A lovely view of Union Square, 1905

On any given day, this corner of Union Square is packed with pedestrians and choked with buses and taxis.

But this 1905 postcard depicts a quiet, sparsely populated square. Maybe it’s early in the morning, and the social justice protests that often took place here aren’t scheduled to start until later.

And the dance halls and cheap theaters lining Broadway did brisk business the night before.

Mysteriously, it looks like Union Square East is cordoned off from Broadway by rope. And what about that bronze George Washington equestrian statue in the middle of the street?

The oldest sculpture in any city park, it was unveiled in 1856, then moved inside the park in 1930 to protect it from traffic.

Here’s an equally lovely view of Union Square from the same decade.

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9 Responses to “A lovely view of Union Square, 1905”

  1. Josie Says:

    It appears to me that the rope barricade that continues in a large semi-circle before the statute was meant to create a safe space for pedestrians. The barricade is in sections, with open spaces for pedestrians to pass through, in and out of the circle. Vehicular traffic can flow around the barricade in every direction. I read somewhere that there used to be terrible fatal accidents in that area, with people crossing those streets at will and the trolleys whizzing around corners. This safety zone would allow people to undertake their crossings in shorter segments.

  2. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    The rope was about chest high and cordoned the area near S. Klein’s Department Store on 14th and 15th Streets. I remember at the time it kept people from walking into traffic and people obeyed, walking to the corner. Those were easy days to live in, a rope, wow!

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    The rope survived through the 1970s? Amazing.

    I think that junction of Broadway and Fourth Avenue in the SE corner of Union Square was known as Dead Man’s Curve. Lots of streetcar-squashing-pedestrian accidents happened.

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    But from what I remember it wasn’t a single rope but three or four which prevented people from going through. Wasn’t an actual rope but some sort of metallic cords which prevented you from sneaking your way into traffic. You couldn’t raise it high or low enough to get through. But it was much like the traffic still is on the other curve a block away, 14th St and Broadway, same scenario, a deadly curve with heedless traffic rushing through.

  5. T.J. Connick Says:

    George and horse were put at what was understood to be the very spot where he officially reclaimed the city from the departing British on Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783.

    In January 1903, Borough President Jacob A. Cantor petitioned the Parks commissioner to move the statue to the park. The objective was to remove impediments to a plan for surface structures relating to the new subway station, today’s Lexington Avenue portion of the 14th Street station. Nothing came of it.

    The subway line had already been built without disturbing the statue. Cantor was part of Seth Low’s winning fusion ticket, an interlude in Tammany domination. In March, the New York Tribune was reporting that Cantor’s plan had been approved by the Municipal Art Commission and Parks Commissioner Wilcox. It seems that Cantor was none to popular with fellow members of the fusion wing. In September is was announced that he wouldn’t be standing for re-election in November. Maybe his pronouncements and plans were being ignored by those who knew he wouldn’t be on the scene much longer.

    It seems that Cantor was also the party who envisioned the roped-off area in the Square. It was one of three planned “isles of safety” – the others in Madison Square and what was then Longacre Square – that were covered in an April 26, 1903 piece in the New York Tribune. The isles of safety were described as pursuing the dual intention of keeping vehicles on their side of the road while protecting pedestrians. Newspaper reports describe the area around the statue roped off for the same purposes a couple of years later.

  6. Joe Says:

    Social justice protesters? Is that what you call those loonies who have ruined Union Square?

    • wildnewyork Says:

      I meant protesters from the 19th and early 20th centuries, like Labor Day rallies. Not protesters there in recent years or today.

  7. Nabe News: March 30 - Bowery Boogie Says:

    [...] look at Union Square from a 1905 postcard [Ephemeral [...]

  8. Good Old Union Square | dreamlifenewyork.com Says:

    [...] times referred to as the “Times Square of downtown,” but it wasn’t always so. Ephemeral New York takes a deeper look into a post card from 1905, which depicts the area much differently. Well, [...]

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