Category Archives: Old New York In Photos

Series: Old New York In Photos

Old New York In Photos #84 – West End Avenue 60th Street 1927 & Now

How West End Avenue & 60th Street Has Changed Over The Last 90 Years

One word describes this transformation – drastic.

Judge for yourself.

Our first photograph looking north and west on West End Avenue from 60th Street was taken by Percy Sperr on May 20, 1927. Sperr photographed the city endlessly during the 1920s and 1930s and preserved many views of common scenes and places that other photographers would rarely chronicle.

The Belgian block paved street and rail tracks that line West End Avenue from 60th Street stretch as far as the eye can see. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #83 – Macy’s & Surroundings 1905

Around Macy’s Herald Square – The Greatest Store In The World 1905

This high definition photograph of Macy’s department store was taken by the Detroit Publishing Company in 1905. Macy’s led the march of modern department stores uptown, moving from their Sixth Avenue and 14th Street location where they had been since the 1858. The “Greatest Store in the World,” opened at the Herald Square location on Saturday, November 8, 1902.

We are looking west from the Sixth Avenue elevated station along Broadway with 34th Street on the left and 35th Street on the right.

Above is the color postcard that was created from this photograph.

Let’s take a close-up view of Macy’s and the surrounding area from our photograph. Click to enlarge any photo.

In the immediate foreground on the extreme right is a small portion of the New York Herald Building with a large owl, wings spread, perched at the corner.

James Gordon Bennett, and later James Jr., owners of the Herald, had a thing for owls. The Herald building was adorned with many of them. Mechanical owls attached to the clock had their eyes illuminated and would light up when the Herald clock struck the hour.

The Herald Building is long gone, but Herald Square retains its name and two of the original owls are still in Herald Square. They are part of a monument to  James Gordon Bennett and the newspaper he founded. And yes the owls eyes still light up.

Looking past the Herald Building down 35th Street is the loading bay of Macy’s. Delivery trucks of all type congregate here, including an ice wagon. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #82 – Central Park Mall c. 1870

The Mall In Central Park & The American Elms

Central Park was once young and so were its trees. We are looking south from 72nd Street in this rare circa 1870 stereoview photograph. You can see the American elm trees along both sides of the Mall that had been planted only a decade before. If you’ve been along this famous stretch of the park, you know that the trees are a constant – always the same year after year for over 100 years. To see the trees at this height is a startling sight. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #81 – The Best View in New York City c. 1870

A View Of New York From The Steeple of Trinity Church

In mid-19th century New York City if you wanted to be above it all and get a sweeping view of the city there was one place to go: the steeple of Trinity Church on Wall Street.

The steeple of Trinity rose 281 feet into the air and gave New Yorkers and visitors alike an unobstructed view of the city as far as the eye could see.

Trinity Church was originally constructed in 1696 and was burned down by the British in 1776 during the Revolutionary War.

If you’ve ever seen the Nicholas Cage movie National Treasure, you can be assured that there is no treasure buried under Trinity Church as the British troops sacked the original building before burning it. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #80 – The Main New York Post Office Broadway c. 1887

Main Branch Of New York Post Office Broadway, between Beekman and Ann Streets c. 1887

We return to one of the most striking and photographed structures of 19th century New York. The main branch of the New York Post Office which loomed over the southern end of City Hall Park for nearly 65 years.

We are looking north from Ann Street up towards Broadway (left) and Park Row (right).

The scene is typical of an average day in 1880s New York. We can see several trolleys at rest either having completed their runs or about to start them. Several delivery carts are scattered about nearby. A police officer stands in the middle of Broadway keeping an eye on things. A horse drawn hansom coach and driver are prominent in the foreground. Businessmen make their way about the city, many walking on the Belgian block street rather than the sidewalks. Telegraph poles and wires criss-cross Park Row and Broadway.

The hub of all this activity is the main branch of the New York Post Office, designed by Alfred B. Mullett and opened to the public on Sunday, August 29, 1875. Between 8 a.m and 8 p.m. it was estimated that between 20 – 30,000 people wandered into the new building. They passed slowly through its corridors gawking at the shiny new post office lock boxes, looking into delivery windows and buttonholing anybody who looked like an employee to ask questions.

Architecturally inspired by the French Renaissance style, the building proved to be wildly unpopular from the get go. Among the chief complaints about the Post Office was that it was ugly.

More importantly it was located in the wrong place. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #79 – Broadway & 79th Street c. 1890

This Pastoral Scene Is Broadway and 79th Street

While the quality of this photograph is far from perfect, we thought it was unusual enough to share.

With laundry hanging off a clothesline, a horse grazing near the front door of a tree filled yard, this bucolic area is Bloomingdale, near the corner of the Boulevard and 79th Street. At least that is what is written on the back of the circa 1890 photo.

As you may know, The Boulevard was the continuation of Broadway above 59th Street.

Robinson’s Atlas of New York City 1885

Checking Robinson’s Atlas of New York City from 1885, I’ve tried to figure out where this house stood and what direction the photograph was taken from.

The atlas key is as follows: structures shaded in yellow are made of wood, pink are brick and brown are stone. We can see our three story house is made of wood. In the background on the right there is another building. But which of these buildings fits the description?

The authoritative book on the Bloomingdale area (the Dutch name for Valley of the Flowers) is The New York of Yesterday (1908) by Hopper Striker Mott. According to Mott, the house that was nearest that site was the van den Heuvel homestead a two story stone and wood home built approximately in 1759.

The end is near for the former van den Heuvel / Burnham mansion c. 1905 photo: Robert Bracklow NYHS

Sometime in the early 19th century the van den Heuvel home had an additional story added after a fire destroyed the original slanted roof. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #78 – Fifth Avenue & 42nd Street 1903

Fifth Avenue & 42nd Street c. 1903 – Crowded Street On A Cold Sunny Day

This bustling scene was captured by a Detroit Publishing Company photographer around 1903. The view is from the southeast corner of 42nd Street looking north up Fifth Avenue.

It is obviously a cold and sunny day with most people wearing warm coats. Enlarging our photograph the first thing you may notice is that everyone is uniformly dressed. All the women have the same dress length, just past the ankle. Every man wears a suit or overcoat.  Take a look around. There is not a single person hatless.

Let’s zoom in on some of the details.

On the northeast corner of 42nd Street an elderly man stops to take a look at the work going on inside an open manhole.

As usual, at all very busy intersections, a policeman is on duty to help direct the flow of traffic both vehicular and pedestrian.

This gentleman on the left with the gold watch fob and chain looks to be a prosperous fellow, possibly on his way back to his office after lunch.

Of course other people look spiffy without being wealthy. This sharp looking mustachioed hansom cab driver holding a whip is dressed immaculately. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #77

Fourth Avenue & 23rd Street 1908 –  A Detailed Breakdown Of New Yorker’s Going About Their Business

A spectacular clear view of Fourth Avenue looking south towards 23rd Street from 1908 shows pedestrians going about their daily activities. Once again the source is the Detroit Publishing Co.

Above 14th Street up to 34th Street Fourth Avenue is now called Park Avenue South.

Before we examine our old picture, let’s take a modern look at approximately the same spot from Google maps.

Now forget our modern view and return to 1908.

When we zoom in on some of the details, there are some interesting things to take note of. You can click any photo to enlarge.

The People

Unless you were a construction worker, city worker or a young boy, almost every man wore a hat, jacket and usually a tie. Here almost all the men are wearing straw hats.

The man in the center holding a newspaper is smoking a cigarette. I’ve seen men smoking in old photos but usually not on the street. The subway kiosk on the northeast corner of 23rd street is an “exit only.”  There is a trash can right by the kiosk.

Looking at the southeast corner we can see another subway kiosk and lots of people crossing the street. The subway kiosks were removed many years ago and the subway entrances and exits relocated.

The shadows indicate that it is probably around noon. With the exception of a newspaper on the ground, there is hardly any litter on the streets or sidewalks. Civilized people disposed of their trash properly.

These two women with their ornate flowered hats are crossing the street, carefully. No matter how often the streets were cleaned there was horse manure and urine everywhere. By 1908 at least women’s skirts were no longer dragging on the ground. Over the years skirts had gradually risen to slightly above the ankles. The little boy in the background between the women looks like the poorest person in this prosperous district.

On the southeast corner a group of boys and young men have newspapers that they are getting ready to sell. The World; The Times; The Herald; The Evening Post; The Globe and Commercial Advertiser; The Tribune; The Morning Telegraph; The Sun; The Call; The Press; The American; The Evening Journal; in the highly competitive world of journalism there were over a dozen daily newspapers in English and many more in other languages. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #76

Around The Flatiron Building 1906 – Looking At The Details

We’ve profiled the fabulous photographs of the Detroit Publishing Company held by the Library of Congress before, but with over 40,000 photographs in the collection there are always interesting views to examine.

This scene  looking south from 27th Street and Fifth Avenue shows moderate traffic at a typically busy time. (Click any photo to enlarge)

If we look at the clock on the extreme right, near the Fifth Avenue Hotel (not visible), we can see the time is 8:53 in the morning on a sunny day.

Two smartly dressed women with great hats are walking west along the edge of Madison Square Park. A policeman walks with his white-gloved hands clasped behind his back and his distinctive helmet perched upon his head. The NYPD liked their officers to be tall and actively recruited men who were six feet or taller.

The man in the white helmet is a sanitation worker, dressed in a suit! As you can see, even in 1906 people knew bicycles were an effective way to navigate Manhattan. With the city powered by over 100,000 horses, you didn’t have to concern yourself too much with a car hitting your bicycle, as horses outnumbered cars about 10 to 1.

In 1906 there were only 130,000 motorized vehicles in the entire United States, and about 10,000 in New York City.

It only took another twelve years before cars outnumbered horses in New York City. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #75

This Craggy Road With Shanties Is…

Before we tell you where this is in Manhattan, we’ll give you a minute to study the photo. One clue, it is an area below Central Park.

Give up? It is an undated, unidentified portion of 58th Street.  The photo comes via the New York Public Library stereoview collection. Continue reading