ABOUT THE BUILDING Originally built as a center of commerce, Faneuil Hall became a center of revolutionary politics in Colonial America. Nicknamed the "Cradle of Liberty" the building's second floor meeting hall was the site of protest against the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Act, and the Redcoat occupation. ABOUT THE HISTORICAL PHOTOGRAPHS "Faneuil Hall once was practically buried among a dense throng of neighboring buildings. Now it stands free in open space. Which is better? We like the old version. All that clutter and density are also warm, human, and friendly. In the 1920 photo, we're looking down a street that no longer exists -- Elm Street. It's the kind of street that the word "urbanity" seems to have been invented for. The buildings cluster sociably close to one another. They don't stand aloof behind wide streets or big plazas. At ground level, doors and windows, many showcasing food, lure the passerby: Pillsbury's Best, McKinnon Lunch, Coffees, Teas. In the lower left portion of the picture is what appears to be a lunch cart, about to open its windows and raise its awnings. Only two buildings survive from the old view. Faneuil Hall is the building in the center with the domed cupola. The Custom House Tower of 1915 rises behind it. Everything else we see was cleared in the vast, federally funded Government Center Urban Renewal project, which began in 1962. Wrecking crews demolished a wide area, including everything in the foreground of the old photo. Twenty-two streets reduced to six. The goal was to make wider streets for cars, bigger blocks for skyscrapers, and open space for pedestrians. Some planners argue that the more street intersections a city has, the livelier it will be. Between 1880 and 1950, the central square mile of Boston lost 245 intersections, falling from 618 to 373. (Venice, the most beautiful city in the Western world, has 1,725 in its square mile -- and that's not counting the canals.) The new photo shows Faneuil Hall today. The building is little altered; it's pretty much the same market and meeting hall it was in 1806, the year it was enlarged by architect Charles Bulfinch. But everything around it has changed. Today Faneuil looks less like a congenial piece of the city, and more like a solo star on an empty stage. Notice that the streetlight in today's photo looks more old-fashioned than the streetlight in the old photo. That's a clue to the nostalgic fakery that infects many cities today, as they invent a past more elegant that the actual one was." -Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker, "CITYSCAPES - Lone Star," Boston Globe, 24 July 2005

Constructed, 1742
Renovation, 1763
Renovation, 1805