Four New York Locations Photographed At Night – 1904
You’ve probably noticed that most of the old photographs of turn-of-the-century New York City were taken during daylight hours.
At the time the difficulty with night photography was the long exposure times necessary for a camera to effectively capture an image.
There is an extremely rare book I own called The Lighting of New York City put out by General Electric in 1904. The purpose of this publication was to extol the virtues of General Electric lighting apparatus and to encourage homes and businesses in New York and elsewhere to use electric light.
Electric lighting had been around for a little over 20 years, but the book mentions a startling fact: “It is estimated that more than 35,000 arc lamps are in use on Manhattan Island.”
35,000, that’s means outdoors and indoors.
Gaslight was still the predominant means of lighting streets, factories, stores, homes and the waterfront.
The 74 page book contains a photograph on every page accompanied by a short description on the opposite page. Eight of the photographs are day and night views of the exact same location.
Words in Italics are from the book:
At the 59th Street entrance to Central Park, in what is known as Park Plaza, the Sherman Statue was recently unveiled. It is illuminated at night by eight low energy General Electric arc lamps installed on ornamental poles in such a manner that only the pear-shaped outer globe is visible. The installation has received very favorable comment.
Behind the statue on the right is Park and Tilford, grocers to New York’s smart set. To the left on the corner of 60th Street is the Metropolitan Club.
Night illumination of the Sherman Statue by eight three-ampere low energy General Electric lamps. The white building directly in the rear is the home of the Metropolitan Club, so well known to many New Yorkers as the “Millionaires'” Club.
The illustration presents of view of the beautiful “Speedway” located in upper Manhattan. Safety and comfort demand the best illumination on this roadway and therefore General Electric alternate current series arc lamps are used.
This view looking south from approximately 185th Street shows the wide expanse of the Speedway, used by sporting men to race their horses and families to take a leisurely drive. The double arch bridge is the Washington Bridge completed in 1889. Behind it stands High Bridge and High Bridge Water Pump Tower on the right.
Later, the Speedway was incorporated into the Harlem River Drive. As important as illumination still is for “safety and comfort,” today this portion of the Harlem River Drive has lighting which frequently doesn’t work.
Why? As soon as the lights are repaired, miscreants break into the base of the poles and steal the copper wiring. They then sell the wire to unscrupulous scrap metal dealers who turn a blind eye to where the thieves have obtained their “scrap.”
From the corner of Sixth Avenue and 59th Street we are looking east along the southern border of Central Park. The Hotel Netherland stands on the left at the northeast corner of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. You can see a portion of the Hotel Savoy, to the right of the Hotel Netherland. With the exception of a trolley on the right and some horse manure, the streets are rather clean and free of traffic.
In the nighttime view we can see diagonal to the Hotel Netherland the original Plaza Hotel on the southwest corner of 59th Street. The other identifiable buildings along 59th Street are the Alhambra Apartment complex and the Dalhousie Apartments.
View of Fifth Avenue, New York City. This thoroughfare is lighted exclusively by General Electric arc lamps and is considered by illuminating engineers one of the best lighted streets in the world. As shown in the picture, the double method suspension is used with ornamental poles placed 150 feet apart, on alternate sides of the street.
This view looking north from about 31st Street on Fifth Avenue shows that private homes remain, but commerce would soon change the look of this neighborhood. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on 34th Street looms above everything else.