photograph by J.J. Hawes, is featured in this blog post about Arlington Street Church.

Opera House, Boston

The Boston Opera House on Huntington Avenue, around 1909-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The site in 2015:

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The first decade of the 20th century was a busy time for this section of Huntington Avenue.  It came to be nicknamed “The Avenue of the Arts” because of the number of institutions that opened new buildings here during this time, including the Boston Opera House, Symphony HallChickering Hall, Horticultural Hall, the New England Conservatory of Music, and the Museum of Fine Arts.

The Boston Opera House was built thanks to the efforts of Eben Dyer Jordan, Jr., the son of the co-founder of Jordan Marsh & Company, a Boston-based department store.  Jordan provided much of the funds necessary to create a world-class opera house in the city, and also established the Boston Opera Company to perform in the building.  It opened in 1909, in an area that was sparsely developed at the time.  The building barely visible to the left in the first photo was a warehouse, and directly across the street from here was Huntington Avenue Grounds, which served as the home of the Boston Red Sox from 1901 until 1911.  Otherwise, there were plenty of vacant lots in the area, although these would steadily be developed over the next few decades as the city continued to grow westward.

The first photo was probably taken soon after the opera house opened, and the signs outside the front doors list some of the Boston Opera Company’s upcoming performances, including Aida, La traviata, Rigoletto, Faust, and Pagliacci.  However, its glory days as an opera house were brief.  The Boston Opera Company went bankrupt in 1915 after just six seasons, and Eben Jordan died the following year.  The popularity of opera was declining, and although the massive 3,000 seat building was idea for opera, it was ill-suited for most other uses.

In 1918, the building was sold, and the new owners renovated the interior to make it more practical for other uses.  Over the next 40 years, it would be used for everything from operas to circuses, and even boxing matches and, in 1950, a broadcast of The Ed Sullivan Show.  However, by the late 1950s the building was in need of serious repair, and both the owners and the city of Boston were indifferent toward the fate of the building.  The nearby Northeastern University was looking to expand, so in 1958 the old opera house was demolished to make a parking lot.  Later, the university built Speare Hall, the dormitory that now stands on the site.  Today, the only reminder of this site’s past is the short, one-way street to the right, which is still named Opera Place.

Horticultural Hall, Boston

Horticultural Hall, at the corner of Huntington Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, around 1901-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2015:

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Horticultural Hall was built in 1901, around the same time as its neighbors, Symphony Hall to the left across Massachusetts Avenue, and Chickering Hall, visible to the right in the first photo.  Chickering Hall has long since been demolished as part of the development of the Christian Science Center in the 1960s, but both Horticultural Hall and Symphony Hall still stand here at the corner of Massachusetts and Huntington Avenues.

The Massachusetts Horticultural Society was founded in 1829 to promote modern practices in horticulture, and this building was the organization’s third facility.  It included a large exhibition hall for plant shows, with would have included the flower show that was advertised on the sign at the corner of the building in the first photo.  The building also had a smaller exhibition hall, a 300-seat lecture hall, a library, and offices.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, most of the scene has changed.  The buildings in the background have all been demolished, the streetcar line on Huntington Avenue is now underground as the “E” Branch of the Green Line, and Massachusetts Avenue now passes over Huntington Avenue on a bridge in the foreground.  As for the building itself, the Horticultural Society sold the building to the neighboring Christian Science Church in 1992, but its exterior has seen very few changes, and along with the neighboring Symphony Hall it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Senior Center, Monson, Mass

The Edward Cushman House on Main Street in Monson, which later became the Monson Senior Center, probably around 1916-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

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The building in 2015:

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The present-day Monson Senior Center was built around 1850, and it is one of the many historic Greek Revival homes along this section of Main Street.  It was originally a private residence, with maps in 1857 and 1870 showing it belonging to a Mrs. L. Keep and a Mrs. Flynt, respectively.  Later in the 1800s, it was owned by Edward Cushman, the son of local industrialist Solomon F. Cushman, who owned a woolen mill on Cushman Street.  Edward and his brothers took over control of the company when their father died in 1900, and they ran it together until 1912, when they sold it to a local hat manufacturer, the Heimann and Lichten Company.

Edward Cushman died in 1915, and as part of his will the house became Monson Home for the Aged, a boarding house for elderly residents in town.  According to the house’s listing on the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System, the house was enlarged and the tower was added during this conversion in 1916; if accurate, it helps provide the earliest possible date for the first photo.

The building was a boarding house until 1975, and since then it has been used as the Monson Senior Center.  It was damaged in the June 1, 2011 tornado that passed directly over it, but today it is in excellent condition and it is still serving the elderly residents of the town, a century after Edward Cushman’s death.  Incidentally, his father’s factory on Cushman Street is also still standing, although it is in poor condition and has been abandoned for many years.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The old Museum of Fine Arts building at Copley Square in Boston, probably sometime in the 1880s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The building around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The location in 2015:

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Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts was established in 1870, and six years later it moved into this Gothic Revival building on the south side of Copley Square.  Because of the museum’s presence here, it was originally named Art Square, but in the 1880s it was renamed in honor of colonial Boston painter John Singleton Copley.  The museum has a substantial collection of his works, including portraits of prominent figures such as John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere.

In 1909, the museum relocated further down Huntington Avenue in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood, on a larger plot of land that allowed for more expansion as the museum grew.  Today’s museum is many times larger than the original Copley Square building, and it is among the most visited art museums in the world, attracting over a million visitors each year.  The old art museum was demolished soon after the museum moved, and in 1912 the Copley Plaza Hotel, which is still standing today, was built on the site.