Union Station, Providence, RI

The view looking across City Hall Park toward Union Station in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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Both the park and the railroad station were relatively new features in downtown Providence when the first photo was taken. They were a part of the larger redevelopment plan of the late 19th century, which included the filling of the Cove basin and the construction of the new State House on Smith Hill. City Hall Park, located on the north side of Exchange Place, was dedicated in 1892 and landscaped in 1898, the same year that Union Station opened on the far side.

The station complex, as seen in the first photo, consisted of five buildings, and replaced an earlier station that had been damaged in an 1896 fire. Together with the new park and the nearby State House, the station provided a grand entrance for visitors to Providence. At a time when most inter-city travel was by rail, the railroad station was the first part of the city that most travelers saw. A good first impression was important, and with this new development, Providence had a station that was worthy of its status as an prominent, growing city.

As with other grand urban passenger stations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though, the Union Station saw a period of decline by the 1950s. The easternmost building, seen on the far right of the first photo, burned down in 1941, and in the postwar era there was a sharp drop in rail travel with the advent of commercial airlines and interstate highways.

The building was badly neglected, and in 1986 it was rendered entirely obsolete. That year, the elevated tracks adjacent to the station were removed, and the railroad was rerouted a little further to the north. A new, smaller station opened just south of the State House, and the old station was left isolated, several blocks away from the tracks. The following year, it was badly damaged in a fire, but it was ultimately repaired. Even the destroyed easternmost building has since been rebuilt, and today the buildings have been restored and repurposed. From this view, the buildings are no longer visible because of the tall trees on the park, which is now known as Burnside Park. However, they are still there on the other side of the park, and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Union Station, Worcester, Mass

Worcester’s old Union Station, seen around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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This building was Worcester’s original Union Station, serving the Boston & Albany Railroad along with several other railroads. It was completed in 1875 in a Gothic Revival style designed by the Boston architectural firm of Ware & Van Brunt. Along with the usual passenger station amenities, it included a train shed over the tracks, along with a 212-foot clock tower at the corner of the building.

The station served Worcester for over 35 years, but by the early 20th century the city’s busy railroad traffic made it necessary to elevate the tracks through downtown. This, in turn, required a new station, which opened in 1911 just west of here. Most of the old station was demolished at this point, but the tower itself was saved. Unlike the two towers of the new station, which had do be taken down just 15 years later because of their deteriorated condition, the old 1875 tower stood here until 1959, when it was demolished to build Interstate 290.

Today, the 1911 Union Station, with replica towers, is still standing just to the right of the rotary, and in the distance the highway passes over the spot where the original station once stood. The only remnant from the first photo is the railroad itself, which can be seen on the right side of the photo, with MBTA commuter rail passenger cars passing over the bridge in the distance.

Union Station, Worcester, Mass

The Union Station in Worcester, around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Union Station in 2016:

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Although Worcester’s Union Station looks largely the same now as it did over a century ago, the building has undergone dramatic changes in between. It was built in 1911, when the railroad tracks through downtown Worcester were raised above street level, requiring the replacement of the original 1875 Union Station, located just east of here. Although owned by the New York Central Railroad through their Boston & Albany subsidiary, the station served all of the railroads in Worcester, including the Providence & Worcester and the Boston & Maine. This new building was designed by the firm of Watson & Huckel, and its Beaux Arts architecture was very different from the Romanesque style of its predecessor, reflecting a major shift in architectural tastes from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries.

Although the twin towers of the building were its most iconic feature, the original ones lasted barely 15 years, and had to be removed in 1926 because of damaged caused by vibration from passing trains. The station, without the towers, remained in use for nearly 50 years, but by the mid-20th century passenger rail travel was in decline, and in 1972 it finally closed.

For more than 35 years, the station sat abandoned and decaying. Over time, the panes of glass in the skylight above the main concourse fell out, and for many years the interior was completely exposed to the elements. However, through decades of neglect the exterior remained structurally sound, and after several years of restoration work, the station reopened in 2000, complete with replicas of the towers that had been missing for nearly 75 years. Today, the restored building is a prominent Worcester landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, and from this angle is virtually indistinguishable from its original appearance.

Grand Central Terminal Whispering Gallery, New York City

The whispering gallery at the bottom of the ramp to the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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These photos were taken from the bottom of the ramp that is seen in an earlier post, which leads from the Main Concourse to the station’s lower concourse. Because of the curve of the ceiling here, two people can stand facing the walls on opposite corners and speak at a normal level. The acoustics of the ceiling will carry their voices across the arch and the other person will be able to hear them perfectly clearly. That is, in fact, exactly what the person on the far right of the 2016 photo is doing; his friend was standing just out of the frame of the photo on the left side. I don’t know whether it was deliberately designed like that, or if the man in the bowler derby and overcoat in the first photo ever tried it out, but it is one of Grand Central Terminal’s more unusual architectural features.

Grand Central Terminal Suburban Concourse, New York City (2)

Another view of the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Like the photos in the previous post, this view shows the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal. It is located directly underneath the Main Concourse, and when the station opened in 1913, this level was used for suburban commuter trains. The row of windows on the right side in the first photo were the ticket offices of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, which provided commuter service to the north of the city, along the present-day Hudson and Harlem Lines on the Metro-North Railroad. The ramp in the center of the photo is the same one that appears in the first photo, and it leads up to the Main Concourse. Beyond it are more ticket windows, for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, which provided service along the current Metro-North New Haven Line.

Today, this concourse is still used by commuters to access the trains on the lower tracks, but it also doubles as the station’s food court. Several prominent New York City restaurants have locations here, including Junior’s in the foreground and Shake Shack beyond it. Most of the original features are still here, including the marble walls, decorative ceiling, information kiosk to the left, and the ticket windows to the right, which now display menus.

Grand Central Terminal Suburban Concourse, New York City

The lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, showing the ramp to the upper level, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Grand Central Terminal is best known for its spacious Main Concourse, but when the station first opened in 1913 the upper level was only used for inter-city trains. Commuters to the outer suburbs departed from this significantly less breathtaking concourse located on the lower level, directly underneath the Main Concourse. The first photo was probably taken around the time that the station opened, but over the years its function has changed. As explained in the previous post, the station is no longer split between long-distance and suburban trains; instead, Amtrak uses nearby Penn Station along with the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit commuter lines, while Grand Central is exclusively a commuter rail station, used by the Metro-North Railroad.

Today, the lower concourse is significantly more crowded today than it was in the first photo. The lower tracks are still in use, but the concourse has taken on a second role as the station’s food court, with Shake Shack and other restaurants occupying the space on the left side where the ticket office windows were located in the first photo. Despite this, though, the underlying architecture has not changed much, and the station would still be recognizable to a commuter from the early 20th century.