Bates Hall, Boston Public Library (3)

The marble doorway in Bates Hall at the McKim Building, in 1896. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The view in 2016:

As mentioned in the previous two posts here and here, Bates Hall is the main reading room at the Boston Public Library, and the first photo here shows the room shortly after the building opened. Architect Charles McKim designed the building in the Renaissance Revival style, with features such as this carved marble doorway, with the balcony above it. The two marble busts that flank the doorway are the same in both photos, although at some point in the past 120 years they were moved to opposite sides of the doorway. They are actually several decades older than the building itself; the one on the left in the 2016 photo is of Joshua Bates, the hall’s namesake, and the one on the right is of Boston author George Ticknor. Not much else has changed here, except for newer books on the shelves and different chairs, and the room remains one of Boston’s architectural treasures.

Bates Hall, Boston Public Library (2)

Another view of Bates Hall in the McKim Building, around 1895. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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Bates Hall in 2016:

Like the previous post, these photos show Bates Hall, the main reading room at the Boston Public Library, as it appeared when it first opened in 1895 and in 2016. The view in the other post was from the opposite side of the room, but both angles give an idea of the size of this room, which runs the entire length of the building and has a 50-foot tall, cathedral-like vaulted ceiling and massive windows on the Copley Square side. The only difference here in these two photos is that the first photo has no people or books, so presumably it was taken in the weeks or months before the building was completed and opened to the public, perhaps to give Bostonians an idea of what their unprecedented new library would look like.

Bates Hall, Boston Public Library

Bates Hall inside the McKim Building of the Boston Public Library in 1896. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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Bates Hall in 2016:

The historic McKim Building opened in 1895 as the main branch of the Boston Public Library, and it is an architecturally significant building on both the exterior and interior. Bates Hall, which is 218 feet long and 50 feet to the top of the arched ceiling, is the library’s main reading room. It is named in honor of Joshua Bates, who donated $50,000 to the library shortly after it was established in 1852. Equivalent to nearly $1.5 million today, this gift helped to purchase books for the new library, which was one of the first public libraries in the country. The first photo was taken only a year after the building opened, but today, after a major restoration that was started in 1996, the room looks just as grand as it did 120 years ago.

Waldorf-Astoria and Knickerbocker Trust, New York City

Looking south along Fifth Avenue toward the intersection of 34th Street, around 1904, with the Knickerbocker Trust Company building in the foreground and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel beyond it. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

The two buildings in the first photo, the Waldorf-Astoria and the Knickerbocker Trust Company Building, have been discussed in further detail in earlier posts, but this photo here provides a particularly good view of the architecture of the Knickerbocker building, which had been completed around that time. It was designed by McKim, Mead & White, a prominent architectural firm whose other significant works of the era included the Boston Public Library and New York’s Penn Station. Unfortunately, although the bank building is technically still standing here, subsequent alterations have completely destroyed the original architecture, including the addition of 10 stories on top of it in 1921 and the replacement of the facade in 1958 with the bland exterior that it now has. As for the Waldorf-Astoria, it is obviously no longer standing; the famous hotel was demolished in 1929 and the Empire State Building was built in its place.

Fifth Avenue from 33rd Street, New York City

Looking north on Fifth Avenue from 33rd Street, around 1905-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Fifth Avenue in 2016:

Notice the extremely wide sidewalks in the first photo. Fifth Avenue was originally designed to have a 40-foot roadway with 30-foot sidewalks on either side, but this changed in 1908, shortly after the first photo was taken. To accommodate the growing automobile traffic on the street, it was widened to 55 feet, and the wide sidewalks were trimmed down. Despite over a century of change, though, there are a remarkable number of buildings that have survived from the first photo, especially on the left side. When the first photo was taken, this section of Fifth Avenue had just recently become a major commercial area, and as a result most of the buildings were new at the time.

Perhaps most surprising from the first photo is that the Knickerbocker Trust Company Building – the short building with columns in the center of the photo – is technically still standing, although it has long since been altered way beyond recognition. It was built in 1904 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street as the headquarters of one of the nation’s largest banks, but soon after the bank inadvertently played a major role in causing the Panic of 1907. This banking crisis occurred around the time that the first photo was taken, after the Knickerbocker president, Charles T. Barney, attempted to corner the market in copper using the bank’s money. The plan failed, and in the days before FDIC-insured deposits, account holders rushed to the bank to withdraw their money as other banks announced that they would no longer accept checks from Knickerbocker accounts. Ultimately, the bank survived, although Barney was forced to resign and he committed suicide soon after. As for the building, it was significantly changed in 1921 with the addition of ten stories on top of it, and in 1958 the facade was altered to its current appearance, removing any exterior elements from the original structure.

Despite the number of surviving buildings from the first photo, there are several notable ones that have since been demolished. In the distance, at the corner of 37th Street, is the steeple of Brick Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1858 when this area was still largely residential, and it stood there until 1937. Probably the most famous building from the first photo, though, is the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, on the left side in between 33rd and 34th Streets. This massive hotel is only partially visible in this view, and it stood here until 1929, when it was demolished to build the Empire State Building, which now stands on the site.

Trinity Episcopal Church, Lenox, Mass

The Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox, as seen from the Walker Street side of the building around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The church in 2015:

When this church was completed in 1888, the town of Lenox was the summer home for many wealthy families in the northeast, who built massive estates known as Berkshire Cottages. Many of these summer residents provided the funding to build this church, at the corner of Kemble and Walker Streets, just to the southeast of the center of town. It was designed by Charles Follen McKim, the noted architect from the firm McKim, Mead & White. Just a few years earlier, McKim had designed St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in nearby Stockbridge, and both churches reflect the popular Romanesque style of the late 1800s.

This church replaced the town’s original Episcopalian church, which was built in 1818 on Church Street. It is still standing today, although it was converted into apartments and a store after the new building was completed. Construction on this church began in 1885, with former president Chester Alan Arthur attending the laying of the cornerstone. Arthur died the following year, so he never lived to see its completion, but a Tiffany stained glass window was added in memory of him in 1888.

The building to the far left is the parish house, which was built separately in 1896, as a gift from John E. Parsons, a New York lawyer who spent his summers at his “Stoneover” estate in Lenox. Three years later, the church itself was expanded to include a choir room and sacristy, but since the first photo was taken there have not been many changes. In 1996, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places.