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.

Tennis and Racquet Club, Boston

The Tennis and Racquet Club at the corner of Boylston and Hereford Streets in Boston, on April 5, 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The building in 2015:

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This building has been home to the Tennis and Racquet Club since it opened in 1902, 10 years before the first photo was taken.  As the Back Bay developed as one of the city’s premier neighborhoods in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a number of private social clubs sprung up for the neighborhood’s wealthy residents.  The Tennis and Racquet was one such social and athletic club, and it is still active today in this historic building, with its original court tennis and racquets courts in the large, mostly windowless area above the second floor.

Mechanics Hall, Boston

The Mechanics Hall building on Huntington Avenue in Boston, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The site in 2015:

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Mechanics Hall was a convention center and civic arena located in Boston’s Back Bay, in a triangular-shaped lot between Huntington Avenue to the south, the Boston & Albany rail yard to the north, and West Newton Street to the west.  It was completed in 1881, and was designed by William Gibbons Preston, whose other works in Boston included the Rogers Building on the original MIT campus, and the old Museum of Natural History building.

The building was owned by the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, and included a large auditorium that was used for various conventions, shows, track meets, wrestling matches, and other events.  It was even briefly home to Boston’s first professional basketball team: the 1925-1926 Boston Whirlwinds of the American Basketball League, who began their only season in the Matthews Arena before moving their home games here and then later to a Knights of Columbus Hall in Somerville. The team ended up disbanding partway through the season, after playing just 16 games.

The first photo shows the trolley line running down the median of Huntington Avenue.  This section of the trolley was put underground in 1941, and Mechanics station was built here to serve the building.  However, Mechanics Hall was becoming obsolete, and by the 1950s the neighboring rail yard was being eyed for redevelopment as the Prudential Center.  As part of the project, Mechanics Hall was demolished in 1959, and today the skyscraper at 111 Huntington Avenue occupies part of the former building’s location, as seen to the right in the 2015 photo.