Illustrations Of New York As Seen By Artists Around 1870
Part I – Demolished & Mostly Forgotten
Demolition of anything old goes on every day without regard for New York’s history. I believe a day will come when all the pre-20th century buildings not given landmark protection will be gone. Demolished in the name of progress. Real estate values rule, not history values. That’s always been the way of New York.
When a historic structure like The St. Denis Hotel is obliterated instead of renovated it is a shame.
I see more and more ordinary tenement and commercial buildings falling at an astonishing rate. So I look around trying to see vestiges of things my great-grandparents might have known and been familiar with.
What did they see?
Recently I took out my copy of Reverend J.F. Richmond’s New York and Its Institutions 1609-1871 (E.B. Treat; 1871) and started to re-read it. I had forgotten how many excellent illustrations were in the book. Belying the name, New York and Its Institutions is not solely focused only upon hospitals, asylum, charity and worship facilities. The book thoroughly covers other important sites and buildings with their respective histories. Though it was not written as a guide book, it essentially is one.
What my ancestors saw were these historic buildings which are now not even memories to most New Yorkers, most having been taken down over a hundred years ago,
Let’s take a look at what New York City looked like around 1871 and take in what the visitor and native New Yorker would have seen.
Part I – Buildings No Longer In Existence
Very few lamented the loss of the old Post Office at the corner of Nassau and Liberty Street – — until they saw what replaced it in 1875.
The Grand Central Hotel stood on the west side of Broadway opposite Bond Street between Amity and Bleecker Street. Illegal alterations caused a major collapse of the Broadway facade on August 3, 1973. Incredibly only four people were killed. The remaining section of the hotel was soon demolished.
The Isaac T. Hopper Home located at 191 Tenth Avenue (previously numbered 213 as stated above) purpose was the improvement of women’s prison conditions and the enabling of honest work for women after prison release.
The Astor House, located on Broadway between Barclay and Vesey Streets, was the choice New York hotel in the mid 1800s. It had prolonged death, coming down in two stages; the southern half of the building in 1913 and the northern half in 1926.
Actor Edwin Booth had quite a career besides the notoriety of being the brother to Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Edwin Booth was popular enough to open his own theater in 1869 on the southeast corner of 23rd Street and Sixth Ave. Booth consistently lost money being a theatrical proprietor, declaring bankruptcy in 1874. It was announced in 1877 that “the most perfect theater in the world” would soon be demolished. Instead other agents tried to make the theater profitable. They failed and the building was purchased on May 26, 1891 by James McCreery & Co.. When McCreery acquired the surrounding parcels in 1895, Booth’s Theater was demolished and McCreery’s gigantic department store took its place.
The New York Society Library is shown here at 67 University Place. In 1895 the street was renumbered and the address changed to 109 University Place. Founded in 1754 when New York was still a British colony The New York Society Library is the oldest library still operating in New York City. The library trustees sold the University Place building in 1936 and moved to their current location, the former John Rogers mansion at 53-55 East 79th Street in 1937.
Within Clinton Hall was The Mercantile Library located at Astor Place and 8th Street. Built in 1847 as the home to the Astor Place Opera House, the building was remodeled in 1854. The Mercantile Library demolished this building in 1890 to build a new library on this site.
The Bible House produced three bibles a minute twenty four hours a day seven days a week for over 80 years. Located on Astor Place the building was demolished in the 1950s and replaced by Cooper Union’s Engineering Building.
The imposing Manhattan Market was built by a group of investors to battle the Washington Market for supremacy as the one stop wholesale food supplier for the city. The building took up the entire block between 34th to 35th Street between Eleventh and Twelfth Avenue. It cost a staggering $2 million to open in 1872. It languished for eight years in debt due to a bevy of lawsuits brought on by a ring of crooked competitors, successfully crippling the enterprise. At midnight on September 9, 1880 the buidling was “mysteriously” completely destroyed by fire.
At Ninth Avenue and 34th Street was the New York Institution for the Blind. In 1924 the school relocated to Pelham Parkway in the Bronx where it is still in operation as The New York Institute for Special Education.
Completing our trio of orphanages is The New York Orphan Asylum located west of Broadway between 73rd and 74th Street. In 1893 the Asylum sold their northern portion of property to a syndicate who built private dwellings. In 1901 The New York Orphan Asylum sold their remaining holdings and main building to Charles M. Schwab who built a luxurious mansion fronting Riverside Drive. The Schwab Mansion was demolished after World War II and the apartment building Schwab House occupies the site.