Old New York In Photos #51

Broadway And The Astor House Hotel circa 1868

Broadway with the Astor House Hotel on the left circa 1868

Broadway with the Astor House Hotel on the left circa 1868

We are looking north on Broadway from Barclay Street on what has to be a weekend, as there is hardly any traffic on this normally bustling part of Broadway.

Enlarging the photograph you can see some interesting details. Horse drawn vehicles line up on both sides of the street as a few pedestrians mill about. A glimpse of City Hall Park and its trees can be seen on the right. Architect Alfred Mullett’s main Post Office has not been built yet (1869-1880) and has not encroached upon the southern end of the park, which was sacrificed for that building.

A few gas lamps provide the nighttime illumination for the area. There are also no overhead telegraph wires or poles visible. Surrounding most trees in the foreground are wrap-around wooden advertising placards. In the left hand corner of the photograph is a large ad for the Pennsylvania Railroad, in what may have been the Astor House’s ticketing office.

Besides the interesting view up Broadway, the famous five-story granite Astor House Hotel on the left is the focal point of this photograph. Astor House was built on Broadway between Barclay and Vesey Streets in 1836 by John Jacob Astor. After it opened it was called “the world’s finest hotel.” Presidents and statesmen like Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun made Astor House their chosen hostelry when visiting New York.

The hotel closed for four months in 1875 under financial distress, but was reopened with new management and remained in business until it permanently closed its doors May 29, 1913. The southern half of the building was demolished in 1913 and the northern half which became shops and offices after the hotel closed was torn down in 1926.

During demolition of the northern half, workmen were surprised to come across two 40,000 gallon cement cisterns designed to catch and conserve all the rain water that fell upon the building. Since the building was built before the Croton Aqueduct supplied the city with water, the cisterns provided assurances that hotel guests would have a supply of water.

The workmen ceased using their steam shovels for a day to level the hotel and called in the drills to cut up and take apart the old cisterns.

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4 thoughts on “Old New York In Photos #51

  1. Stephen Smith

    Is it possible that some of the early photos of NYC streets were not taken on weekends, but used a slow exposure process in which fast moving wagons and people did not show up in the finished photographs? I know the earliest photos in existence from Paris in the 1840’s show abandoned looking thoroughfares, but they were actually full of people. I don’t know if this still happened in 1868 technology, but the fact that this photo does show the PARKED wagons by the curb; maybe Broadway was busier that day but all the players didn’t stay still enough to get “exposed.”

    Reply
    1. B.P. Post author

      Hi Stephen
      That is a very good point. From my knowledge of post 1860’s photography the process was already substantially enhanced from the 1840s and 1850s and a typical street scene was exposed for a few seconds only. So there are “ghosts” seen in many images. But if there was rapidly moving traffic or people it would definitely be captured and the image would be streaked with those objects in motion. If you look in the lower left hand corner and center on the extreme right you will see people who have moved during the few seconds the lens was opened to allow the exposure. I have seen many other photographs of the city from this same period that do show a substantial amount of traffic and people. Thank you for commenting.

      Reply
  2. alex

    Hi

    I was wondering if this photograph is in the public domain or under copyright of some kind? I’m looking for something to use on a book cover and this would be perfect.

    Thanks.

    ps. this website is so interesting! Thank you x

    Reply

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