New database allows you to see the world as your grandparent did

Imagine going back in time to 1948, well -- as you can imagine -- things looked a little different back then. And now - you can see just how much things have changed.

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - It doesn't take a historian or an anthropologist to know that a lot has changed since 1948. But now a new database can show you just how significantly the landscape has transformed over sixty years.

An anthropologist in the district named Jessica Smith has gathered thousands of photos from the late 1940's, and has put them online in a database, that allows you compare them to today's view.

"We call these photographs the Google Street View before there was Google Street View," she laughed.

The photos were taken in between 1948 and 1952 by a man named John Wymer. He wasn't a historian by trade, but he had a passion for capturing the sites of the district. In that four year period, Wymer took thousands of photos in nearly every community of the city.

"It's so interesting to see the city in black and white," she said. "And then try and picture that Wymer walked this area. He saw it in color and I'm seeing it in color. But what's the difference? Oh, all these buildings changed. Or they haven't changed.  How cool is that?"

The online database harnesses the power of Google Maps, allowing the user to navigate down the street, and see the photos as they come along the route. Smith said she has now found "hidden gems" all over the city.

"I am so annoying to travel with now in the car," she laughed. "Because all I do as we drive by things is 'oh - that's a Wymer photo. Oh that's a Wymer photo. I think everyone is really tired of it."

When WUSA9 spoke with Smith, she took us on a tour in the Mount Vernon Square area. It didn't take long to see some major changes.

"All of these structures," she said. "All of these blocks used to be filled with row houses. And now for the most part, we have blocks that just have a single large structure on them that have been turned into office buildings."

The transformation was even more apparent when you looked at the site of the Convention Center. When the photos were taken, this was a bustling business district with restaurants, shops, and theaters. Many of these businesses were destroyed in the 1968 riots.

Smith said it gets even weirder when you go to find the site of the old Saint Sophia's Greek Orthodox Church.

"Not only is this building gone," she laughed. "But this whole street is gone. So if people wanted to come visit this site, they'd have to go inside the Convention Center to see it."

To check out the interactive map, click here.

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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