New York Illustrated – As It Was 150 Years Ago – Part II

More New York Illustrations From Around 1870

Part II – Familiar Names – Vanished Sites

New York And Its Institutions book cover 1871We continue our look at New York of 150 years ago from Reverend J.F. Richmond’s New York and Its Institutions 1609-1871 (E.B. Treat; 1871).

The names may be familiar, but possibly not the building or site.

While Central Park has remained a constant presence in New York City for over 160 years, it has constantly changed.

There were always developers looking to infringe upon the park with buildings and schemes. A fair portion of Central Park has managed to keep its original spirit, but many of its early additions have changed or no longer exist.

 Central Park

Children's playground Central Park 1870 playing baseballThe Children’s Playground in Central Park. There was no “Great Lawn” when Central Park was built. The Great Lawn opened in 1937, the result of filling in one of the two receiving reservoirs located within the park. The Central Park Playground seen above is an open field where children can play within its great expanse. This section was located in the southern end of the park, now site of the Heckscher playground and ballfields. A number of people seem to be engaging in baseball and cricket games. Major League Baseball’s, National League was organized in 1876. The building in the background is a changing room for players called The Ballplayers’ House designed by Calvert Vaux. It was taken down in the 1960s.

Cascade Central Park 1870There are five waterfalls in Central Park. all man-made. Now the Cascade does not flow with this much force.

Children's Shelter Central Park 1870The Central Park Children’s Shelter also called the Kinderburg was built in 1866 as a place for children and their caregivers to gather. This picturesque rustic structure was demolished in the 1940s and replaced by the Chess and Checkers House.

The Casino Central Park 1870Originally called the Ladies’ Refreshment Salon, The Casino as it came to be known was designed by Calvert Vaux in 1864. In an age when women did not go places without escorts, women were permitted to dine at The Casino while visiting the park unescorted. By the late 1920s, The Casino had become a swanky nightclub and a favorite hangout of flamboyant Mayor Jimmy Walker. The Casino was despised for its aura of corruption by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. In 1934 Moses said The Casino “is an improper and illegal use of the premises in a public park.” Moses cancelled the restaurant’s lease and the Casino was demolished in 1936. Summerstage now occupies The Casino’s former site.

Mineral Springs central park 1870The Central Park Mineral Springs Building gave visitors a chance to sample healthy mineral waters at a nickel a glass. It was located approximately 50 yards south of the 72nd Street cross drive and 100 yards east of the West Drive. Built in 1869 by Calvert Vaux, this Moorish styled building lasted more than 90 years. By 1960 the Mineral Springs Building was being used as a storage space by the Parks Department when a man committed suicide inside the building. After that news story there is no mention of when the building was actually destroyed.


YMCA 4th Ave 23rd St 1870At 52 E. 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue stood New York’s YMCA Building. The Second Empire style building was sold by the organization in 1901 to the Central Realty Bond and Trust Co. for $800,000. The building suffered a three alarm fire on November 28, 1902 and was demolished the following year.

Newspaper Row along Park Row 1870Nicknamed Newspaper Row, the operations of many of New York City’s newspapers were situated along Park Row. It was an era in which news-hungry New Yorkers had dozens of choices in English or foreign language daily and weekly newspapers. In this print we can see the headquarters of The New York Times; The Tribune; The American Tracy Society; The Observer; the Examiner; the World and The Evening Mail. All these buildings are now gone along with the newspapers they printed. One newspaper survived into the twenty-first century – The Times.

New York Stock Exchange 1870The scene of fortunes made and lost, the New York Stock Exchange Building on Broad Street just south of Wall Street. This building served its members from 1865 until it was demolished in 1901. The current New York Stock Exchange operates on this same site in a much larger building.

New York Historical Society 1870The New York Historical Society preserves the history of the city and has been at their current location of Central Park West and 77th Street since 1908. From 1857-1907 they were located at Second Avenue and 11th Street.

New York Life Insurance Company 1870New York Life, “the company you keep,” kept their 1870 building at Broadway and Leonard Street for nearly six decades.  Over the years New York Life kept renovating the building, even expanding several floors in 1895. So the original building is still there, but modified from what is seen above.

New York Life is now located on the spot of the original Madison Square Garden, taking up the entire block from Park to Madison Avenue between 26th to 27th Streets in a magnificent art deco skyscraper.

Grand Central Depot 1870The pride of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the original Grand Central Depot seen here looking northeast from 42nd Street. This building was renovated in 1897 and renamed Grand Central Station. The renovated building was short-lived, replaced by the current Grand Central Terminal, opening in 1913.

Mount Sinai Hospital 1870At Lexington Avenue and 66th St, was Mount Sinai Hospital, built in 1871 for the Jewish population of the city. However, Mount Sinai policy of accepting patients of all denominations made this a popular medical facility. In 1904 Mount Sinai moved to their current location, Fifth Avenue from 100th to 101st St.

The German Hospital and Dispensary? Well the location may be familiar to New Yorkers – 77th St and Fourth (Park) Avenue.

Yes, Lenox Hill Hospital and The German Hospital are one and the same. It took several years to raise the money for the building, but by 1866 the cornerstone was set and on September 13. 1869 the hospital moved into their new building. J.F. Richmond describes the structure:

“The edifice is a beautiful, three-story brick, with French roof. The stories are high, well ventilated, heated throughout with steam, and contain one hundred beds. The whole is divided into six wards and five private rooms.”

The German Hospital eventually purchased the entire block bounded by 76th and 77th Streets. With anti-German sentiment running high during World War I the hospital was renamed Lenox Hill in 1918.

No part of the original building remains.

The Equitable Life Insurance (Assurance) Company Building on Broadway and Cedar Street is seen here brand new, completed in 1870.  Supposedly “fireproof,” The Equitable suffered a stupendous fire on January 9, 1912 that completely destroyed it. The new building the company put up on the same site in 1915 rises 40 stories with no setbacks, blocking light and air. After completion, the public outcry from this brazen construction project lead to new zoning laws for tall buildings in New York.

Columbia College New York 1870When Columbia College was given this land in 1814 at what would become 50th and Fifth Avenue, far outside the city proper, it was a consolation by New York State. The State held a lottery giving cash to various colleges and Columbia missed out. The complaining Columbia trustees were awarded this land to smooth things over.

Columbia held onto the barren land and waited until the city was expanding northward. They then built a campus at this location in 1857 and remained here until they built a new campus at Morningside Heights in 1897.

After moving uptown Columbia wisely held onto the land even after their buildings were razed and collected hefty sums as leaseholders. Columbia owned most of the land on which Rockefeller Center is built upon. Though Columbia was collecting $11.1 million a year in annual rent from Rockefeller Center in the 1970s and 80s, they finally decided it was time to sell. The 1985 land sale netted Columbia $400 million. Not bad for a 171 year old investment asset that was originally free.

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