Broadway at West 42nd Street: 1898 to 2011

“Even before the New York entertainment center moved up from Herald Square, the northwest corner of Broadway and 42nd Street featured a giant billboard advertising theatrical attractions,” states the caption for this photo from the fascinating 1976 book New York Then and Now.

I love the street cleaner pushing his barrel over Belgian block streets crisscrossed with streetcar tracks.

Later that year, the nine-story Hotel Pabst went up on the site, and nearby buildings torn down in 1902 to make way for the IRT subway. Theaters were moving in; check out the minstrel show signs at the far left in the 1903 photo above.

The corner kept changing fast. By 1905 The New York Times (at left) building replaced the hotel, and the plot of land, Longacre Square, was renamed Times Square.

The Times didn’t stay long. They moved to another building on West 43rd in 1913. The Times Tower and Square become New York icons of advertising and entertainment—the wholesome and the sleezy variety.

Fast-forward to 2011. Nothing from 1898 remains; the corner is a sea of neon, featuring monuments to commerce—like the big Chase bank.

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8 Responses to “Broadway at West 42nd Street: 1898 to 2011”

  1. Bruce Says:

    I loved that first picture ever since I saw it in the LOC files. The thing that caught my attention is the sign for Bergen Beach. At the time of the picture, Bergen Beach had a boardwalk and amusements like Coney Island and was on the shore of Bergen Island. (When the Belt Pkwy was built the marshes were drained and then filled in and Bergen Island was no longer an island.) Taking the train there consisted of taking the Manhattan Beach line (I think) and then an electric powered train that ran on what is now Ave. N / Veterans Av.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I love it too. Bergen Beach could’ve been Coney…but things didn’t work out that way.

  3. Joe R Says:

    What does remain from the old Times Building is the skeleton. I’m pretty sure that 1 Times Square was built upon the existing steel structure of the older building. That’s why the shape is the same.

  4. nycedges Says:

    WNY, always enjoy these before & after photos!
    @Bruce the Bergen Beach sign caught my eye too — it was accessible from the Flatbush Ave. streetcar — the web site bergenbeachcommunity – dot – com has a bit of the history and a few photos from that era

  5. T.J. Connick Says:

    Please forgive double-barreled comment. The first three photos cover an entertaining story of some scale.

    In 1898 Henry Dolan gave a 105-year lease, at $7,000 per year, to Charles Thorley for the squat, sign-splattered building on the 42nd Street end of the triangle. Thorley, building according to Pabst’s instructions, created what would become the new hotel, for which he received $25,000 per year.

    Pabst was interested in beer, not bed linen, so he leased the entire pile to James B. Regan, an accomplished man in the restaurant and nightclub scene. A second-story restaurant was a big hit, projecting in its eye-catching way over the sidewalk on 42nd St. A much larger rathskeller was an even bigger hit, and filled a space — prepared by Thorley’s architect — that ran out to the curblines, well beyond the building line.

    Meanwhile, the subway was coming, and under the sidewalk was not where you wanted your nightclub. Our first zig-zagging route ran up today’s Lexington Ave line from City Hall, then west along 42nd Street then north on today’s Broadway-Seventh Ave line. The subway purchased the three lots immediately north of the Pabst Hotel, and razed the four-story buildings that stood upon them.

    In a neat connection with another irregular block of note, the land was sold by the same party that sold a major piece of the land upon which the Flatiron Building was being erected. For several decades a part of Amos R. Eno’s vast portfolio, the Longacre Square property, having been withheld from the auctions that followed his death, was at last out of the Eno family’s hands.

    While this was going on, time was running short on the New York Times, whose lease was expiring down on Park Row. Adolph S. Ochs was on the lookout for an uptown home that would “out-Herald” the Herald. He detected possibilities at Longacre Square and went into action. The Times has always been capable of the most shamelessly self-serving editorial decisions. Stunts like their 1980s campaign for municipally-funded Times Square purification drew upon traditions started by Papa Adolph. (continued)

  6. T.J. Connick Says:

    (continuing)

    The Pabst restaurant, as seen in the second photo, perched atop an ornate portico — a clever addition by its proprietor, Regan. Pedestrians never noticed, but Ochs detected that the portico encroached upon city property, and he waged a war of long years upon it. Much heavy artillery was wheeled into position: news columns, editorial page, and a healthy peppering by “outraged” anonymous letter-writers. Regan — no small-time operator — was more nimble in the ring than most, and for years he successfully dodged orders to demolish the portico.

    Regan couldn’t block punches forever, and with Belmont’s subway, Ochs’s newspaper, and the city’s corporation counsel hammering away, made an adroit move to land on his feet. On April 20, 1902, he closed the hotel. A couple of months later, the subway engineers — commencing under-the-sidewalk work that was planned to have left unmolested the supports of the 9-story building — crashed through the curbline walls of the rathskeller. Regan tossed the lease back at Thorley, sued for damages, and in due time was in the clover as an even bigger operator across the street at the new Knickerbocker Hotel.

    Around the same time as the curtain was rung down on the rathskeller, the Times announced that they’d acquired rights to build upon the entire block (quick move on Thorley’s part, who was none too eager to eat the remainder of his 105-year lease). By the end of 1902 the whole building had been torn down. It is understood to have been the first time that a riveted-steel structure was dismantled, and presumably established an unbeatable record for infant mortality, first-class-building division.

    There followed a remarkable engineering achievement that delivered by late 1904 the city’s second-tallest skyscraper and its first subway. The slide-rule set will not want to miss the January 1, 1905 piece in which the New York Times crows about every imaginable detail. It’s a fascinating article, and reminds us how complicated the road from plan to reality. Unless hard work is done by the skilled and the canny, the visions of the selfish and the egotistic will not be realized.

    In a wonderful coda, Ochs lamely contended that his new headquarters was taller than the Park Row building. Not because his was higher in the sky, but because — get this — his was the greatest height from sub-cellar to rooftop.

    In less than seven years, the dumpy little intersection went from what we see in the top picture to the “crossroads of the world”, and it involved clashes among some truly impressive personalities in the city’s history. It was the kind of thing that would have made a great Warner Brothers movie back in the ’40s.

  7. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks TJ, your last paragraph I think sums it up well: “the dumpy little intersection” became the “crossroads of the world.”

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