Westminster Arcade, Providence, RI

The south side of the Westminster Arcade on Weybosset Street in Providence, 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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The exterior of this imposing granite Greek Revival building bears no resemblance to its modern descendants, but the Westminster Arcade is believed to have been the nation’s first indoor shopping mall. Completed in 1828, it is just 74 feet wide but spans the entire length of the block between Weybosset and Westminster Streets. On the inside, three floors of shops run the length of the building on either side, with a large central area in between them, topped with skylights. In this sense, the interior is strikingly similar to the modern shopping mall, as seen in this 1958 view from the Historic American Buildings Survey:

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Over the years, the Arcade has been renovated several times, but has retained its commercial role for nearly 200 years. It survived demolition in 1944, and was restored in 1980, a few years after being named a National Historic Landmark. However, by this point downtown commercial centers across the country were struggling with competition from suburban malls and shopping centers, and the Arcade was no exception. It experienced high tenant turnover, and the upper floors were particularly difficult to attract businesses.

The Arcade finally closed in 2008, but another renovation was soon in the works. The building reopened five years later, with a new mixed-use design that featured shops on the first floor and micro apartments on the two upper floors. These apartments, most of which range from 225 to 300 square feet, are particularly useful for students and recent graduates of the many colleges and universities in Providence. Despite the many renovations over the years, though, essentially nothing has changed with the columned facades on either end of the building, and even the interior has, despite changing storefronts into apartments, maintained its original 19th century appearance.

Lost New England Goes West: Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco (3)

Another view of the Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, taken looking down California Street, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The view in 2015:

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The first photo shows California Street just a few years before nearly this entire scene was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The most prominent building in the first photo is the Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, and this is also the only building that survives to the present day. As seen in the previous post, though, not much is left of the original building. It was completely gutted in the fires, and today only the exterior walls are left from the 1854 church. The city around the church has obviously changed; in the distance are the skyscrapers of the Financial District, and in the foreground is Grant Avenue, part of the city’s Chinatown neighborhood.

The only other feature that both photos have in common is the cable cars. One of San Francisco’s most recognizable symbols, the cable car line on California Street was established in 1878. Although more expensive to operate than conventional electric trolleys, cable cars remained in use for many years because of the city’s many hills, which are far too steep for a trolley. Rather than relying on overhead wires for power, cable cars are literally pulled up the hills on a continuously-moving 1.25 inch steel cable. To stop the car, the operators simply disengage from the cable and reconnect when they are ready to continue uphill. The technology has not changed much since the first photo, but the major difference is that today’s cable cars are primarily tourist attractions rather than as a significant part of the city’s public transit system.

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: Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco (2)

Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, at the corner of California Street and Grant Avenue, in the aftermath of the April 18, 1906 earthquake and fires. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The church in 2015:

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As mentioned in an earlier post, this church was built in 1854 as the first Catholic cathedral in San Francisco. The archdiocese moved to a new building in 1891, but Saint Mary’s remained a parish church. In 1906, though, the building burned in the earthquake that destroyed much of the city. The first photo shows the church after the fire, with interior was completely gutted. The stained glass windows were gone, and the heat of the fire even melted the bells and the marble altar.

However, the brick walls withstood both the earthquake itself and the fires, and the church reopened in 1909 with a new interior. Over a century later, it remains an active congregation, and it is a prominent landmark in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood.

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: Dupont Street, San Francisco

Looking north on Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue) in San Francisco, sometime in the 1850s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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Grant Avenue in 2015:

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This street has been at the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood since the first photo was taken over 150 years ago. Originally named Dupont Street, it soon became a red light district, notorious for its opium dens, brothels, and gang violence. In the background of the first photo is Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, which opened in 1854 and, as a warning to would-be patrons of the neighborhood, has an inscription below the clock that reads, “Son, Observe the Time and Fly from Evil.”

The 1906 earthquake destroyed the entire street along with the rest of Chinatown, leaving only the burned-out shell of the church still standing from this scene. The disaster gave the city the opportunity to clean up the seedy establishments in the area, and to reflect this change the street was even renamed, to Grant Avenue. The buildings in the foreground of the 2015 scene were probably built in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, and the old church is partially visible in the distance. The street is still a popular destination in San Francisco, though not for the same reasons in the 19th century; instead of brothels and opium dens, Grant Avenue of today is lined with Chinese restaurants and shops that sell gifts, souvenirs, and jewelry.

Lost New England Goes West: California Street, San Francisco (2)

Looking east down California Street in between Grant and Stockton Streets in San Francisco, in 1863. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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California Street in 2015:

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When the first photo was taken, the United States was in the midst of the Civil War, and although the bulk of the fighting was some 2,000 miles away, California nonetheless contributed to the Union war effort. Thanks to the Gold Rush about 15 years earlier, San Francisco was a prosperous, rapidly-growing city, and much of this gold was used to fund the Union army. Although southern California had a substantial number of Confederate sympathizers at the time, the northern part of the state, including San Francisco, was predominantly pro-Union, and provided a number of soldiers who went east to fight.

After the Civil War, San Francisco’s prosperity continued, and this section of California Street in the distance became the city’s Financial District. However, the entire area was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and the resulting fires that spread across the city, and only a few buildings in this scene survived. The photo in this earlier post, taken from the base of the hill facing up California Street, shows some of the destruction.

The most notable survivor from the 1863 photo here is the Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral on the left, at the corner of Grant Avenue. Built in 1854, it withstood the earthquake itself, but was gutted by the fires that left only the brick walls standing. The interior was rebuilt in 1909, and the church is still standing today as a prominent landmark in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood.

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.

Burnham Tavern, Machias, Maine (2)

Another view of the Burnham Tavern, taken on June 17, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The building in 2015:

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This view shows the rear of Burnham, which as explained in the previous post was built in 1770 and played a role in the planning of the Battle of Machias, one of the first naval battles of the American Revolution.  Today, the building is well-preserved, and is maintained by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a museum, complete with period furnishings on the interior.  The first photo shows its appearance when it was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1937, and its exterior is virtually unchanged in the nearly 80 years since.  The only noticeable difference is the use of painted shingles instead of clapboards; this is actually in keeping with 18th century customs of putting clapboard on the front and shingles on the sides and back.