Many times, we come to know and remember a place based on the landmarks contained within it. There are countless sites that are famous today but have been around for centuries. Bridges, buildings, and city landscapes around the world have withstood the test of time and the elements. And although they’ve been around for a while, some look very different now from how they looked when they were first constructed.
On another note, it seems like they just don’t make landmarks like they used to anymore. If you’re someone who just can’t get enough of history and/or happen to love architecture at the same time, then this is right up your alley. Join us as we go back in time and revisit the landmarks that made history, and see how they compare to today.
The Lincoln Memorial
Built in: 1914 – 1922
Soon after his assassination in 1865, there was a strong demand to memorialize America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Two years later, Congress passed bills to commission a monument in Lincoln’s honor. The demand may have come swiftly, but it took almost five decades to break ground. It then took another near-decade until it was finally completed.
The Lincoln Memorial was originally intended to have six equestrian statues, 31 pedestrian statues, and a 12-foot statue of the president himself. Instead, it resulted in the simple, stately version that is seen today. By the time the monument was completed in 1922, the reflection pool – that sits between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument – was still under construction.
The Lincoln Memorial Today
The memorial is engraved with excerpts from two of Lincoln’s most famous speeches: the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. Lincoln is largely seen as the “Savior of the Union,” so it’s only fair that the monument has served as the site for many protests and speeches over the years.
One of the most notable events in history occurred in front of the Lincoln Memorial – the famous speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. His “I Have a Dream” speech was given at the end of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Today, the Lincoln Memorial sees about six million visitors annually. Not to mention that it’s been in countless films and TV shows.
The Berlin Wall
Built in: 1961
The Berlin Wall was one of the most symbolic monuments in recent history. In fact, it was once known as “The Wall of Shame.” Construction began in 1961 as a way to divide – physically and ideologically – East and West Germany, and it stood for nearly three decades.
The wall was heavily secured and guarded, with an intention to keep Western “fascists” from entering the border of East Germany and potentially damaging the new socialist state. Before the Berlin Wall was built, around three and a half million East Germans crossed over to West Berlin. Although the wall wasn’t so tall, it stood as a blatant reminder of just how divided the country was.
Breaking Down the Wall
Deconstructed in>: 1989 – 1990
By 1989, the people of Germany had enough. Social change was starting to brew in East Europe, and the revolutions in Poland and Hungary were already proceeding. Even major celebrities, like David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and David Hasselhoff, all implored the government to take the wall down.
The German government eventually broke to the pressure and announced that all citizens of East Germany would now be able to visit West Berlin freely. In an instant, people started climbing over the wall and crossing the border. People even began breaking down parts of the wall by themselves. The wall officially fell in October of 1990.
Las Vegas: Fremont Street
Founded in: 1905
When you think of Las Vegas, you automatically envision the Las Vegas Strip. It’s kind of hard not to when it’s lit up with more lights than you can ever imagine. But before the Strip came into existence, there was Fremont Street, which has been there since Las Vegas’s founding in 1905.
Fremont Street was ground zero of Sin City. In 1925, the street became the first paved street in the city. It received its first traffic light in 1931. Gambling had been established long before it ever turned legal, and Fremont Street turned into one of the first places in the state of Nevada to gain a gambling license.
Fremont Street Today
Fremont Street was the hub of Sin City back in the day, but these days it looks nothing like it did back then. As you can see, Fremont is more of a walkway than a street now. The Golden Nugget got a bright and shiny face lift, and a barrel vault canopy was constructed.
Anyone who walks the path will see that the main attraction of Fremont Street is a pedestrian mall. Every night, light and sound shows are shown on the LED canopy above the street. It was actually a multi-million dollar installment that managed to revive business in the area.
The Flatiron Building
Built in: 1902
New York City’s Flatiron Building used to be surrounded by horse-drawn carriages and actual street sweepers. By 1903, the building had already been up for a year and was intended to serve as the location of George A. Fuller Company offices, a Chicago contracting firm.
The building is believed to have been given its name from its distinctive shape, but the truth is that the name was applied to the area before the building ever went up: a triangular space contained by Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and the 22nd and 23rd Streets.
The Flatiron Building Today
In place of horses and street, sweepers are the imposing skyscrapers, angry cab drivers, and swarms of people who live and breathe Manhattan. The 22-story building is still an office space and is home to several publishing companies.
According to workers in the building, the Flatiron Building has some strangely-angled office spaces. Despite its awkward shape, however, they are some of the most sought after offices as they offer incredible views of northern Manhattan, particularly the Empire State Building. Another oddity about the building is that the men’s and women’s bathrooms are placed on alternating floors (men’s on even floors, women’s on odd floors).
The Eiffel Tower
Built in: 1887 – 1889
Originally, the Eiffel Tower was constructed as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, which Paris hosted on the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. At the time, over 100 artists submitted proposals for a monument on the Champ de Mars.
The known bridge builder Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel was given the honor of constructing the requested monument. It was one of his employees at Eiffel et Compagnie, named Maurice Koechlin, who came up with the idea for the wrought-iron tower.
The Eiffel Tower Today
Just the iron framework alone took two whole years to build. Eiffel and Koechlin had worked together on another monument a few years earlier – a rather popular one at that. They collaborated to create New York’s Statue of Liberty.
When the Eiffel Tower made its first appearance in 1889, it was then the tallest building in the world, standing 1,000 feet high. In 1930, New York’s Chrysler Building seized that title. The Eiffel Tower was supposed to be dismantled in 1909 but proved useful as a radiotelegraph station during the First World War.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Built in: 1933 – 1937
The Golden Gate Bridge was a sight to see, even when it was in its building phase. The bridge isn’t just a remarkable piece of architecture, it’s also extremely useful for the people of San Francisco. Those who worked in the city needed an easy way to get from the city to the northern suburbs.
Joseph Strauss, an engineer from Chicago, built the bridge in 1919, claiming that it would cost $30 million. Many were against the bridge’s construction since they thought it would take away from the natural beauty surrounding it. But it seems to complement it well, don’t you think?
The Golden Gate Bridge Now
While some people were against it from the beginning, there were more who wanted to see it built. Thus, its construction went ahead as planned. To stop workers from falling into the ocean while they were working, a net was installed under the construction site. Nineteen different workers ended up being saved by that net.
Over the four years, it took to complete the bridge, there was only one major casualty. In 1937, a scaffold fell through the net, killing 10 workers. At 1.7 miles long and 90 feet wide, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most impressive and one of the most photographed bridges in the world.
The Gateway Arch
Built in: 1963 – 1965
The Gateway Arch is located in St. Louis, Missouri. It is officially the tallest arch in the world. Standing at 630 feet, the arch was designed by a Finnish-American architect named Eero Saarinen. He produced the plans in 1947, but construction only began in 1963 and was finally completed in 1965.
The arch represents America’s westward expansion. In fact, it was officially dedicated to the people of the United States. Building the arch cost an equivalent of $77.5 million today. Some people were concerned that such a massive amount of public money was being used to fund the project.
The Gateway Arch Now
Those running the project said the arch would stimulate the economy and revive the riverfront. Despite those who called it a frivolous project, the Gateway Arch still stands and is now a well-respected monument. City planners carefully considered its development, ensuring that it wouldn’t block or obstruct the view.
The arch became an official national landmark in 1987 and, in 1974, it ranked fourth on the list of “most-visited man-made attractions.” Everything, from lighting to security, is carefully planned for the arch that holds a lot of meaning for many Americans.
The Hollywoodland Sign
Built in: 1923
We all know the Hollywood sign, but it’s not common knowledge that the sign actually used to read “Hollywoodland.” The famous sign, located on Mount Lee, was erected in 1923, and its purpose was to attract developers to the area to establish new real estate during a time when Los Angeles was still up-and-coming.
The plan worked. Harry Chandler, a realtor and owner of The Los Angeles Times, used the sign with his slogan for the area: “A superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills.”
The Hollywood Sign
In its early days, each letter was 30 feet wide and 50 feet tall, which required 4,000 light bulbs. There were three sections for “HOLLY,” “WOOD,” and “LAND,” each lighting up at different times and then as a whole. Chandler’s ploy worked like a charm, as the area is now one of the most recognized in the world.
The “land” section was eventually dropped, and the letters have changed a bit. They’re now 44 feet tall and 352 feet long. By 1978, the sign was in bad shape. Playboy’s Hugh Hefner played a key role in restoring the sign. He and eight other donors came together to combine $27,777.77 each to fund the project for a total of $250,000.
Disneyland in Its Early Years
Built in: 1954 – 1955
For kids and adults alike, it’s pretty difficult to imagine a world without Disneyland. But for people who were around before 1955, they never imagined such a magical place. The famed Walt Disney was inspired to create a theme park based on his classic films after having visited Griffith Park in Los Angeles.
His desire was to make a place where families could walk right into the kind of magic that he made with his movies. Amazingly, it took only a year to build the park. Disney got funding from ABC, and the rest is history.
Disneyland These Days
Disneyland gets more and more magical as the years and decades go by. It continues to showcase the best of what entertainment technology has to offer. The theme park has gone through many changes, but the staff always makes sure to keep Walt Disney’s original vision alive.
Today, an average of 44,000 people visit the park each and every day. It attracts between 16 and 18 million visitors a year. At 500 acres wide, Disneyland is 43 square miles smaller than Florida’s Walt Disney World.
The Seattle Space Needle
Built in: 1961
It’s hard to picture Seattle without the iconic Space Needle. It’s in everyone’s memories of the city, but it wasn’t built until 1961. It happens to be the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River and was designed with the intention of simply being an observation tower.
The idea was first doodled on a napkin by Seattle hotel executive Edward Carlson during a visit to Stuttgart, Germany, back in 1959. It was designed by Edward E. Carlson and John Graham, Jr. for the 1962 World’s Fair.
The Seattle Space Needle Today
The tower stands at 605 feet, and it is said to be able to handle a 9.1 magnitude earthquake as well as winds up to 200 mph. Many people still come from near and far to visit the Space Needle. It isn’t as tall as Canada’s CN Tower in Toronto, but it’s not really a competition.
The Needle’s elevators climb the 520 feet to the observation deck in just 41 seconds. Previously, there were two restaurants at the top of the tower. Now, there’s the Pacific Northwest cuisine restaurant, which is a fully rotating restaurant that spins 360 degrees every 47 minutes.
Shanghai Was a Port Town
Opened in: 1842
Shanghai, China, is said to be the fastest-growing city in the world. The view overlooking the Huangpu River and Shanghai’s Pudong district is unrecognizable today. China only started to open its doors economically to the world in the 1980s.
Before that, Shanghai endured three decades of famine, drought, reform, and suppression since 1949, when the Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China. Only after the Cultural Revolution of the ‘70s did things start to improve. Shanghai’s then-leader, Premier Zhou Enlai, and then-U.S. President Nixon signed the Shanghai Communiqué.
Present-day Shanghai, especially its port, is vastly different. Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader in 1990, had a mission to turn Shanghai into an economic and cultural hub, as it had been before. According to several accounts, Xiaoping declared, “If China is a dragon, Shanghai is its head.”
Shanghai developed phenomenally in less than three decades. It became a “vertical city” and home to some of the tallest buildings in the world, including the 2,037-foot Shanghai Tower. The city is also China’s biggest city and has a population of 25 million.
The Brandenburg Gate Barely Survived
Opened in: 1791
Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor (the Brandenburg Gate in English) is one of Germany’s ultimate symbols seeing that it almost miraculously withstood all of the extreme moments throughout the country’s history. The gate was commissioned in 1791 by Prussian king Frederick William II.
Architect Carl Gotthard Langhans designed the gate, which was inspired by the Acropolis in Athens. The gate’s most distinctive feature is the Quadriga, a sculpture of a four-horsed chariot driven by the goddess Victoria. It was once stolen by Napoleon as a war trophy.
The Brandenburg Gate Today
After the sculpture was reclaimed and restored, it remained there through Germany’s worst times, including World War II. One of the most remarkable moments of Brandenburg was when it served as a part of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.
When John F. Kennedy visited Germany in 1963, the Soviets hung red banners across the gate to cover views into East Germany. The gate was also the site of Ronald Reagan’s speech in 1987 when he proclaimed, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Today, the gate is seen as a symbol of a unified Germany.
The Tidal Basin’s Cherry Blossoms
Appeared in: 1912
Every spring, 1.5 million people come to Washington to get a look at the city’s 3,000 Japanese cherry blossom trees in bloom. But you should know that timing is everything, as these trees bloom for only two weeks in late March to early April.
If you get your timing right, you’ll witness the magical pink and white peak bloom, when 70% of the trees surrounding the Tidal Basin are in full bloom. With their beauty comes historic significance. It was the Mayor of Tokyo who shipped the 3,020 trees to the U.S. in 1912.
The Tidal Basin’s Cherry Blossoms Today
The Mayor’s original shipment in 1910 arrived infested with disease and insects. Once the second order was a success, they were planted and came to symbolize the growing friendship between the U.S. and Japan. It was a way to thank America for their support in the Sino-Japanese War.
First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the Japanese Ambassador’s wife, planted the first two trees in West Potomac Park in 1912. That planting ceremony grew to become the National Cherry Blossom Festival now which spans four weeks with over 50 events, including the Blossom Kite Festival, Petalpalooza, a parade, and American and Japanese art and culture.
The March on Pennsylvania Avenue
Occurred on>: March 3, 1913
On March 3rd, 1913, thousands of women gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington for the Women’s Suffrage Procession. They came to reignite the movement and call for a constitutional amendment which would guarantee women the right to vote.
Over 5,000 suffragettes paraded up the street, with 20 floats, nine bands, and four brigades. Not all spectators were kind, of course, but the event led Congress to pass the 19th amendment in June of 1919. The amendment was approved a year later.
Pennsylvania Avenue Today
It’s been over 100 years since the passage of the 19th amendment. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue (in front of the White House) was closed off by the Secret Service.
Only pedestrian and bicycle traffic was still permitted on the sidewalk. And then, after 9/11, this policy was made permanent. Pennsylvania Avenue downtown is used as a dividing line for any mass evacuation of the city, where those north of the avenue would be sent north while anyone south of the avenue would be directed south.
Built in: 1849 – 1855
The Smithsonian was actually a very generous gift. British-raised James Smithson, who was an illegitimate son of a Duke, decided to leave his fortune to a nephew under the condition that if the nephew died without heirs, his money would go to the U.S. for an establishment that would “increase the diffusion of knowledge.”
The nephew, indeed, died, and the Smithsonian Institution was created in 1846. The first building was the iconic, red Maryland sandstone castle, which was completed in 1855 and held the institution’s entire collection.
Smithsonian Castle Today
The Castle was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., who also did St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. There was a nationwide design competition in 1846, and Renwick’s design won by a unanimous vote. A cardboard model of his design is still around and on display in the Castle.
Today, there are 17 Smithsonian properties in the district, which include museums, galleries, and the National Zoological Park. The Smithsonian Castle is now a visitor center with interactive displays and maps. A crypt inside the north entrance holds the tomb of James Smithson.
Statue of Martin Luther
Built in: 18th Century
Martin Luther was the forerunner of the Protestant Reformation, memorialized with a statue in Dresden. The statue stood in front of the Lutheran church, Dresden Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), which was originally built in the 18th century.
The church’s dome was a distinct mark in the city’s skyline until World War II, when American allies attacked Dresden in 1945 with firebombs, killing 25,000 people. The pile of rubble remained untouched in the city center for 45 years. Half was spent under the Communist regime in East Germany.
Statue of Martin Luther Today
After World War II, citizens of Dresden salvaged fragments of the Dresden Frauenkirche for an eventual reconstruction. But the Communist regime refused to rebuild it. Despite their efforts to turn the place into a parking lot, popular sentiment pressed for the remnants to be declared a memorial in 1966.
After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the city reconstructed the church, although the project wasn’t completed until 2005. Despite constant attempts by neo-fascists to commemorate its destruction, they have recently been defeated by a human chain of thousands of protestors.
The Quai des Nations
Built in: 1900
The 1900 World Exposition attracted over 48 million visitors to Paris for the Quai des Nations (today it’s called the Quai d’Orsay), an event that showcased buildings representing countries around the world. Included were the United States, the Ottoman Empire, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Germany, and Spain.
The buildings were undoubtedly gorgeous, but they weren’t built to last. They were demolished shortly after the exhibition came to an end. When you see what it looks like today, it’s hard to believe that it’s the same place…
The Quai des Nations Today
If it wasn’t for the Eiffel Tower in the background, it would be difficult to recognize that this is the same place along the Seine River. Most of the structures were demolished following the World Exposition since they were built with cheap materials and would have simply cost too much to maintain them.
Besides the Eiffel Tower, the Passerelle Debilly (on the right) is the only structure from the 1900 World Exposition that is still intact today. The area has been left mostly as an open-air area, and construction is kept to a minimum.
An Apartment in Poland
This photo captures the reality of World War II and the devastation it caused, not only to people but to their properties. This building sits at the corner of Ratajczaka and Św. Marcin Streets in Poznań, Poland. The apartment complex was nearly demolished by the Germans.
Over six million Polish citizens died during the war, nearly one-fifth of the entire Polish population. It goes without saying that a large amount of Polish civilians were sent to concentration camps and lost their properties as well as their lives and families to the German forces.
It’s Still Standing
Over seven decades after the end of World War II, this building stands tall. If it wasn’t for the prior photo, most people would never realize that this structure was once almost completely destroyed. All of Poland suffered catastrophic damage during the war.
The losses in resources and infrastructure amounted to more than 30% of the pre-war potential. Warsaw, the capital of Poland, was among the most devastated cities, with over 80% destroyed in the aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Between 1945 and 1989, general industrialization and urbanization raised the standard of living.
The Azure Swimming Pool
Built in: 1970s
The Azure Swimming Pool in Pripyat, Ukraine – the location of the Chernobyl disaster – was one of three popular indoor swimming spots. The pool was built in the 1970s and became a hot spot for the then-bustling town that many people called home.
But the pool would become a remnant of the most catastrophic nuclear accident in history on April 25, 1986. On this date, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, prompting the entire area to evacuate. Some areas will remain uninhabitable for thousands of years to come.
The Azure Swimming Pool Today
After the Chernobyl disaster, a number of buildings remained open so workers who were still involved with the plant could use them. This pool was one of them. It stayed open through 1998 and was considered the cleanest part of Pripyat.
Today, the Azure Swimming Pool has been abandoned for over two decades as Pripyat is not suitable to live in. Due to the long-term effects of radiation exposure, the number of people who perished due to the event is still unknown. It is estimated that by 2065, the death rate may reach six figures.
The Dharahara Tower
Built in: 1932
The Dharahara Tower was built by Mukhtiyar. Reaching nine stories high, it sits in the center of Sundhara in Kathmandu. The tower was the tallest building in Nepal, with a spiral staircase including 213 steps for visitors who wanted to take the hike up to the top.
The trek was worth it since the eighth floor had a circular balcony with stunning views of the Kathmandu Valley. The tower faced numerous challenges over the years, including earthquakes in 1834 and 1934. Amazingly, the structure remained intact. But the tower wasn’t as lucky in 2018.
The Dharahara Tower Today
Even though the Dharahara Tower withstood earthquakes before, the tower faced another one in April 2015, and it was the last straw. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the region and caused most of the tower to collapse, except for the base.
The powerful earthquake and its collapse trapped several people inside the rubble and claiming the lives of 60 people. The next year, the government rebuilt the tower, ensuring that this time it would be earthquake-resistant. Construction began in June 2018. It has recently been erected and stands tall in remembrance of its history.