553-567 Boylston Street, Boston

Some buildings on the north side of Boylston Street, between Clarendon and Dartmouth Streets and across from Copley Square, on October 4, 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The buildings in 2015:

Like the scene a block away in this post, the 1912 photo here shows the transitions that were happening along Boylston Street in the early 1900s.  When the Back Bay was filled in the late 1800s, Boylston Street was, like the other streets in the neighborhood, lined with Victorian brownstone houses.  However, as the street became a major commercial district, the homes were steadily replaced with more modern commercial buildings, with storefronts on the first floor and professional offices in the upper floors.  The 1912 photo shows three of these new buildings, each of which were built within about four years, and each of which had a different automobile company showroom on the first floor.  The only holdout from the earlier era is the four-story rowhouse in the right-center.  It was probably built in the 1870s, and it survived until around 1923, when the present-day building was put in its place.

The three car companies in the first photo were, from left to right: American Locomotive Company (ALCO), American Underslung, and Overland Motor Cars.  Like most early car companies, none of them stayed in business for too long.  ALCO got out of the automobile business just a year later, although one of their managers had been Walter P. Chrysler, who would later go on to establish his own company a little over a decade later.  The other two companies didn’t last much longer than ALCO, and today their former storefronts are occupied by a cafe, a wine store, and a Chipotle restaurant.  The buildings themselves haven’t changed too much aside from the storefronts; the only major change to any of the exteriors is the removal of the cornice on the top of 561 Boylston, the second building from the left.

Chauncy Hall Building, Boston

The Chauncy Hall Building on Boylston Street at Copley Square in Boston, on October 4, 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The building in 2015:


This building, located at 585-591 Boylston Street across from Copley Square, was probably built within a year or two of the first photo; the MACRIS online database estimates that it was built in 1916, but clearly this is off by a few years if the first photo was taken in 1912.  The first scene shows a wide variety of uses for office space in the building.  Signs in the upper floor windows include two women’s rights organizations: the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, and the less concisely-named Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government (women would get the right to vote nationwide eight years later).  The top floor apparently housed the Loyal Protective Insurance Company, and a barber shop occupied the far right suite on the second floor.

The rest of the building was apparently dedicated to automobiles and automobile parts; signs advertise for the Detroit Electric Edison Battery and Dayton Airless Tires, along with manufacturers ranging from well-known modern brands such as Benz, to long-forgotten ones like the Flanders Motor Company.  Flanders, which occupied the middle storefront, wasn’t in business for much longer than the time it took to take the photo, but according to the lettering on the windows they had both gasoline and electric cars.  At the time, electric cars were just falling out of fashion, and would not reappear again for another century or so.

Today, the Victorian rowhouse to the left is gone, but the Chauncy Hall Building is still standing.  The ground floor has since been heavily altered, and now houses a CVS, but the exterior of the upper floors is still essentially the same from 1912.  One interesting item of note from the first photo, however, is the large “To Let” sign on the extreme right.  The sign advertised for rental space for “stores, floors & offices in the new eight story fireproof Wesleyan Building to be erected on this site.”  The building appears to have been under construction in the 1912 photo, and is still there today to the right of the Chauncy Hall Building.


647-665 Boylston Street, Boston

The buildings from 647 to 665 Boylston Street, between Dartmouth and Exeter Streets, on April 11, 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The scene in 2015:

The first photo shows a neighborhood in transition.  When this section of the Back Bay was developed in the 1880s, Victorian brownstone rowhouses were predominant along Boylston Street.  However, as the street evolved into a major commercial area, the front steps and bay windows were not well-suited for early 20th century storefronts.  It is hard to tell whether the buildings from the first photo were demolished and rebuilt, or if only the facades were reconstructed, but either way most of the buildings from the 1912 photo would be dramatically altered within the next decade.

There are already some signs of this already happening; the building at 661 Boylston, just to the left of the tall one, is nearing completion in the 1912 photo, with a sign in the window advertising that it will have electric elevators inside.  Three of the other buildings would soon follow, and they were either demolished or radically reconstructed by the early 1920s.  The only surviving brownstone in this scene is the one on the far right, at 647 Boylston.  It was built in 1886, probably around the same time as the other buildings in the first photo, and is located adjacent to the New Old South Church parish house, which is partially visible on the far right of both photos.

This scene is also significant because it shows the location of finish line of the Boston Marathon, in front of the building on the far left.  During the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the first explosion occurred just out of view from here, two buildings to the left of the finish line.

777-789 Boylston Street, Boston

A commercial building on Boylston Street, just east of the intersection of Fairfield Street, on April 11, 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The building in 2015:

Taken three days before the Titanic hit the iceberg and eight days before Fenway Park opened less than a mile away, the first photo shows a building on Boylston Street that appears to ave been some sort of an early parking garage. It was built in 1901, around the same time as the other buildings around it, and the 1912 photo shows a few cars parked inside that are visible through the windows.  Two men are standing on either side of the open garage door, and the sign above the door reads “All cars must come to a stop before entering.”  Today, this view is essentially unchanged.  Their uses are different over a century later, but all of the 1912 buildings are still standing, and unlike the ones in the previous post they have seen only minor exterior alterations.

Galvin’s Flower Shop, Boston

Galvin’s Flower Shop, at the corner of Boylston and Fairfield Streets in Boston, on April 5, 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The building in 2015:

This building dates back to 1897, and although it is still standing it has been heavily modified over the years.  Originally a conservatory with a greenhouse in the back, this building was used as a flower shop when the first photo was taken.  Its appearance was somewhat altered in 1924, but the most extensive renovation came in the 1970s, when it became a bank.  Some of the basic architectural features were retained on the facade, including the arched windows and the oval window over the corner entrance, but I’m not sure how much is actually original; the two arches are much closer together in the first photo, so I suspect the 1970s renovation probably removed the original facade and then rebuilt it along similar lines.  The building to the right of the flower shop is also still standing today, and likewise has had some substantial alterations.  It was built in 1902, and at some point a third floor was added, along with expanding the facade outward a few feet.  At this point, it is hard to tell that it is even the same building from the 1912 photo.

Boylston Street at Fairfield Street, Boston

Several buildings on the north side of Boylston Street just west of Fairfield Street, on April 5, 1912.

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The scene in 2015:

A few important things were happening in early April, 1912, when the first photo was taken.  In England, workers had just put the finishing touches on the Titanic, and the ship’s first (and only) departure was less than a week away.  Much closer to this scene, workers were putting the finishing touches on a far less auspicious, but as it turned out much longer-lived structure, Fenway Park.  Here along Boylston Street, engineers were preparing to begin work on a subway tunnel that would run from the Public Garden to Kenmore Square.  This photo, one of many taken in the spring of 1912, was likely part of the preliminary surveys of the street.

When the first photo was taken, cars were just beginning to see widespread use, and there were many businesses along Boylston Street that catered to these new motorists.  Both of the buildings on the left housed tire companies: Century Tires on the far left and The Fisk Rubber Company in the five-story white building.  Fisk, which was headquartered in Chicopee, Massachusetts, was one of the country’s leading tire companies in the early 20th century.  To the right of that building, the 1912 photo shows billboards for auto jacks and shock absorbers, and the building at the corner of Fairfield Street appears to have had a car dealership in the ground-floor storefront, although I can’t read the name.

Today, only the former Fisk building still stands.  It was built in 1910, but appears to have still needed tenants by 1912, as the first photo shows a large “Chambers to Let” sign in the window.  It is now home to a Sleepy’s store, but aside from that the exterior has not changed much in over a century.  The Century Tires building is gone, though, and an Apple Store now occupies its spot.  On the far right, the building at the corner was probably the oldest one in the first photo, but it was gone by 1960, when a gas station was built there.