Your Favorite Cities, Then and Now
America is a young country, but that doesn't mean it lacks history. In the last 100 years alone, so much has changed. Cities have grown much larger, taller and more robust, evolving into thriving cultural centers welcoming millions of visitors each year.
We’ve pulled together "then and now" photos of some of the biggest and most popular cities in the United States, so you can see just how far we've come. With “then” images showcasing life around 1919 compared to modern day, see for yourself how much we have grown – and yet, how much we remain the same.
Then: New York City
The Brooklyn Bridge connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of opening in 1883. (The nearby Williamsburg Bridge broke that record when it was built in 1903.)
Proving the bridge was safe to cross, P.T. Barnum took 21 circus elephants across it in 1884.
In the 1920s, when this photo was taken, the bridge could be seen from across New York.
Now: New York City
Today, the Brooklyn Bridge remains an icon, although it's dwarfed by Manhattan’s skyscrapers. Tourists and locals alike enjoy walking the 1.1-mile pedestrian walkway.
Keep an eye peeled for peregrine falcons, which can travel more than 200 miles per hour. The once endangered birds have made the bridge one of their nesting sites.
Then: Miami Beach
In the 1920s, Miami’s South Beach began its dramatic rise as one of the hottest places to be – literally and figuratively – with its expansive span of beach bordering the warm Atlantic Waters just north of the Caribbean. Dancing in nightclubs, Latin American and Caribbean-influenced cuisine, and a slew of celebrities made South Beach the It place to visit.
By the 1930s, South Beach’s famed Art Deco look began along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue.
Now: Miami Beach
By the 1960s, South Beach lost its glitzy appeal and became a retirement destination, before being portrayed as cocaine's American entryway in the ‘80s. Falling into disrepair, the Art Deco buildings were boarded up until the LGBT community began bringing the area back to life in the early 1990s.
By 2000, “SoBe” regained its spot as the place to be, complete with brought-back-to-life Art Deco buildings overlooking that still-amazing beach.
Gifted to the city by Peter Faneuil in 1742, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market served as a lively hub for Boston, with Quincy Market housing daily selections from fishermen, farmers and merchants.
Faneuil Hall itself became a public meeting house, where some of Boston’s most notable orators, such as Revolutionary hero Samuel Adams, gave moving speeches and debates.
One of the oldest remaining shopping centers in the United States, Quincy Market has remained largely unchanged, save for its shopping and dining options. The pedestrian streets are cobbled, and shops have been built into the former buildings from the 1700s.
Faneuil Hall is a main stop along Boston’s Freedom Trail, and nearby, you can enjoy clam chowder at the oldest restaurant in Boston, the Union Oyster House, which dates back to 1714.
Having suffered the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, 3.3 square miles of Chicago was destroyed and more than 100,000 people were left homeless. By the 1920s, the city had rebuilt itself but became notorious for another reason: organized crime.
Chicago gangsters, specifically Al Capone between 1920 and 1925, earned Chicago the nickname as the “wettest spot in the U.S.” during Prohibition. Corruption was so rampant in the city that when gangster – and Capone’s mentor – Big Jim Colosimo was killed in 1920, three judges, eight aldermen and a congressman served as pallbearers.
One of the beneficiaries of regrowth after Chicago's Great Fire was the city's architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked in Chicago, creating residential homes and business buildings, while skyscrapers led the Middle American capital to great heights.
The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Building) was once the tallest building in the country at 1,451 feet in height – until the new One World Trade Center opened recently in New York. Architecture tours, including boat tours along the Chicago River, showcase other impressive structures, such as the Tribune Tower, Lake Point Tower, 35 E. Wacker and the Chicago Water Tower.
Then: San Francisco
It’s difficult to imagine San Francisco without its Golden Gate Bridge, but the now-famous “International Orange” colored bridge didn’t begin construction until 1933.
In the 1920s, Golden Gate was still an underdeveloped, hilly area overlooking the bay, as seen in this photograph.
Now: San Francisco
Today, the iconic San Francisco Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in the world and spans 4,200 feet over the bay.
Accommodating cars, bikes and pedestrians on a 1.7-mile trip, the suspension bridge is held in place with wires measuring 80,000 miles in total length.
With Philadelphia-founder William Penn’s planning, the City of Brotherly love was laid out to feature markets that would be held on what was originally called High Street. Stretching from the East to the West, the street was originally created in 1680 – one of the oldest streets in the country!
Here, the markets have morphed into stores by the 1920s, with a streetcar providing transportation.
The boulevard more familiarly known as Market Street remains one of Philly’s thriving shopping areas, though it's now flanked by taller office and residential buildings. Its numeric streets running North to South are filled with restaurants.
Pictured here with City Hall in the background, this area of Philadelphia is known as Center City.
Then: Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.’s master plan, designed by Charles L’Enfant, included a 1-mile-wide garden to serve as a grand avenue between the Congress House (now the Capitol Building) and a statue of George Washington, which became the Washington Monument.
The garden was first referred to as the National Mall in 1803. By 1902, the National Mall replaced its gardens with open space and trees as the start of a City Beautiful Movement.
Now: Washington, D.C.
The National Mall is now flanked by government buildings and Smithsonian Museums, and filled with memorials and monuments. The National Mall was extended nearly another mile, adding a reflecting pool and the Lincoln Memorial in 1922 as another anchor. The lawn between the Washington Monument and the Capitol remains an open space for people to enjoy in 2019.
Then: New Orleans
New Orleans’ main street since the boundaries of the city were created, Canal Street could be likened to New York’s Broadway during its heyday. Streetcars traveled up and down the wide street lined with shops, theaters and hotels between the 1800s and the 1960s.
This 1920s-era photograph shows the unpaved road was used by horse and buggy transportation, along with many streetcars.
Now: New Orleans
Falling into disrepair between the 1960s and 1980s, New Orleans began its Downtown Development District’s redevelopment strategy in 2004. It aimed to revitalize the area along Canal Street, and succeeded – today, shops, hotels and dining have returned and created a once-again bustling neighborhood, complete with cable cars.
Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August 2005, flooding Canal Street and leaving debris and damage to the ground floors of businesses. The damage was not as extensive here as other areas, such as the Ninth Ward, and within a year, the street was fully functional again.
Until 1910, Hollywood Boulevard was called Prospect Avenue. But when Hollywood officially became a town after annexing from Los Angeles, the avenue got a new name. In the early 1900s, filmmakers began to leave the East Coast for California, finding the expansive land large enough to create backdrops for movies. By 1911, the first motion picture studio was built in Hollywood, with Cecil B. DeMille and Charlie Chaplin opening studios by 1919.
The iconic “Hollywood” sign wasn’t placed in the hills until 1923.
Today, the palm tree-lined Hollywood Boulevard is renowned for its celebrity stars on the Walk of Fame. Designated on the National Register of Historic Places in 1968 as District of Fame, Hollywood Boulevard is home to Capitol Records, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, NBC Studios, Paramount Studios, Hollywood Bowl and Griffith Park.
Then: Key West
Although Key West’s history extends as far back as the 1500s, development on the island didn’t begin until the 1800s. The four founding fathers of Key West were honored with streets connecting the small island (just 4 miles long and 1 mile wide), but the heart of the island, Duval Street, was named for Florida’s first and longest-serving governor.
A remote yet wealthy island, Key West was isolated until 1912, when a railway was built to connect the largest islands in the Keys to the mainland. Air travel wouldn’t arrive until 1926, and a highway connecting the islands wasn't built until 1938.
Now: Key West
The Southernmost Point in the Continental U.S., the island of Key West is a popular tourist destination. Not only can travelers arrive via U.S. 1 and plane, cruise passengers arrive by the thousands to the Mallory Square pier, which is steps from the shop- and restaurant-lined Duval Street. Parades, Ernest Hemingway look-alike contests and LGBT events are mainstays along the road in the 2000s.
In the early 1900s, Downtown Dallas’ thriving Theater Row was packed onto Elm Street. Overflowing with theaters, restaurants and bars, the row's theaters began to take a hit in the 1960s as the street fell silent. John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas in 1963, and the as the city mourned, high-tech businesses were making their way to the cheaper taxes and prices found in Dallas, buying up entire blocks of the city.
By the 1970s, theaters were being demolished to make room for high-rise buildings to house the headquarters and office businesses of companies such as Texas Instruments, earning Dallas the nickname of "Silicon Prairie" by the 1990s.
Now called the Harwood Street Historic District, the Majestic Theatre is the only theater still standing from Elm Street’s heyday as Theater Row. Opening in 1921, the Majestic is now an iconic, if not historic theater in Downtown Dallas. The third version of the theater here (a fire destroyed the first building in 1917 and the theater was shuttered for 10 years until the 80s), Bob Hope and Harry Houdini are among the esteemed performers of yesteryear. The theater still welcomes performers, musicians and stage acts, although the street has lost much of its charm.
Then: St. Louis
Like San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, it is difficult to imagine St. Louis without its arch. Originally, the 82 acres of land designated by President Franklin Roosevelt to serve as a National Historic Site was filled with homes and businesses. The low-income riverfront was condemned, displacing the residents when condemnation was complete in 1939.
Now: St. Louis
After years of legal battles, the St. Louis Gateway Arch finally arrived on the scene in 1967. Named the Gateway Arch, the city dedicated the monument to the American people to honor westward expansion. Following suit, more riverfront properties were developed and built, include a sports stadium, apartment complexes and office towers, plus a 30-story hotel.
In 2018, the Gateway Arch was designated as a National Park.
Then: Las Vegas
Many think Las Vegas began when mobster Bugsy Siegel had the vision of building casinos in the desert. But Las Vegas was really born in 1821 as a trading stop between Los Angeles and New Mexico. In 1905, a railroad connected Salt Lake City and L.A., with a stop in Las Vegas. The town was eventually incorporated in 1911 and as the Hoover Dam began construction, workers set up homes.
It wasn’t until the 1930s when Siegel brought the infamous Flamingo Hotel and Casino to the desert, and this wasn’t even the first casino in Vegas, baby.
Now: Las Vegas
The Las Vegas of today began in 1989, when Steve Wynn opened the very first mega-casino resort, the Mirage. The gold-colored glass actually used gold dust!
In an attempt to outdo the competition, other casinos followed suit, leaving behind old Las Vegas for the Strip, where casino resorts bring in big acts and offer unique thrills like roller coasters and international-themed settings with replicas of iconic worldwide structures. (Think Paris and Venice.)
Atlanta may be confusing with its number of streets with Peachtree in the name (71, to be exact), but there is only one true Peachtree Street. Home to the city’s special events and running from Five Points to Midtown, Peachtree Street was home to “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell, and where the 1939 Academy Award-winning movie debuted (at the Fabulous Fox Theatre).
After hosting the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta experienced a huge boom – businesses and transplants flooded the city, which continues to grow as the Capital of the New South. Atlanta was home to Martin Luther King Jr., has opened the world’s largest aquarium, and welcomed the 2019 Super Bowl at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which holds 80,000 people under its retractable roof.
Anchorage got its start in 1914 when it was created as a railroad port for the Alaska Railroad. Starting as a tent city, by 1920 it become an official city, as seen here, on land that was originally owned by Russia and sold to U.S. Secretary of State William Seward for $7.2 million in 1867. The city grew to cater to air and military personnel, with new bases installed following Pearl Harbor.
Alaska became the 50th state in 1959.
Alaska remains the most remote state in the U.S. and is filled with extraordinary wildlife; today, environmentalists and the government are continuously debating how to balance wildlife sanctuaries with drilling for oil.
The largest city in the state, Anchorage’s population is under 300,000 people and serves as a gateway for travelers visiting Denali National Park.
Then: New York City
During the 1920s, elevated trains occupied much of the lower west side of Manhattan, with trains created to connect the Bowery with Harlem. The trains were created in the late 1800s and ran through the early 1940s. From the 1930s to 1980s, elevated trains were used for freight.
The tracks became an eyesore, covered in graffiti, piled with trash and overgrown with weeds once they closed.
Now: New York City
In 1999, Friends of the High Line began to advocate to have the overgrown tracks turned into a man-made park. By 2004, the organization received support and special zoning, breaking ground in 2006.
Today, you can follow 1.45 miles of the High Line, with artwork, sitting areas and 500 species of plants.
Back Bay, bordering the Boston Public Garden and Charles River, was created in 1820 out of marsh land, growing the city of Boston in size and becoming one of the most refined neighborhoods in the city.
In the 1920s, you can see the steeples of the many churches of Back Bay, including Copley Church’s triangular peak to the far left. The buildings flanking Beacon Street, Marlborough Avenue, Commonwealth Avenue and Newbury Street have rarely changed facades throughout the generations.
Back Bay grew even more between 1928 to 1936 when it created the Charles River Esplanade along embankment of the Charles River. The pedestrian-only park space is a portion of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace of parks in the city and is popular for bike rides, walks, picnics and sailing in the river.
The Boston Pops synchronized orchestra concert at the Hatch Shell paired to Independence Day fireworks over the river draws one of the country’s largest 4th of July crowds.