Monarch Life Insurance Company Building, Springfield, Mass

The offices of the Monarch Life Insurance Company at 365 State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2019:

This building was constructed in 1938 as the home of the Monarch Life Insurance Company. Founded in 1901 as the Masonic Mutual Accident Company, it was one of several important insurance companies that were headquartered in Springfield during the early 20th century. The company originally had its offices on Elm Street, but later moved to two different locations on State Street before purchasing a house at 14 Maple Street and converting it into offices in 1924. However, it soon outgrew that building, and in 1937 the company began planning a new headquarters here on State Street, opposite the Springfield Armory.

Work began in June 1937, and the cornerstone was laid in November. The building was completed the following June, and the first photo was probably taken within about a year afterward. It was designed by Hartford architect Carl J. Malmfeldt, with an exterior that was vaguely Art Deco in its appearance. Although rather boxy and with little ornamentation, its appearance was praised by contemporary accounts in the Springfield Republican, which described it as “a building of pleasing proportions and simple lines, devoid of purposeless decoration.” Another article, published shortly before the building opened, provided the following description:

It is a distinct architectural asset to the old street. Its completion, with the outside embellishments of lawns and shrubbery in such excellent taste, dispels all doubt that may have been felt when the structure was but half finished. There may have been those who wondered what the State street of the 20th century was coming to, but it now appears that the Monarch building is the fair queen of the hill.

On the interior, the building included 35,000 square feet of space on three floors. The main floor housed the executive offices on the right side, and on the left side was the sales department, and auditorium, and training rooms. On the upper level was the general office, which extended the entire length of the building and included space for the various departments, private offices for the department managers and medical staff, and the tabulating machine that was used by the statistical department. The ground floor, which is largely hidden from view from the street, included the cafeteria, along with space for shipping, printing, and for supply storage.

Monarch Life Insurance ultimately remained here at this location for just 20 years, before merging with the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company in 1958 and moving into its offices further east on State Street. This building was then sold to the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company. This company has owned it ever since, although it has undergone several mergers and name changes, and it is now Verizon New England, as indicated by the sign in the present-day photo. Aside from this change in use, though, the building’s exterior appearance remains largely the same as it looked when it was completed more than 80 years ago. From this angle, the only significant difference is the windows, but otherwise it stands as a well-preserved example of Depression-era architecture in Springfield.

High School of Commerce, Springfield, Mass

The High School of Commerce on State Street in Springfield, around 1915-1920. Image from the Russ Birchall Collection at ImageMuseum.

The school in 2019:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Springfield saw dramatic growth as the city became an important regional center for business and industry. For example, in a 40 year span from 1880 to 1920, the city nearly quadrupled in size from 33,000 to nearly 130,000. However, during this same period the city’s public school system grew even more rapidly, particularly with high school students. During the 1878-1879 school year, the city had one high school with nine teachers and a total enrollment of 417. But, 40 years later the number of high school students had increased by more than eightfold to 3,437 in three different schools.

Much of this growth was because of the changing nature of high school. During the 19th century, a high school education was by no means universal, and these schools often focused primarily on preparing students for college. However, this began to change by the turn of the 20th century, particularly here in Springfield, where there was a high demand for well-educated workers. This led to the establishment of a technical high school, which focused on preparing students for careers in science, technology, and skilled trades, and a high school of commerce, which prepared students for business careers. Given that the city had a wide variety of manufacturers, insurance companies, banks, and other large corporations, graduates from these schools would not have to look far in order to find job opportunities.

The city’s first public technical high school was the Mechanical Arts High School, which opened at Winchester Square in 1898, but in 1906 it became the Technical High School and moved into a new building on Elliot Street. Four years later, the city established the High School of Commerce. It was originally located in Central High School, which was later renamed Classical High, but in 1915 Commerce moved into a building of its own, located here on State Street opposite the Springfield Armory, and within easy walking distance of the other two high schools.

The High School of Commerce building was designed by local architect Guy Kirkham, with a Tudor Revival-style exterior of red brick and limestone. Upon completion, it featured over 60,000 square feet of floor space, and it had a capacity of 1,500 students. It opened on September 7, 1915 with a dedication ceremony in the auditorium, which included speeches by principal Carlos B. Ellis, superintendent James H. Van Sickle, and mayor Frank E. Stacy. This was followed by a flag raising ceremony here in front of the building, accompanied by a 21-gun salute from the Armory.

When this building opened, it had 1,058 students and 44 teachers, but it steadily grew over the next few decades, requiring some reconfiguration of the interior in order to accommodate more students. By 1933 it had 2,292 students—including my grandmother, who graduated with the class of 1935—and 83 teachers. These numbers would drop during World War II, reaching as low as 1,250 students in 1943, although enrollment would rise again after the end of the war.

The first photo was taken shortly after the school opened, but very little has changed in this scene in more than a century since then. The building stands as the oldest of the city’s five high schools, and it currently has an enrollment of just over a thousand students. It is still called the High School of Commerce, although this name is largely vestigial, because its curriculum no longer specifically focuses on preparing students for business careers. Overall, though, its exterior appearance is essentially the same as it was when it opened in 1915. The only significant difference is a large addition, which was completed in the late 1990s. It is not visible from this angle, but it is located behind and to the left of the main school, and connected to it by a covered walkway.

423-427 State Street, Springfield, Mass

The building at 423-427 State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2019:

It seems difficult to determine exactly when this building was constructed. City maps show buildings on this lot as early as 1851, although this particular building clearly does not date that far back, at least not in its current form. This property was sold at auction in 1890, and the classified ad for it described the building as a “Good two-tenement brick house, 12 rooms, also a small barn.” The current building seems much larger than just two units with 12 rooms total, so it was likely either built shortly after this sale, or significantly expanded. Either way, it had largely assumed its present appearance by 1892, as it is visible in the background of a photo taken of the neighboring Olivet Church. At the time, though, the building had a three-story porch on the right side, and there was no storefront here on the ground floor.

By this point, the building was owned by Frederick B. Taylor, a merchant who sold building materials such as doors, windows, blinds, and paint in his shop on Market Street. It does not seem clear as to how many apartments were in this building, but the 1900 census shows at least two different families living here, and contemporary classified ads suggest that there were least two other units that were vacant at the time of the census. Of the two tenants listed on the census, one was Dr. Delia L. Chapin, a physician who lived here and also had her medical practice in the building. She was 45 years old at the time, and lived with her younger sister Sarah, who worked as a nurse. The other tenant was Louisa E. Madison, a 48-year-old African-American woman who worked as a laundress. She lived here with her two teenaged sons, Walter and Lawrence.

The first photo was taken almost 40 years later in the late 1930s, and by then the porch on the right side had been removed, and two storefronts were added to the ground floor. The business on the left was the tailor shop of Joseph D’Aversa, and the one on the right was a shoe repair shop owned by Saverio Gozzi. During the 1940 census, there were at least four different families living on the upper floors, and they paid between $22 and $33 per month in rent. These residents held a variety of jobs, including a maintenance man at an apartment complex, a salesman, a waitress, and a milling machine operator and an assemblyman at Indian Motocycle. They all worked full-time, and their wages ranged from $480 per year for the waitress, to $1,200 per year for the salesman.

More than 80 years after the first photo was taken, this building is still standing. According to city records, it currently has five apartment units, and on the ground floor it currently houses a barbershop. It has seen some changes over the years, including the removal of the early 20th century storefronts, and the brick exterior has been covered in stucco. Overall, though, it is still easily recognizable from the first photo, and it stands as one of several historic 19th century commercial buildings along this section of State Street.

429-435 State Street, Springfield, Mass

The building at 429-435 State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2019:

This building was probably constructed sometime around the 1870s or 1880s, on the south side of State Street opposite the Springfield Armory. At the time, this block of State Street included a number of similar brick, three-story commercial buildings, and these generally had retail tenants on the ground floor, with apartments on the upper two floors. It is difficult to precisely date the building, but it was definitely here by the turn of the 29th century, when it appears in the city atlas as the property of Oscar F. Swift. At the time, it had at least three businesses on the ground floor, with grocer Charles H. Montgomery on the right, boot and shoe dealer Arthur O. Etienne in the middle, and locksmith Charles C. Spencer on the left.

The first photo was taken about 40 years later, in the late 1930s. By this point its tenants included launderer Charles Murphy on the right, barber Michael M. Sheehan in the middle, and antique dealer Harrison H. Bovee on the left. On the upper floors, the building had at least four families renting apartments, including Bovee, who lived here with his wife Agnes and their son Gerald. According to the 1940 census, they paid $17 per month in rent, and the other three families paid between $16 and $18.

The building was still standing here for at least a few decades after the first photo was taken, and perhaps its last retail tenant was DeMarco’s Wholesale Toy & Novelty, which was located here in the late 1950s and 1960s. It was ultimately demolished sometime around the 1970s, and the property subsequently became a parking lot adjacent to the now-vacant Kavanagh Furniture Company building, which stands on the left side of the scene in the present-day photo.

Kavanagh Furniture, Springfield, Mass

The Kavanagh Furniture store on State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2019:

Until it closed in 2009, Kavanagh Furniture was one of the oldest businesses in Springfield, with a history that dated back to 1873. It began as the furniture company of Dennis Nelen, an Irish immigrant who had come to the United States only a few years earlier. He later formed a partnership with fellow Irishman William Kavanagh, and by the 1890s the two men were running the business at this location on State Street.

Nelen died in 1904, and it was around this time that Kavanagh acquired control of the company. Then, at some point in the early 20th century he constructed the two-story building that currently stands here on this site. He continued to run the store for the rest of his life, until his death in 1930. He left an estate of nearly $300,000, equivalent to over $4.5 million today, which included 1,987 of the 2,000 shares of the furniture company. Kavanagh apparently had no children, so he bequeathed these shares to his employees. The single largest beneficiary among the employees was Frank Nelen, the son of his former business partner, and he subsequently became the company president and treasurer.

The first photo was taken less than a decade later, showing the building as it appeared during the Great Depression. Nelen was still running the company at the time, but he died only a few years later in 1942. However, the company remained in the Nelen family for many years, with his son John D. Nelen carrying on the business into the 21st century. During this time, the building underwent some changes, including covering the second story windows, but Kavanagh Furniture continued to operate here until it went out of business in 2009. Since then, the building has remained vacant and boarded up, but it still stands here on State Street.

 

447-455 State Street, Springfield, Mass

The buildings at 447-455 State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These three commercial buildings were constructed around 1875 on the south side of State Street, a little west of Walnut Street and directly across from the Springfield Armory. As was typical for these types of buildings, they were built with retail space on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors, many of which were likely rented to Armory workers. The businesses here would have also served the workers across the street, and at the turn of the 20th century these included the tailor shop of Edward G Kopp, the billiards room and tobacco shop of Louis Herchowitz, and the grocery store of W. C. Belding Jr.

Of these establishments, Herchowitz’s shop had a remarkably long tenure here in this building. Along with his brothers Abraham and Henry, Louis immigrated to the United States from Lithuania as teenagers around 1890. They originally lived in New Haven, but came to Springfield in 1900, where they opened their store here in this building. For a time they rented space in the building on the left, but by 1920 they had purchased the property and were living above the store, along with their mother Bessie. In that year’s census, Abraham was listed as the owner of the shop, while Louis and Henry were operating a bowling alley around the corner on Walnut Street.

Although only partially visible on the far left side of the scene, Abraham Herchowitz was still running the tobacco shop here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. However, by this point the other two storefronts had become the Armory Auto Supply. The storefront on the right side had apparently been converted into a garage, and there was a Socony gas pump in front of the building. A variety of signs indicated that they offered brake service, motor tune-ups, and lubrication, along with advertising for Firestone and Fisk tires. The business had been here since the mid-1920s, and throughout this time it was owned by Peter J. Gray.

Both the tobacco shop and auto store were here for many years after the first photo was taken. Abraham Herchowitz continued to run his store here until his death in 1959 at the age of 84, and Peter Gray died a year later, after suffering a heart attack here in front of the building. Since then, the storefronts have had a variety of tenants, and in 1999 the upper floors of the building on the right were damaged by a fire, as shown by the smoke marks above two of the windows. Otherwise, though, the buildings look much the same as they did when the first photo was taken, aside from alterations to the ground floor, and they stand as some of the oldest surviving commercial buildings on State Street.