Project 1: Past/Present Postcards

Project Background

Part 1:

The goal of this project is pretty straightforward — we compare postcard views of the past to images of the present. I often call this ‘coffee table history,’ as it provides little analysis, focusing instead on the emotion and insight provided by two photographs, side by side, decades apart. Coffee table history books are interesting the first time you look at them, after that, they tend to sit and collect dust.

To distinguish the project from ‘coffee table history’, the St. Louis Postcard Project will not be the product of one person’s vision, rather, it seeks to utilize crowd sourced photograph submissions. For every postcard there can be infinite interpretations of how to best duplicate the image–and thus, the project will grow through the additions of new interpretations from varying angles, sun/weather conditions or seasons!

Some postcards will be tricky to duplicate–in those instances, one’s creativity will be key to finding a way to reflect the changes in the local environment. Other cards will be difficult to duplicate because the subject has either disappeared or changed dramatically–this is especially true for cards that feature subjects from the city’s central business district. For these cards I’ll note a street address, direction or coordinates.

I encourage you to do this at your leisure–download a few card designs to your phone, walk/drive to the park (or location of postcards) and do your best to duplicate the postcard views. Enjoy the scenery and observe how different the park is in 2017 to the postcard (most date between 1907-1925).

For example let’s use this one from Benton Park

Using this as your prompt, go to the park and try to take a shot that best duplicates this postcard. By my estimation, using the bridge and the Fredrich Hecker monument (right, rear), I think the coordinates for this would be (38.597979, -90.221997)
Here’s what I came up with on 5/27/2017:
It’s the same scene. What’s different? Well for one, nobody is patronizing the park! Secondly, the path in the postcard is shown to be something of a dirt road whereas in 2017 the path is concrete. Additional differences include the trees, the large tree on the right- absent from the postcard blocks out the view of the Fredrich Hecker monument in the upper right (it’s still there), but otherwise, the water features and bridge are still present.
Let’s look at another example from Benton Park, “The Grotto,” one of my favorite postcards. I was eager to visit the park and photograph the grotto which I had previously overlooked in past visits.
Imagine my horror upon seeing how radically the grotto had changed. While the stone wall/interior is attractive I was completely shocked that the city had decided to block off the access to the grotto, one of the park’s many prime attractions during the early 20th century.
Another view of “the grotto” is facing due west from the other side, as seen in the postcard below:
Any help you can lend to the early stages of this is greatly appreciated.  Happy finding.



Postcard photographs for both projects can be emailed to

Leave a Reply