Court Square, Springfield (6)

Springfield’s Court Square, sometime in the 1880s or earlier. Photo from Springfield Present and Prospective (1905).

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The scene in the 1890s. Photo from Our County and Its People: A History of Hampden County, Massachusetts (1902).

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The scene in 2014:119_2014

The three photos show the progression of the appearance of Court Square in the past 125+ years. In the first photo, the buildings along Elm Street are all 1830’s-era three story commercial buildings, most of which were replaced by the Court Square Theater in 1892, which can be seen in the second photo, a rare view of the building before the 1900 expansion on the right side. That is essentially the only change between the second photo and today’s scene – not much has changed with the four major buildings in this angle. One notable survivor on the far left is the Byers Block, which was built in 1835 and is the last remaining part of the Elm Street commercial blocks from the first photo. Wedged in between two much larger late 19th century building, it is the oldest surviving commercial building in the city, although not the oldest building in the photo – Old First Church on the far right dates to 1819.

Old Masonic Building, Springfield, Mass

The old Masonic Building in Springfield, around 1910, from The View Book of Springfield (1910).

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The same building in 2012:

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The old Masonic Building at the corner of State and Main was built around 1893, and was used by the Masons until 1924, when they built a new temple further up State Street. At some point, the ornate sandstone facade was replaced with a more bland brick appearance, and the clock tower was either moved back or replaced entirely. However, there is a small surviving part of the original facade – the sandstone arch above the doorway on the left-hand side is still there, complete with a Masonic symbol above it.

Old City Hall, Springfield, Mass

Springfield’s old City Hall, sometime before 1905. Photo from Springfield Present and Prospective (1905).

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The view in 2014:

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Although settled in 1636, Springfield wasn’t incorporated as a city until 1852. Four years later, the first city hall was built here, on the north side of Court Square. It was dedicated with much fanfare on January 1, 1856, and stood here for nearly 50 years. During this time, the city offices were housed on the first floor, with the police department in the basement and a 2,300-seat auditorium on the upper floor. The auditorium was used for a variety of events, including one that resulted in the destruction of the building. On January 6, 1905, a fire started in the auditorium, allegedly caused when a monkey overturned a kerosene lantern. Regardless of the cause, though, the building was a total loss, and eight years later the present-day Springfield Municipal Group was dedicated, with new City Hall, Symphony Hall, and campanile tower in between.

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.

Arcade Theatre, Springfield

The Arcade Theatre on State Street in Springfield, around 1933. Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures.

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The same scene in 2012:

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The building in the foreground of the 1933 photo is the Arcade Theatre, which opened two years earlier.  The marquee advertises the film College Humor, a Bing Crosby comedy that was released in July of 1933, hence giving the approximate date of the photo.  The theater closed in 1971, and was demolished a year later to allow for Dwight Street to be extended up the hill to Maple Street.  This enabled Dwight Street and Maple/Chestnut Streets to function as a one-way pair to help with traffic around the newly-built Civic Center (now the MassMutual Center, barely visible on the far right of the 2012 photo).  The building in the center of the photo is the Epiphany Tower, which is being renovated to become a Holiday Inn Express.  Several other buildings that still exist are the c.1893 old Masonic Building at the corner of State and Main (with the green tower) and 1200 Main Street just beyond it, which was built in 1908.

Notice also the road itself – 1933 seems like a rather late date for a major road in Springfield – at the time it was part of Route 20 – to be paved with cobblestone, but apparently that was the case.  Notice the trolley tracks as well, and the trolley in the distance – very different from the PVTA buses that now navigate the streets of Springfield.

Court Square Theater, Springfield

Springfield’s Court Square Theater, as it appeared between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2015:

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The Court Square Theater was built in 1892, and substantially expanded in 1900.  Originally, the building was symmetrical, but the 1900 addition gave the building an extra five rows of windows on the front facade, and also extended the right-hand side of the building all the way back to State Street.  A photo on this blog shows a rare glimpse of the building prior to the expansion.  The other two buildings visible along Court Square are the the 1835 Byers Block, and the 1889 Chicopee Bank Building.  Neither buildings have changed much in appearance since the first photo was taken.

Right now, the Court Square Theater building stands vacant.  The theater section itself (not visible) was demolished in 1957, and there have been various proposals for restoring the building, but so far none have begun.