Old New York In Photos #114 – Grand Street c. 1908

A Trolley Accident Draws A Crowd On Grand Street

Grand Street c 1910 photo via Columbia University Community Service Society CollectionOur vantage point is just past Eldridge street looking west on Grand Street towards Forsyth Street (the shoe store on the corner). The Third Avenue El is in the background. 

While this scene appears to be a just a typical crowded street scene on the lower east side, it is not. Schoolboys crowd the sidewalk and a big police officer keeps the peace.

In the center of the street it is clear that a trolley has had an accident and has come off its rails. There are at least four policemen visible working crowd control. Our photograph comes from the Columbia University, Community Service Society Collection and is dated “no earlier than 1910,” based upon police headgear, but this is incorrect.

From Helmets To Caps

The New York Police Department had switched from helmets to caps before 1910, by order of Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo.

The 8,500 policemen were split about switching. Some policemen complaining that a cap offered less protection than a helmet. Others believed the large helmets made the police easily found within a crowd when needed.

Aesthetics were also a bugaboo for some police. “I’m glad I’m off the force. Them caps would make me look like a bandmaster of a little German band along Avenue A, while on Tenth Avenue the guys would pick me up as a peanut,” said ex-Chief “Big Bill” Devery.

After the official adaptation of the cap on Thursday, November 15, 1906 most officers liked the change, especially the big and tall policemen. The New York Tribune reported ,”the only one’s who don’t look good in it are the short and fat policemen.”

A Typical Lower East Side Street

The photograph is only identified by location, with no mention of the accident particulars.

The most notable building in this photograph is the 1903 Grand Street Theatre with the finials lining the roof. The Grand was also known as the Adler Theatre, after Yiddish stage star Jacob Adler. You can see the theatre’s marquee on the southeast corner of Grand and Chrystie Streets above the trolley car.

Every building visible except one was demolished after 1930 for slum clearance and the creation of Sara Delano Roosevelt Park. Today, the lone remaining building just past the theatre marquee on the southwest corner of Chrystie Street is the Columbia Apartments with white trim.

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