Old New York In Photos #108 – Fifth Avenue & 33rd Street c. 1908

Fifth Avenue Looking North From 33rd Street c. 1908

5th Ave 33rd Street Waldorf-Astoria

The Detroit Publishing Company photographer captured a typical summer day on Fifth Avenue looking north from 33rd Street. The date is sometime between 1905 -1910 based upon the vehicles seen on the streets and style of dress.

Two prominent buildings are on the west side (left) of the street. The Waldorf- Astoria Hotel in the immediate foreground between 33rd and 34th Streets. One block further north is the Knickerbocker Trust Building.

The Waldorf-Astoria as some people know is a combination of two different entities. Seen here on the near corner of 33rd Street is the 13 story Hotel Waldorf built by William Waldorf Astor in 1893. The 17 story Hotel Astoria was opened four years later on November 1, 1897 by his cousin John Jacob Astor IV. Before the Hotel Astoria was completed the two hotels agreed to combine operations to form the world famous hostelry that stood on the site until 1929. The Waldorf Astoria set up their new hotel on Park Avenue and 50th Street and the Empire State Building went up on  the hotel’s old site.

In this close-up you can see the dividing line between each hotel as the exterior wall colors are different. The Waldorf-Astoria was unified in many design elements such as exterior lighting and window canopies. Though slight differences between the two hotels are apparent. The Hotel Astoria put some extra flourishes beside their windows in the form of lion head bas reliefs.

On the northwest corner of 34th Street is the Knickerbocker Trust Building distinguished by its majestic Corinthian columns. This masterpiece was designed by McKim, Mead & White and completed in 1903.  During the height of the financial panic of 1907 the bank closed and its president Charles Barney committed suicide. The bank reopened in 1908 and did pay off its depositors. The Knickerbocker Bank Building still exists, but you would never recognize it today. It was altered by stripping all of its ornamental features and then adding several stories. A CVS drug store occupies the ground floor.

Now let’s take a closer look at our photo. Click on most photos to enlarge.

First how do we know this photograph was taken sometime during the summer? On the second floor of Knickerbocker Trust is Blakeslee Galleries specialists in English paintings. In their window they announce that they are closed for the season and will return September 15.

Directly adjacent to  the Knickerbocker Trust and advertised across the roofline is the 12 story Aeolian Hall Building which opened on October 20, 1902. The company manufactured pianolas and pianos. They also held concerts within their building. Three weeks after the company moved into their new headquarters with a 21 year lease, the building was sold to an investor Franscis Burton Harrison for $750,000. The company moved to a new building on 42nd Street in 1912.

The time on the clock of the Brick Presbyterian Church at 37th Street and Fifth Avenue indicates it is 12:10. The Brick Church, hosting one of the wealthiest congregations in New York moved in 1940 to their current location at Park Avenue and 91st Street.

On the northeast corner of 33rd Street at 335 Fifth Avenue is A.T. Demarest & Co. Carriage Maker. While Demarest made their reputation for building fine horse carriages, they realized one invention would forever alter their business. With their fancy signs partially seen on the corner of the building, the lower sign indicates they also manufactured automobile bodies.

The folly of all builder/owners is imagining anything in New York is permanent. Demarest had the company name etched into the building and they also put carved a permanent street indicator into the building. Demarest is long gone, as are all traces of their name and the street indicator. The building however is still there, but probably not for long.

33rd St 5th Ave 2017

Pi Capital Partners a developer who acquired the building along with others on the block has plans to put up a new high rise. Preservationists have tried to have the building landmarked so it will not be demolished. Because of multiple alterations to the building over 130 years it doesn’t merit consideration as a landmark according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Despite having a Wendy’s occupying most of the ground floor as seen in this 2017 photograph, the building is still attractive.

I’ve seen the old blue humpback street signs which were on every street in New York City from the 1920s until the 1960s for sale in shops and online. I have never seen one of the rectangular predecessors as seen here. Perhaps they were made of glass and that is why few, if any of them have survived.

As previously noted times were changing in terms of transportation. Here is a single horse drawn delivery cart. It must be a hot day with the sun beating down as the driver has a Young Bros. umbrella to shield him from the heat.

For those who could afford to own or even ride in a hansom cab it was a luxurious experience.

Then there were those who took advantage of the emerging technology of the automobile. Here a driver with steering wheel on the right side, take a passenger to their destination.

Finally there are the people, who bring the city to life. And there are many different types of people.

The most prominent figure in the photograph is the woman in the black ruffle skirt, light colored blouse and a trendy hat. Note that even in summer the well dressed lady still wears gloves.

Fashion is conformist. The three men strolling are all wearing the straw hat that was the rage. The closest man with tie fluttering keeps his hands in his pockets as he makes his way down Fifth Avenue. The man furthest away has stopped to look at something. What caught his attention?

The man with the mustache seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere. Did New Yorkers always walk fast?

The couple walking up Fifth Avenue approaching our quick-stepped man are so close to one another that if they wanted they could be holding hands, a gesture not often seen in public.

Our man wearing glasses is carrying what appears to be a book or small attache.

The lady in black…including gloves. In mourning perhaps. Notice that dress lengths are all pretty much the same – down to the ankle.

This gentleman is walking past the Waldorf-Astoria and is dressed a bit differently than most of the other men. His jacket drapes either a vest or overalls, but he is wearing a tie.

The one and only blue-collar worker in the scene. He has a jacket, but no tie and what looks like a painters smock.

2 thoughts on “Old New York In Photos #108 – Fifth Avenue & 33rd Street c. 1908

  1. Beth S.

    I loved the exploration of the photograph and the commentary, especially of the people! It’s so much fun people-watching while peering into old photographs.

    Too bad that old Demarest building won’t be long for this world. It’s so beautiful, even with a Wendy’s in it, as you said!

    It’s both mildly reassuring and also rather depressing to know that building trends toward the new and modern at the expense of most, if not all, traces of historical edifices is not merely a local phenomenon stemming from addle-brained city councillors where I’m from, but a very North American trend, though it is becoming more Global now, alas.


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