Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass

Looking west toward Harvard Square on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Harvard Square in 2016:

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The first photo was taken only a few years before the Red Line opened. At the time, people traveling from Cambridge to Boston had to use the streetcars, as shown here. In the distance on the left side of the photo, passengers are boarding a trolley whose destination is “Subway Park Street,” and the trolley to the right of it is presumably heading outbound from Park Street, on the way to its destination at Mount Auburn. This route was replaced in 1912 by the much faster Red Line subway, which originally ran from Park Street to here at Harvard Square, and a station entrance was built in the middle of the square. The station also included a streetcar tunnel that allowed passengers to easily transfer between the subway and the trolleys; this tunnel was later modified for buses and is still in use as the Harvard Bus Tunnel.

As for the buildings at Harvard Square, very little is left from the turn of the century. None of the buildings in the first photo have survived, with most being demolished in the early 20th century to build the current Colonial Revival buildings. Most of the businesses themselves are long gone, except for the Harvard Cooperative Society. Originally located in the Greek Revival-style building in the center of the photo, this bookstore was founded in 1882 as a cooperative for Harvard students. Now commonly known as The Coop, the bookstore is still in operation in a different building on the same spot, and serves students at both Harvard and MIT. Otherwise, the only landmark remaining from the first photo is the gate on the far right side, which connects the square to Harvard Yard.

Scollay Square, Boston

Scollay Square, looking north from the corner of Tremont and Court Streets, sometime in the 1860s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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Scollay Square on August 26, 1897. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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Scollay Square around 1942. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

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These four photos reveal the dramatic transformations that have occurred at Boston’s Scollay Square over the past 150 years. The square once included a long, narrow row of buildings in the middle, which appear on city maps as early as the 1720s. The construction date for the building in the first photo is unknown, but it was once at the southern end of this row, and in 1795 it was purchased by William Scollay, a real estate developer for whom the square would eventually be named. By the time the first photo was taken, all of the other buildings in the middle of the square had been demolished, and Scollay’s building was taken down soon after, around 1870.

The second photo shows a very different scene. Some of the buildings along the square are still standing, but the Scollay Building is gone, as are the horse-drawn trolleys from the first photo. Instead, they have been replaced by electric trolleys, like the one shown in the photo. However, these would not last long, at least not on the surface. The second photo was taken only about a week before the Tremont Street Subway opened, and the photo shows some of the construction activity as the workers prepared the Scollay Square station for its opening day on September 3. The station itself is not visible, but its ornate entrance can be seen in this post, which shows the scene from a slightly different angle.

Scollay Square had long been a major commercial center in the city, but by the time the third photo was taken in the 1940s, it had seen a dramatic decline. Many of the old buildings were still standing, but the businesses had become seedier. The 1942 photo shows a number of bars, liquor stores, cheap restaurants, and burlesque theaters, and the area was particularly popular among sailors on leave from the Boston Navy Yard and college students from the many nearby schools. One prominent hotel and theater in both the second and third photos was the Crawford House on the far right. It was built in 1865 and underwent several renovations, including one in 1926 that completely altered the front. The building burned in 1948, and all but the first two floors were demolished a few years later.

By the 1950s, the area was being targeted for urban renewal. Looking to replace the area with something more respectable, the Boston Redevelopment Authority demolished over a thousand buildings in the vicinity to build the Government Center complex, which includes the Center Plaza to the left, the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in the center, and the Boston City Hall, just out of view to the right. The old Scollay Square subway station was also extensively renovated and renamed Government Center. When the last photo was taken, the station was undergoing a another renovation, so if there is one thing that the second and fourth photos have in common, it is subway station construction.

State Street, Springfield, Mass

The view looking west on State Street from Myrtle Street in Springfield, around 1913. Image from Progressive Springfield, Massachusetts (1913).

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State Street in 2015:

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The first photo shows roughly the same section of State Street as the one in this post, just taken from the opposite direction.  In the early 1900s, the elm-lined State Street was primarily residential, with a number of single-family homes on either side.  Also in the photo, on the right, is the ivy-covered facade of the First Baptist Church, which was built in the late 1880s.  The congregation merged with another Baptist church around the time the photo was taken, and the building later became St. Paul’s Universalist Church.  It was later demolished, and today there is a parking lot on the site.

By the early 1900s, the street was still unpaved, but automobiles were still fairly rare anyway.  Instead, the trolleys of the Springfield Street Railway carried much of the city’s traffic, and at least three appear to be visible here on the busy State Street corridor.  Their days were numbered, though, because within a couple decades most trolley networks around the country had been replaced with buses.  In Springfield, these buses eventually came under the control of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, and they still operate many lines along this part of State Street, as seen in the 2015 photo.

Blandford Street Incline, Boston

Facing east on Commonwealth Avenue toward Kenmore Square, with the Blandford Street Incline in the foreground, on January 3, 1933. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The same location in 1943. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The view in 2015:

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As mentioned in this post, trolley cars once entered and exited the subway from an incline in the median of Commonwealth Avenue just east of Kenmore Square.  However, in 1932 the tunnel was extended a little to the west, with one branch emerging here, at the present-day Boston University campus.  The first photo shows the incline shortly after it opened, and not much had changed ten years later when the second one was taken.

The most obvious change in the first two photos is the signs – by 1943 Kenmore Square had become home to many large advertisements, including ones for Dawson’s Pale Ale and Lager, Socony, the Hotel Kenmore, and Gulf.  Several of these signs were easily visible from Fenway Park, with the Gulf sign in particular being prominent in photographs of the park from that era.  Another sign in the foreground indicates that Park Street is a mere nine minutes away, which either suggests that the trolleys ran much faster than they do now, or that the Boston Elevated Railway was being a little generous in their estimates.

The second photo also reveals a largely forgotten piece of Boston history; the trolley coming up from the tunnel has “National League Park” as its destination.  Long before the Red Sox, the Boston Braves were the city’s original Major League Baseball team, and from 1915 to 1952, they played about a mile up Commonwealth Avenue from here.  After the team moved to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, the old stadium was purchased by Boston University and converted into Nickerson Field, with some of the original structure still standing today.

In the 2015 scene, the subway incline hasn’t changed much; even the poles supporting the overhead wires appear to be the same ones from the first two photos.  To the left, the Boston University campus has continued to expand, and today several of BU’s buildings are visible here.  In the distance, many of the buildings in Kenmore Square are still standing, and although none of the 1940s signs still exist, Kenmore Square is now home to arguably the city’s most famous sign, which appears to be located at the same spot as the old Socony sign.  This Citgo sign is visible over the Green Monster at Fenway Park, and has been identified with the Boston Red Sox ever since it was first constructed in 1965.

Kenmore Subway Incline, Boston

The subway incline at Kenmore Square on October 2, 1914. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The scene in 2015:

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When Boston’s first subway tunnel opened in 1897, it extended as far west as the Boston Public Garden, where trolleys came to the surface and traveled west along Boylston Street.  However, because of the traffic congestion, the tunnel was extended a little over a mile to Kenmore Square, with cars surfacing just east of the square in the median of Commonwealth Avenue.  From here, the trolley lines split and either continued on Commonwealth Avenue (today’s B branch), or turned onto Beacon Street (today’s C branch).  The first photo was taken a day before the line officially opened in 1914, and the trolley car has a “Special Car” sign on top of it.  Less visible on the side of the car is a poster that reads “The Boylston Street Subway will open Saturday,” which was October 3.  The first photo was taken just to the left of the one in the previous post, probably only a few years later.

This subway incline ended up being used for just 18 years.  In 1932, the tunnel was extended under Kenmore Square, where it split into today’s B and C branches of the Green Line before surfacing just west of the square.  The original incline was closed off, and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall reverted back to its pre-1914 appearance.  Today, the only remaining trace of it is the arch in the distance, which once formed the top of the tunnel.

Boylston Street, Boston (2)

Looking east on Boylston Street from near Hereford Street, on June 7, 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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Boylston Street in 2015:

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These two photos don’t line up perfectly, but they are close.  The building just beyond the trolley on the left is the same one on the far left of the 2015 photo, so the 1912 photo just shows the view from a little further back.  Both illustrate some of the dramatic changes to Boylston Street, especially on the right side.  This section of the Back Bay south of Boylston Street was once a rail yard for the Boston & Albany Railroad, and there were no buildings on this side of the street west of the Hotel Lenox at Exeter Street.

Today, many of the early 20th century buildings on the left side of the street are still standing, but the right side has been completely redeveloped.  This section between Boylston Street an Huntington Avenue now includes the Prudential Tower, the rest of the Prudential Center complex, as well Hynes Convention Center, which is in the foreground of the 2015 photo.  The rail yard is gone, but the main tracks are still there, parallel to the Massachusetts Turnpike.  Both the tracks and the Pike run underneath the Hynes Convention Center, just to the right of where the photo was taken.