Old MIT Campus, Boston

The former Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, looking west on Boylston Street from near Berkeley Street in Boston, around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

The first permanent home for Massachusetts Institute of Technology was in this building in the foreground. Completed in 1866 and later named the Rogers Building in honor of the school’s founder, it matched the architectural style of the adjacent Museum of Natural History, which is still standing today just to the right of here. The school was established to fill a need for a college education that focused on modern developments in science and technology, and despite some initial challenges such as the Civil War in the 1860s and an economic recession in the 1870s, the school began to grow. In 1883, the campus expanded with the Walker Building, which can be seen to the left in the first photo, at the corner of Clarendon Street. Even this was not enough, though; from 1881 to 1897 enrollment nearly quadrupled, and by the early 1900s the school was spread out across 10 buildings in the Copley Square area.

In 1916, most of the school moved to a new campus across the river in Cambridge, although the Rogers Building was retained as the home of the School of Architecture until the 1930s, when it was sold to the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company. Both the Rogers and Walker Buildings were demolished in 1939, and the insurance company built their new headquarters here, as seen in the 2015 photo. New England mutual merged with Met Life in 1995, and today their former headquarters is mixed-use building with retail and office tenants.

Public Garden, Boston (2)

Looking west from the bridge in the Boston Public Garden toward Commonwealth Avenue in 1895. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

For as much as Boston has changed in the past 120 years, this scene has stayed remarkably the same. It is taken facing the opposite direction from the photos in this post, and the statue in the distance is the same one visible from the other side in that post. This bridge over the lake has been a feature in the Public Garden since it was added in 1867, and it was designed by noted Boston architect William G. Preston. Two years later, the statue of George Washington was added, and it is one of many statues that decorate the park.

Beyond the Public Garden is the eastern end of Commonwealth Avenue, which was designed with a wide, park-like median. It serves as a major centerpiece for the Back Bay neighborhood, and the townhouses on either side of the street have been highly coveted since the area was first developed. Many of these historic homes are still standing today, although it is hard to see in the 2015 photo here. The ones to the left, at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Arlington Street, have since been demolished and replaced by a modern high-rise, but most of the ones on the right are still there, including the ones at the corner. Built mostly in the 1860s, these are among the oldest homes in the Back Bay, and this location along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall and across from the Public Garden has long been desirable real estate in the city.

Hotel Vendome, Boston

The Hotel Vendome, at the corner of Dartmouth Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2015:

The Hotel Vendome was part of the original development of the Back Bay, a tidal marsh that was filled in over the course of about 30 years in the 1800s. By the start of the 1870s, the landfill project had reached Dartmouth Street, and the Hotel Vendome was built here along Commonwealth Avenue. The building was much smaller at the time, consisting of just the five-story section at the corner. It was designed by architect William G. Preston, and it has many characteristics of the Second Empire style that was popular at the time. Like many of the city’s 19th century hotels, it functioned more as an apartment building, catering mainly to long-term residents rather than visitors, and it included five rowhouses further to the right, down Commonwealth Avenue, which offered additional options for residents.

The building was sold in 1879, and in 1881 it was substantially expanded with an addition along Commonwealth Avenue where the rowhouses used to be. Architecturally, the addition was similar but not identical to the original building, and it was one story taller, giving the building an asymmetrical appearance from the Commonwealth Avenue side. Following this, there were few significant changes to the building, except for the addition of a penthouse on top of the original section.

Four small fires damaged the building in the 1960s, but the Hotel Vendome is probably best known for the tragic June 17, 1972 fire, which started while the building was mostly vacant and undergoing renovations. The fire was successfully brought under control, but then the southeast corner (far left in the photos) suddenly collapsed, killing nine firemen in what remains the deadliest firefighting accident in Boston Fire Department history.

Following the fire, the renovations were eventually completed, and the collapsed section of the building was rebuilt. The former hotel is now a mix of condominiums, offices, and stores, and although it has seen drastic changes from fire and renovations, especially on the upper floors, it is still recognizable from the first photo over 110 years ago.