New York City In Old Color Photographs At The Turn Of The Century
Life was colorful in turn of the century New York City. But because almost all the photographs we see from that era are in black and white, it is hard to imagine what the city looked like in its full color glory.
The Library of Congress holds the incredible collection of The Detroit Publishing Company who manufactured postcards and chronicled the world with their photographs from 1880-1920.
One of the processes used to achieve color was called the photochrom. Photochrom’s are color photo lithographs created from a black and white photographic negative. Color impressions are achieved through the application of multiple lithograph stones, one per color. In 1897, the Detroit Publishing Company brought the process over from Switzerland where it was first developed.
The images presented here were eventually used for postcards. Here is a look at New York circa 1900 in high resolution color photographs. Click on any image to vastly enlarge.
Looking north along South Street with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. This was still the age when shipping and boats crowded the harbor.
City Hall looking northwest with a sliver of City Hall Park on the bottom extreme left. Now there are blockades and fences surrounding the building, marring its relationship with the surrounding area – all in the name of protection from terrorism. Isn’t City Hall supposed to be for the people? The people are the city.
Directly east of City Hall is Park Row which housed Newspaper Row, where many of the newspapers had their headquarters. Looking from left to right, the shed-like building on the extreme left is the transportation center of The Brooklyn Bridge Terminal which connected the Brooklyn Bridge’s trains and trolleys to the Second Avenue Elevated trains. The terminal was demolished in two stages: one part in 1935 and the other in 1941.
Next to the terminal, the building with the dome is Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World Building. The World Building was razed in 1955 for a car ramp entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.
The small building next to the World Building was built by Tammany Hall in 1811. The New York Sun purchased the building as their headquarters in 1867. The Sun moved to Broadway in 1914 and the building was demolished later that year.
The large building with the clock tower was designed by famed architect Richard Morris Hunt in 1875 as the home for the New York Tribune. The building was demolished in 1966. The final building on the right was the home of The New York Times, built in 1889. The Times moved their offices and presses to 42nd Street and Broadway (Times Square) in 1904. The Times Building is still standing and is currently occupied by Pace University.
Here we see the Bowery looking north from Grand Street. The street acquired a reputation for bawdiness, bums, saloons and cheap lodging that it is in the process of shedding with chic and trendy shops and upscale apartments.
The Third Avenue Elevated is in the foreground dominating the scene. On the left at 130 Bowery is the McKim, Mead & White designed Bowery Savings Bank. The bank closed in the 1980’s and is now the home of Capitale, a banquet hall. The immediate area houses many lighting establishments and restaurant supply stores. Though the el was removed long ago, many of the buildings shown here are still intact or slightly modified.
Here is West Street looking north from Liberty Street. For most of the 19th and early 20th century this part of Manhattan served as the wholesale market for a variety of food goods.
In 1900, this area of midtown at Fifth Avenue and 51st Street was still residential. Looking north, we see the “triple palace” houses of the Vanderbilt’s on the left side. They were built by William Henry Vanderbilt, son of Commodore Vanderbilt. The largest house of the three was for William and the two smaller houses were for his two daughters, Margaret Vanderbilt Shepard, who lived at 2 West 52nd Street, and Emily Vanderbilt Sloane, who occupied 642 Fifth Avenue. The land the mansions were built upon was leased from the Astor estate. In 1947, The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company demolished the mansions and built an office building on the site.
The first church in the foreground at 53rd street is St. Thomas Church. The second church in the background is The Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church at 55th Street.
This dramatic curve was the highlight for northern Manhattan riders of the Ninth Avenue Elevated at 110th Street. We are looking west from 110th Street and Eighth Avenue. The tracks were more than 60 feet above street level. The curve took the tracks from Ninth Avenue (now Columbus Avenue) over to Eighth Avenue (now Frederick Douglass Boulevard) to continue the journey uptown. In 1940 Ninth Avenue Elevated service was discontinued and the line was dismantled.
In between the supporting columns of the elevated, we can see the beginnings of the construction of the choir for the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. The building, the fourth largest Christian Church in the world, is still unfinished today. To the right of St. John the Divine is the original portion of St. Luke’s Hospital built in 1896 by Ernest Flagg.
Notice there is one man walking with an umbrella on what appears to be a clear day while another man rides a bicycle on the mostly deserted streets.
High Bridge is the oldest bridge in New York City. Designed by John B. Jervis and completed in 1848 it brought badly needed fresh water from the Croton River in Westchester 41 miles away, through the Croton Aqueduct to New York City. The bridge passes over the Harlem River at 170th Street in the Bronx and connects with Manhattan at 173rd Street. The tower at the end of the bridge is the pumping station for the Aqueduct which operated until 1949. The bridge continued carrying water until 1958.
As a popular pedestrian bridge, it offered majestic views of upper Manhattan and the Bronx. This changed after April 20, 1958 when a gang of juveniles tossed sticks, stones and bricks from the bridge on to the Circle Line sight-seeing boat, injuring four people. In 1960 the bridge was “officially” closed to pedestrians. However in the early 1970’s vandals and delinquents continued to enter the bridge and some miscreants hurled bricks on to another passing Circle Line boat, this time killing a passenger. This necessitated fortifying and permanently blocking the entrances to the bridge so no one could trespass.
After being off limits to everyone for more than forty years The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation is overseeing the rehabilitation of High Bridge and it is scheduled to re-open in 2014.