Ladder 15/Engine 33 Firehouse, Boston

The firehouse at the corner of Boylston and Hereford Streets in Boston, on October 27, 1911. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The building in 2015:

This structure is made up of two connected buildings: the Ladder 15/Engine 33 firehouse to the right, and the Boston Police Station 16 on the left.  Both were completed in the mid 1880s, on land that had just recently been filled in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood.  It was designed by Arthur H. Vinal, based on the Richardsonian Romanesque style that was popular in the late 1800s, especially in the Back Bay.

Today, the buildings still stand with few changes to the exterior.  The building to the right is still an active fire station; Engine 33 can barely be seen in the shadows of the 2015 photo, and a fireman is standing in front of the Ladder 15 door.  However, the former police station to the left has changed occupants a few times.  It was used by the Boston Police Department until the early 1970s, and from 1973 until 2006 it was the home of the Institute of Contemporary Art.  Since then, it has been used by the Boston Architectural College.

Sherman Building, Boston

The Sherman Building at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Newbury Street in Boston, on October 28, 1911. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The building in 2015:

This building at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Newbury Street was built in 1908, and housed a few of the many car dealerships in the Back Bay in the early 20th century.  The first photo shows two different companies occupying the first floor: Oldsmobile had the more prominent corner storefront, and the Thomas B. Jeffery Company had the storefront on the far right.  Like most early car companies, Jeffery didn’t survive the 1910s, but Oldsmobile lasted for almost another century.

Over time, car dealerships moved out of city centers and into the suburbs, so the building as used for a variety of other purposes, from apartments to an indoor golf course.  It narrowly escaped demolition for the construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike; the building directly across Newbury Street was replaced with a highway on-ramp when the Turnpike was extended through Boston in the 1960s.  Today, the building is the Boston location of the Room & Board furniture store.  It opened in 2014 following a massive renovation that modernized and expanded the building while retaining its original appearance from the street.

Trinity Church, Boston

Trinity Church in Boston, in 1920. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.


The church in 2013:


Located at Copley Square in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, Trinity Church was built between 1872 and 1877, to replace the parish’s previous church, which had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1872.  The church was designed by noted American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and is generally regarded as his magnum opus.

The surrounding of the church have changed, even though the building itself has remained essentially the same.  Originally, Huntington Avenue (foreground in the 1920 photo) cut diagonally in front of the church; this was changed in 1966, and the former roadway is now part of a park in front of the church.  Behind the church is the Berkeley Building, also known as the Old John Hancock Building, and not to be confused with the John Hancock Tower, which is located immediately to the right of Trinity Church, just out of the picture.

Cy Young at Huntington Avenue Grounds, Boston

Cy Young, warming up at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Grounds in 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Bain Collection.


The scene in 2014:


Finding the precise location of this photo is tricky, since nothing in the 1908 photo still exists.  The top photo was taken of Cy Young, the winningest pitcher in baseball history, during his last year with the Red Sox.  At the time, the Sox played a few blocks south of what would become Fenway Park, at the Huntington Avenue Grounds.

The site of the field is today part of the Northeastern University campus, and in this courtyard is a tribute to Cy Young and the old baseball field.  In the foreground is a granite home plate marker, and 60 feet away in the distance is a statue of Cy Young.  The Cy Young statue is on the approximate location of the pitcher’s mound (which can be seen behind and to the left of Cy Young in the 1908 photo), but home plate would have actually been further to the right of where the 2014 photo was taken (which is now a building).

Because of that, it is likely that the 2014 photo was taken from approximately the same location, looking in roughly the same direction, as the 1908 photo, although the lack of any landmarks makes it difficult to be exact.

Back Bay, Boston

The view of the Back Bay, from the top of the State House, in 1857. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.


The same view from the same spot, between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


This post is a bit unusual, since I don’t have a modern-day view of the scene, but I thought that the differences between these two photos, taken only about 50 years apart, was particularly compelling, and illustrates just how much of Boston is built on reclaimed land.  If I did have a present-day photo, it would show the John Hancock Building, the Prudential Tower, Hynes Convention Center, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Boston.  Yet, less than 160 years ago it was just a heavily polluted mud flat.

To help identify a few prominent locations in the swamps of 1857, the row of trees at the end of the water is present-day Arlington Street, and the road built across the water is Beacon Street, originally built in 1814 as a dam and toll road.  The dam was intended to use the power of the outgoing tides for factories in the area, but it had the unintended consequence of preventing the mud flats from being washed out twice daily by the tides, leading to a shallow basin filled with sewage, garbage, and other pollution. Another dam connected Beacon Street to the point of land in the distance on the left.  The left-hand side of the dam ended at the present-day intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue.  In the extreme distance of the 1857 photo, Beacon Street reaches the mainland at present-day Kenmore Square.

Most of the Back Bay up was filled in only a short time after this photo was taken, and completely filled in by 1882.  The Fenway section (so-called because of the swamps, or “fens” in the area) was mostly finished by 1900, putting the finishing touches on the Boston that we now know today.

New Old South Church, Boston

New Old South Church at Copley Square, between 1890 and 1899. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The same view in 2010:


For the most part, this view hasn’t changed.  The Boston Public Library on the left is still there, as is the brick building behind the church.  The only real difference is the tower, which had to be taken down in 1931.  Like the rest of the Back Bay, the church sits on filled-in marshland, so the weight was supported by wooden piles that were driven into the soil.  However, the tower was too heavy for the piles, and as the ground settled it began to lean about three feet.  It was rebuilt in 1940 on stronger steel piles, and the new tower has stood substantially longer than the original one did.