Cables suspended on the Golden Gate Bridge between the towers before being bound together to support the roadbed that will hang below them, San Francisco, California, circa 1935.

What American landmarks looked like under construction

Written by:
September 11, 2020
Underwood Archives // Getty Images

What American landmarks looked like under construction

For a young country, the United States has an extensive, if complicated history. Much of that background is etched out from coast to coast with monuments and buildings that speak to significant sites, some of our nation's leaders, and the many different people and communities to have laid roots here. To explore some of those national landmarks, Stacker has curated a gallery of what various American landmarks looked like while they were still under construction.

While some monuments and landmarks offer a conflicted or divisive look back at the American past, others speak to fundamental American values like community, perseverance, innovation, and a common call to create a more perfect union and hold ourselves to the loftiest ideals of the nation's founding document. Keep reading to learn more about some of the country's most iconic landmarks and see what they looked like before they were completed.

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Capitol Building - Washington D.C. 1859

It took 10 years to construct the U.S. Capitol Dome, from 1856 to 1866, out of 8,909,200 pounds of bolted-together cast iron. It cost $1,047,291 to construct.

St. Patrick's Cathedral - New York City 1875

Three men pose outside St. Patrick's Cathedral at Fifth Avenue and 51st Street during construction around the year 1875. The Gothic Revival style cathedral was designed by James Renwick Jr., who also designed iconic buildings such as the Smithsonian Institution Building, Mark Twain House, and the Oak Hill Cemetery chapel.

Smithsonian Museum - Washington D.C. 1879

The Arts and Industries Building is seen here under construction in 1879. It is the second oldest of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Brooklyn Bridge - New York City 1883

The Brooklyn Bridge is pictured here under construction in 1883. It was the first bridge to use steel as cable wire. Completed in 1883, it stands as one of the oldest suspension bridges in the U.S.

Statue of Liberty - France 1884

The left hand of the Statue of Liberty under construction is seen here in 1884. Sixty men worked for almost 10 years to build the statue designed by Frederic Bartholdi.

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Library of Congress - Washington D.C. 1890

The Library of Congress is one of the biggest libraries in the world and the oldest federal cultural institution in the U.S. Between 1888 and 1894 the library's permanent home—a separate building in Washington D.C. across from the Capitol Building—was constructed to house all the volumes. Here, we see the Library of Congress under construction in 1890.

Flatiron Building - New York City 1902

The Flatiron Building is seen here under construction in 1902 on the triangular block formed by Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and East 23rd Street in Manhattan.

New York City Subway System 1902

Ground broke in March of 1900 in Manhattan on the New York City subway system. The bid for the job was won for $35 million by Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT). IRT's task included 21 miles of tunnels and 58 miles of tracks, 46.5 of which were for underground lines and 11.5 miles elevated. When the subway opened on Oct. 27, 1904, it was the largest subway system in the world.

In this photo, you can see a portion of the tunnel under construction below Central Park in 1902.

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine - New York City 1904

Pictured here is a 1904 shot of the exterior of the arched entrance to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, located on Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street in Manhattan. Additional bundles of lumber can be seen in the street. Ground broke for the creation of the cathedral in 1892, with construction intended to outshine St. Patrick's Cathedral. Plans changed in 1909 when the style was updated from Byzantine-Romanesque to the then-chic Gothic. The cathedral today is still technically unfinished.

Lincoln Memorial - Washington D.C. c. 1916

The Lincoln Memorial, pictured here under construction, took eight years to build and was completed in 1922. It was designed by New York architect Henry Bacon and features a sub-foundation of 122 poured concrete piers, and stones brought in from around the country (including Tennessee, Colorado, Massachusetts, Alabama, and Georgia) to represent the reunification of the United States.

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Miami skyline 1925

Pictured here is a section of Miami seen from Biscayne Bay in 1925. In the foreground is new land that was eventually converted into a semi-tropical park. Skyscrapers can also be seen going up to eventually create an iconic, instantly recognizable skyline. The erection of many tall office building is unusual in tropical countries, and many of the new structures are ornamented with color.

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Hollywoodland - Los Angeles 1925

A group of surveyors and builders working on a new housing development known as Hollywoodland pose sometime around 1925 for a portrait beneath the sign that was erected to advertise the Los Angeles neighborhood.

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Buckingham Fountain - Chicago 1926

Construction was underway on Buckingham Fountain in Chicago's Grant Park in 1926. The fountain even today maintains its significance as one of the largest fountains in the world. The fountain, finished in 1927, shoots approximately 20,000 gallons of water into the air every minute and still utilizes most of its original parts.

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Chicago Daily News - Chicago 1929

A decorated cement block hangs from a crane on top of the new Chicago Daily News building at 800 W. Madison St. in the Loop during construction in 1929. The block features three images of faces with text: Art, Drama, Comedy.

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Mount Rushmore - South Dakota 1930

Workers put finishing touches on the face of President Jefferson on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota's Black Hills in the late 1930s. Each of the four presidents etched into the side of the mountain was carefully selected by sculptor Gutzon Borglum: Washington symbolizes the country's birth, Jefferson its growth, Roosevelt its development, and Lincoln its preservation. The sculpture's site has long been controversial, as the Black Hills were granted to the Sioux in 1868 "for as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers will flow."

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Empire State Building - New York City 1930

Lewis Hine captures a portrait of a construction worker welding steel girders on the Empire State Building in New York City around 1930. In the background is the Chrysler Building.

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Boulder (Hoover) Dam - Arizona/Nevada Border 1931-34

Workers in this photo are seen shaving the walls of the Black Canyon 550 feet above the Boulder (Hoover) Dam. The dam was constructed from 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression in order to help mitigate flooding in the area, store water for irrigation, and serve as a source of power.

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Griffith Observatory - Los Angeles 1934

Griffith Jenkins Griffith in 1896 donated 3,015 acres of land to Los Angeles for a Griffith Park, the largest park in the United States at the time. In that park was built Griffith Observatory, seen here in progress in 1934. Ground broke on the project on June 20, 1933, with the dedication and opening held on May 14, 1935.

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Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 1935

During the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, seen here from Sept. 20, 1935, workers built a catwalk connecting the towers at both sides of the strait so they could attach the cables for the bridge. It took a little more than four years to build the bridge from start to finish; it was open to vehicles by May 1937.

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Bartlett Dam - Maricopa County, Arizona c. 1938

Concrete arches are shown built at an angle and supported by buttresses form the 270-foot Bartlett Dam on the Verde River. The dam is located 50 miles north of Phoenix.

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Route 66 - New Mexico 1940

Route 66 is seen here as it was laid out through New Mexico in 1940. The Sandia Mountains can be seen in the distance. The number 66 was first assigned to the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route in 1926 with thousands of young men coming to work as laborers on road gangs between 1933 and 1938 to help pave the massive thoroughfare known as "Main Street America."

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Grand Coulee Dam - Washington c. 1936

Workers construct a rebar structure as the Columbia River cascades over an enormous spillway at the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. The first stake was put in on July 16, 1933, kicking off a project culminating in the world's largest structure that took nine years to complete.

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United Nations Building - New York City c. 1947

Photographed here is the site being prepared for construction of the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan circa 1947. In the background at right is the Queensboro Bridge.

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Los Angeles Freeway - Los Angeles 1951

Construction of the Los Angeles Freeway is shown here on Aug. 23, 1951 where it crosses Slauson near Fairfax. Views looking north and south to Slauson Street near Fairfax Avenue and Baldwin Hills.

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Flamingo Hotel Complex - Las Vegas 1950s

An aerial view of The Flamingo Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip is pictured following renovations in the mid-1950s. The hotel is now surrounded by developments.

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White House Reconstruction - Washington D.C. 1950s

The inside of the White House in Washington D.C. is seen here circa 1950 after being gutted to accomplish the reconstruction. Iron beams hold up the original walls of the White House, which were not replaced.


Guggenheim Museum - New York City 1958

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is pictured here under construction in 1958. The museum was one of the youngest to receive National Historic Landmark designation at just 49 years old in 2008.

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Daytona Speedway - Daytona, Florida 1958

The Daytona Speedway is pictured here in 1958. The tri-oval grandstands used concrete and block construction for the base. Most other bleachers used metal structured bases. The rebar at the top of the stands became concrete columns to support the press box.

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Venice Beach Recreation Center - California 1961

An aerial view of the Venice Beach Recreation Center on Windward Avenue and Ocean Front Walk is photographed before the dedication in 1961. The facility was designed by the architectural firm of Vernon Duckett and Associates and was constructed by Contractor William J. Shirley at a cost of $867,000.

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Prudential Building - Boston 1960

Men observe construction on the Prudential Building in Boston in 1960 during their lunch break. Construction began in 1960 and lasted until 1964. At the time of its completion, the Prudential Building was the tallest building in the world outside of New York City.

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Lincoln Center - New York City 1960

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan pre-construction in the early 1960s. Signs and flags in this photo stand where tenements were razed to make way for the new construction.

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Dodger Stadium - Los Angeles 1961

A new Dodgers Stadium rises in Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles in 1961. The park opened on April 10, 1962.

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TWA Terminal - Jamaica, New York 1961

An archway frames tourists who are getting a preview of the new Trans World Airlines building under construction at Idlewild Airport (later JFK Airport) in Jamaica, New York, on April 20, 1961. The TWA building was set to be completed later that summer.

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Space Needle - Seattle 1962

An aerial view of Space Needle under construction for the World's Fair showing Puget Sound and the Coliseum in 1962. The structure was the vision of Edward F. Carlson, chairman of the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, who envisioned a restaurant at the fair that was built atop a tower.

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Marina City towers - Chicago 1964

In this April 10, 1964, photograph, we see construction near the top of one of the Marina City towers designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg in Chicago. Construction on the towers, which required a year of planning by 250 designers and planners, was completed in 1968.


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Gateway Arch - St. Louis 1964

The Gateway Arch monument is pictured here under construction in St. Louis around 1964. Creeper derricks are placing a temporary scissors truss between the partially completed legs at 530 feet to steady them. The 630-foot inverted catenary arch was designed by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen.

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Watergate Building - Washington D.C. 1965

Watergate East in the Watergate development complex is photographed here during its construction on April 8, 1965, in Washington DC. The complex became central to the political scandal from 1972 to 1974 involving President Richard Nixon's administration. It was long considered the biggest political scandal in history.

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Madison Square Garden - New York City 1966

Construction work is photographed in 1966 in progress on the new Madison Square Garden arena in New York City. The original Madison Square Garden opened in New York City in 1879 and held 10,000 people; today, the arena has a seating capacity of 20,789.

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Delaware Memorial Bridge - Wilmington, Delaware 1967

Giant nets hang from the Delaware Memorial Bridge to catch debris (or engineers) that fell during construction on the bridge's second span in November 1967. The initial structure for the bridge's foundation was made in a New Jersey shipyard and towed downriver in 1949 to the building site.

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World Trade Towers - New York City 1971

A worker is photographed atop the World Trade Center during its construction in 1971. The Woolworth Building, Brooklyn Bridge, and Manhattan Bridge are all visible below.

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Dallas Fort Worth Airport - Dallas 1973

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is pictured here during its initial construction in 1973. The airport opened for commercial flights the following year.

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Epcot Center Disney World - Orlando 1981

The Epcot Center in Walt Disney World is shown here under construction in 1981 in Orlando. At center is Spaceship Earth, a 15-million-pound structure standing 165 feet tall encasing a track ride. Epcot Center opened to the public in 1982.

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Vietnam Veterans Memorial - Washington D.C. 1982

21-year-old Yale University student Maya Lin, whose design was chosen for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, is shown visiting the construction site on July 12, 1982. More than 58,000 names are etched into the wall of the people who died or went missing during the Vietnam War. The wall was built entirely from donations.

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Monterery Bay Aquarium - Monterey, California 1984

Workers put the finishing touches on the Monterey Bay Aquarium in this photo from 1984. The aquarium was built on the site of Hovden Cannery, Cannery Row's biggest fish-packing plant that was open from 1916 to 1972.

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JFK Library Completion - Boston 1991

Friends of the John F. Kennedy Library gather in 1991 in the new Stephen E. Smith wing while Carol Ferguson takes plastic off the podium and architect Robert Imhoff takes notes from the scaffolding. Imhoff worked for Pei, Cobb, Freed, and partners. The 22,000-square-foot wing, named for President Kennedy's brother-in-law and president emeritus of the library foundation, was part of I.M. Pei's original design for the library but was not built at the same time due to lack of money. The new wing featured a great hall dominated by a two-story window that presented a stunning panorama of the harbor and Boston's skyline.

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National Museum of the American Indian - Washington D.C. 2003

The National Museum of the American Indian is seen under construction in this photograph from 2003. The museum opened Sept. 21, 2004, on the National Mall in Washington D.C. with what remains the biggest gathering of Native American communities ever documented.

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Cloud Gate - Chicago 2004

People look at the partially exposed Cloud Gate designed by Anish Kapoor on June 2, 2005, at Millennium Park in Chicago. The sculpture was created by Indian-born British artist Sir Anish Kapoor.

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World Trade Center Site - New York City 2005

Architect David Childs speaks in 2005 beside a model of the newly revised design for the Freedom Tower in New York City. The Freedom Tower today stands at 1,776 feet tall and includes 2.6 million square feet of office space as well as a memorial for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks near its base.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial - Washington D.C. 2010

Ed Jackson Jr., right, chief architect for the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, appears on-site with sculptor Lei Yixin on Dec. 17, 2010. in Washington D.C. Situated next to the National Mall, the memorial spans four acres and includes this sculpture called the "Stone of Hope."

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National Museum of African American History and Culture - Washington D.C. 2016

Workers are photographed as construction continues on the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture on Aug. 30, 2016, in Washington D.C. The museum is the 19th to be added to Smithsonian's complex on the National Mall and features 100,000 square feet of exhibition space for exploring African American history and experience.

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