Category Archives: Old New York In Postcards

Series: Postcards of Old New York

Old New York In Postcards #23 – The Bronx

The Bronx In Postcards 1905-1920

McKinley Square looking East – Bronx, NY

A short visit to the vanished Bronx of of a century ago.

It truly was the “Beautiful Bronx.”

Woodmansten Inn-Williamsbridge Road & Pelham-Parkway, Bronx, NY

A place to dine in style was the Woodmansten Inn. The Woodmansten Inn specialized in French cuisine and could seat 125 patrons. It was a busy place conveniently located across from the Morris Park Race Track (yes, the Bronx once had a horse racing track). Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #22 – 1950s New York City In Color

Color Postcards of New York City In The 1950s

The world famous Radio City Music Hall

When you say the words “old New York” a monochrome picture may materialize within you. What is old? It depends how old you are. To many people under the age of 40, the 1950s is considered ancient. To modern eyes, the 1950s was a black and white world because most movies were still not made in color and television sets were black and white.

So when you see the old Kodak Kodachrome moments, the pre-1960 vibrant colors still deliver  a wow effect.

1950s scenes around New York

At Foley Square where the buildings house the local, state and federal government agencies.

Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village marks the beginning of Fifth Avenue. Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #21 – 1920s & 1930s New York City Aerial Images

New York City In The 1920s & 1930s As Seen By Airplane

A Vanished Skyline

Peenn Station Area from airplane 1920sWhen in lower Brooklyn, Queens or bicycling across the George Washington Bridge, I look at the New York City skyline. It has become something I do not recognize.

New York is a city that architecturally alters itself every year. It comes as no surprise that there are buildings that now obscure the sight of what were once tourist magnets.

The Woolworth, Bankers Trust, Equitable, Municipal, Citicorp and Chrysler Buildings are dwarfed by new neighbors. Fifty Seventh Street is now an ugly amalgamation of needle glass towers selling for $40 million to absentee owners.

I never experienced the grandeur of the classic Manhattan skyline. It had mostly vanished by the 1960s in a spate of modern construction in the financial district and midtown. However, even through the 1980s there was not an infestation of buildings that blocked New York’s most notable structures.

But in the past fifteen years the New York skyline has been overhauled. In the process obliterating the uniqueness of New York. New, mammoth unattractive buildings are now spreading like a fungus in the city. The skyline seen now could be Chicago, Los Angeles or Houston. It has been impossible to stop a bunch of undistinguished architectural monstrosities to destroy the vistas that made New York famous.

Let us return to the 1920s and 30s when New York City looked like NEW YORK CITY. Here are some aerial postcard views showing what was once a picturesque city.

Click on any image to enlarge as all of these postcards are real photo. I scanned many (not all) of them at 300 dpi so the detail is pretty clear when enlarged.

New York from the south aerial view 1930sLooking north we have a fantastic overview of the entire southern portion of the island.

aerial lower manhattan east river 1930s aerialAnother classic view when approaching Manhattan from the south showing the piers and many turn-of-the-century and art deco buildings that proliferate in lower Manhattan.

Aerial view of Lower Manhattan from the Hudson Looking east across the Hudson another at the southern tip of Manhattan. This view captures most of the important buildings in the financial district.  Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #20 – Hotels Of The Past On The Upper West Side

Old New York Hotels Of The Upper West Side from 70th – 86th Streets

Hotel MAjestic 72nd St Central Park WestFor the past 150 years New York has had a thriving hotel industry. With real estate prices continually rising in Manhattan, more new hotels are opening now in Queens and Brooklyn.

The Plaza, The Waldorf Astoria and the St. Regis have over a century of  history. Those hostelry’s are the exception to longevity. Many of New York’s hotels are constantly in flux with ownership and name changes. Often smaller hotels have gone out of business because the real estate they sat upon was too valuable. Developers acquire the hotel and surrounding parcels and the hotel passes into history. Other times the buildings are spiffied up after years of neglect and converted from hotels to apartments.

Here are some views of the upper west side’s hotels of the past.

Hotel Emerson 75th Street off BroadwayThe Hotel Emerson at 166 West 75th Street off Broadway was a 300 room 16 story hotel opened in 1922, designed by Robert Lyons. In 1959 it became the Hotel Lincoln Square. The building has been remodeled and turned into rental apartments and is now named the Amstrdm. (That’s right, they cut out some vowels.) Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #19 – Chinese Restaurants, A Brief History

Postcard Views 1910 – 1949 & A Short History Of Chinese Restaurants In New York City

The Chinese Tuxedo Restaurant in New York’s Chinatown 1910

Along with Chinese immigration to the United States in the 1850s, came Chinese food. It wasn’t long before Americans took a liking to the transoceanic cuisine. The Chinese population in New York City was only 747 in 1880. By 1900 it had grown to 6,321.

Tai Sy Chinese restaurant

There “are eight thriving Chinese restaurants that can prepare a Chinese dinner in New York, almost with the same skill as at the famous Dan Quay Cha Yuen (Delmonico’s) of Shanghai or Canton,” according to Wong Chin Foo in the October 1888 Current Literature Magazine.  With only one day off, Chinese patrons, usually working as laundrymen, would crowd the Chinese restaurants on Sunday’s.

Port Arthur Restaurant

Port Arthur Restaurant 7 & 9 Mott Street, considered among the finest Chinese restaurants in New York City est. 1899

Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #18 – Bridges

Some Unusual and Rare Postcard Views of New York City Bridges

An unusual circa 1900 postcard view of the Brooklyn Bridge promenade with elegantly attired ladies

We don’t think too much about New York City’s bridges except when driving across them. Then you want to know if they are free from traffic, tolls and potholes.

Besides being civic utilitarian objects, on occasion they be considered architectural masterpieces like the Brooklyn Bridge and George Washington Bridge.

But many of the old bridges crossing New York waterways had great thought put into their design. Unfortunately unless you are stuck in traffic or you bicycle or walk over them, you probably would not take the time to notice the turrets, iron flourishes and fine details that decorate and beautify most of New York City’s early bridges.

Let’s take a look at some 100+ year old bridge postcards and sprinkle in some interesting facts and stories.

Williamsburg Bridge at 6 pm 1906

The Williamsburg Bridge’s tower can be glimpsed in the background, but what makes this view interesting is its vantage point on Delancey Street. While not dated, the postcard has the printing year of 1906 and the time as 6:00 pm. Hundreds of Brooklynites make their way to the bridge to walk or take a trolley or elevated train back home.

If the Williamsburg Bridge seems crowded that’s because it is. In 1906 an estimated 1,191,000 pedestrians; 3,548,900 passengers and drivers of vehicles; 51 million surface car (trolley) passengers; 56 million elevated car passengers; and exactly 1,149,543 vehicles and 33,375 horses led by hand, crossed the bridge.

The Williamsburg Bridge was opened on December 19, 1903. The cost of the construction of the bridge with the land was $23,277,560.

Manhattan Bridge at night circa 1910

It is a snowy night and and the roads leading onto the Manhattan Bridge have a light coating of ice, snow and slush on them. The scene is brilliantly lit and there are vehicles or pedestrians in the scene. The Manhattan Bridge was opened for vehicular traffic December 31, 1909 and opened for pedestrian travel July 18, 1910. Including the land, the bridge cost $24,105,200.

Tolls were eliminated on the Williamsburg, Manhattan, Queensboro and Brooklyn Bridge on July 19, 1911 by order of Mayor Gaynor.

High Bridge is the oldest extant bridge in New York. Designed by John B. Jervis and completed in 1848 the bridge cost $963,428. The pedestrian bridge originally contained two three foot pipes which brought New York City fresh water from the Croton River, 41 miles away. The amount of water these pipes could carry was found to be inadequate within a dozen years. The side walls of the bridge were expanded and between 1860 -1864 a seven foot diameter water pipe was laid on top of the original two pipes.

The bridge was modeled after ancient Roman aqueducts, High Bridge’s 15 stone arches graced the river until the early 20th century. During World War I the bridge was declared a menace to navigation. Two proposals were put forward in 1918 to either remove two arches and replace that section with a steel span or entirely demolish the bridge at a cost of $150,000. Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #17 – Riverside Drive

Postcard Views of Riverside Drive 1900-1920

Riverside Drive may not be the most famous street in Manhattan, but it is among the prettiest.

The natural beauty of the surrounding area made this parcel of Manhattan real estate an ideal setting for a park and residential development.

Up until the late 19th century there was not a whole lot of home building along this western portion of the city with the exception of a few mansions perched high along the river.

As transportation options continued to improve, Riverside Avenue began attracting wealthy New Yorkers and real estate developers to the west side. The opening of the Ninth Avenue Elevated in 1879 and the subway in 1904 made it possible to commute from the upper west side to New York’s business center downtown. In 1908 Riverside Avenue’s name was officially changed to Riverside Drive.

If Riverside Drive had been built as originally proposed by Park Commissioner William Martin in 1865, it would have been a 100 foot wide straight boulevard.

Fortunately that turned out to be impractical due to the natural topography of the area.

Riverside Drive looking north towards Grant’s Tomb 1912

In 1873 Frederick Law Olmsted the designer of Central and Prospect Park received the job of laying out Riverside Park and Drive. Olmsted realized that incorporating the existing landscape surrounding Riverside Avenue into a park was a better plan than grading and straightening the hills along the drive.

By the time work started on the park in 1875 Olmsted had left New York City. Over the next 25 years  a succession of designers, engineers and architects executed Olmsted’s proposal but not exactly sticking to his plan. Calvert Vaux, Samuel Parsons and Julius Munckwitz all had their turn in building up Riverside Drive and its park.

By the turn of the 20th century Riverside Drive was lined with expensive single family townhouses and row houses overlooking the Hudson River. Land speculation led to a spate of luxury apartment buildings in the upper parts of the boulevard.

A touring bus along Riverside Drive

The first portion of  Riverside Drive from 72nd to 85th Street was opened in 1879. Riverside Park terminated at 129th Street. The Riverside Viaduct completed in 1900, bridged the schism between 125th and 135th Streets. Riverside Drive then continued north to 181st Street.

Here are some of the views from 100 years ago.

postcard view Riverside Drive north from 72nd Street 1918

Riverside Drive north from 72nd Street 1918

This World War I era view shows Riverside Drive at 72nd Street looking north. The entire block between 73rd and 74th Streets and Riverside Drive and West End Avenue belonged to one man and his extravagant home. The french style chateau with the large front lawn is the 75-room Charles M. Schwab mansion.  Designed by Maurice Ebert and completed at a cost of $6 million in 1905, the home contained a gym, a bowling alley, a pool, and three elevators. Schwab had made his millions working with Andrew Carnegie. Schwab went on to head United States Steel. Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #16 – 1960s & 70s Aerial Views of Manhattan In Color

Color Aerial Views of Manhattan’s Skyline In The 1960s & Early 70s

nyc-skyline-1-1

The Staten Island Ferry is arriving as Manhattan’s classic skyline is seen from the south c 1963

As Manhattan grows more crowded with slender glass boxes rising all over the island, some say New York is losing its classic skyline.

The truth is that classic skyline started to be lost  in the early 1950s as box-like buildings replaced older “obsolete” structures.

Developers were aided by city planners like Robert Moses whose vision of urban renewal often lead to urban devastation. In the mid 1950s Moses proposed building a ten lane elevated highway, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, across the neighborhoods now known as TriBeca and SoHo. Dozens of historic buildings would have been bulldozed in the process to connect a highway from the Holland Tunnel to the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. Fortunately after a long debate the city abandoned the plan in 1969.

For the most part in the past 300 years, progress and the money involved in Manhattan real estate has never let sentimentality or a sense of history stand in the way of demolition.

Sites that once held classic tall buildings such as the Savoy Plaza Hotel and the Singer Building were demolished in the 1960s to make way for even bigger skyscrapers. With the exception of a few well designed buildings, hundreds of nondescript office and residential buildings have been constructed over the past 60 years.

The current skyscraper building craze has blocked views from many vantage points of Manhattan’s iconic buildings.

These photo postcards were all taken between 1963 and 1974. Manhattan still had many vestiges of its classic skyline and sense of scale in place. They capture lower and midtown Manhattan from various angles just before the permanent eradication of these classic views.

nyc-skyline-1A close view of lower Manhattan’s financial district looking north in 1963. Only a few post-war buildings have been constructed in the financial district.

nyc-skyline-1-2Looking northwest, change has begun as several boxy buildings are under construction near South Street and the FDR Drive as seen directly behind the Staten Island Ferry terminal (1965).

nyc-skyline-2Looking south in 1964 towards the financial district. On the left are the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges spanning the East River. The tallest building on the right is the Woolworth Building. Other tall buildings seen in the center, include the Cities Services Building, the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building, and the City Bank Farmers Trust Building,. The modern tall glass and aluminum structure is the 60 story Chase Manhattan Bank Building bounded by Nassau, Liberty, William and Pine Streets. When opened in 1961 it was the sixth tallest building in the world. Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #15

Postcard Views of 125th Street – The Heart of Harlem 1905-1910

A dreamy view of 125th Street looking east from the elevated station circa 1910

A dreamy colored sky hangs over 125th Street looking east from 8th Avenue circa 1910

What was 125th Street like at the turn of the 20th century? It was the commercial center of a genteel neighborhood, the heart of Harlem. Restaurants, hotels, businesses and entertainment venues lined the prosperous street. 1900 census data shows the area was white with almost no blacks living around the surrounding streets. Residents around the area were primarily Jewish, Italian, German or WASP.

View of 125th Street looking west from 7th Avenue. The Hotel Winthrop is on the left the Harlem Opera House with finials atop its roof is on the right circa 1907.

View of 125th Street looking west from 7th Avenue. The Hotel Winthrop is on the left the Harlem Opera House with finials atop its roof is on the right circa 1907.

By 1910, things were changing and blacks now made up around 10 percent of Harlem’s population.  That gradual change occurred after real estate speculators built apartments when  the subway was being constructed between 1900 and 1904. The anticipated housing boom was a bust and these buildings were slow to fill with white tenants. A shrewd black real estate manager and developer Philip Payton Jr. was instrumental in changing the demographics of Harlem starting at 133rd Street and Lenox Avenue around 1905. Payton seized the opportunity in filling new and vacant buildings with black families. Soon other surrounding blocks were attracting black families.

Another view of 125th Street west of 7th Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.). Keith & Proctor's sign sits atop the vaudeville theater which was formerly The Harlem Opera House circa 1910.

Another view of 125th Street west of 7th Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.). Keith & Proctor’s sign sits atop the vaudeville theater which was formerly The Harlem Opera House circa 1910.

Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #14

Twelve Postcard Views Of The Vanished New York Elevated

Elevated South Ferry Terminals

South Ferry Terminals, where all four of New York’s elevated train lines commenced and ended their travels

The most dramatic change in transportation in 19th century New York came with the building of the elevated train, known simply to generations of New Yorkers as the “el” or “L”. Here with 12 postcard views is a brief history of the New York Elevated.

Battery Park Elevated

Battery Park Elevated with the Washington Building on the right, and the Whitehall Building on the left.

The first elevated train line was the Ninth Avenue El which began service in 1869 as a single track line which was operated by a cable. The train ran from the Battery to 31st Street. Continue reading