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.

Wolf’s Head Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Wolf’s Head Hall, at the corner of Prospect and Trumbull Streets in New Haven, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2018:

The Wolf’s Head was established in 1883 as one of Yale’s secret societies. It was intended as an alternative to the more established Skull and Bones and Scroll and Key societies, and it got off to a strong start with the completion of this clubhouse in 1884. The building was an early work by McKim, Mead and White, which would go on to become one of the leading architectural firms in the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first photo was taken nearly 20 years later, by which point the brownstone exterior was almost completely covered by ivy, obscuring much of its architecture.

This building was used by the Wolf’s Head until 1924, when the society moved to its current location on York Street. This property here on Prospect Street was then sold to Yale, who rented the building to several different organizations over the years. In 1994, it became home of the school’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and in 2006 it was joined to two neighboring buildings, with an addition that is partially visible on the left side of the 2018 photo. Today, the building continues to be used by the ISPS, and, despite the addition, its exterior has remained well-preserved, and from this angle the only other significant difference between the two photos is its appearance is the lack of ivy.

Rosecliff, Newport, Rhode Island

The Rosecliff mansion on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, around 1910-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection.

The scene in 2018:

Rosecliff was one of the many Gilded Age summer homes that were built in Newport during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was completed in 1902, and was originally the home of businessman Hermann Oelrichs (1850-1906) and his wife, the silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs (1871-1926). The property had previously been owned by George Bancroft (1800-1891), a prominent historian, politician, and diplomat who had served as U. S. Secretary of the Navy from 1845 to 1846, Minister to the United Kingdom from 1846 to 1849, and Minister to Germany from 1867 to 1874. During this time, he maintained a modest summer home here in Newport, which was named Rosecliff for his extensive rose garden.

Following Bancroft’s death in 1891, the Oelrichs purchased the Rosecliff property. The old house was demolished, and they hired the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White to design a new, larger, and far more elegant replacement. Most of the design work was done by Stanford White, whose earlier Newport commissions included the Isaac Bell House. Although built less than 20 years after the Isaac Bell House, Rosecliff represented a significant shift in White’s designs, from the Shingle style of the 1880s to the Beaux-Arts style of the turn of the century. It also reflected the changes in tastes among the Newport elite, who increasingly demanded summer “cottages” that were modeled after European palaces. In this case, Rosecliff was based on the design of the Grand Trianon at Versailles, which had been built during the reign of Louis XIV.

Hermann and Theresa Oelrichs lived in New York, but spent summers here at Rosecliff, where Theresa was one of the leaders of Newport society. As such, her house was designed for entertaining. Its ballroom, which measures 40 by 80 feet, is the largest in Newport, and it occupies the entire central section of the first floor, between the two projecting wings. The entire house has a total of 30 rooms, is 28,800 square feet in size, and was built at a cost of $2.5 million, or over $73 million today.

The house was built using the wealth that Theresa had inherited from her father, James Graham Fair (1831-1894). Fair had come to the United States in 1843 as a poor young Irish immigrant, but he went on to make his fortune in silver mining following the discovery of the Comstock Lode in Nevada. He also served one term as a U. S. Senator from Nevada, from 1881 to 1887, but was defeated for re-election in 1886. Despite – or perhaps because of – this vast wealth, Fair had a strained relationship with his wife and children, thanks in no small part to his serial adultery. His wife, also named Theresa, divorced him in 1883, and his daughter Theresa did not even invite him to her wedding in 1890. However, this did not stop the younger Theresa from accepting his $1 million wedding gift, nor the $40 million inheritance that she and her sister split after his death in 1894. She would eventually honor his legacy by building the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and naming it for him.

Hermann Oelrichs died in 1906, but Theresa continued to spend summers here at Rosecliff until her death in 1926 at the age of 55. Her only child, Hermann Oelrichs, Jr. (1891-1948) inherited the property, but by this point Newport’s massive Gilded Age mansions were falling out of fashion. This would only get worse in the wake of the Great Depression, and Oelrichs ultimately sold the house in 1941 for just $21,000. Adjusted for inflation, this was less than a half of a percent of what his parents had spent to build Rosecliff only 40 years earlier.

The new owner of Rosecliff was Gertrude Niesen (1911-1975), a singer, actress, and Vaudeville performer who was active during the 1930s and 1940s. She owned it for several years, but during this time the house sustained serious damage from a frozen water pipe. She subsequently sold it to Ray Alan Van Clief, who restored the interior, but he was killed in a car accident while on his way to visit the house for the first time after the completion of the renovations.

The next owner of the house was J. Edgar Monroe (1897-1992), a wealthy New Orleans businessman who purchased the property in 1947. He and his wife Louise spent summers here until 1971, when they donated Rosecliff to the Preservation Society of Newport County, a nonprofit organization that owns many of the historic mansions in Newport, including The Breakers and Marble House. The house was opened to the public, and over the years it has also been used as a filming location for a variety of movies, including The Great Gatsby (1974), True Lies (1994), Amistad (1997), and 27 Dresses (2008). Today, the exterior of the house has not significantly changed since the first photo was taken over a century ago, and it is now a contributing property in the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark district in 1973.

Wells Fountain, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Wells Fountain, at the corner of Putney Road and Linden Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The Wells Fountain has been a feature here in the center of Brattleboro since 1890, when it was given to the town by William Henry Wells, a New York businessman who had grown up in Brattleboro. The fountain was originally located about 20 feet from here, but it was moved to its current site in 1906. The first photo appears to have been taken shortly before this move, because the photo shows it closer to the street than it is now, so the original location was probably on the far left side of the present-day photo.

The fountain was the the work of William Rutherford Mead, a noted architect who, like Wells, was a Brattleboro native who moved to New York as an adult. Mead was a cousin of President Rutherford B. Hayes, whose family also had roots in Brattleboro, and he was a partner in the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Mead did not have the same architectural genius of his two partners, Charles Follen McKim and Stanford White, and he designed few works on his own. Instead, his talents were as an office manager, serving as a stable, practical-minded counterbalance to the more fanciful McKim and White. Under his leadership, the firm became one of the country’s leading architects of the late 19th and early 20th century, with commissions such as the Boston Public Library, the Rhode Island State House, and Penn Station, along with many other public buildings and Gilded Age mansions.

The original location of the fountain marked the spot where Mead’s older brother, Larkin Mead, had created an eight-foot-high snow sculpture in 1856. The Recording Angel, as it was called, stood here for about two weeks, and the subsequent publicity helped to launch his career as prominent sculptor. He would later go on to design works such as the statue atop the Vermont State House, a statue of Ethan Allen in the United States Capitol, and the statues on Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. He died in Florence, Italy in 1910, and his grave was topped with a replica of his original Recording Angel sculpture.

Today, the Wells Fountain still stands here at the corner of Linden Street and Putney Road, although its surroundings have changed significantly. The trolley tracks in the foreground of the first photo are long gone, as are many of the surrounding buildings. The land just up the hill behind the fountain was once privately owned, with a house that once stood just out of view to the right. However, this land is now a small public park in front of the courthouse, and part of the foundation of the old house can still be seen on the far right side of the present-day photo.

William Watts Sherman House, Newport, Rhode Island

The William Watts Sherman House on Shepard Avenue in Newport, sometime in the late 1870s. Image courtesy of the Cornell University Library, Andrew Dickson White Architectural Photographs Collection.

The house in 2017:

William Watts Sherman was born in Albany in 1842, and later moved to New York City, where he became a physician. However, he left the medical practice to enter his father’s banking firm of Duncan, Sherman & Company, and became a wealthy businessman. In 1871 he married Annie Wetmore, the daughter of prominent merchant William Shepard Wetmore. Originally from Vermont, Wetmore had been among the early summer residents in Newport, and built his Chateau-sur-Mer mansion on Bellevue Avenue in 1852.

A few years after their marriage, the Shermans built their own house on part of Annie’s late father’s property, just to the south of Chateau-sur-Mer on the opposite side of Shepard Avenue. For the design, they hired Henry H. Richardson, a recently-established architect who was already well on his way to becoming one of the most influential in American history. He is best known for pioneering the Richardsonian Romanesque style that was prevalent throughout the late 19th century, and designed a number of churches, railroad stations, libraries, and other public buildings. He did not design many private residences, but the Sherman house would become one of his most important works and would help to inspire the Shingle style of architecture that would go on to become ubiquitous in New England resort communities such as Newport.

Completed in 1876, the Sherman house was unlike anything that had been built in Newport up to this point. Most of the earlier homes had designs that were based on Greek, Italian, or French styles, but for this house Richardson blended elements from traditional English and American architecture, giving it a unique appearance that stood out among the other summer cottages in Newport. The house’s exterior, particularly the use of wooden shingles on the upper floors, proved highly influential, and the house became a prototype for Shingle-style architecture of the 1880s and 1890s. Richardson himself designed very few other houses, though, and  it would be two of his former assistants, Charles McKim and Stanford White, who would go on to create some of the finest Shingle-style homes.

Stanford White was involved in the design of the house, and he would play a larger role a few years later, when his firm of McKim, Mead & White was hired to design a large addition to the house. Built on the left side of the scene, this new wing substantially enlarged the house, while matching Richardson’s original exterior. The first photo here shows the house as it originally appeared, sometime before construction on the addition began in 1879. It was completed two years later, with Stanford White providing interior designs for both a parlor and a library in this wing.

William and Annie Sherman had two daughters, Georgette and Sybil, who were born in the early 1870s. However, Annie died in 1884 at the age of 35, and the following year William remarried to Sophia Augusta Brown, the 18-year-old daughter of the late John Carter Brown II. A member of the prominent Brown family of Providence, John Carter Brown II was the son of Nicholas Brown, Jr., the namesake of Brown University, and John himself would later leave leave his mark on the university when his rare book collection became the basis for the John Carter Brown Library. Curiously, William Sherman’s oldest daughter, Georgette, would later marry Sophia’s older brother, Harold Brown, making William Sherman both a brother-in-law and father-in-law to his daughter’s new husband.

With his new wife, William Watts Sherman had two more daughters, Irene and Mildred, and around 1890 they expanded the house again, adding a ballroom that was designed by local architect Dudley Newton. He continued to spend summers here until his death in 1912, and Sophia owned the house until her death more than 30 years later, in 1946. By this point the massive Gilded Age mansions of Newport had fallen out of fashion, and the mid-20th century saw many of these landmarks demolished or converted into other uses. In the case of the Sherman house, it became the Baptist Home of Rhode Island, a retirement home that opened in 1950.

Because of its architectural significance, the house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and it is also a contributing property in the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, which is likewise a National Historic Landmark. In 1982, the property was purchased by Salve Regina University, whose campus includes many other historic mansions in the area. It is now a dormitory for sophomore students, and still stands as one of Newport’s finest architectural treasures, with hardly any differences between these two photos aside from the 1879-1881 addition on the left side.