Interior of Old First Church, Springfield, Mass (2)

The interior of Old First Church from the balcony, around 1940. Image courtesy of the Springfield College Archives and Special Collections, Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection.

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The church in 2015:

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The interior of Old First Church was shown in an earlier post, with a photo that was taken around 1915. At the time, the interior design was from an 1881 remodel, but in 1924 many of the Victorian changes were undone and it was restored to an early 19th century appearance. The c.1940 photo here reflects these changes, and it remains mostly the same today. There is a different organ, which was installed in 1958, the steps up to the pulpit have moved, and most of the pews to the left and right of the pulpit are gone, but there have been no major alterations since 1924.

The church was built in 1819, and after nearly 200 years it is the oldest church building still standing in the city. However, the First Church congregation itself no longer exists. With declining membership and high maintenance costs, they disbanded in 2007, and the city purchased the historic building. They regularly rent it out it out for special events, and since 2009 it has also been used by WellSpring Church for their Sunday services.

Lost New England Goes West: Alcatraz Dining Hall, San Francisco

The dining hall at the Alcatraz Federal Penitentary, sometime between 1933 and 1963. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

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The dining hall in 2015:

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This dining hall is part of the main prison building at Alcatraz, which first opened in 1912 as a military prison. The first photo, taken during its time as a federal civilian prison, shows the dining hall set up for some sort of holiday dinner. All of the inmates ate their meals here together, and the food was supposedly the best in the entire federal prison system. Meals were 20 minutes long, and inmates could help themselves to as much food as they wanted, provided that they ate it in time and left no waste.

In the distance on the far left of the 2015 photo is the breakfast menu from March 21, 1963, the prison’s last day in operation. The meal consisted of assorted dry cereals, steamed whole wheat, scrambled eggs, milk, stewed fruit. toast, bread, butter, and coffee. Today, the dining hall is one of the stops on the self-guided tour of the island, which is operated by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

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.

Scollay Square, Boston

Scollay Square, looking north from the corner of Tremont and Court Streets, sometime in the 1860s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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Scollay Square on August 26, 1897. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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Scollay Square around 1942. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

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These four photos reveal the dramatic transformations that have occurred at Boston’s Scollay Square over the past 150 years. The square once included a long, narrow row of buildings in the middle, which appear on city maps as early as the 1720s. The construction date for the building in the first photo is unknown, but it was once at the southern end of this row, and in 1795 it was purchased by William Scollay, a real estate developer for whom the square would eventually be named. By the time the first photo was taken, all of the other buildings in the middle of the square had been demolished, and Scollay’s building was taken down soon after, around 1870.

The second photo shows a very different scene. Some of the buildings along the square are still standing, but the Scollay Building is gone, as are the horse-drawn trolleys from the first photo. Instead, they have been replaced by electric trolleys, like the one shown in the photo. However, these would not last long, at least not on the surface. The second photo was taken only about a week before the Tremont Street Subway opened, and the photo shows some of the construction activity as the workers prepared the Scollay Square station for its opening day on September 3. The station itself is not visible, but its ornate entrance can be seen in this post, which shows the scene from a slightly different angle.

Scollay Square had long been a major commercial center in the city, but by the time the third photo was taken in the 1940s, it had seen a dramatic decline. Many of the old buildings were still standing, but the businesses had become seedier. The 1942 photo shows a number of bars, liquor stores, cheap restaurants, and burlesque theaters, and the area was particularly popular among sailors on leave from the Boston Navy Yard and college students from the many nearby schools. One prominent hotel and theater in both the second and third photos was the Crawford House on the far right. It was built in 1865 and underwent several renovations, including one in 1926 that completely altered the front. The building burned in 1948, and all but the first two floors were demolished a few years later.

By the 1950s, the area was being targeted for urban renewal. Looking to replace the area with something more respectable, the Boston Redevelopment Authority demolished over a thousand buildings in the vicinity to build the Government Center complex, which includes the Center Plaza to the left, the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in the center, and the Boston City Hall, just out of view to the right. The old Scollay Square subway station was also extensively renovated and renamed Government Center. When the last photo was taken, the station was undergoing a another renovation, so if there is one thing that the second and fourth photos have in common, it is subway station construction.

Blandford Street Incline, Boston

Facing east on Commonwealth Avenue toward Kenmore Square, with the Blandford Street Incline in the foreground, on January 3, 1933. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The same location in 1943. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The view in 2015:

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As mentioned in this post, trolley cars once entered and exited the subway from an incline in the median of Commonwealth Avenue just east of Kenmore Square.  However, in 1932 the tunnel was extended a little to the west, with one branch emerging here, at the present-day Boston University campus.  The first photo shows the incline shortly after it opened, and not much had changed ten years later when the second one was taken.

The most obvious change in the first two photos is the signs – by 1943 Kenmore Square had become home to many large advertisements, including ones for Dawson’s Pale Ale and Lager, Socony, the Hotel Kenmore, and Gulf.  Several of these signs were easily visible from Fenway Park, with the Gulf sign in particular being prominent in photographs of the park from that era.  Another sign in the foreground indicates that Park Street is a mere nine minutes away, which either suggests that the trolleys ran much faster than they do now, or that the Boston Elevated Railway was being a little generous in their estimates.

The second photo also reveals a largely forgotten piece of Boston history; the trolley coming up from the tunnel has “National League Park” as its destination.  Long before the Red Sox, the Boston Braves were the city’s original Major League Baseball team, and from 1915 to 1952, they played about a mile up Commonwealth Avenue from here.  After the team moved to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, the old stadium was purchased by Boston University and converted into Nickerson Field, with some of the original structure still standing today.

In the 2015 scene, the subway incline hasn’t changed much; even the poles supporting the overhead wires appear to be the same ones from the first two photos.  To the left, the Boston University campus has continued to expand, and today several of BU’s buildings are visible here.  In the distance, many of the buildings in Kenmore Square are still standing, and although none of the 1940s signs still exist, Kenmore Square is now home to arguably the city’s most famous sign, which appears to be located at the same spot as the old Socony sign.  This Citgo sign is visible over the Green Monster at Fenway Park, and has been identified with the Boston Red Sox ever since it was first constructed in 1965.

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.