Old New York In Photos #137 – Fifth Avenue Hotel On A Busy Day

The Fifth Avenue Hotel, Fifth Avenue & 23rd Street – Circa 1885

We have featured the Fifth Avenue Hotel before as it was one of the centerpieces of nineteenth century New York.

This magic lantern view is looking northwest, with the hotel occupying the west side of Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 24th Streets.

Though it is impossible to date the photo, it was taken circa 1885. There are a few clues to examine.

The style of clothing and hats pedestrians are wearing are from the 1880s.The flag atop the hotel has a design indicating it is the 38 star variety which was in use from 1877-1890.

Finally, the Blizazrd of 1888, exposed the vulnerability of overhead poles carrying important communications wires. After the blizzard downed hundred of lines, the city began removing poles and moving wires to underground conduits.

Around The Hotel

The streets are busy with pedestrians, horse drawn trolleys. delivery vehicles and hansom cabs.

In front of the Fifth Avenue Hotel stands a street clock. It’s hard to tell, but it appears to be a few minutes before four o’clock. After the hotel was demolished, a similar clock was put up in 1909 in front of the Fifth Avenue Building.

Knox the Hatter had one of their retail locations on the ground floor of the hotel. Before occupying this location, Knox’s hat rival, Robert Dunlap occupied the space. From the book The Story of Two Famous Hatters by Robert Updergraff privately printed, (1926):

Dunlap was paying $2,500 per year for this store, and when his lease ran out the landlord informed him that the rent would be $10,000 per year in the future. While he was considering whether he would pay this fabulous rent, Edward Knox stepped in and rented the store over his head.

It is interesting to discover that in coming to the momentous decision to lease this store at so
high a rental, with business men freely prophesying that such a rental would ruin any retail business, Edward Knox fell back on the same reasoning that his father had used years before: “There is only one thing to do in New York,” he is quoted as saying, “and that is, be the first in your line, or get out of the way for somebody else.”

In the foreground on the triangular plot where Fifth Avenue and Broadway converge at 23rd Street are the ticket offices of the Erie Railroad. The Flatiron Building (completed 1902) now stands on the site.

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