Hotel Kimball, Springfield, Mass

The Hotel Kimball, seen from the Apremont Triangle at the corner of Pearl and Bridge Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

The Hotel Kimball is one of the most historically-significant early 20th century buildings in Springfield. It was opened in 1911, at a time when the city was at its peak of prosperity as a major commercial and manufacturing center, and it was regarded as the finest hotel in the city. It was constructed at a cost of $1 million – about $27 million today – and featured a Renaissance Revival exterior that was the work of architect Albert Winslow Cobb. On the interior, it originally included 309 guest rooms, a dining room that could seat 450 people, and the largest ballroom in the area.

An advertisement in the 1912 city directory declared the Hotel Kimball to be “A Modern Metropolitan Hotel Unexcelled in New England. Affording 500 Guests Every Comfort, Convenience and Safety.” The ad also provided the room rates, which started at $1.50 ($40 today) for “Rooms with use of Bath.” This presumably meant a communal bathroom, because “Rooms with Shower Bath” started at $2 ($53 today), while “Rooms with Bath” would cost a traveler $2.50 and up ($66 today). However, the most expensive option was “Suites of Parlor, Chamber and Bath,” which started at $5.50, or $144 today.

Aside from its importance as the city’s finest early 20th century hotel, the Hotel Kimball was also significant as the home of one of the country’s first commercial radio stations. Radio broadcasting was still in its infancy in 1921, when WBZ was licensed to Westinghouse. It transmitted from the Westinghouse facility on Page Boulevard, but in 1922 the station opened its studios here in the Hotel Kimball. The station remained here until 1931, when it relocated to Boston, but this building continued to be used by its affiliate station, WBZA, which served the Springfield market during the mid-20th century.

In the meantime, the Hotel Kimball was significantly expanded in 1923, with a large addition that is visible in the distance on the left side of both photos. It would remain an important hotel for many years, and attracted a number of prominent guests during this time, including presidents Calvin Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy. Other celebrity visitors included Babe Ruth, who stayed here in the 1920s and 1930s along with the rest of his Yankees teammates, prior to their exhibition games against the minor league Springfield Ponies.

In addition to its popularity with visitors to Springfield, the Hotel Kimball also housed a number of long-term residents. The 1930 census, for example, lists 52 residents of the hotel. These included at least eight hotel maids and housekeepers, plus the hotel manager and his family. There were also a few other middle class residents, such as an accountant, an engineer, and several salesmen, but most were members of Springfield’s upper class, with professions that included a physician, several attorneys, a banker, and a number of business executives. The monthly rents ranged from about $50 to $475 (about $760 to $7,200 today), but one resident was also listed as having a rent of $10,000 – an implausibly-high number that must have been an error.

Of these residents who lived here in 1930, the most prominent was Frederick H. Gillett, a politician who was then serving in the U.S. Senate. Born in Westfield in 1851, Gillett began practicing law in Springfield in 1877, and in 1892 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served in the House for 32 years, from 1893 to 1925, and he was also the Speaker of the House from 1919 until 1925, when he was elected to the Senate. He went on to serve one term in the Senate, from 1925 to 1931, and then retired from politics. Throughout much of his political career, Gillett lived here at the Hotel Kimball. He was here as early as 1912, just a year after it opened, and he would remain here until at least the early 1930s, although he may have lived here until his death in 1935.

During the 1940 census, which was done only a year or two after the first photo was taken, there were a total of 38 residents living here. There appears to have been more middle class workers than in 1930, with occupations such as an accountant, a mechanic, a clerk, a nurse, an electrician, and a few salesmen, in addition to five hotel employees who lived here. However, there were still a number of wealthy residents living at the hotel, including three attorneys and a few business owners.

The 1940 census enumerator not include their monthly rent, but their salaries are listed, which provides valuable insight. Most of the hotel maids earned $703 per year ($12,700 today), and the middle class workers such as the electrician, mechanic, and nurse all made a little over $1,000 ($18,000 today). The wealthier residents earned between $3,000 and $5,000 ($54,000-$90,000 today), and any incomes over $5,000 were recorded as “$5,000+” on the census. This was the case for two Kimball Hotel residents, who each earned the modern equivalent of over $90,000: John Haggerty, whose occupation was listed as “electrotypes” for a publishing company, and Chester McGown, the president of American International College.

Around the early 1950s, the hotel was acquired by Sheraton, which had been founded in 1937 in Springfield. This property became the Sheraton-Kimball Hotel, and it was declared to be “The Leading Hotel in Western Mass.” in a 1955 directory. The advertisement went on to list its “Town Room – Coffee Shop (Excellent food, Superb Service) Pickwick Cocktail Lounge (Entertainment Nightly),” and it also mentioned how the hotel specialized in wedding receptions and private parties.

However, despite this glowing description of the hotel, the mid-20th century was a difficult time for grand downtown hotels across the country, as interstate highways and suburban motels began changing the way Americans traveled. The Sheraton-Kimball closed by the early 1960s, but the building avoided demolition. Instead, it was converted into apartments, and it was renamed the Kimball Towers. Then, in 1985 it was converted into condominiums, with a total of 132 units. Today, it is still in use as a condominium building, with few exterior changes since the first photo was taken some 80 years ago. It remains an important downtown landmark, and it forms the centerpiece of the Apremont Triangle Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

City Hall and County Courthouse, New Haven, Connecticut

The New Haven City Hall and the New Haven County Courthouse, on Church Street in New Haven, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post, New Haven’s city hall was built in 1862, on Church Street facing the New Haven Green. It was an important early example of High Victorian Gothic style architecture, designed by prominent local architect Henry Austin, and in 1873 it was joined by the matching New Haven County Courthouse. The courthouse, which was designed by Austin’s former employee David R. Brown, stood on the left side of the building, just to the left of the tower in the first photo, and it was set further back from the street.

The courthouse was in use until a new courthouse was completed in 1914, probably soon after the first photo was taken. The older building then became the city hall annex, and together these two buildings continued to house the city’s municipal offices throughout much of the 20th century. At some point, though, the top of the tower was removed, and by the 1960s both buildings were threatened with demolition.

The buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, but the following year the former courthouse was demolished, along with most of City Hall. However, the New Haven Preservation Trust succeeded in saving the facade of City Hall, and a new building was constructed behind it and to the left along Church Street. Completed in the mid-1980s, this new City Hall featured a design that was sympathetic to the original portion. Although lacking the pointed windows and ornamentation of Henry Austin’s facade, the new building – visible on the left side of the 2019 photo – has a matching exterior with alternating bands of light and dark stone, dormer windows on the top floor, and even a setback that imitates the old courthouse building.

City Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

City Hall, on Church Street in New Haven, around 1863-1869. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

New Haven’s city hall was completed in 1862, on Church Street along the eastern side of the New Haven Green. It was designed by noted New Haven architect Henry Austin, and it was an early example of High Victorian Gothic architecture, which would become a popular style for public buildings in the United States during the 1860s and 1870s. The building’s exterior was constructed of brownstone from nearby Portland, Connecticut and from Nova Scotia, and it was laid in alternating bands of dark and light stone. Its asymmetrical design included a tower on the northwest corner, which was topped with a clock, bell, and observatory.

The first photo was taken shortly after its construction, showing the view of the building from the Green. A few years later, City Hall was joined by the architecturally-similar New Haven County Courthouse, which was completed in 1873 on the left side of the building. This courthouse would remain in use until 1914, when the current courthouse opened nearby, and the older building subsequently became an annex for City Hall.

Both City Hall and the old courthouse were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, but by this point they were both slated for demolition. The courthouse was demolished a year later, along with most of City Hall, but the New Haven Preservation Trust successfully lobbied to save the building’s facade. This was later incorporated into a new municipal building that was completed in the 1980s, and today Henry Austin’s original exterior design still faces the New Haven Green, even though the rest of the building is new.

Tontine Hotel, New Haven, Connecticut

The Tontine Hotel, at the corner of Church and Court Streets in New Haven, around 1900-1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene around 1918. Image from A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven County (1918).

The scene in 2018:

The first photo shows the Tontine Hotel, which had been a New Haven landmark for nearly a century before the photo was taken. It was built sometime in the mid-1820s – sources differ on the exact date – and its design was the work of noted local architect David Hoadley. The Tontine was a prominent hotel in its early years, and its notable visitors during this time included Indian chief and orator Red Jacket, who gave a speech here in 1829, and Daniel Webster, who came here in 1832.

However, perhaps the most significant group of guests came a year later, when President Andrew Jackson came to New Haven in June 1833, accompanied by then-Vice President Martin Van Buren, Secretary of War Lewis Cass, Secretary of the Navy Levi Woodbury, and Governor William L. Marcy of New York. The party arrived in New Haven by steamboat at around 1 p.m. on the afternoon of June 15 and went to the State House, where the president was addressed by the governor and the mayor. Jackson was then escorted through the streets in a procession that took a circuitous route through the city, eventually ending here at the Tontine. Jackson spent the night at the hotel, and in the morning he attended Sunday services at Trinity Church before departing for Hartford.

The Tontine Hotel was still in business when the first photo was taken some 70 years later. At the time, it was known as White’s New Tontine, as its proprietor was George T. White. An advertisement in the 1902 city directory declared it to be “Under New Management. All the Modern Improvements. Refurnished Throughout,” and rooms ranged from $1.00 to $2.00 per night. The first photo also shows a restaurant in the basement of the hotel. The signs indicate that it was a buffet that offered “White’s steaks, chops and game in season,” and the directory described it as a “cafe, restaurant, and rathskeller” that was open from 6 a.m. until midnight. In addition to this restaurant, there are several other amenities visible in the first photo, including a barber shop and a “boot blacking emporium” that were both located on the left side of the building.

Despite its historic significance, though, the site of the Tontine Hotel was eyed for redevelopment soon after this photo was taken. It was demolished by around 1913, in order to make way for a new federal courthouse and post office. Unlike the fairly modest brick hotel, the new courthouse was an imposing marble structure. It had a Classical Revival design, including a large front portico with ten Corinthian columns, and it was the work of noted architect James Gamble Rogers. The cornerstone was laid in 1914, in a ceremony that featured a speech by former president and future chief justice William Howard Taft, but the building was not completed until 1919, a year after the second photo was taken.

Like the architecturally-similar New Haven County Courthouse, which stands nearby at the northeastern corner of the Green, the federal courthouse was threatened with demolition in the mid-20th century. However, like the county courthouse, it was ultimately preserved, and it underwent a major renovation in the 1980s. The post office moved out in 1979, but otherwise the building remains in use, as one of thee federal courthouses in the District of Connecticut. In 1998, it was renamed the Richard C. Lee United States Courthouse, in honor of the longtime mayor of New Haven who helped to preserve the building, and in 2015 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut (3)

Looking east on the New Haven Green, from near the corner of Temple and Chapel Streets in New Haven, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo was taken from about the same spot – and presumably on the same day – as the one in the previous post, although this one shows the view looking toward Church Street on the eastern edge of the New Haven Green. Like the scene in the previous post, this view underwent dramatic changes within about a decade after the first photo was taken. The city saw rapid growth at the turn of the 20th century, with the population more than doubling between 1880 and 1910, and this helped to spur several major redevelopment projects that replaced older buildings here along the Green.

Beginning on the left side of the first photo is City Hall, an ornate High Victorian Gothic-style building that was completed in 1861. To the right of it, at the corner of Court Street, was a three-story building that housed Heublein’s Cafe. This restaurant was owned by Gilbert Heublein, a prominent food and beverage distributor who later built the Heublein Tower in Simsbury. Further to the right, in the center of the photo, was the Tontine Hotel, which was built in the 1820s, and on the far right side was the former Third Congregational Church. Built in 1856, it served as a church until 1884, when its congregation merged with the United Church. In 1890, it became the home of the New Haven Free Public Library, and it was used until the current library building opened in 1911.

The most significant change to this scene came soon after the first photo was taken. In the early 1910s, both the Tontine Hotel and the former Third Congregational Church were demolished to make way for two new buildings. On the left side, the Tontine Hotel was replaced with a new post office and federal courthouse, which was constructed between 1913 and 1919. Just to the right of it, the site of the church became the Second National Bank of New Haven, with an eight-story building that was completed in 1913. Today, both of these are still standing, but the only surviving buildings from the first photo are City Hall on the far left, and the Exchange Building, which is partially visible on the extreme right side of both photos.

New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut (2)

Looking northeast on the New Haven Green, from near the corner of Temple and Chapel Streets in New Haven, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The New Haven Green has served as the political, commercial, social, and cultural center of New Haven since 1638, when it was established as one of the first town commons in the English colonies. Just out of view to the left are three historic churches that stand on the Green, and behind them was the site of New Haven’s old state house and, further to the left, the Old Campus of Yale University. On the far right, also just out of view, is City Hall, which is located on the east side of the Green. The south side of the Green, located directly behind the photographer, was the site of several major department stores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This particular scene faces the north side of the Green, which is bounded by Elm Street. This section of Elm Street was once known as Quality Row, because of the many elegant mansions that lined the street opposite the Green. Three of these are visible in the first photo, in the center of the scene just to the left of the flagpole. Probably the most significant of these was the light-colored home in the center. This elegant Federal-style mansion was built in the late 1810s, and was the work of noted architect David Hoadley. The original owner was Nathan Smith, a lawyer and politician who later went on to serve in the U. S. Senate.

All three of these houses were demolished within about a decade after the first photo was taken. As New Haven grew, the previously residential area on the north side of the Green was eyed as the site of several different public buildings. The first of these was the main branch of the New Haven Public Library, which was built between 1908 and 1911 on the left side of the scene, at the corner of Elm and Temple Streets. This was followed in 1914 by the New Haven County Courthouse, which stands on the right side of the block at the corner of Elm and Church Streets. Today, these two buildings are now more than a century old, and they still stand on the north side of the Green as two important architectural and historic landmarks in downtown New Haven.