Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (1)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, seen from the corner of 5th Avenue and East 81st Street in New York, around 1914. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, taken by Irving Underhill.

The museum in 2019:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was established in 1870, and it opened to the public two years later. During the 1870s the museum was housed in two different temporary locations, first at 681 5th Avenue and then at 128 West 14th Street. Then, in 1880 it moved to this site in Central Park, on the west side of 5th Avenue opposite East 82nd Street. It has remained here ever since, although its exterior appearance has been radically changed by a series of expansions over the years.

The original building here was designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, two of the main architects involved in designing Central Park. It featuring High Victorian Gothic-style architecture, but the exterior deliberately had an incomplete appearance, as it was intended from the beginning that it would be expanded with new wings. However, the design proved very unpopular, and Vaux and Mould were not hired for the first additions, which were built starting in the mid-1880s. Instead, these were designed by Thomas Weston and Arthur L. Tuckerman, and they were constructed on the north and south sides of the original structure. The south wing, which was completed in 1888, is partially visible here in the distance on the left side of the first photo.

Perhaps the single most distinctive feature on the exterior of the museum is the present-day entrance here on the 5th Avenue facade, which was completed in 1902. It was the work of noted architect Richard Morris Hunt, featuring a distinctive Beaux-Arts design that included three large arches, Corinthian columns, an ornate cornice, and other classically-inspired elements. On the inside, Hunt’s wing featured the Great Hall, which served as the museum’s main entryway, and it was connected to the rest of the museum by way of the Grand Staircase in the rear of the T-shaped addition. Hunt died in 1895, before construction began, but his son Richard Howland Hunt subsequently oversaw the rest of the project.

This addition was completed in 1902, but it was intended as just the first step in a much larger expansion plan for the museum. Before his death, Hunt had developed a master plan with large wings extending to the north and south of the entryway, but his vision was ultimately not carried out. Instead, the museum shifted its architectural focus yet again, this time hiring the firm of McKim, Mead & White in 1904. Perhaps best known here in New York for designing the original Penn Station, they were one of the most important architectural firms in the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they designed most of what is now visible along the 5th Avenue side of the museum.

The firm’s work was partially completed by the time the first photo was taken in 1914. Immediately to the north of the main entrance are two wings, which opened in 1909 and 1913, and these were also joined by a central wing, which was completed in 1910 on the other side of the building. Architecturally, the new wings are different from Hunt’s work, but they were deliberately designed to harmonize with the design and scale of the older section. McKim, Mead & White also designed matching wings on the south side of the building, but these would not be completed until 1917, several years after the photo was taken.

The wings by McKim, Mead & White dramatically increased the amount of gallery space in the museum, but the building  continued to expand throughout the 20th century as the museum’s collections have grown. Aside from the 1917 addition on the left side of the scene, very little has changed here on the 5th Avenue side of the building, yet there have been further additions to the rear, most of which were built in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, the original building and the late 19th century additions are now almost entirely encased in new construction, although there are portions of the old exteriors that are still visible inside the museum.

Today, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the largest and most visited art museums in the world. From its modest beginnings in leased quarters in the 1870s, it now features more than two million works of art in more than two million square feet of gallery space, and in 2019 it drew nearly 6.5 million visitors over the course of the year. Because of the many expansions over the years, its architecture is now nearly as varied as the works of art inside it, ranging from the Beaux-Arts main entrance to the modernist glass and steel wings on the other side of the building. In recognition of this, the museum was designated as a New York City Landmark in 1967, and a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Pennsylvania Station, New York City

Pennsylvania Station, seen from the corner of 7th Avenue and 31st Street in New York City, probably in 1912. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Pennsylvania Station on May 5, 1962. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2019:

During the heyday of rail travel in the late 19th and early 20th century, passenger stations in major cities were typically large, ornate buildings. As the first place that most travelers would see upon arriving in a new city, these stations sought to convey a strong first impression by demonstrating the importance and grandeur of both the city and the railroad company. Consequently, when the Pennsylvania Railroad—one of the largest corporations in the world at the time—constructed a rail line into the largest city in the country, it built what was arguably the grandest railroad station in American history.

Throughout the 19th century, the Hudson River was a major obstacle for railroad traffic heading to and from New York City. At the time, Manhattan’s only direct rail link was to the north, across the narrow Harlem River. This connected the city to upstate New York, New England, and other points north and east, but travel was much more difficult when heading south or west. In the absence of bridges or tunnels, the only way for these railroads to reach Manhattan was by ferry from the New Jersey side of the river.

As early as the 1880s there were proposals to bridge the Hudson, but these would have been prohibitively expensive, given the necessary height of the bridge and the amount of valuable Manhattan real estate that would have been required for the approaches. The only other option was to tunnel under the river, but this did not become a viable alternative until the development of electric locomotives, as there would have been no way to provide ventilation for steam locomotives in the tunnel. Even then, it would entail significant expense and engineering challenges along the way, not least of which was the difficulty of tunneling through the viscous mud on the riverbed.

The final plans consisted of two parallel tunnels under the Hudson River, which would bring Pennsylvania Railroad trains into the heart of Manhattan at a new station in midtown. This would be done in conjunction with the Long Island Rail Road, which was building similar tunnels under the East River. These tunnels would meet the Pennsylvania Railroad here at the new station, providing direct rail access to Manhattan for Long Island commuters.

Work on both the Hudson River and East River tunnels began in 1904, as did the excavation work for the new Pennsylvania Station. The station site occupied two full city blocks, and it was bounded by West 31st Street, West 33rd Street, 7th Avenue, and 8th Avenue, in the middle of the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood. This spot was four blocks west and nine blocks south of the city’s other major rail hub, Grand Central Terminal, which was operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s rival, the New York Central.

Pennsylvania Station included 11 tracks and 21 platforms, but its most notable feature was its above-ground portion, shown here in this view along 7th Avenue. The massive building was designed by the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, and it is often regarded as their magnum opus. It featured ornate Beaux-Arts architecture, with an exterior of pink granite that was lined with columns and other classically-inspired elements. Here on the east side of the building, the main entrance was topped by a large clock, with allegorical representations of Day and Night on either side. The clock was also flanked by six eagles, with three on each side. All of these statues, along with the matching figures above the other three entrances to the station, were the work of noted sculptor Adolph Weinman, who is perhaps best known for designing the Mercury dime and the Walking Liberty half dollar.

On the interior, the main entrance opened to a 225-foot long, 45-foot wide arcade that was lined with shops. This led to the main waiting area in the center of the building, which spanned the width of the station from West 31st Street to West 33rd Street and featured a ceiling that rose 150 feet above the floor. It was said to have been the largest such waiting room in the world at the time, and it included ticket offices, baggage check windows, and telephone and telegraph offices, in addition to two smaller adjoining waiting rooms, with one for men and one for women. Beyond the waiting room, on the west side of the building, was the main concourse, with its distinctive iron and glass arched ceiling. The station also included two covered carriage drives, which led down to the lower level. These were located on the north and south sides of the station, and they were accessed here on the 7th Avenue side, beneath the pediments on the left and right side of this scene.

Pennsylvania Station was completed in the late summer of 1910, and part of it opened on September 8. The rest of the station opened on November 27, drawing an estimated 100,000 visitors throughout the day, in addition to the 25,000 passengers on the more than 80 trains that arrived and departed from here. Aside from a few short early morning delays the opening went smoothly, and the station was easily able to accommodate the large crowds. Reporting on the opening day, the New-York Daily Tribune described the station as a “fresh mechanical miracle,” and further noted:

And in thousands they flooded the acres of its floor space, gazed saucer eyed like awestruck pigmies at the vaulted ceilings far above them, inspected curiously the tiny details of the place, so beautifully finished, on their own level and pressed like caged creatures against the grill which looked down upon subterranean tracks, trains and platforms. W. W. Egan, the station master, was of the opinion that some of them had been there all night. There was no let up all day, at all events, and late last night the steel and stone palace still entertained its thousands of liliputian admirers swarming in and out and round about.

Aside from its colossal dimensions and great distances, the most noteworthy feature of this human achievement is its silence. It’s too big to be noisy, too dignified in its spaciousness for staccato sounds. The steady hum of its tense life spells only peace, like the drone of bees in a summer garden. The stealthy trains circulate in its underworld unnoticed. Even the announcers’ calls fade into faraway song, echoing in a canyon.

The hordes of sightseers caused no indigestion in the huge maw of this monster. Passengers came and went or waited without inconvenience or crowding, though they were outnumbered fifty to one. A delay here and there in providing car equipment, due to untried complications at the Harrison transfer station, only accentuated the general smoothness with which the eighty-four trains to and from the West were operated.

The first photo was taken within a year or two after the station opened, probably sometime in 1912. The presence of many horse-drawn vehicles suggests an early 1910s date, but the most helpful clues in dating the photo are the advertisements for Broadway shows, which are visible on the extreme right side of the photo. These productions, which include The Master of the House, The Little Millionaire, Hanky Panky, and Little Women, all premiered in either 1911 or 1912.

Penn Station, as it was commonly known, remained in use throughout the first half of the 20th century, with ridership here peaking during World War II. However, this quickly began to change after the end of the war, as commercial airlines and private automobiles began to eclipse railroads for long-distance travel. Railroads across the country began to struggle financially, including the once-mighty Pennsylvania Railroad, which had difficulty maintaining its iconic station here in New York.

This neighborhood, which had been a red light district prior to the construction of Penn Station, was valuable Midtown real estate by the mid-20th century. In addition, the cavernous station that had so impressed visitors in 1910 was both costly and underutilized, so in 1954 the railroad optioned the air rights to a developer. This agreement would allow for the demolition of the above-ground portion of the station, leaving only the tracks and platforms from the original structure.

Nothing came of this initial plan, but in 1962 the site became the subject of a new redevelopment proposal, which would involve demolishing the station, constructing a new, smaller station underground, and building a new Madison Square Garden and an office building atop it. The second photo was taken around this time, in May 1962, evidently as part of an effort to document the building’s architecture before its demolition. By this point, the interior had undergone some significant changes since the station opened, but the 7th Avenue facade was largely unchanged from this angle, aside from the accumulation of a half century of grime on the pink granite walls and columns.

These redevelopment plans caused significant controversy, as Penn Station was still a major New York landmark, despite the reduced importance of rail travel. However, demolition began in October 1963, just over a year after the second photo was taken, and the building was mostly gone by 1966. Madison Square Garden opened in 1968, and occupied the western two-thirds of the site. In the present-day scene, it is barely visible on the far left side of the photo. To the east of it is an office building, which stands in the foreground of the photo along 7th Avenue.

The reconstructed Penn Station was also completed in 1968, although almost none of it can be seen above ground aside from the entrances, one of which is visible in the lower right side of the photo. It remains in use as New York’s primary intercity rail station, and it is the busiest station in North America, with an annual ridership of over 100 million. However, it lacks all of the grandeur and architectural distinction of its predecessor, and its design is particularly unimpressive compared to the historic Grand Central Terminal, which still stands as the city’s other major railroad station.

In hindsight, though, the loss of the original Penn Station may not have been entirely in vain. The demolition helped to draw attention to the need for historic preservation, at a time when many important buildings were being lost to urban renewal projects in cities across the country. Here in New York, it led to the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, in order to protect significant buildings in the city. These included Grand Central Terminal, which was threatened by a similar redevelopment proposal that would have put a skyscraper atop the station building. This was successfully blocked by the Commission, and their ruling was upheld in a 1978 Supreme Court decision, thus preserving Grand Central in its historic appearance.

New York Public Library Main Entrance, New York City

The main entrance to the New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 41st Street, around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in an earlier post, the main branch of the New York Public Library was completed here in 1911, on the west side of 5th Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. It was designed by the noted architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings, and it features an ornate Beaux-Arts exterior. Here on 5th Avenue, the main entrance consists of three archways, each flanked by a pair of Corinthian columns. Six statues stand above the entrance, and there are also others closer to the ground, including in the alcoves on the left and right, and the lions on either side of the stairway.

The first photo was evidently taken soon after the building was opened, because not all of the statues were installed by this point. The lions, designed by sculptor Edward Clark Potter, were here, but the statues in the alcoves—Beauty and Truth by Frederick William MacMonnies—had yet to be added. Above the entrance, a lonely statue stands on the far right side in the first photo, although it would later be joined by the other five figures.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, the sidewalk in front of the library is significantly more crowded, as is the skyline in the distance. However, the library has remained standing throughout this time, with hardly an exterior changes in this scene aside from the additional statuary. Over the years, the lions have become probably the most recognizable feature here at the main entrance, and they have since come to represent the library itself, even appearing in its logo. The building itself remains in use as one of the world’s largest libraries, and in 1965 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its architectural and historical significance.

Windsor House, Windsor, Vermont

The Windsor House on Main Street in Windsor, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

This hotel was built in 1836 in the center of Windsor, an important town located along the banks of the Connecticut River in Vermont. At the time, Windsor was a prosperous manufacturing center, and it was one of the largest towns in the state by population, with over 3,000 residents during the 1830 census. By the following decade, it was also one of the first towns in the state with a railroad connection, when the Vermont Central opened in 1849 between Windsor and Hartford.

The Windsor House was one of the finest hotels in the area during the mid-19th century. In 1840, the Boston Traveler published a glowing letter to the editor by an anonymous writer who praised the hotel with the following description:

The Windsor House is a handsome brick edifice, 3 storys high. It contains 90 rooms; 10 private parlors, 6 of them having 2 sleeping rooms attached; 2 large parlors on the first floor; a dining hall; a reading room; 1 office. The halls on each floor are 15 feet wide. Besides the above rooms, there is a wing containing 30 sleeping rooms, and in the 4th story of the house is a large hall. The whole house is well furnished, and in the latest style, and will easily accommodate 150 persons.

The politeness of Mr. S. A. Coburn, the host, who for 7 or 8 years had charge of the Merrimack House, Lowell—the activity of his head clerk, Mr. Mitchell, (who was formerly attached to one of the first houses in New York,) the general attention of the domestics, and all the internal arrangements will insure a liberal public patronage. As a summer residence its location contains many advantages, which it might be well for such travellers as seek for a spot where they can breathe the pure mountain air, personally to make enquiry into. To all who have occasion to pass through that pleasant country, we can only say, that at the Windsor House they will find every attention and comfort which can be desired.

By the early 1840s, the hotel had evidently changed hands, as it was being run by Jehiel H. Simonds, who subsequently owned it for many years. During this time, the hotel apparently catered to both travelers and long-term residents, with the 1850 census showing 43 people living here, including Simonds himself and his wife Harriet. It is difficult to determine how many of these were hotel staff, but one of the resident employees here was Henry Parks, a 30-year-old African American who worked as a groom. He would later go on to enlist in the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the first African-American units in the Civil War.

Simonds was still living here and running the hotel when the first photo was taken sometime around the 1870s. The 1880 census is much more helpful in determining the occupations of the people who lived here around this time. That year, there were a total of 17 people living here. Two were Jehiel and Harriet Simonds, and seven more were hotel employees, including a chambermaid, cook, porter, two waiters, and two laborers.

Of the eight boarders who were listed here during the 1880 census, five were from the Richards family, originally from Charlestown, New Hampshire. They included 60-year-old Harriet Richards and her son Jarvis, along with E. Jane Richards, who was the wife of Harriet’s son DeForest. DeForest, who would later become governor of Wyoming, was not living here at the time, but his two young children, Inez and J. DeForest, were here at the Windsor House with their mother, uncle, and grandmother. J. DeForest was five years old at the time, and he eventually went on to become an accomplished college football player at the University of Michigan, where he played halfback and quarterback during the mid-1890s.

In the meantime, Jehiel Simonds operated the Windsor House until his death in 1885 at the age of 83. The hotel remained in business for many years afterward, and it has long been a prominent landmark in downtown Windsor. It was threatened by demolition in the early 1970s, but it was ultimately preserved and repurposed, with a variety of commercial tenants. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and it is still standing today, nearly two centuries after it was completed. The neighboring 1824 Pettes-Journal Block on the far left side of this scene is also still standing, and there have been few exterior changes to either this building or the Windsor House since the first photo was taken.

Overlook, Hartford, Vermont

The Overlook house in Hartford, around 1900. Image from The Old and the New.

The scene in 2018:

This house, which was known as Overlook, was built at some point during the 19th century, probably around the 1870s based on its Second Empire-style architecture. For many years it was the home of Alfred E. Watson, a noted businessman and local politician. He was born in 1857 and he grew up in Hartford, where his father, Edwin C. Watson, manufactured agricultural tools in the firm of French, Watson & Co. Alfred attended nearby Dartmouth College, graduating in 1883, and that same year he married Mary Maude Carr of Montpelier.

Alfred Watson was primarily involved in the insurance business, but he was also a director and treasurer of the White River Savings Bank, director of Hartford National Bank, and director of the Chicago, Kalamazoo & Saginaw Railway. In addition, he was involved in politics, holding a number of different offices. He served as Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs during the administration of fellow Hartford native Governor Samuel E. Pingree, and he was subsequently elected to both houses of the state legislature, along with serving on the state’s Board of Railway Commissioners.

Alfred and Mary Watson had two children. Their son Cedric died in 1890 before his first birthday, but their daughter Margery lived to adulthood. The first photo was taken sometime around the turn of the 20th century, and the 1900 census shows that they were living here with Margery, who was 12 years old at the time, Mary’s father Walter S. Carr, and Alfred’s nephew, Carl W. Cameron. The latter moved out sometime before the 1910 census, but the rest of the family was still here during that year. Walter subsequently died in 1915 at the age of 82, and Margery evidently moved out of the house by the time of her marriage in 1917.

Mary died in 1948 at the age of 83, and Alfred continued to live here until his death in 1950 at the age of 93. They both outlived their daughter Margery, who died in 1940. With no surviving heirs, and with little demand for such a large single-family home during the mid-20th century, the house was ultimately divided into apartments. At some point, the house underwent some significant changes, including the removal of the barn on the left side and the large front porch. Many of its other Victorian-era exterior details are similarly lost, having been replaced by modern siding. Overall, though, the house, which is now known as Hillcrest Manor, is still standing, and it is still recognizable from the first photo. It recently underwent a major renovation shortly before the present-day photo was taken, and it now consists of nine affordable housing units.

 

Mary d.1948, age 83

Second Congregational Church, Hartford, Vermont

The Second Congregational Church in the center of Hartford, around 1903-1910. Image from The Old and the New.

The church in 2018:

The present-day town of Hartford consists of five distinct villages, spread out across nearly 50 square miles of land. During the first half of the 19th century, this village here along the banks of the White River developed into the de facto town center. It was known as White River Village, and in in 1827 the Congregational Society of White River Village—later renamed the Second Congregational Society of Hartford, Vermont—was established here, with the intent of constructing a meeting house here.

This building, which is shown here in these two photos, was completed in late 1828, and it was formally dedicated on January 8, 1829. It was constructed by Jedediah Dana of Lebanon, New Hampshire, with a design that was typical for New England churches of the period, including a tower and belfry above the main entrance. On the interior, the church could seat 400 people, with pews on either side of two aisles, along with a gallery in the rear of the church.

As was often the cases in churches at the time, parishioners purchased their pews. Prices started at $52, a considerable sum for the 1820s, and the more desirable pews carried a premium. Individual families decorated and furnished their pews according to their tastes, and in the early years only pew owners could vote in church meetings, with the voting power determined by the number of pews that the person held. In all, 61 pews were sold when the church was completed, for a total of $3,788.50, which nearly covered the $4,297 that it cost to construct the building.

The church remained in use throughout the 19th century, but by the turn of the 20th century it was in need of a major renovation. This work, which was done in 1902-1903, included converting the gallery into a meeting room, replacing the heating and ventilation systems, installing new carpet and upholstery, and reducing the seating capacity to 300. Both the interior and exterior were also remodeled with Colonial Revival-style features, which were added by local architect Louis S. Newton.

The first photo was taken sometime soon after these renovations were completed. Since then, very little has changed here on the exterior. Aside from the lack of shutters in the present-day view, the church looks the same as it did more than a century ago, and it remains in use as an active church, now known as the Greater Hartford United Church of Christ. Along with the other buildings here in the village center, it is now part of the Hartford Village Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.