White Horse Tavern, Newport, Rhode Island

The White Horse Tavern at the corner of Farewell and Marlborough Streets in Newport, sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Newport has a remarkable number of historic colonial-era buildings, but perhaps the oldest is this building at the northwest corner of Marlborough and Farewell Streets. It was apparently built sometime before 1673, because in that year it was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. The building was much smaller at the time, consisting of two stories with just two rooms, but it was subsequently expanded and, by 1687, was being operated as a tavern.

Mayes was the father of the pirate William Mayes, Jr., whose surname is also spelled May and Mason in historical records. Although well known as a haven for religious minorities, the colony of Rhode Island showed similar tolerance for piracy, often playing fast and loose with the distinction between legitimate privateers and their outlaw counterparts. Mayes was among several prominent Newport residents whose career at sea blurred this distinction, and he enjoyed success as a pirate in the late 1680s and 1690s, during the Golden Age of Piracy.

Many of the most prominent pirates during this era would ultimately meet with violent ends, including fellow Newport pirate Thomas Tew, who was killed in 1695. However, William Mayes ultimately retired from piracy and returned to Newport around the turn of the 18th century. He took over the operation of his father’s tavern around 1703, but this evidently lasted for just a short time, because within a few years the property was owned by his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols.

The White Horse Tavern would remain in the Nichols family for nearly 200 years, and the building continued to serve as an important colonial-era tavern. Prior to the construction of the Colony House in the late 1730s, the tavern was also used as a meeting place for the colonial legislature, which held sessions on a rotating basis in each of the colony’s five county seats. The tavern was later used to house British soldiers during the occupation of Newport in the American Revolution, and at some point after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof.

The Nichols family finally sold the property in 1895, and the old tavern was converted into a boarding house. The building steadily declined throughout the first half of the 20th century, and the first photo was taken at some point during this period, probably around the 1930s or 1940s. However, the property was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County in the early 1950s, and was subsequently restored. It was then sold to private owners, and reopened as a tavern. The White Horse Tavern has remained in business ever since, and markets itself as the oldest restaurant in the United States.

First Friendly’s Restaurant, Springfield, Mass

The original home of Friendly Ice Cream, at 161 Boston Road in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Building Department.

The scene in 2019:

The first photo was taken only a few years after S. Prestley and Curtis Blake opened the first Friendly Ice Cream location here in Springfield’s Pine Point neighborhood. In 1935, the two brothers, aged 20 and 18, respectively, borrowed $547 from their parents and opened the ice cream shop, charging 5 cents for a two scoop cone as the sign on the side of the building indicates. The business soon proved to be popular, and in 1940 they opened a second shop in West Springfield. By the early 1950s, they had 10 locations in the area, and when the Blake brothers sold the company in 1979, it had grown to over 500 restaurants. Today, the company operates 380 restaurants along the east coast from Maine to Florida.

 

 

The buildings in the first photo were probably built in the 1920s or early 1930s, when Pine Point was growing as a middle class residential neighborhood. As seen here and in this earlier post, these commercial buildings are all still standing, but the change in use has reflected some of the changes in the neighborhood over the years. The original Friendly’s has long since closed, and its storefront is now a pizza restaurant, and to the right the First National supermarket has been divided into two smaller storefronts. Directly across the street from here was Nora’s Variety Store, a Pine Point fixture for many years that, likewise, has closed, and now stands vacant.

Cocoanut Grove, Boston (4)

One more view of the Cocoanut Grove from Shawmut Street, following the November 28, 1942 fire. Image courtesy the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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The first photo here shows almost the same scene as the one in this post, but this one was taken earlier, before the debris was cleaned off the sidewalk and the windows boarded up.  Around a thousand people were in the nightclub at the time of the fire, and only about half survived.  The fast-moving flames, combined with the few unlocked exits, trapped hundreds of victims in the building. Here in the dining room, the fire was largely confined to the ceiling, but many died from carbon monoxide poisoning or from the superheated air.  The debris outside gives some indication of the pattern of the fire; while the flammable ceiling decorations quickly burned, other objects in the room such as chairs, artwork, and even music sheets survived relatively unscathed.

Today, the entire area has been redeveloped, and a street now crosses through where the dining room was once located.  As seen in the 2015 photo, it is named Cocoanut Grove Lane, in memory of the 492 people who died here over 70 years ago.

Cocoanut Grove, Boston (3)

Another view of the aftermath of the November 28, 1942 fire at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston, seen from the Shawmut Street entrance. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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Shawmut Street in 2015:

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These two photos weren’t taken from the exact same spot, because the original one was taken from what is now a parking garage.  However, the two rowhouses just beyond the Cocoanut Grove serve as a point of reference; they are the same ones still standing in the 2015 view.  The Cocoanut Grove nightclub was located to the left of and behind these buildings, but they survived the fire as well as the late 20th century redevelopment of this neighborhood.  I couldn’t find an exact date for their construction, but they were probably built in the first half of the 19th century, when the Bay Village section of the city was first developed.

The 1942 photo doesn’t have an exact date, but it was probably taken before the one in this post, which shows the same scene from the opposite angle.  Notice how in this photo here the pile of chairs and other debris has not yet been cleaned up yet, and the windows have not been boarded up, suggesting that the photo was probably taken the morning after.  The section of the building photographed here was the main dining room, which also featured a dance floor and a stage for the orchestra.  Many of the 492 people who were killed in the fire died here, in part because the large plate glass windows, which could have offered an escape route for the panicked crowds, were concealed behind a layer of wood veneer on the inside.

Cocoanut Grove, Boston (2)

Another photo of the exterior of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, in the aftermath of the November 28, 1942 fire. This view shows the club from the Shawmut Street side of the block. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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As explained in the previous post, the Cocoanut Grove fire was the second-deadliest single-building fire in American history.  The fire completely engulfed the nightclub in just five minutes, and 492 people were killed here.  The previous post shows the original section of the club, which opened in 1927 on Piedmont Street. Over time, it expanded to include many different buildings in the block, including the building seen here, as well as the older brick buildings in the distance to the left.  Taken from Shawmut Street on the other side of the block from Piedmont Street, the 1942 photo shows the entrance to the main dining room and dance floor.  Signs above the windows also advertise for the Melody Lounge, a dimly-lit bar and lounge in the basement where the fire started.

In the years following the fire, the neighborhood was completely changed.  The building’s former footprint is now occupied by a parking garage and a condominium building that is under construction.  A short street, appropriately named Cocoanut Grove Lane, now crosses through the former location of the main dining room, connecting Shawmut and Piedmont Streets.  The only thing left from the 1942 scene is the building on the extreme right of both photos.  Despite being located right next to the club, this 19th century brick rowhouse survived the fire, and later survived the city’s urban renewal projects later in the 20th century.

Cocoanut Grove, Boston (1)

The Cocoanut Grove nightclub on Piedmont Street in Boston’s Bay Village neighborhood, shortly after the November 28, 1942 fire. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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The first photo shows the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the aftermath of the infamous fire that gutted the building and killed 492 people, making it the second-deadliest single-building fire in American history.  The building had been constructed in 1916 as a garage, and was opened as the Cocoanut Grove in 1927.  The tropical-themed nightclub became one of the most popular in Boston; owner Barney Welansky was well-connected with both the Mafia and with Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, and the club’s guests included many prominent Bostonians, and it regularly featured well-known entertainers.  Just a week before the fire, Irving Berlin performed here, and one of the fatalities from the night of the fire was movie star Buck Jones.

Although the cause of the fire is still unclear, it began in the Melody Lounge, a dimly-lit basement room located just below this section of the building.  The fire was discovered at around 10:15, and spread rapidly with the help of the flammable tropical decorations that covered much of the interior.  Within five minutes, the entire 10,000 square foot building was on fire.  Many people attempted to escape through the revolving door at this entrance on Piedmont Street, but the size of the crowd jammed the door.  The door visible to the left was at the top of the stairs to the Melody Lounge, but it was locked, along with several other exits in the building.

The aftermath of the fire led to a number of changes in both medicine and fire safety; Boston area hospitals developed new treatments for burn victims, and state and city governments enacted new laws regarding emergency exits, exit signs, and flammable decorations.  As a result of the number of deaths caused by the jammed revolving door, such doors today must have conventional, outward-opening doors on either side.

In the years following the fire, much of this neighborhood was extensively redeveloped.  This site along Piedmont Street would be used as a parking lot for many years, but as seen in the July 2015 photo, there is now a condominium building under construction here.