BU, Then and Now
Photographic project matches past with present-day photos
A single photograph from May 1981 is all it took to inspire students working for BU Photography to launch an intriguing photo project they dubbed Boston University Rephotographed.
The photo, of undergrads conducting geology experiments on Alpert Mall (aka the BU Beach), was discovered during a search for an archival photo to run in the 2016 spring edition of Arts & Sciences magazine. BU Photography digital imaging manager Andy Costello was struck by how well it functioned as a time capsule. (Note the jean shorts and striped athletic socks.) He started thinking: what would a photo taken today in the same spot look like? How has BU changed over the decades? How has it remained the same?
Costello enlisted the help of students working in his department. Starting in spring 2016, Joseph Curtin (COM’17), Ellie Jordan (CAS’16), Morgan Richards (CAS’19), and Stephen Vocaturo (COM’17) began combing through thousands of negatives in the BU photo archive dating back to the 1950s, looking for images that could be re-created. After selecting two dozen photographs taken between 1968 and 1991, they scanned and edited the images, then set about finding out where each had been taken, so they could shoot the same spot as it is today. Beginning this past winter, Curtin undertook the laborious process of shooting new images that mirrored the originals as closely as possible.
Some of the new photos, as you’ll see below, capture scenes that look much the same as they did decades ago, albeit showing different fashions and hairstyles. Marsh Plaza continues to be the nexus for vigils and political rallies, and the BU Beach and the lawn in front of the College of Communication remain popular for sunbathing and Frisbee. But some of the diptychs below show how much the University has changed. Take a look. You may even catch a glimpse of yourself, a friend—or a parent.
Left: An MBTA B Line trolley seen between the Marsh Chapel archways, 1968.
Right: The same scene, April 18, 2017.
Top: An anti-Vietnam war rally on Marsh Plaza, April 15, 1970.
Bottom: The same scene, this time protesting President Trump’s Muslim travel ban, January 30, 2017.
Top: The first Earth Day was marked with a student march down Commonwealth Avenue, April 22, 1970.
Bottom: A protest against the Trump Muslim travel ban began on Marsh Plaza and continued along Comm Ave through campus, January 30, 2017.
Left: A BU student on Marsh Plaza in support of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the United Farm Workers labor strike against California grape growers, April 22, 1970.
Right: The same scene, this time with a protest against the Trump Muslim travel ban, January 30, 2017.
Top: students leaving the George Sherman Union, April 1978.
Bottom: The same scene, February 26, 2017.
Top: Two bicyclists crossing the bridge over Storrow Drive from the Esplanade to Bay State Road, September 1978.
Bottom: The same scene, April 27, 2017.
Top: Catching some sun on the COM lawn, October 1978.
Bottom: The same scene, April 9, 2017.
Top: A game of volleyball on the BU Beach, March 23, 1979.
Bottom: The same scene (with a football), April 27, 2017.
Left: Jogging on the Esplanade, with the School of Law visible in the background, April 1979.
Right: The same scene, February 23, 2017.
Top: The corner of Commonwealth Avenue and the BU Bridge, winter 1979.
Bottom: The same scene, February 14, 2017.
Left: A Comm Ave sidewalk, winter 1979.
Right: The same scene, February 14, 2017.
Left: The sidewalk outside of the College of Fine Arts, winter 1979.
Right: The same scene, February 14, 2017.
Left: Hard at work in the Ziskind Lounge, 1980.
Right: The same scene (anyone spot the difference?), April 28.
Top: Comm Ave outside of the College of Liberal Arts (now the College of Arts & Sciences). At the time, this part of the building housed the School of Management (now the Questrom School of Business); note the plaque near the entrance, September 15, 1981. Bottom: The same scene, April 23, 2017.
Top: Studying in the Ziskind Lounge, October 7, 1981. Bottom: The same scene, April 23, 2017.
Top: Student demonstration in Marsh Plaza against police brutality at the previous weekend’s May Day Dance, April 26, 1982. Bottom: The same scene, a protest against the Trump Muslim travel ban, January 30, 2017.
Left: Howard Johnson’s on Comm Ave, June 1983. Right: The same scene—the 575 Comm Ave residence hall (aka HoJo dorm), the Questrom School of Business, and the Kenmore Classroom Building), April 19, 2017.
Left: A student-led raffle for United Way in the GSU Link, November 9, 1983.
Right: The same scene, with a student handing out play flyers, April 18, 2017.
Left: Reading the Daily Free Press on the steps of a GSU Link staircase, November 16, 1983.
Right: The same scene, April 18, 2017.
Top: Students in the George Sherman Union, September 14, 1984. Bottom: The same scene (with major renovations to the Union Court in 1993), April 23, 2017.
Top: The BU Beach, May 1985. Bottom: The same scene, April 9, 2017.
Left: Mugar Memorial Library, September 11, 1985. Right: The same scene, February 26, 2017.
Left: Reading under one of the arches on Marsh Plaza, February 4, 1991.
Right: The same scene, April 2, 2017.
How about a retrospective on BU football greats—a time when BU had dominant teams in this sport, now long gone
Amazing Piece. Extremely Captivaing.
Well, one thing is for sure; BU has added a lot of goofy sculptures. Why not more pictures of some of the actual spaces that have been renovated, because form some of these photos, it doesn’t look like the campus has changed much at all.
Thanks for the blasts from the past – the George Sherman Union pic from April ’78 shows some of the campaign banners from the Student Union election then, and it was neat to see part of my slate’s banner on the left – such a long time ago!
I noticed it,too! Can’t recall who Gursky was.
Cool to see the comparisons as I was there at BU when most of the “old time” shots were taken, and my youngest daughter is there now. Interestingly, however, we did also have color photography back in the dark ages of the 70s and 80s.
Really enjoyed these photos!!
These are fabulous! Especially fun to see the differences, since my oldest daughter is now a senior in CAS.
Engaging. I enjoyed the retrospective. However, the lack of diversity is still very apparent.
Hi Dee. I’m personally impressed with BU’s diversity, especially compared to most of its peers. Here is what a google search turned up for the class of 2021:
Asian American 17.5%
Black / African American 6.9%
Hispanic American 12%
I noticed the same thing Dee Harris. I went to BU in the mid 2000s. Seems like not much has changed.
In the 1980s we had many students in my dorm on south campus, from Lebanon. After years of civil war, BU accepted students from there, which to me, was eye opening diversity that change my BU experience. I also had a good friend and neighbor from Argentina. There is a long history of ever increasing international diversity. The stats above, if true, seem like huge progress from my days.
Great job – how about a yesterday and today on the OTHER side of Comm Ave – from 700 to the barber shop? Are there any business still there from the 70s?
Wow, did these pictures take me back! I was a student at SPC (now COM) from 1971-1973. I remember the WBUR tower, now gone, but otherwise the school looks much the same from outside. So many other changes, though. Very fond memories!
West campus has the most visible changes, past the bridge, but I think these photos were more meant to highlight the similarities.
I attended BU from January ‘63 to May ‘66. Women could not wear pants unless the temperature dipped below15*. We had single sex dorms and curfews. Frankly, I never heard about sexual assaults. Some students were into sit-ins rejecting the Vietnam wars. Most of us were serious about our studies and looking for careers that would benefit our country. JFK was the president and he had a positive influence on me.
Wow Linda. I really wish we could go back to those days when life was simple.
It was great seeing these as I was there from 1979-1982. BU has always stood for excellence, and I attribute any success I have had to attending BULS (in my time, we shared it with the School of Education).
But why did they drop those things onto BU Beach?