Tag Archives: Astor House

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

Illustrations Of New York As Seen By Artists Around 1870

Part I – Demolished & Mostly Forgotten

Intersection Fifth Ave and Broadway at 23rd St looking north 1870

Intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue looking north towards the Worth Monument with The Fifth Avenue Hotel on the left (c. 1870)

Demolition of anything old  goes on every day without regard for New York’s history. I believe a day will come when all the pre-20th century buildings not given landmark protection will be gone. Demolished in the name of progress. Real estate values rule, not history values. That’s always been the way of New York.

When a historic structure like The St. Denis Hotel is obliterated instead of renovated it is a shame.

I see more and more ordinary tenement and commercial buildings falling at an astonishing rate. So I look around trying to see vestiges of things my great-grandparents might have known and been familiar with.

What did they see?

Recently I took out my copy of Reverend J.F. Richmond’s New York and Its Institutions 1609-1871 (E.B. Treat; 1871) and started to re-read it. I had forgotten how many excellent illustrations were in the book. Belying the name, New York and Its Institutions is not solely focused only upon hospitals, asylum, charity and worship facilities. The book thoroughly covers other important sites and buildings with their respective histories. Though it was not written as a guide book, it essentially is one.

What my ancestors saw were these historic buildings which are now not even memories to most New Yorkers, most having been taken down over a hundred years ago,

Let’s take a look at what New York City looked like around 1871 and take in what the visitor and native New Yorker would have seen.

Part I – Buildings No Longer In Existence

Very few lamented the loss of the old Post Office at the corner of Nassau and Liberty Street – — until they saw what replaced it in 1875.

The modest Police Department headquarters at 300 Mulberry Street was replaced in 1909 by a grand structure on Broome and Centre Streets.

Wilson's industrial school for girls 1870 new york Wilson’s Mission House or Industrial School For Girls at 27-29 Avenue A corner of St. Mark’s Place across from Tompkins Square Park.

Broadway Grand Central Hotel 1870The Grand Central Hotel stood on the west side of Broadway opposite Bond Street between Amity and Bleecker Street. Illegal alterations caused a major collapse of the Broadway facade  on August 3, 1973. Incredibly only four people were killed. The remaining section of the hotel was soon demolished. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #53

Broadway 1875

Broadway looking South Astor House 1875 publisher ThorneThis great view of Broadway looking south from Park Place was taken in 1875 by Thorne & Co. publishers of New York City views. With evidence from the shadows and with virtually no street traffic and few pedestrians, this photo apparently was taken early on a Sunday morning.

On the right hand side of the photo we see a couple of five story commercial buildings populated with local businesses offering sales including a clothing store, a jeweler and a toy distributor. One sign on the side of the stairs offers soda for a nickel.

The next building taking up the entire west side of Broadway from Barclay to Vesey Streets is the Astor House Hotel. Beyond the Astor House is St. Paul’s Chapel, followed by the recently completed Western Union Building. Further in the distance you can see the spire of Trinity Church. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #51 – Broadway & The Astor Hotel 1868

Broadway And The Astor House Hotel circa 1868

Broadway with the Astor House Hotel on the left circa 1868

Broadway with the Astor House Hotel on the left circa 1868

We are looking north on Broadway from Barclay Street on what has to be a weekend, as there is hardly any traffic on this normally bustling part of Broadway.

Enlarging the photograph you can see some interesting details. Horse drawn vehicles line up on both sides of the street as a few pedestrians mill about. A glimpse of City Hall Park and its trees can be seen on the right. Architect Alfred Mullett’s main Post Office has not been built yet (1869-1880) and has not encroached upon the southern end of the park, which was sacrificed for that building.

A few gas lamps provide the nighttime illumination for the area. There are also no overhead telegraph wires or poles visible. Surrounding most trees in the foreground are wrap-around wooden advertising placards. In the left hand corner of the photograph is a large ad for the Pennsylvania Railroad, in what may have been the Astor House’s ticketing office.

Besides the interesting view up Broadway, the famous five-story granite Astor House Hotel on the left is the focal point of this photograph. Astor House was built on Broadway between Barclay and Vesey Streets in 1836 by John Jacob Astor. After it opened it was called “the world’s finest hotel.” Presidents and statesmen like Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun made Astor House their chosen hostelry when visiting New York. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #44 – Western Union Building & The Day It Caught Fire

Western Union Telegraph Building – 1880

Broadway looking south Western Union Building 1880This view looking south on Broadway was taken from the Old Post Office in 1880 and shows a deserted stretch of the usually traffic clogged thoroughfare.

On the left in the foreground is the New York Herald Building. The building partially seen on the right side is the Astor House Hotel. Adjacent to the Astor with the columns is St. Paul’s Chapel. The tall structure further down Broadway is Trinity Church with its spire rising 281 feet. This was the highest point in New York until the World Building was built in 1890.

The main building dominating the photo at the corner of Broadway and Dey Street is the Western Union Telegraph Building designed by architect George B. Post. At 230 feet, it was one of the tallest commercial buildings in the city when it was built from 1872-1875. To put this tremendous height in perspective, this was four times the height of the average New York building. On top of the building’s flagstaff a time ball was perched which would drop precisely at noon, so everyone in the surrounding financial area could set their watch to the correct time.

The telegraph was still the predominant way to get a message to someone quickly. To send a telegram with the body message being ten words or less from New York to Baltimore or Boston cost 25¢; to Chicago 40¢ and to San Francisco $1.00.

Western Union Building Fire - New York Evening World

Western Union Building Fire – New York Evening World

A Fire Destroys The Building

As the night shift of telegraph operators and workers was letting out at 6:55 a.m. on Friday, July 18, 1890 the Western Union Building caught fire.

The fire broke out on the 6th floor and quickly spread to the upper floors. Firefighters arrived within six minutes of the first alarm being turned in.

The fire was far above the roof lines of the adjacent buildings and the water pressure from street level could not possibly come close to the fire. The firemen strung several hoses together and carried them up  into nearby buildings on to the roofs to fight the flames.

20,000 people watched from the surrounding streets as the firemen placed ladders from the adjacent building at 8 Dey Street to rescue people trapped in the Western Union Building and pour water on to the upper floors. Continue reading