Symphony Hall, Boston

Symphony Hall, at the corner of Huntington Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2015:

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Boston’s Symphony Hall is one of many prominent concert halls in this section of Boston, and it has been the home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops ever since it opened in 1900.  It was designed by McKim, Mead and White, the same architectural firm that built the Boston Public Library at Copley Square a few years earlier.  Like the library, it is an excellent example of Renaissance Revival architecture, but Symphony Hall is perhaps best known not for its visual appeal, but rather its acoustic properties.  Harvard professor and physicist Wallace Clement Sabine used his knowledge of acoustics to design the auditorium, making it the world’s first concert hall to be scientifically designed in such a way.  Because of this, it is still regarded as one of the best concert halls in the world.

Over the years, this section of the Back Bay has seen some dramatic changes, but Symphony Hall is essentially the same, both on the exterior and interior.  The Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Pops continue to perform here, along with the Handel and Hadyn Society.  With a seating capacity of over 2,000, it has also been used for a number of other civil purposes, ranging from political rallies and inaugurations to business conventions and fashion shows.  In addition, many renowned authors have given lectures here; the building’s National Register of Historic Places registration form identifies many visiting writers from the early 20th century, including Edward Everett Hale, Julia Ward Howe, Booker T. Washington, G.K. Chesterton, Robert Frost, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Chickering Hall, Boston

Chickering Hall on Huntington Avenue near Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, around 1901-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The site in 2015:

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This section of Huntington Avenue is also known as “Avenue of the Arts,” and it is home to a number of theaters, as well as Northeastern University, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and the Museum of Fine Arts.  One of the early concert halls here was Chickering Hall, which was built in 1901 by Chickering & Sons, a Boston piano manufacturer.  The name didn’t last for long, though; it was sold in 1912 and became the St. James Theatre.  The new owners renovated the building and doubled the seating capacity from 800 to 1,600, and it was used for both vaudeville performances and early films.

In 1929, it was renamed the Uptown Theatre, and a large vertical neon sign and marquee were added to the front entrance.  It was primarily a second run movie theater for local college students, and it lasted until 1968, when it was demolished to build the Christian Science Center, which features the Mother Church and the religion’s administrative offices.  There is one landmark still standing in the first photo, though.  Horticultural Hall, located just to the left of Chickering Hall, was also built in 1901, and it is still standing today, at the corner of Huntington Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue.

Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2014:

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Located diagonally across from the Casino Theatre, the Metropolitan Opera House was opened in 1883, along Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets.  It closed in 1966, and was replaced by the current office building.  Notice the New York Times Building a few blocks away – it’s still there, but is completely overshadowed by the buildings around it, as well as by its own billboards, which cover almost the entire facade.

Casino Theatre, New York City (2)

The Casino Theatre in New York City, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Theaters

The scene in 2014:

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A view of the Casino Theatre looking south from across 39th Street and Broadway. The theater was completed in 1882, but was closed and demolished in 1930 as the theater district moved its way north along Broadway.  At the time of this photo, the theater was playing “The Belle of Bohemia,” and the round sign on the corner of the building advertises that all seats for Wednesday matinees cost 50 cents.

Casino Theatre, New York City (1)

A group of people waiting outside the Casino Theatre for matinee tickets, between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same location in 2014:

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Located at the corner of Broadway and West 39th Street, the Casino Theatre was built in 1882 and demolished in 1930. It was home to a number of plays and musicals, but over time the Broadway theater district drifted northward, and the Garment District expanded into this area, leading to its 1930 closure. In this photo, a group of people wait outside for matinee tickets on a Saturday.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Visits Springfield

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s car travels down Elm Street past the Court Square Theater in 1940. Image courtesy of Cinema Treasures.

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The same scene in 2014:

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On October 30, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a stop in Springfield on his way to Boston to give a campaign speech. Just six days before the election, he stopped to inspect the Springfield Armory and give a speech. The top photo shows him passing by Court Square along Elm Street, with the Court Square Theater in the background. The building is still there today, but the theater section itself is gone – it was demolished in 1957, and is now a parking lot. The main entrance for the theater, which is seen in the background of the 1940 photo, is now the entrance to the parking lot.

Roosevelt, however, is far from the only past, present, or future president to visit Court Square. George Washington once lodged at Parsons Tavern, which occupied part of what is now Court Square. According to one 19th century account, Washington “tasted liquid refreshments of a strong flavor” at the tavern. In addition, President William Howard Taft, several months after leaving office, presided over the dedication ceremonies for City Hall and Symphony Hall. On the day before the 1960 election, then-Senator John F. Kennedy spoke from the steps of City Hall to a crowd gathered in Court Square. More recently, just two days before the 1996 election, President Clinton also gave a speech in front of City Hall, in support of Senator John Kerry.