Tag Archives: Postcards

When Rent Cost $10 Per Week In New York City

The Cost of Apartment Living In New York In 1892

Lexington Avenue and 64th Street - typical turn of the century brownstones

Lexington Avenue and 64th Street – typical turn of the century brownstones

New York has always had a wide range of housing choices. But the gulf in living conditions between rich and the poor remains vast. If you have a lot of money, your housing choices are unlimited. If not, you are hard pressed to find anything decent. As Kansas gunslinger and New York journalist Bat Masterson observed in his final column, “Everybody gets the same amount of ice — the rich get theirs in the summer and the poor get theirs in the winter.”

The lowest of New York's living quarters: the 7 cent per night lodging house

The lowest of New York’s living quarters: the 7 cent per night lodging house

Over time when it comes to housing a lot of things have changed, others have not. In 1892 living conditions for the very poor in New York were abysmal. Maybe not as bad as they are now, but pretty close. The majority of New Yorker’s were not living in poverty, but were just plain working people at various income levels; some struggling to survive and in many cases raise a family.

Which brings us to the question about living in New York in 1892 – just what sort of housing did you get for your money?

Kings Handbook of New York coverThe fabulous King’s Handbook of New York City, (1892), delves into everything related to New York, including home life, and answers the question.

One chapter in the book devotes itself to the types of housing available in New York.

The mansions, high class homes, bachelor apartments, middle income flats, boarding houses, tenements and lodging houses are all covered.

The most surprising thing is that you could live in a relatively decent neighborhood with room and board for about $10 per week. Realize of course that an unskilled laborer might barely earn that amount of money and paying room and board put them at the the precipice of poverty. For those people it typically meant finding lodging at a $2 per week boarding house.

152nd Street Riverside Drive Onondaga Apartments postcardThe wealthy, professional and merchant classes could afford to choose their housing according to taste and preferences with a good deal of flexibility. The middle class also had choices which varied widely. So when you read about what you got for your money at $50 or more per month, you cannot help but feel envy for Gotham’s dwellers of the past. You come away with the feeling that New York was a much more affordable city 123 years ago. The prices quoted may have you looking for a time machine.

From King’s Handbook, a selection from the section on housing: Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #12 – 20 Historic Buildings That Were Demolished

20 Historic, Beautiful New York Buildings That Were Demolished

City Hall Newspaper Row Buildings (l-r) World Building (aka Pulitzer Building), Sun Building, Tribune Building - all demolished. New York Times and Potter Buildings are still extant

City Hall Newspaper Row Buildings (l-r) World Building (aka Pulitzer Building), Sun Building, Tribune Building – all demolished. New York Times and Potter Buildings are still extant

New York City real estate developers will always knock down a building if a buck can be made. So it really should come as no surprise that these buildings were demolished because they outlived their usefulness or more often than not, the land they sat upon was deemed more valuable than the building itself.

Nathan Silver’s must-own book, Lost New York (1967) Houghton Mifflin, was the first book to explicitly point out what New York City had lost architecturally over the years. If you have never read it, you should.

For our short postcard essay, there are hundreds of examples we could have chosen from and we picked 20. We omitted places of worship, theatres and restaurants which are the most transitory of buildings.

We’ve covered hotels before, and we could do another story on all the historic hotels that have been torn down, but we’ve included a few in this retrospective.

Rather than comment extensively on the buildings, a brief summary will suffice and the images should convey what we have lost. These postcards have been scanned at 1200 dpi in high resolution, click on any postcard to enlarge.

Singer Building hresSinger Building – 149 Broadway (corner Liberty Street),  A gem by architect Ernest Flagg, built 1908. Once the tallest building in the world. The Singer Building was elegant and sleek. Demolished 1967-68 and replaced by a ugly box of a building built by the Unites States Steel Corporation.

Produce Exchange hresProduce Exchange – 2 Broadway between Beaver and Stone Streets. Architect George B. Post’s splendid work of grace was constructed between 1882-84, and demolished 1957.

Gillender Building 2 hresGillender Building – northwest corner Wall Street and Nassau Street. Architects, Charles I. Berg and Edward H. Clark, built in 1897 at a cost of $500,000. The Gillender Building was the tallest office building in the world for a brief time. The 20-story tower lasted only 13 years. In 1910 it was the first modern fireproof building to be demolished and it was done at breakneck speed, in under 45 days. The Gillender Building was replaced by the Bankers Trust Tower. Continue reading

New York’s Chinatown Described In 1898

Joss Houses, Chinese Restaurants and Opium Smoking

Chinatown 1896 looking at 22 Mott Street

Bing Chung Importers (near left) in the heart of Chinatown at 22 Mott Street in 1896

The great thing about reading old guidebooks to New York City is that you can see the world through contemporary eyes. This usually means all foreigners were viewed as curiosities with their exotic customs and provincial ways.

In 1897 the Chinese population in New York City was only 7,000 – almost all living in Chinatown centered around Mott Street. In 2015, New York City’s Chinese population is now over 500,000 people spread throughout the five boroughs.

The guidebook we quote from is Rand, McNally Handy Guide to New York City, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and other suburbs included in the Greater New York edited by Ernest Ingersoll (1898). This portion is called “A Ramble At Night”, and the visitor to New York is directed to tour the areas of New York that are off the beaten path after 9 p.m. such as Little Italy and The Bowery. The purpose of the night ramble is to “give some hints as how the dark, crowded, hard-working, and sometimes criminal portions of the city look at night.” Reproduced below is the section on the Chinatown.  Continue reading

Old New York in Postcards #11 – Unbuilt New York

Some Interesting Things Around New York that Were Never Built

West Jersey BridgeNew York City: plans are made, plans are scrapped. We’ve dug up postcards of unbuilt projects, variations of existing structures or other anomalies such as a lawn in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library.

The postcard seen here is the West Jersey Bridge which predates the George Washington Bridge by a few years. In the 1880’s Gustav Lindenthal came up with a design for a large train bridge for the Pennsylvania Railroad that would have connected Manhattan at 23rd Street with New Jersey. The railroad opted for tunnels instead of a bridge. Lindenthal had a long career in bridge engineering supervising the building of the Queensboro and Hell Gate Bridges.

Lindenthal’s plans for the West Jersey Bridge were drawn up in 1920. The West Jersey Bridge would have had 20 lanes of traffic on its upper deck and a dozen on the lower level.  Pedestrian walkways were to be part of the gargantuan bridge which would have stretched from Weehawken, NJ to 57th Street in Manhattan. The master plan included cutting a highway across Manhattan to the Queensboro Bridge. The West Jersey Bridge was never built. Instead, Lindenthal’s protege Othmar Ammann designed the George Washington Bridge which was constructed further north at 177th Street.

Hudson River BridgeWhich brings us to something we covered previously: that the George Washington Bridge was originally supposed to have its towers sheathed in stone. Architect Cass Gilbert’s stone arches were depicted in various early drawings and plans for the Hudson River Bridge before it was given the name that it is known by today: the George Washington Bridge.

Williamsburg BridgeWith this illustration of the Williamsburg Bridge completed in 1903, the artist took some liberties in showing the completed towers.  On the top of each of the towers we see what appear to be windowed rooms, possibly for observation or just decoration. They were never built.

Manhattan Bridge Approach

The Manhattan Bridge completed in 1909 is accurately shown in this postcard, but the entrance certainly is not something that came to fruition. The Manhattan Bridge approach as seen here is a veritable garden in a park-like atmosphere with neatly pruned trees, shaped into squares  surrounding the entrance way.

Hudson Fulton Bridge 1Hendrick Hudson River Bridge 2

1955 photograph of current Henry Hudson Bridge

1955 photograph of current Henry Hudson Bridge

For the Hudson-Fulton celebration of 1909 there were various proposals to build a bridge connecting upper Manhattan with the Bronx. Known as The Hendrick Hudson Memorial Bridge or Hudson-Fulton Memorial Bridge, both designs featured elegant approaches for an arch bridge over Spuyten Duyvil. Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #10 – Restaurants

A Look At Churchill’s and Four Other Restaurants From Old New York

Exterior Churchills Restaurant Broadway 49th St c 1915Churchill’s Restaurant southwest corner 49th Street and Broadway, circa 1915.

Police Sergeant Jim Churchill did not have the background of a typical restauranteur. He put in 20 years on the job policing the streets of New York and was named acting Captain of a precinct in the Bowery for a few months starting in November of 1901. He wound up being dismissed from the force in 1902 for neglect of duty.

It seems that Churchill was not aggressive enough in closing saloons operating illegally on Sunday and shutting down houses of ill-repute under his jurisdiction. From reading the newspaper accounts of his trial, Churchill may have been set up by others in the police department who wanted his ouster.

Churchill, with the help of friends and backers went into business for himself. In May 1903 Churchill ironically opened a saloon at 1420 Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets. The small bar and restaurant prospered and in 1906 he moved north to new digs on Broadway at 46th street to a space which could accommodate up to 350 patrons.

But even that was not enough room for the captain’s friends and clientele. In 1909 Churchill built for himself a spacious, luxurious entertainment and feasting palace at 49th Street that could seat 1,400 diners. Designed by architect Harold M. Baer, the three story terra cotta brick building with stucco ornamentation attracted huge crowds. Even with so much more space, guests frequently would have to wait in line for a table as capacity crowds filled the restaurant.

Employing over 300 people and with an annual advertising budget of $50,000 for a $250,000 business, Churchill’s became world famous and remained a favorite restaurant and cabaret spot for the Broadway crowd throughout the teens.

Churchill’s stayed in business until prohibition cut into profits and forced Jim Churchill to close his doors and lease the space to a Chinese restaurant. The building was demolished in 1937 and the location eventually housed heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Bar and Grill from 1938 until its closing in 1974.

Churchill went abroad for a number of years after closing his restaurant and upon returning to the states, he commented about the changes that many New York City restaurants had undergone during the 1920’s. To the New York Times he remarked, “Hostesses? There were no such things in my days. No one ever thought of such a thing. It was not permitted that any woman come into a restaurant-cabaret unaccompanied. Instead of hostesses I employed 30 boys, one of them the late Rudolph Valentino, to dance with women who came unescorted for luncheon.”

When Churchill died in 1930 at the age of 67, he left most of his sizable estate, a half million dollars, to his wife.

Exterior Cafe Boulevard Restarant 156 2nd ave at 10th st 1911The Cafe Boulevard 156 Second Ave southeast corner of 10th Street, circa 1909. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #45

New York City 1905 After A Big Snowstorm – The Sights Along Broadway Between 29th and 30th Streets Described

New York After a Big Snowstorm 1905 ph Detroit Photo Library of CongressSo far New York City has not had a major snowstorm this season like upstate New York received earlier this month. But I dream of New York City days gone by like this one shown above.

In this high resolution photograph (click to greatly enlarge) taken in 1905, the effects of a recent snowstorm can be seen as the snow has been shoveled high onto the edge of the street and sidewalk.

We are looking up Broadway from the northwest corner of 29th Street towards 30th Street. On the extreme left at 1209 Broadway is one of the many United Cigar Stores outlets, a chain store which dominated New York’s tobacco retail industry at the turn of the century. Next door at 1211 Broadway is Marcus & Marcus supplying men’s furnishings.

Across the street at 1204 Broadway an advertisement in the window at ground level announces that the entire stock in their window was purchased by The Maurice Company, a clothing company run by Maurice Rogaliner. The “Broadway Dentists” also had offices in the same building along with Sol Young, Photographer.

Next door to the Maurice Company is Shanley’s Restaurant, owned by brothers Tom and Michael Shanley.

Shanley’s was one of the most famous eateries of the late 19th and early 20th century in Manhattan. With three restaurants, this one at 1210-1212 Broadway was their second location which opened in 1896. As the restaurant guide Where And How To Dine In New York (Lewis, Scribner & Co; 1903) describes it:

Everybody in New York knows Shanley’s and almost everybody has dined at one or another of the three establishments conducted under this name. The management acknowledges but one purpose in the conduct of its restaurants — to make its guests absolutely comfortable and to persuade them that Shanley^s holds the recipe for good cheer. It has taken twelve years to develop the atmosphere which one finds in Shanley’s and during this time the extent of its business operations has been greatly enlarged.   The service at Shanley’s is entirely a la carte. The cuisine is proverbial for its excellence. Chops, steaks, lobsters, game, shell fish and kidneys are among the special attractions of the house.

Next to Shanley’s the building with the initials HB and the crown on its sign is the Hof Brau Haus Restaurant. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #43

Giant Times Square Advertising Billboards Of The Past

New York's Times Square at night 60 Years ago, 1954 photo: Charles Shaw

New York’s Times Square at night 60 Years ago, 1954 photo: Charles Shaw

The New York Times article about the new eight story high, block long, LED illuminated billboard that will be put into use on Tuesday night, November 18, 2014, made me think about some of the classic advertising signs that were in place during the 1940’s and 1950’s at the crossroads of the world.

Bond Clothiers sign, 1948, Times Square looking north

Bond Clothiers sign, 1948, Times Square looking north

Chief among these ads was the dramatic Bond Clothiers sign taking up the entire Broadway block between 44th and 45th Streets. The 200 foot wide, 50 foot high billboard was brightly lit up at night and had a waterfall cascading between the two large scantily clad statues flanking it. The figures appeared nude during by day and had electric lights draped around them which produced a quasi-covering effect on the statues when the lights went on.

With two miles of neon, it was a colorful spectacle to behold in person, especially at nigTimes Square 1948 Bond Clothiers at night billboardht. The sign was only up from 1948-1954.

We previously showed what the area looked like at night in our story about the giant New York snowstorm of 1948.

The Bond sign replaced an earlier sign for Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum that also was breathtaking with its neon aquatic design. Designed by Dorothy Shepard, it occupied the site from about 1936 to 1948.

Times Square Wrigleys Billboard sign Ad postcardThe other billboard Continue reading

In 1918 New York’s Hotel Commonwealth Was Going To Be The Largest In The World

 The Unbuilt 2,500 Room Hotel Commonwealth – New York’s Largest Hotel

Hotel Commonwealth New York City postcard view 3New York has always been a city of ambitious plans, dreams and schemes. But there are few rivals to the grandiose project for a hotel which was to be the largest in the world with 2,500 rooms and set up on a cooperative system to be owned by common investors.

The promotional brochure proclaimed:

TO BE BUILT BY THE COMMON WEALTH
TO BE MANAGED FOR THE COMMON GOOD
TO BE OPERATED FOR THE COMMON BENEFIT

The Hotel Commonwealth was to be situated on Broadway between 55th and 56th Streets. The description on the back of this 1918 postcard pictured above contains early 20th century ballyhoo of the highest order:

Hotel Commonwealth – “Greatest thing of its kind on earth.” The Commonwealth will be the first important building to be erected in conformance with the new building law to conserve light and sunshine for the general public. Through its 28 stories which will contain 2,500 rooms, it will rise 400 feet in the air in graceful terraces, or “set-backs” as the zoning law calls them, the flowering plants and shrubs upon each terrace giving the monster hostelry an unusual beauty of architecture, rivaled only by the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The planned 2,500 rooms would be 500 more rooms than the largest hotel ever built. Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #40

A 1920’s View Of Lower Manhattan Looking Northeast From The Now Closed Woolworth Building Observation Deck

Lower Manhattan from Wooloworth building Observatory 1920s

A tourist in the early 1920’s took this panoramic view of lower Manhattan from a place that is currently off-limits to the general public, the observation deck of the Woolworth Building. The visitors observation deck was shut down in 1941 right before the United States entry into World War II, when the Navy ordered it closed because it offered too good a view of ships in the harbor. Recently even the Woolworth Building lobby was declared off-limits to anyone wanting a view inside of the ornamental entrance.

Woolworth Building 1913

Woolworth Building 1913

From this vantage point we can see from right to left the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River, the Manhattan Bridge and in the hazy distance the Williamsburg Bridge. Spread across the lower east side are an array of many small buildings, with a couple of exceptions, most notably the tower of the New York City Municipal Building, which can be partially seen on the extreme left in the foreground.

When it was completed in 1913, the 792 foot tall Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway was the tallest building in the world and retained that title until the Chrysler Building usurped it in 1929. Depending upon your source and how you are counting the Woolworth Building contains anywhere between 55 – 60 floors.

For the admission fee of 50¢, visitors could get an incredible view of the surrounding metropolitan area from its observation deck. The tour book the building Continue reading

The Ninth Avenue Elevated Train Crash Of 1905

 In 1905, The Worst Elevated Train Accident In New York’s History Occurred

9th ave elevated railway accident 9 11 1905 postcard photo R Weigel

For as long as you live September 11 will be remembered as the date of  the terrorist attacks on America that brought down the World Trade Center towers. But before 2001,  9/11 marked the anniversary of the worst elevated train disaster in New York’s history. It is a disaster no one wanted to remember and was quickly forgotten except by train and New York history buffs.

The four elevated lines in Manhattan which had a glorious history are long gone, demolished between 1938 and 1955. The elevated lines began service in 1878 and until the subway was built, they provided the quickest and safest routes around New York.

9th Ave 53rd Street junction photo via -  http://warofyesterday.blogspot.com

9th Ave 53rd Street elevated junction
photo via – http://warofyesterday.blogspot.com

But there were always fears among riders that one day an elevated train would jump the tracks.

Those fears came true on September 11, 1905.

Not surprisingly it happened at one of the more dangerous stretches of track along the elevated system.

The Sixth and Ninth Avenue Elevated lines shared their tracks above 53rd Street along Ninth Avenue. At 53rd Street the lines diverged, with the Sixth Avenue el traveling three avenues east along 53rd Street to continue its journey along Sixth Avenue.

At that Ninth Avenue junction, the towerman (also called switchman) was responsible for controlling whether trains traveling downtown would continue straight on the Ninth Avenue line or go along 53rd Street to the Sixth Avenue line.

The passengers aboard a five car “el” train that September 11 morning believed their train was going to continue straight down Ninth Avenue, as that was what the station guards at the previous station at 59th Street had told them.

If the train was proceeding down Sixth Avenue it was supposed to come to a full stop at 54th street and await a signal. The recommended maximum speed if a train was to continue down Ninth Avenue was nine miles per hour.

Diagram of Ninth Avenue El crash

Diagram of Ninth Avenue El crash (click to enlarge)

It was 7:05 in the morning as Paul Kelly, the motorman of the el train approached the intersection at 53rd street without stopping.

Witnesses said Kelly slowed down a bit but the train’s estimated speed was 25 miles per hour. Continue reading