Thames and Pelham Streets, Newport, RI (2)

Looking north on Thames Street from the corner of Pelham Street in Newport, in August 1906. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

As with an earlier post, the first photo here shows Thames Street decorates in patriotic bunting for the Newport Carnival, which was held in August 1906. The building on the right side, at the corner of Pelham Street, was the United States Hotel, which had been one of the city’s finest hotels when it was built in 1836. Originally owned by the Townsend family, the hotel had replaced the earlier Townsend’s Coffee House, which was built in 1785 and had been a popular gathering place for Newport’s leading citizens in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The United States Hotel enjoyed similar success in the mid-19th century, and for many years it was the site of the state legislature’s “‘Lection Day” celebrations. Held on the last Tuesday of May, this was the day when the results of the statewide April elections were announced and the winners were inaugurated, and the occasion was a major holiday here in Newport.

By the time the first photo was taken, the ‘Lection Day festivities were a thing of the past, and the state legislature no longer met here in Newport. The United States Hotel has long since been eclipsed by more fashionable Gilded Age hotels, and it had gone through a succession of ownership changes since the Townsend family sold the property in 1858. In 1896, for example, it was being run by George E. Houghton, who declared in a full-page advertisement in the city directory that the hotel had been “thoroughly renovated and refurnished,” and offered “steam heat, electric bells, and table unsurpassed,” and overall it was “the best $2.50 hotel in New England.” When the first photo was taken less than a decade later, though, the hotel was being run by Wulf Petersen, who advertised that it was “lately renovated and under new management,” and was “open the entire year.”

Aside from the United States Hotel, the other historically-significant building in the first photo was the one just beyond it to the left. Built in 1817, this elegant Federal-style building was the home of the Rhode Island Union Bank, which later became the Union National Bank of Newport. The building was designed by Asher Benjamin, a prominent and influential early 19th century architect whose works can be found across New England. However, despite his prolific career, and Newport’s reputation for outstanding architectural works, this bank was Benjamin’s only known commission in the city. Part of this may be due to the fact that the early 19th century was somewhat of a lull in Newport’s prosperity; the city’s shipping industry had never fully recovered after the American Revolution, and its renaissance as a wealthy resort community would not start for several more decades. Consequently, there was limited demand for new buildings, and little need for Asher Benjamin and other architects of his era.

The Union National Bank was still located here when the first photo was taken, and the building was also the home of the People’s Library, which was located on the right side of the building. When the People’s Library – later renamed the Newport Public Library – was established in 1869, the concept of public libraries was still in its infancy in the United States. Members-only libraries, such as Newport’s own Redwood Library, had existed since the 18th century, but it was not until the mid-19th century that public libraries began to take hold, particularly here in the northeast. The library moved into the storefront on the right side in 1870, and would remain here for more than 40 years, until moving out in 1914.

In the years after the first photo was taken, this scene underwent significant changes. The United States Hotel closed in 1918, and remained vacant for many years. Badly deteriorated, it was finally demolished in 1933, leaving only the first floor. This surviving section appears to still be standing, having been incorporated into the present-day commercial building, but all traces of the original hotel building are long gone. In the meantime, bank building to the left was demolished in the 1950s, but like its neighbor it appears part of the first floor survived, and still stands in the present-day scene. However, despite these dramatic changes in the foreground, the two buildings in the distance on the left have survived relatively unchanged, and today they form part of the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Berkshire County Savings Bank, Pittsfield, Mass

The Berkshire County Savings Bank building, at the northeast corner of North and East Streets in Pittsfield, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

1115_1900-1906 loc

The building in 2016:

1115_2016
It is rare for the same building to house the same company in both the “then” and “now” photos, but Berkshire Bank has been located in this building since its completion in 1896. The bank itself is actually much older, having been established in Pittsfield in 1846 as the Berkshire County Savings Bank. Fifty years later, the bank moved into this building at Park Square, in a prominent location at the corner of North and East Streets. The six-story Renaissance Revival building was designed by Boston architect Francis R. Allen, and overlooks the center of the city, directly adjacent to the First Church on the right.

More than 170 years after it was founded, the bank’s name has since been simplified to Berkshire Bank. After a series of mergers, it is now the largest bank based in Western Massachusetts, but it is still based out of this building. The building itself still retains its original appearance, although it has grown over the years. At some point it was expanded to the left along the North Street side, replacing the smaller building in the first photo and making the building roughly square. The addition is barely noticeable at first glance, though, and seamlessly blends in with the original section.

There have been even fewer changes to the First Church on the right. This Gothic church was completed in 1853, and was designed by prominent architect Leopold Eidlitz. Both the church and the bank building are among the many historic 19the century buildings around Park Square, and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Park Square Historic District.

Main Street from Central Row, Hartford, Connecticut

Looking north on Main Street from in front of the Old State House, on November 25, 1903. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

977_1903-11-25 csl

Main Street in 2016:

977_2016
Aside from a few buildings several blocks away in the distance, none of the buildings from the first photo are still standing. The Old State House, which is just out of view to the right, is still there, but otherwise this section of Main Street has undergone a complete transformation since the early 20th century. The buildings on the left side of the first photo were known as Bankers’ Row, and included some of the city’s most prominent financial institutions. Just out of view to the left, at the corner of Main and Pearl Streets, was the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance building. Next to it, starting on the left of the 1903 photo, was the 1850 State Bank building, the 1874 Phoenix National Bank building, and the 1870s Corning Building, home to the Connecticut Trust & Safe Deposit Company. On the other side of Asylum Street, near the center of the photo, is the Catlin Building, which was built in 1898 and, a few years after the first photo was taken, was purchased by the Hartford National Bank.

All of these buildings were gone by 1930, starting with the Phoenix National Bank, which was extensively rebuilt in 1906. The stone phoenix on top of the building dated back to 1827, when it was put atom the company’s first building, and it remained on top of the reconstructed building until its demolition in the early 1920s. The State Bank building was demolished around 1907 and replaced with a new building, which is also no longer standing, and the Catlin Building, just 13 years old, was replaced in 1911 with a new building that stood until 1990. The last survivor in the foreground of the first photo was the Corning Building, which was replaced in the late 1920s with the current building at the corner of Main and Asylum Streets.

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.

920_1904c loc

The scene in 2016:

920_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.

917_1905-1920 loc

Fifth Avenue in 2016:

917_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.

Post Office, Monson, Mass

The post office at the corner of Main and State Streets in Monson, around 1893. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

751_1893c mfl

The scene in 2015:

751_2015
The building in the first photo was built in 1855 for the recently-established Monson National Bank.  In 1872, Monson Savings Bank was also created, and the two companies shared the same counter, tellers, and vault within this small building until 1893, when a larger one was completed just a short walk down Main Street from here.  That same year, the nearby Central Block, which housed the post office, was destroyed in a fire, so the post office was moved to the recently-vacated bank building.  It later moved back to the Central Block location when a new building was completed on the site.

I don’t know exactly when it was demolished, but it would have been sometime before 1925, when the original Monson High School was built here.  The school building was converted into the town offices in the early 1990s, but it sustained heavy damage in the une 1, 2011 tornado, and it was demolished in 2013.  A new town office building, seen to the right in the 015 photo, was completed earlier in the year.