Old New York In Photos #41

Park Avenue And 51st Street 1889

Park Avenue 51st St looking north 1889

In 1886 what had been unglamorous Fourth Avenue above 42nd Street was renamed Park Avenue. This mix of 19th century modernity and bleak landscape is Park Avenue looking north from 51st Street in 1889. You would be hard pressed to find a time today when this busy intersection of New York would be so deserted. There is little activity besides a lone horse and cart on the right side of the incline by the tunnel and a ghostly man in a derby by a boulder in the lower portion of the photograph.

Commodore Vanderbilt reluctantly covered the tracks used by his New York Central & Hudson and New York & Harlem Railroads along Park Avenue from 58th through 99th Streets between 1872-1875. This improvement opened up building possibilities in what had been an undesirable stretch of land with noisy and polluted streets. But from 56th Street to Grand Central Depot at 42nd Street, the tracks had an open cut as seen here. The railroad tracks remained that way until they were finally covered in 1914.

The main building on the right in this photograph is Steinway & Sons Piano ForteĀ  finishing factory, which occupied the entire block on Park Avenue from 52nd to 53rd Streets. According to King’s Handbook of New York City (1892) “There, 500 workmen plain, saw, join, drill, turn, string, fit, varnish and tune the piano works and cases received from the 600 workmen of Steinway, Astoria.”

The Steinway Factory was sold in 1910 for about $1 million, demolished in 1911 and replaced in 1912 by the 12 story Montana apartments. For over 40 years the Montana remained a first class apartment building, housing many well-to-do residentsĀ  including Theodore Steinway and silent film star Richard Barthelmess, until it was demolished from 1955 – 1956. The world’s first bronze and glass skyscraper completed in 1957, the Seagram Building at 375 Park Avenue, now stands on the site.

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