Chickering Hall, Boston

Chickering Hall on Huntington Avenue near Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, around 1901-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The site in 2015:

This section of Huntington Avenue is also known as “Avenue of the Arts,” and it is home to a number of theaters, as well as Northeastern University, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and the Museum of Fine Arts.  One of the early concert halls here was Chickering Hall, which was built in 1901 by Chickering & Sons, a Boston piano manufacturer.  The name didn’t last for long, though; it was sold in 1912 and became the St. James Theatre.  The new owners renovated the building and doubled the seating capacity from 800 to 1,600, and it was used for both vaudeville performances and early films.

In 1929, it was renamed the Uptown Theatre, and a large vertical neon sign and marquee were added to the front entrance.  It was primarily a second run movie theater for local college students, and it lasted until 1968, when it was demolished to build the Christian Science Center, which features the Mother Church and the religion’s administrative offices.  There is one landmark still standing in the first photo, though.  Horticultural Hall, located just to the left of Chickering Hall, was also built in 1901, and it is still standing today, at the corner of Huntington Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue.

Copley Square Hotel, Boston

The Copley Square Hotel at the corner of Huntington Avenue and Exeter Street, around 1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The hotel in 2015:

Not to be confused with the nearby Copley Plaza Hotel, this historic hotel was built in 1891 and has remained here for the past 125 years.  It was originally located at the edge of a large rail yard, with the tracks coming all the way up to the west side of Exeter Street, just out of the frame to the left.  Despite the name, the hotel is actually a block away from Copley Square, but it was still a convenient location for guests.  By the time the hotel opened in 1891, Copley Square had become a major cultural center in Boston, with the Trinity Church, New Old South Church, Museum of Fine Arts, and MIT all located right around the square, and the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building under construction at the time.

In the century since the first photo was taken, this section of the Back Bay south of Boylston Street has undergone some dramatic changes.  The rail yard was replaced with the Prudential Center in the 1960s, and some of Boston’s tallest buildings are within a couple blocks of here, including the John Hancock Tower, the Prudential Tower, and 111 Huntington Avenue.  Other historic buildings, including Mechanics Hall just down Huntington Avenue from here, have been demolished, but the Copley Square Hotel is still standing as the only surviving 19th century building on Huntington Avenue between Copley Square and Massachusetts Avenue.  The building’s interior was extensively renovated in 2008, but from the outside it doesn’t look much different today than it did in 1909.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The old Museum of Fine Arts building at Copley Square in Boston, probably sometime in the 1880s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The building around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The location in 2015:

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts was established in 1870, and six years later it moved into this Gothic Revival building on the south side of Copley Square.  Because of the museum’s presence here, it was originally named Art Square, but in the 1880s it was renamed in honor of colonial Boston painter John Singleton Copley.  The museum has a substantial collection of his works, including portraits of prominent figures such as John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere.

In 1909, the museum relocated further down Huntington Avenue in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood, on a larger plot of land that allowed for more expansion as the museum grew.  Today’s museum is many times larger than the original Copley Square building, and it is among the most visited art museums in the world, attracting over a million visitors each year.  The old art museum was demolished soon after the museum moved, and in 1912 the Copley Plaza Hotel, which is still standing today, was built on the site.

Mechanics Hall, Boston

The Mechanics Hall building on Huntington Avenue in Boston, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The site in 2015:

Mechanics Hall was a convention center and civic arena located in Boston’s Back Bay, in a triangular-shaped lot between Huntington Avenue to the south, the Boston & Albany rail yard to the north, and West Newton Street to the west.  It was completed in 1881, and was designed by William Gibbons Preston, whose other works in Boston included the Rogers Building on the original MIT campus, and the old Museum of Natural History building.

The building was owned by the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, and included a large auditorium that was used for various conventions, shows, track meets, wrestling matches, and other events.  It was even briefly home to Boston’s first professional basketball team: the 1925-1926 Boston Whirlwinds of the American Basketball League, who began their only season in the Matthews Arena before moving their home games here and then later to a Knights of Columbus Hall in Somerville. The team ended up disbanding partway through the season, after playing just 16 games.

The first photo shows the trolley line running down the median of Huntington Avenue.  This section of the trolley was put underground in 1941, and Mechanics station was built here to serve the building.  However, Mechanics Hall was becoming obsolete, and by the 1950s the neighboring rail yard was being eyed for redevelopment as the Prudential Center.  As part of the project, Mechanics Hall was demolished in 1959, and today the skyscraper at 111 Huntington Avenue occupies part of the former building’s location, as seen to the right in the 2015 photo.

Copley Square, Boston

Copley Square as seen from the steps of Trinity Church in Boston, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Copley Square in 2015:

Today, Copley Square is one of the focal points of the Back Bay neighborhood in Boston.  The park is often used for public events, such as the farmers market seen in the first photo.  However, it wasn’t always that way.  In a neighborhood where everything was meticulously planned by 19th century planners and landscape architects, Copley Square as we know it today did not come about until the 1960s.

Like the rest of the Back Bay, Copley Square was once just a polluted tidal mudflat, but throughout the second half of the 19th century it was steadily filled, providing the overcrowded city with a new, upscale neighborhood.  As the wealthier citizens moved west, so did many of the city’s major institutions.  Many were located in the vicinity of Copley Square, including Trinity Church, Old South Church, the Museum of Fine Arts, MIT, and later the Boston Public Library.  However, Copley Square itself was originally just a triangular intersection, where Huntington Avenue and Boylston Street met just west of Clarendon Street.

The first photo shows Huntington Avenue crossing diagonally through the square, with a small triangular park on the right.  Originally, even this was not intended to be a park; an atlas from 1874 shows a building on part of the triangle, and the rest of it was divided into housing lots.  Because the Museum of Fine Arts was located here, it was called Art Square until 1883, when it became Copley Square.  The new name was keeping with the art theme, though; it was named for John Singleton Copley, an early American painter from Boston.

The two most prominent buildings in both photos are the Boston Public Library in the center and the New Old South Church to the right.  Completed in 1895 and 1873, respectively, they are two major Copley Square landmarks that have survived largely unchanged.  The only major difference in the buildings is the church tower, which was replaced in the 1930s after the ground under it began to subside, causing a three foot lean at the top of the tower.

The most dramatic change in the two photos is the surrounding neighborhood.  Huntington Avenue now ends at St. James Avenue, so now the square is literally a square.  In the 2015 photo, much of it is in the shadow of the John Hancock Tower, which is located just behind and to the left of where I took the photo.  The background shows some of the other high-rise construction that the Back Bay has seen over the years, including the Prudential Tower, 111 Huntington Avenue, and several other buildings in the Prudential Center complex.

Huntington Avenue Grounds Groundbreaking, Boston

The groundbreaking ceremonies on March 12, 1901 for what would become the Huntington Avenue Grounds, the first home of the Boston Red Sox. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


Today, the Boston Red Sox are without a doubt the most popular baseball team in New England, but in 1901 they were merely another upstart team attempting to challenge the well-established Boston Beaneaters. The American League itself wasn’t officially established until January, but after that things started to happen fast.  The team leased land along Huntington Avenue, right across the railroad tracks from the South End Grounds where the Beaneaters played.  Then, on March 12, presumably with the ground just beginning to thaw, the official groundbreaking ceremony occurred and construction began, less than two months before the May 8 home opener.

The field, which became known simply as the Huntington Avenue Grounds, was home to the Red Sox (a name they officially adopted in 1908 – before that they wore blue stockings) for 11 seasons, before the construction of Fenway Park not too far away.  Today, the site is part of the Northeastern University campus, but there is at least one structure visible in both photos – the brick apartment building in the background on the left-hand side of the 1901 photo is still there today, with newer buildings on either side of it.