Category Archives: Old New York In Photos

Series: Old New York In Photos

Old New York In Photos #87 – East 69th Street 1931

69th Street Looking East From First Avenue – 1931

There is nothing extraordinary about this view of East 69th Street taken on April 4, 1931 from the northeast corner of First Avenue, but there is a lot to focus on.

Still under construction at the end of 69th Street and York Avenue are the art deco inspired buildings of New York Hospital-Cornell Medical College. The hospital began construction in 1929 and was opened in September 1932. What had previously been the site of the Central Brewing Company and some row houses, became the home of buildings that housed New York Hospital, Cornell University Medical College, New York Hospital School of Nursing, and the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic.

On the right side of 69th street is the Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine of Siena. The church had been located there since 1897 and was soon to be demolished. The congregation moved to a new building on East 68th Street in 1932.

Even with the paucity of pedestrians and traffic on 69th Street, there is activity near the church. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #86 – The End Of The Classic Lower Manhattan Skyline c. 1956

Lower Manhattan’s Classic Skyline Seen Aerially From Battery Park c. 1956

And What Became of It

Classic lower Manhattan skyline before the late 1950s transformation. Battery Park is in the foreground. (c.1956)

Every time I’m in Brooklyn and gaze across the East River at the lower Manhattan skyline I feel I’m looking at a city I don’t recognize.

It’s not because I’m old, but it might be because the buildings that have been going up since the late 1950s are cut from the same mold, glass sheathed pinnacles with no flourishes, adornments or personality.

For the first half of the twentieth century, when you came upon New York whether by ship, train or car and got your first glimpse of the skyline you knew you were coming into New York City.

For a native New Yorker coming upon New York today, you may as well be entering the architectural equivalent of the Mall of America, any-city USA. Examples sprout up everywhere of New York’s architectural monstrosities, ugly and tall for the sake of being tall.

Classic lower Manhattan skyline form Brooklyn waterfront in the 1930s. photo: Acme

Commercial Cable Building

The skyline of lower Manhattan had remained pretty much static from 1931 through 1957 Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #85 – 42nd Street From The 3rd Avenue Elevated 1887

42nd Street Looking West From 3rd Avenue Towards Grand Central 1887

This albumen photograph was taken in 1887 by Willis Knowlton who had his studio at 335 Fourth Avenue.

Knowlton set up his camera from the 42nd Street station of the Third Avenue Elevated looking west towards Grand Central Station. If you’re thinking, “wait a minute, why are there elevated tracks running west towards Grand Central?” The answer is, this connecting spur was in place between 1878 and 1923, taking commuters to and from Grand Central directly to the Third Avenue El. As practical as the connection was for the 15,000 daily riders still using it in 1923, the city’s Board of Estimate ordered its removal in October of that year. The IRT complied and the spur was closed at midnight December 6, 1923 and the tracks and station were demolished soon afterwards.

A little about the buildings seen in this photograph. Running along the northern (right) portion of 42nd Street at 145-147 East 42nd Continue reading

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