Lost New England Goes West: View From Russian Hill, San Francisco

The view looking east from the top of Russian Hill, looking down Vallejo Street and facing San Francisco Bay, around 1866. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Lawrence & Houseworth Collection.

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The view in 2015:

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It was hard to get to the exact location of the original image, because most of Russian Hill is now covered in buildings. However, this view from the top of Vallejo Street just east of Jones Street was pretty close. The first photo was taken in the early years of San Francisco’s history, when the city was in the midst of a rapid population boom. By the mid-1860s, the initial Gold Rush was over, but the city continued its dramatic growth, increasing from about a thousand in 1848 to nearly sixty thousand in 1860. By 1870, the population was nearly triple that, and the section of the North Beach neighborhood seen here was completely developed.

The three streets in this view are, from left to right, Green Street, Vallejo Street, and Broadway Street. At the time, the area to the right of Broadway Street was part of the city’s infamous “Barbary Coast” – a red light district that attracted miners and sailors with drinking, gambling, prostitution, and entertainment. This continued until 40 years after the first photo was taken, when the entire area was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and the fires that followed.

Today, the only identifiable building remaining from the first photo is the Saint Francis of Assisi Church, on the left side of Vallejo Street at the corner of Columbus Avenue. It was built in 1860, and although the fires in 1906 gutted the building, the brick walls and towers remained standing. The interior was rebuilt and rededicated in 1919, and today it is the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Remarkably, though, despite all of the changes to the neighborhood, the church still stands out as a major landmark. Unlike the nearby Financial District to the right, the development in this area is still largely two and three story buildings, so the view really doesn’t look dramatically different from 150 years ago. The one major change, of course, is the Bay Bridge in the distance, which was completed in 1936, connecting San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island on the left and Oakland on the other side of the bay.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Sacramento Street, San Francisco

Looking down Sacramento Street from near Powell Street in San Francisco, on April 18, 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Arnold Genthe Collection.

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Sacramento Street in 2015:

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The first photo is probably the most famous image from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and it was taken by noted photographer Arnold Genthe in the hours that immediately followed the earthquake, before the fires spread across the city. Most of the other post-earthquake images that I have featured here show the city days or weeks after the fires had been put out, when the city was beginning to rebuild. However, this scene shows the disaster as it was still unfolding, as residents stood in the streets and watched the city burn below them.

Years later, Genthe mentioned the photograph in his autobiography, commenting on the almost surreal nature of the scene, with the city burning in the distance and spectators sitting in chairs on the sidewalk, calmly watching as the fire moved closer. He wrote,

“Of the pictures I had made during the fire, there are several, I believe, that will be of lasting interest. There is particularly the one scene that I recorded the morning of the first day of the fire [along Sacramento Street, looking toward the Bay] which shows, in a pictorially effective composition, the results of the earthquake, the beginning of the fire and the attitude of the people. On the right is a house, the front of which had collapsed into the street. The occupants are sitting on chairs calmly watching the approach of the fire. Groups of people are standing in the street, motionless, gazing at the clouds of smoke. When the fire crept up close, they would just move up a block. It is hard to believe that such a scene actually occurred in the way the photograph represents it.”

Perhaps the people in the photo assumed that the fire was too distant to threaten them, but as they were watching the fire department was struggling with broken water mains and limited manpower, and the city government was making poor decisions that, in the coming days, would enable the fire to spread far further than it otherwise may have. By the next day, the fire had moved up the hill, and all of the buildings in the foreground were destroyed.

When the first photo was taken, the bay was not visible because of the dense smoke in the distance. Over a century later, it still isn’t visible from here, because of the tall skyscrapers that have since been built in the Financial District. The cable car line in the first photo was eliminated years ago, and the street is now served by a bus line that runs off of the overhead wires at the top of the 2015 photo. While the buildings from the first photo may be gone, at least one pre-earthquake organization is still here. The brick building partway down the hill on the left side of the photo was the Presbyterian Mission House, a Christian organization that worked to rescue Chinese girls from slavery and sex trafficking. After the earthquake, the organization rebuilt on the same site, and today it is still operated as the Cameron House, named in honor of Donaldina Cameron, who was the superintendent at the time of the earthquake.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

View from the Arsenal Tower, Springfield, Mass (5)

Another view looking north from the top of the Arsenal at the Springfield Armory, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2015, photographed with permission from the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

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This scene shows the view looking just a little further to the right than this earlier post, and it shows how both the Springfield Armory and the Liberty Heights neighborhood in the distance has changed over the past century. Aside from the Armory’s Long Storehouse in the foreground, the first photo shows sporadic development throughout the area, with the most noticeable buildings being the factories on the left side. The factories were located along Warwick Street, with the Cheney Bigelow Wire Works on the far left, and the Taber Prang Art Company closer to the center. Beyond them, scattered houses illustrate the early stages of development in the Liberty Heights area, with Mount Tom as a backdrop in the distance.

In the 2015 view, the most obvious change is the building in the foreground. The Springfield Armory closed in 1968, and the grounds became home to Springfield Technical Community College. Most of the former Armory buildings were converted into classroom and office space for the college, but there were also a few new buildings that were constructed for the school, including Scibelli Hall, as seen here. Not much is visible in the distance in the 2015 view, but most of the old factories on Warwick Street from the first photo are still standing. One prominent Liberty Heights landmark that was built after the first photo was taken is the Our Lady of Hope Church, which was built in 1925 and can be seen in the distance just to the left of Scibelli Hall.

For other then and now views from the Arsenal tower, see the earlier posts showing the view facing southwest, west, northwest, and south.

View from the Arsenal Tower, Springfield, Mass (4)

The view looking south from the top of the Arsenal tower at the Springfield Armory, around 1882. Image from Springfield Illustrated (1882).

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The view in 2015:

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This scene in Springfield shows State Street in the foreground, with the South End in the distance. When the first photo was taken, this area on the slope of the hill consisted mainly of single-family homes for upper middle class professionals, who lived on streets like Union, Temple, High, and the lower part of Maple Street. The upper part of Maple Street, barely visible on the far left, was home to many of the city’s wealthiest citizens, and some of these Gilded Age mansions are still standing there today. Further in the distance, the South End was largely a working-class neighborhood, with a number of Italian immigrants moving into the area starting around the time that the first photo was taken.

Over 130 years later, much has changed in this view. As the population grew in the early 20th century, many of the single-family homes along the streets in the foreground were replaced with apartment blocks, as was the State Street Methodist Episcopal Church on the left side of the photo. Located at the corner of State and Myrtle Streets, it was demolished by 1901 to build the large apartment building that still stands there. Today, the only prominent landmark that is visible in both photos is the South Congregational Church, which was built in 1875 at the corner of Maple and High Streets. Another nearby building that opened around the same time was the old high school, which later became a grammar school when Classical High School was built next to it in 1898. The old high school, visible on the extreme right of the first photo, was demolished when Classical expanded in 1922, and Classical High School itself closed in 1986, but the yellow brick building on the far right is still standing after having been converted into condominiums.

For other then and now views from the Arsenal tower, see the other posts showing the view facing southwest, west, northwest, and north.

View from the Arsenal Tower, Springfield, Mass (3)

Looking north from the Arsenal tower at the Springfield Armory, around 1882. Image from Springfield Illustrated (1882).

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The view in 2015, photographed with permission from the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

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This view from the top of the Main Arsenal tower shows the northwest corner of the Springfield Armory and the Liberty Heights neighborhood in the distance. Both areas have undergone some significant changes, with the most obvious being the large building to the right. Built for Springfield Technical Community College after the Armory closed in 1968, it occupies the ground where several officers’ houses once stood, as seen in the first photo. However, two other historic buildings in this scene survive today. The Long Storehouse, built between 1846 and 1863, is now partially hidden by newer construction, but it still stands along the northern edge of the campus. Just in front of it, in the center of the photo, is the much smaller Master Armorer’s House, a Greek Revival style home that was originally located next to the Main Arsenal before being moved to its current site shortly before the first photo was taken.

It is somewhat hard to tell, but the Liberty Heights neighborhood in the distance has undergone far more drastic changes than the Armory grounds. When the first photo was taken, this area to the northeast of downtown was sparsely populated, with large estates that were owned by wealthy citizens. However, as the city grew, these properties were subdivided and developed with multi-family homes by the early 1900s. The neighborhood changed even further in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Interstate 291 was built through the area, but today at least one of the historic mid-19th century homes has survived. Built in 1853, the Joshua Bliss Vinton House is barely visible on the extreme left of the 1882 photo, and it is still standing at the end of Underwood Street, where it serves as the rectory for Our Lady of the Rosary Church on Franklin Street. Both the church and the house are mostly hidden by trees in the 2015 scene, but the steeple of the church can be seen on the far left, and just beyond it is the cupola of the house.

For other then and now views from the Arsenal tower, see the other posts showing the view facing southwest, west, south, and north.

View from the Arsenal Tower, Springfield, Mass (2)

The view looking west from the top of the Arsenal tower at the Springfield Armory, around 1882. Image from Springfield Illustrated (1882)

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The view in 2015, photographed with permission from the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

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At first, this view looking toward the North End of Springfield does not appear to have seen many dramatic changes. In contrast to the downtown view in the previous post, the scale of this scene remains largely the same, with mostly low-rise commercial and industrial buildings. However, most of the buildings from the first photo have since been demolished. There is a group of surviving Victorian-era buildings on the far left in the Quadrangle-Mattoon Street Historic District, which includes the North Congregational Church and the nearby townhouses on Mattoon Street. The rest of the buildings in the scene, though, are mostly gone. Probably the most significant change happened in the 1960s, when most of the buildings on the right side of the photo were demolished as part of the North End urban renewal project. Much of this area now includes the interchange between Interstates 91 and 291.

Although little survives from the 19th century in this scene, this section of Springfield still includes a number of historic buildings. Just to the left of the center is the Apremont Triangle Historic District, which includes historic early 20th century buildings such as the 1910 Hotel Kimball building, which is visible just beyond the steeple of the North Congregational Church. To the left of it is the 1916 YMCA Building, and to the right is the 1924 Tarbell-Waters Building. Another historic building in this scene is the 1916 Willys-Overland Block, which is the boarded-up building just to the left of the center, and just beyond it on Dwight Street is the old 1932 post office.

For other then and now views from the Arsenal tower, see the other posts showing the view facing southwest, northwest, south, and north.