Posts Tagged ‘New York then and now’

140 years of changes at Broadway and Houston

May 3, 2014

More than a century before anyone had ever heard of Soho or Noho, Broadway just north of Houston Street was a bustling business district and slightly low-rent entertainment area with the massive Broadway Central Hotel across the street and one block up.

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Just look at the shops and venues: a publisher, a banner painter, and a company dealing in straw goods—plus the New York Museum of Anatomy, Science & Art at number 618 and the Olympic Theater at number 624.

The Olympic opened in 1856 and was soon renamed Laura Keene’s New Theatre, after the actress of the era (who starred in “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington the night President Lincoln was shot).

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The theater with its lovely lampposts went through more name changes before closing in 1880; the building burned down in 1881, explains the caption to this photo, from New York Then and Now.

One hundred years later, the East Side of Broadway was kind of sketchy, a sparsely populated area with fabric and supply stores.

But look at the new cast-iron buildings from the late 19th century, like the beautiful Mercantile Building. One structure from 1875 remains: it’s at the end before the Mobil Station.

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Now, the Mobil Station has been replaced by the giant Adidas Store at the corner. Best Buy is renovating another cast-iron beauty, and Urban Outfitters occupies the ground floor of the Mercantile Building.

And this slip of Noho has been a prime shopping area since the 1980s.

Three centuries at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue

February 24, 2014

“The pace was leisurely, with bicycles, horsecars, broughams, and hansom cabs comprising traffic,” states the caption to this 1898 photo looking north on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. It’s from New York Then and Now.

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The twin lamppost makes a nice contrast to the twin Moorish-style towers of Temple Emanu-El, built in 1868 and a mainstay of this section of Fifth Avenue until 1927.

The building on the northwest corner at 42nd is the circa-1875 Hotel Bristol. See the stone wall with a low fence on the far left? There’s no New York Public Library Building yet.

The year this photo was taken, the Croton Reservoir would be torn down—the wall looks like part of the reservoir structure.

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What a difference 76 years make. Fifth Avenue’s residential era is long over; it’s now the city’s commercial heart.

The temple, lampposts, and Hotel Bristol are gone, but the six-story building from 1870 on the far right still exists, with a Russell Stover candy store at the ground floor.

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Thirty-eight years later, in 2014, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street is still a crowded commercial corner, with one church steeple still in view.

What happened to the six-story building at the far right? It was swallowed up by H&M!

One century and three views of East 23rd Street

January 13, 2014

The area surrounding Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street was ultra-trendy in post–Civil War New York, first as a residential enclave and then an entertainment and shopping district.

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By 1911, when this photo was taken (it comes from New York Then and Now, published in 1976), the area was less fashionable.

But it had its landmarks and haunts—Madison Square Park on the left, commercial loft and walkup buildings, and out of view on the right, the 1902 Flatiron Building. and look, no traffic lights!

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“The eight-story Hotel Bartholdi, built in 1885 at the southeast corner of Broadway and East 23rd Street, was named after the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty,” states the caption. “It was home for many sportsmen attending events at nearby Madison Square Garden.”

By 1974, this corner was forlorn and dingy. The Bartholdi Hotel was torn down after a 1970 fire; buildings on its left that had housed art galleries were destroyed in a terrible 1966 blaze that killed 12 firefighters. “The demolition of the four buildings  created a large parking lot,” the book states.

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In 2014, this corner—now part of the buzzy new NoMad neighborhood—is hot once again. Surrounding lovely Madison Square Park are apartment buildings and new and reconfigured co-ops.

There’s no room for a parking lot in this incarnation of Madison Square. Broadway south of 23rd Street has been pedestrian plaza-ized.

One small thing remains: a few old-school wood water towers.

A 19th century writer gripes about the noisy city

September 30, 2013

Complaining about New York—it’s too crowded, trendy, has lost its edge—is a huge pastime of residents.

Portrait of Washington IrvingThere’s just something about the city that makes us think it was better, in some way, in the past.

We’ll never know if Washington Irving preferred the New York he grew up in because it really was a quiet, friendly place, or if nostalgia is clouding his memory.

Born in 1783 to a prosperous merchant, Irving became a journalist before publishing his satirical A History of New York in 1809 and short stories like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by 1820.

His thoughts on the city in 1847—written in a letter to his sister—could have come from any contemporary resident:

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“I often think what a strange world you would find yourself in, if you could revisit your native place, and mingle among your relatives.

“New York, as you knew it, was a mere corner of the present huge city; and that corner is all changed, pulled to pieces, burnt down and rebuilt—all but our little native nest in William street, which still retains some of its old features, though those are daily altering.

Washingtonirvingbust“I can hardly realize that, within my term of life, this great crowded metropolis, so full of life, bustle, noise, show, and splendor, was a quiet little city of some fifty or sixty thousand inhabitants. It is really now one of the most racketing cities in the world, and reminds me of one of the great European cities (Frankfort, for instance) in the time of an annual fair.

“Here it is a fair almost all the year round. For my part, I dread the noise and turmoil of it, and visit it but now and then, preferring the quiet of my country retreat; which shows that the bustling time of life is over with me, and that I am settling down into a sober, quiet, good-for-nothing old gentleman.”

[Above: old houses on William Street, from Valentine's Manual, via the NYPL Digital Collection. Left: Irving's bust outside his namesake high school on Irving Place]

99 years at Seventh Avenue and 23rd Street

September 19, 2013

The intersection of Seventh Avenue and 23rd Street, with its unremarkable mix of mostly low-rise tenements and a few new loft buildings, looks like so many other city corners in 1914.

That’s the year the photo was taken; it’s from the wonderful 1976 book New York Then and Now.

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Yet it still tells us a lot about the New York City of 99 years ago. The subway won’t arrive until 1918, and street car tracks criss-cross the roads. A lone policeman stands in an island, waiting for traffic.

A sign for a clothing store is on the left. On the right we can see signs for laundry, a “lunch room,” and Bergin’s, a corner saloon “which provides customers with easy entrance and exit by three entrances with swinging doors as well as by the family entrance on the side,” the caption states.

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By 1974, traffic lights have been installed and the saloon and clothing store are gone, but the tenements that housed them are still standing.

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In the third image, it’s 2013. Traffic islands are up, the corner tenements are hanging on (the one on the left is a clothing store again), flanked by new apartment buildings.

The tall loft building on the left in all three photos is the Mercantile Building, constructed in 1912 . . . and today a celebrity filled condo with a Whole Foods on the ground floor.

Three different ways of seeing Hudson Street

April 10, 2013

It looks like the automobile age has barely arrived to this shabby but not chic corner at Hudson and Barrow Streets.

The photo dates to 1925, but notice the horse-drawn wagons and the store sign advertising harnesses across the street.

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That’s P.S. 3 on the corner of Grove Street, with the flagpole on the mansard roof. And trolley tracks run up the center of the street, notes the caption to the photo, both published in 1976’s New York Then and Now.

The little Federal-style houses are long-gone by 1975, the year the second photo was taken, and a tall postwar apartment building looms in the distance.

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P.S. 3 is still there, its flagpole moved to the front entrance. A deli and photography shop are the only businesses visible. Too bad the trolley tracks and the lovely bishop’s crook lampposts have disappeared.

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Hudson Street at Barrow hasn’t changed much since 1975.

And though they’re out of view in the above photo, the Belgian blocks on Barrow still poke through the pavement opposite local dive Barrow Pub.

Three centuries and three views of the Bowery

March 7, 2013

“In pre-Colonial days, the Bowery was a country lane, running between the ‘bouweries’ (farms) of the Dutch burghers,” the caption to this 1888 photo reminds us. It’s part of the fascinating photo collection New York Then and Now, published by Dover in 1976.

The 19th century history of the Bowery is well known: it went from premier entertainment district to a skid row of cheap theaters, flophouses, and eponymous bums.

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What’s interesting in the above photo of Bowery at Canal Street is that the tracks of the Third Avenue El, constructed in 1878, are on each side of the street.

“In 1915 the structure and stations were rebuilt, with the addition of an express track, and were moved to the center of the street, providing more light for pedestrians and stores,” the book explains.

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Here is the same intersection in 1975. No more elevated; no more horses and wagons. Chinatown has edged in, yet most of the tenements that existed 87 years earlier are still there.

And so is the faded ad for “Carriage Materials” on the east side of the street!

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The carriage materials ad has been painted over by 2013, and some of the old tenements and the big wooden water tower on the far right are gone too.

The intersection of Bowery and Canal Streets looks like one more bustling traffic-choked corner.

Changing views of Park Avenue in the East 50s

January 28, 2013

Has any of Manhattan’s avenues changed as much over the past 100 years as Park Avenue? Known as Fourth Avenue until the late 19th century, it was cut with railroad tracks, as evident in this 1905 photo looking south from 56th Street.

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“Because of increased traffic, smoke and noise, the city eventually required the railroad to lower its tracks into an open cut or tunnel from 46th to 96th Streets,” according to New York Then and Now, published in 1976.

“Here we see seven tracks, of which three are temporary, while new tracks are being laid preparatory to electrification. A retaining wall is being built on each side of the cut to allow additional space for an enlarged station approach.”

On the left before the bridge at 54th Street is a Steinway piano factory, in front of the Schaefer Brewery, with the cupola, which once stood at 51st Street.

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By 1975, when the second photo was taken, Park Avenue in midtown had become a posh canyon of office towers and a few luxury apartment houses.

The center structure is the New York Central building (now the Helmsley Building), right in front of the Pan Am Building, which opened in 1963.

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Today, this juncture resembles its 1975 incarnation—except the trees planted on the mall have grown taller, and the Pan Am Building is the Met Life Building, purchased from Pan Am in 1981.

[Top two photos from New York Then and Now, Dover]

Three ways of viewing a Lexington Avenue corner

September 3, 2012

In 1915, when this photo was taken, Lexington Avenue at 116th Street was firmly in the Little Italy of East Harlem, hence the Italian in the signs on the far right above a chemist’s office.

“This section of East Harlem was developed  during the 1880s with the familiar New York brownstone residences and walk-up apartments,” states New York Then and Now, where the photo and the one below appear.

“One block west is the elevated crossing of the New York Central and New Haven Railroads on Park Avenue. The Subway Cafe, on the right-hand corner, anticipates the opening of the Lexington Avenue subway by three years.”

By 1975, the Italian neighborhood is mostly gone; Puerto Rican New Yorkers have moved in. The buildings themselves haven’t changed much—and the Bloomingdale’s ad from 1915 is visible 60 years later.

In 2012, the streetscape still looks similar. The corner building that went from saloon to Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet is now home to a taco shop, a sign of the neighborhood’s Mexican population.

And though the Bloomingdale’s ad on the corner has been painted over, next to it out of view, a second Bloomingdale’s ad is still legible! Here it is from an earlier Ephemeral post.

Three centuries on Fifth Avenue and 14th Street

July 23, 2012

This 1899 photo of ladies decked out in their elaborate hats and bustles for a day of shopping are wonderful.

But I also love the street sign, lamps, mailbox, and fire hydrant (across 14th Street), published in New York Then and Now in 1976.

“The corner building was originally the William M. Halstead residence, built in the 1830s,” the caption to the photo tells us.

“One of the earliest mansions on the avenue, it was later altered and became, successively, the Old Guard Armory, Midget Hall and Brewster’s Hall; it eventually was occupied by the Gregg Furniture Co.”

The scene is very different in 1974. The tall buildings replaced smaller-scale mansions in the early 1900s, and a white-brick apartment residence occupies the northeast corner.

The lovely signage and lamps are gone . . . as is the shopping traffic.

Today, the streetscape looks the same as it did in 1974, with a few exceptions: more foot and vehicular traffic, thanks to lower Fifth Avenue’s resurgence as a retail district.

Also, there’s new traffic lights . . . and bank branches on both corners.


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