Postcard Views of Riverside Drive 1900-1920
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 extension of the Ninth Avenue Elevated in 1879 and opening of 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.
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.
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.
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