Category Archives: Old New York In Photos

Series: Old New York In Photos

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

Old New York In Photos #74 – Battery Place 1875

Battery Place Looking West from Broadway 1875

What could be a provincial European river city in the 19th century is in fact the southern portion of New York City in 1875.

This stereoview photograph of Battery Place, a street that ran for only three blocks along Battery Park, was taken from Broadway looking west towards the Hudson River and New Jersey.

Battery Place & vicinity 1852 Atlas of New York

The building to the extreme right is 1 Broadway, the Washington Hotel. The original building  which stood on the northwest corner of Broadway was a house occupied by General Israel Putnam and used by General George Washington as his headquarters during the early days of the American Revolution. After the war’s completion it became the Washington Hotel. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #73 – Jefferson Market Courthouse

Jefferson Market Courthouse, Greenwich Village – 1885

An 1897 book, The Greater New York Guide Book, Manhattan Historic and Artistic by Cynthia M. Westover Alden described the Jefferson Market Courthouse quite simply as “an irregular but unique and handsome structure, built of red brick and sandstone, in the Italian Gothic style.”

In 1885 at 9:25 in the morning according to the clock in its tower, James R. Osgood photographed the Jefferson Market Courthouse for American Architect and Building News.

Since originally being published, this crisp and clear photo has remained unseen for over 130 years.

This view looking southwest is one that has changed in 130 years. but would still be recognizable to any resident of Greenwich Village today. The courthouse still stands on its irregular plot of land at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 10th Street and is the pride of Village residents.

When completed in 1877 by architect Frederick Clarke Withers, the Jefferson Market Courthouse was the epitome of stylish Victorian design. As can be seen in the photograph, surrounding the courthouse along 9th Street, Greenwich Avenue and part of 10th Street was the original Jefferson Market, which began functioning in 1832. The group of buildings housed butchers, fish peddlers and produce dealers. Over the years however, the market became home to a magistrate’s court, a women’s court and a series of cells to temporarily hold women prisoners.

The Jefferson Market was demolished in 1929 for a building that would become the Women’s House of Detention. While excavating on the site for the prison, the workers hit upon the Old Minetta Creek. A 25 foot diameter space quickly filled with 10 feet of water and several pumps were needed to drain the site. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #72 – Hotel Netherland circa 1912

The Hotel Netherland Fifth Avenue and 59th Street c. 1912

Located at 783 Fifth Avenue on the corner of 59th Street, the Hotel New Netherlands, was built by the Astor estate under William Waldorf Astor and leased by General Ferdinand P. Earle. For 33 years it was one of the finest of New York’s hostelries.

After the Hotel New Netherlands opened on June 1, 1893, a guide book noted the new hotel’s room rates as “unannounced, but among the most expensive.”

The New Netherlands was on the European plan, which meant you didn’t necessarily have to have your meals at the hotel, but you could eat there for an extra charge.

For a comparison the most expensive New York hotels on the European plan; the Normandie; Vendome; Brunswick; and Gilsey had rooms starting at $2.00 per night. the Waldorf was $2.50 per night. On the American plan with meals included, the Windsor was $6.00 and the Savoy was $4.50. The only other hotels besides the New Netherlands that did not list their prices were the Grenoble and the Plaza.

Architect William Hume designed what was at the time the tallest hotel in the world at 17 stories and 229 feet. The hotel had a fine panoramic view of the city. The seemingly endless green expanse of Central Park was directly across the street.  From the higher floors looking past the park you could see the Hudson River and looking southeast was a clear view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

It’s an interesting design and as you look up at the ornate hotel you will notice a hodgepodge of styles.

The hotel was renamed in 1908 as the Hotel Netherland. Later it was the home to the famous Louis Sherry’s restaurant from 1919-1925. When the hotel closed in 1925, it was soon demolished and replaced by the 35 story Sherry-Netherland Hotel in 1927.  The address of the new hotel was changed to 781 Fifth Avenue.

The exact year our photograph by the Detroit Publishing Company is not certain. It probably falls between 1912 -1914 based upon the vehicles in the street. A look at the scene around the hotel shows a bustling metropolis in action. Examining the details is always interesting, you can click on any photo below to enlarge.

The Hotel Netherland’s advertising sign and roof line are quite a sight. The turret is absolutely great. Some of the hotel’s windows are open with curtains parted to let in light on this sunny day.

On the corner of the Netherland are these fantastic light fixtures. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #71 – Wall Street In 1880 & 1904

Two Views of Wall Street – 1880 & 1904 – With A Story From A 19th Century Stockbroker

Wall Street 1880

Wall Street 1904

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The changes in Wall Street from 1880 to 1904 are clear by comparing these two photographs taken from Broad Street. The center of each photograph is unchanged with historic Trinity Church at the foot of Wall Street and Broadway.

In the 1880 photo the church clock indicates it is 9:40 in the morning. Wall street looks almost provincial with gas lit lamps and small five story buildings, mainly housing insurance companies, brokers and banks. With the wild stock swings in this tumultuous era, many firms were here today, gone tomorrow.

On the far left side behind the gas lamp you can see the advertisement on the stairs leading to 17 Wall Street for stock brokers Taylor Brothers. Directly adjacent is a three story building with a sign above its entrance for Duff and Tienken, gold brokers. Immediately next to Duff and Tienken at 13 Wall Street is the first building owned by the New York Stock Exchange. Looking closely  at the sidewalk in front of most of the buildings, the small circular cylindrical objects are coal chute covers.

Fast forward 24 years later to 1904 and Wall Street is lined with tall buildings. Continue reading