Underwood Building, Springfield, Mass

The Underwood Building at the corner of Main and Worthington Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2018:

This two-story, Classical Revival-style commercial building was constructed in 1916, and over the years it has housed a variety of businesses. Its name comes from one of its early tenants, the Underwood Typewriter Company, which had its Springfield offices here. In its early years, the upper floor of the building was occupied by the Knights of Columbus, which met here until 1929, but perhaps the most noteworthy tenant here was the Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition, which had its offices in the building from 1917 until 1949. Later named the Eastern States Exposition, but better known as the Big E, this annual agricultural fair has become one of the largest in the country, and it is still held every September at the fairgrounds on the other side of the river, in West Springfield.

The Eastern States Exposition offices were still located here in the Underwood Building when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and the photo shows a variety of other commercial tenants on the ground floor, including Bill’s Liquor Store, which occupied the corner storefront. Since then, the exterior of the building has remained largely intact, although it has steadily declined over the years. In 2012, it was damaged by a nearby gas explosion, and, as the 2018 photo shows, it is now vacant and boarded up. It was recently threatened with demolition, prompting an attempt to have the city designate it as a one-building local historic district. This effort failed, and the mandated nine-month demolition delay expired in 2018, but as of January 2020 it is still standing.

Old Post Office, Springfield, Mass

The old post office building, at the corner of Dwight and Taylor Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2018:

For most of the 19th century, Springfield did not have a dedicated post office building. Instead, it was often housed inside of a store that was run by the postmaster, so over the years the post office had ten different locations before the first purpose-built post office was completed in 1891, at the corner of Main and Worthington Streets. This imposing Romanesque-style brownstone building functioned as both a post office and a customs house, but it soon proved to be too small, as Springfield’s population continued its dramatic growth into the early 20th century. As a result, this post office lasted barely 30 years before it was closed in 1932 and demolished the following year.

Its replacement was constructed several blocks away, on a lot that is bounded by Lyman, Dwight, Taylor, and Kaynor Streets. The latter was added to the city’s street network when the new post office was built, in order to provide access to the rear of the building. It was named in honor of the late W. Kirk Kaynor, a congressman and former Springfield postmaster who was killed in a plane crash in 1929.

The new building opened in September 1932, and it is shown here in the first photo only a few years later. it was primarily a post office, but it also housed a variety of other federal offices. A May 8, 1932 article in the Springfield Republican, published several months before it opened, outlined the intended use of the building. The post office would occupy much of the basement, all of the first floor, and most of the second floor. The rest of the second floor would be used by the customs appraiser, and the third floor would house the federal courtroom, judge’s chambers, district attorney’s office, and other Department of Justice offices. The allocation of space in the fourth and fifth floors was still tentative at the time, but these floors were intended to house a variety of other federal offices.

Architecturally, the building is very different from the previous post office. By the 1930s, the Romanesque architecture of the late 19th century had long since fallen out of fashion, and this new building featured the simplicity of Art Moderne architecture, with a light-colored exterior of polished Indiana limestone. However, it was built with some decorative elements, including the colored terra cotta spandrels in between the windows. Like many Depression-era post offices, it also included interior murals in the main lobby. The ones here were painted by Umberto Romano, and they consist of six murals that are collectively titled “Three Centuries of New England History.”

This building was used as a post office until 1967, when the present post office building opened a few blocks to the north of here. The rest of the federal offices were relocated in 1980, upon the completion of a new federal building at Main Street, and this property was sold to the state three years later. Since then, it has served as the Springfield State Office Building, housing a variety of state agencies, along with the Western Massachusetts office of the governor. Its exterior has remained well-preserved since then, with few noticeable changes from the first photo, and it stands as an excellent example of 20th century architecture in Springfield.

Corner of Dwight and Sanford Streets, Springfield

The building that once stood at the corner of Dwight and Sanford Streets. Photo from Springfield Present and Prospective (1905).

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The location in 2014:

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As seen in today’s photo, the buildings in the first photo don’t exist anymore, and in fact neither does the street on the right, Sanford Street. The first photo shows two different 17th century houses: the old Nathaniel Ely Tavern in the foreground, built in 1660, and the Margaret Bliss House just beyond it, built around 1695. Obviously both buildings are long gone. I don’t know when they were demolished, but it is safe to say they were gone before the MassMutual Center was built in the 1970’s.

Corner of State & Dwight, Springfield

The view looking northwest from the corner of State Street and Dwight Street, between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same street corner in 2015:

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There is absolutely nothing in the first photo that still exists today, so identification of its location eluded me for a while, until I zoomed in to a high-resolution scan of the photo and noticed the “Dwight Street” sign. The building in the first photo was, at the time, the YMCA building in Springfield. It was completed in 1895, and was the home of the YMCA for 20 years, until it moved into a new building on Chestnut Street. The older building then became the Victoria Hotel, and it stood here until 1969, when the hotel closed. It was demolished later in the year, in order to begin construction on the Civic Center. Now named the MassMutual Center, this arena still stands here at the corner of State and Dwight Streets.