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:

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.

Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

Looking east on Commonwealth Avenue from near Kenmore Square, around 1910-1914. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Commonwealth Avenue in 2015:

When the first photo was taken, the Kenmore section of Boston was still being developed. The apartment building on the right, which is missing in the first photo, was built in 1916, and the other houses in the photo aren’t much older.  These late Victorian-era homes were built in the late 1890s, around the same time as the Hotel Somerset, which can be seen in the distance in the lower center of the photos.  To the left is the median of Commonwealth Avenue, which was part of the original design of the Back Bay to have a wide avenue with a large, landscaped central median.  Although today Commonwealth Avenue has one way traffic on each side of the median, this apparently wasn’t the case in the early 1900s; the first photo shows traffic traveling in both directions on what is now the eastbound side of the road.

Around 100 years later, most of the buildings from the first photo are still standing today.  The houses to the right now have stores on the ground floors, but despite this there haven’t been any drastic alterations.  As mentioned in the previous post, the Hotel Somerset is still standing on the other side of the elevated Charlesgate, but it was converted into condominiums in the 1980s.  To the left in the median, part of the old subway portal is visible in the 2015 photo.  This section of the subway opened in 1914, probably not long after the first photo was taken, with the trolleys coming to the surface at this spot in the median before crossing Kenmore Square.  This portal has since been closed off, but the arch at the top is still above ground.

Hotel Somerset, Boston

The Hotel Somerset at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Charlesgate East in Boston, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2015:

When this historic building was completed in 1897, it was at the very edge of the city.  There were parts of Boston further west of here, such as today’s Fenway/Kenmore neighborhood, but at that point there was very little development going on.  Even the 1898 city atlas didn’t cover further west of here, and it shows that many of the building lots around the hotel were still vacant.

Although the Hotel Somerset was initially surrounded by vacant lots, the city soon grew up around it, as the first photo shows. It was a prominent city hotel, with notable guests such as The Beatles, who stayed here during their visit to Boston in 1966, as well as visiting baseball teams, since Fenway Park is just a quarter mile away.  Ted Williams also stayed here during the baseball season, renting Room 231 for many years.

In the century since the first photo was taken, many of the surroundings have changed.  The Massachusetts Turnpike passes within 50 feet of the building on the other side, and on this side an elevated roadway crosses Commonwealth Avenue, with an off-ramp on the right side of the photo in front of the building.  The hotel itself was converted to condominiums in the 1980s, but from the outside it still doesn’t look much different from the first photo.

Kenmore Square Bus, Boston

Passengers getting off of a bus at Kenmore Square, sometime in the 1940s and probably before 1947.  Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The same location in 2015:

For all that has changed in the past 70 years, not much is different between these two photos.  Many of the buildings in Kenmore Square are still there today, including the Peerless Motor Company Building in the background on the right.  It was completed in 1911 as the New England headquarters of the Peerless Motor Company, an early luxury car brand that was in business until 1931.  The building was used for offices, showrooms, and garage space for the company, but by the time the first photo was taken, Peerless had been gone for over a decade.  Today, the exterior of the building is essentially the same as it was when it was built over a century ago, and it is used as Boston University’s bookstore.  It isn’t visible in the photo, but this is also the building that has the famous Citgo sign that can be seen beyond the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

The most obvious change from the 1940s photo is the bus.  Not only are bus styles different today, but so is the company that operates the city’s buses.  The side of the bus reads “Boston Elevated Railway,” which was the company that ran Boston’s subways, streetcars, and buses until 1947.  With increased competition from automobiles, the company was no longer profitable, so its operations were sold to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which later became today’s MBTA.  As seen in the 2015 photo, Kenmore Square is still a major transportation hub, and the median of Commonwealth Avenue has a reserved lane for buses next to the bus shelter, which also offers access to the Green Line station directly underneath here.

Boston University East, Boston

The Boston University East MBTA station on Commonwealth Avenue, around 1939. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The scene in 2015:

The first photo shows passengers boarding a Boston Elevated Railway trolley at the Boston University East station, in front of the Charles Hayden Memorial Building at Boston University.  It appears to be a Type 4 trolley, which was found on Boston’s many streetcar lines from 1911 until 1950.  Most of those lines have long since been converted into buses, but the line along Commonwealth Avenue is still in use, as the MBTA “B” branch of the Green Line.

The Charles Hayden Memorial Building in the background of both photos was completed in 1939, and it provides an earliest possible date for the photo, which the City of Boston Archives estimated as being in the 1930s.  The building was the first to be built on BU’s Charles River Campus, and just over two years after it opened the United States entered World War II, postponing other construction projects on the campus.  The other buildings along this section of Commonwealth Avenue would not be completed until 1948, but today this area between the Massachusetts Turnpike to the south and the Charles River to the north has become the school’s main campus.

Hotel Buckminster, Boston

The Hotel Buckminster at Kenmore Square in Boston, around 1911. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The hotel in 2015:

The present-day Kenmore Square area was once just swampy land along the edge of the Charles River, separated from Boston the tidal flats of the Back Bay.  Boston began to fill in this land starting in the late 1850s at Arlington Street and steadily moving west.  The landfill project in the Fenway area was completed by the 1890s, and in 1897 the Hotel Buckminster opened as the first hotel at Kenmore Square, in between Brookline Avenue to the left and Beacon Street to the right.  Even by 1911, as seen in the first photo, the neighborhood was still sparsely developed.  Just a year after the photo was taken, the Red Sox would open Fenway Park on a vacant lot just two blocks south of here along Brookline Avenue.

Because of its proximity to Fenway Park, visiting teams would often stay at the hotel while they were in town.  Babe Ruth had a favorite room on the top floor along the Brookline Avenue side that overlooked Fenway Park, and it was also here that Boston bookmaker Joseph “Sport” Sullivan met with Chicago White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil and conspired to fix the 1919 World Series.  Later on, the radio station WNAC had its studio in the hotel, and in 1929 the world’s first network radio broadcast was sent from here.  From 191 to 1953, the Storyville nightclub was located in the building, and featured a number of notable jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker.

Over a century after the first photo was taken, the Hotel Buckminster is still around, although the neighborhood around it has grown significantly.  Although visiting teams probably don’t stay at this hotel anymore, the Kenmore Square is the primary subway station for fans going to and leaving Fenway Park, and there are a number of restaurants and other businesses that benefit from the sizable gameday crowds.  It is also a major intersection, with Beacon Street, Commonwealth Avenue, and Brookline Avenue all converging here above ground, and the “B”, “C”, and “D” branches of the Green Line meeting underground.  State Route 2 passes through here as well, and US Route 20, the longest road in the country, ends at Beacon Street, right in front of the hotel.