Boston Skyline

The view of Boston from the harbor, in the early 1930s. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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The view in 2013:

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Boston’s skyline has changed a lot in the past 80 years, but there are still some recognizable buildings in both photos.  The Custom House Tower, the lonely skyscraper in the first photo, is still among the tallest buildings in downtown Boston, but it no longer stands out like it did from when it was built in 1915 until the 1970’s.  Part of the reason why Boston’s skyline got off to a slow start was because, for many years, the city had a 125 foot limit on any buildings; the Custom House was able to skirt these requirements because it was a federally-owned structure.  One of the other prominent building in the 1930’s photo is the John W. McCormack U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, another federally-owned building that is still standing, but barely visible in the 2013 photo.  The building was built between 1930 and 1933, which establishes the earliest that the photo could have been taken.

Boston Navy Yard Dry Dock

The USS S-48, entering Dry Dock 2 at Boston Navy Yard in 1929. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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The same view in 2021:

Although no longer an active military base, this part of Boston Navy Yard looks much the same as it did in the 1920s, thanks to its preservation as part of the National Park Service’s Boston National Historic Park.  The yard was opened in 1801, and was very active during World War II, when it built a number of destroyers and other smaller warships.  It closed in 1974, and was then turned over to the NPS.

 

The submarine in the first photo is the USS S-48, which was launched in 1921, in the days before the Navy gave real names to its submarines.  Even though it was only a few years old when the photo was taken, the S-48 had already experienced several mishaps; during builder’s trials, a manhole cover was left unsecured, which is generally a bad thing on a submarine.  A few years later, it grounded off the coast of New Hampshire and was out of service until a few months before this picture was taken.  The S-48 would serve in World War II, but by then the obsolete submarine was used primarily for training purposes, and was scrapped shortly after the war ended.

Corner of Blackstone and Hanover Streets, Boston

The corner of Blackstone Street and Hanover Street, in 1956. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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The same corner in 2011:

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There’s something rather depressing about comparing these two photos – the bustling marketplace, contrasted with the shuttered storefronts and empty streets.  However, the appearance neighborhood as a whole has improved significantly since 1956 – the first photo was actually taken right in front of the Central Artery – the massive elevated highway that was eventually replaced by the much-maligned yet more aesthetically pleasing Big Dig.  Where I was standing to take the 2011 photo is right about where the highway ran through – if I had taken the photo 10 years earlier, the buildings in the foreground would’ve been barely visible.

I hadn’t seen the 1956 photo before taking this photo; what drew me to the building was the fading 19th century advertisements still visible on the bricks.  The two most prominent are for Bostonia Cigars (top and right-hand side), and W.P.B. Brooks & Co. Furniture Carpets &c.  I couldn’t find out much about either company, but it appears both from the appearance of the advertisements and also some quick online searches about the companies that they existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The building itself, which was constructed around 1835, is actually the same building that has the Boston Stone mounted on its wall, on the opposite side of where this photo was taken.  Behind it is the Blackstone Block, a rare group of buildings from the 18th and 19th century that still maintains the original 1600’s street network.  It is completely surrounded by much newer construction, but it is a small enclave of historic structures.  On the opposite side of this area is one of Boston’s oldest buildings, the home of the Union Oyster House.

This building itself actually used to have more floors, but at some point before the 1956 photo it was trimmed down to just three.  However, recent photos of this same building taken in the past year have shown that a couple more floors have actually been added on to the top of it, which would suggest that its future is brighter than the boarded up storefronts and deserted streets would seem to suggest.

North End, Boston

The view of the North End in Boston, from Boston Harbor, around 1930. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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The scene in 2021:

These two photos show the North End of Boston from across the harbor at Charlestown Navy Yard. Many of the buildings in the North End are still there today, but the Boston skyline behind it has been completely changed – the once prominent Custom House Tower now blends in with the rest of the skyscrapers in downtown, although Old North Church in the foreground still stands out among the low-rises in the North End.

Long Wharf, Boston

Long Wharf in Boston, around 1910. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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Long Wharf around 1930. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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The same view in 2006:

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Boston’s Long Wharf was originally much longer than it is now, although the wharf didn’t get shorter – the city grew outwards. At the beginning of the 18th century, a longer wharf was needed to extend further into the harbor, in order to accomodate deeper oceangoing ships. Originally, it started where Faneuil Hall is today, but as time went on, the city expanded by filling in Boston Harbor, sometimes with dirt and rocks, and sometimes with sunken ships and construction debris. Either way, the city ended up filling in much of the space between Long Wharf and other wharves, and the city built up around it. In the 1930’s, the wharf was much the same as it is today, but at the time this part was used by the United Fruit Company, hence the cargo ships. Today, the cargo ships are gone, replaced by ferries to other parts of Boston and surrounding communities. Some of the older buildings remain, including the granite 1848 Custom House Block, which is visible on the far left of both photos.  The cargo ships in the two photos, however, do not exist anymore.  I don’t know what happened to the Vera, the steamer in the first photo, but a ship of the same name was sunk by a German U-boat in World War I.  The same fate definitely did happen to the ship in the 1930 photo, the Oriskany, though; it was sunk by a U-boat in 1945 off the coast of England.

Union Oyster House, Boston

Union Oyster House in Boston, sometime in the 19th century. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library:

Restaurants

The historic building around 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library:

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In 1930, courtesy of Boston Public Library:

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Sometime between 1934 and 1956. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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The Union Oyster House in 2010:

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The above four photos show over 100 years of the history of the oldest restaurant in the United States, the Union Oyster House in Boston.  Although the restaurant opened in 1826, the building itself is far older, having been built around 1704.  The second floor was once used as the publishing office of the Massachusetts Spy in the 1770’s, and in 1796 the future King Louis Philippe of France lived in exile, also on the second floor.  Since becoming a restaurant, the Union Oyster House (originally Atwood & Bacon Oyster House, as seen in the 1898 photo) has served many notable patrons, including Daniel Webster, John F. Kennedy, and other members of the Kennedy family.