Three views of Sixth Avenue and 20th Street

In 1901, when this first photo was taken, Sixth Avenue and 20th Street was the center of the city’s posh shopping district.

It was part of the fabled Ladies’ Mile, where stores like Siegel-Cooper, Adams & Co., and Hugh O’Neill’s Dry Goods Store sold fashion and furnishings.

“By 1915, all these stores had failed, merged, or moved farther uptown,” states the caption to the photo, which was published in New York Then and Now.

Here’s the crowd of well-dressed, well-to-do women in front of O’Neill’s. A hansom cab waits, a gas lamp will light the street at dusk, and the Sixth Avenue El is hurtling down the tracks, bringing smoke and more shoppers to the 18th Street station.

By 1975, when the second photo (also from New York Then and Now) was shot, the area had become grungy and grim.

It hadn’t been a viable shopping district of any kind at least since the El was torn down in 1939. The gas lamppost has been replaced, and the lovely cast-iron buildings support light manufacturing and small offices.

Today, in 2012, it’s a bustling shopping strip again—and residential area too. The O’Neill building has been renovated into pricey luxury condos.

The ground-floor store is home to a bank branch, of course.

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12 Responses to “Three views of Sixth Avenue and 20th Street”

  1. S.S. Says:

    The building may have been renovated to condos, but doesn’t it still retain “Hugh O’Neill” embossed on the pediment at the top center of the building?

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Yes–it’s a lovely touch, a nod to another New York.

  3. ronfwnc Says:

    What struck me as remarkable about the revival of Sixth Avenue as a shopping district in the 1990’s what that buildings were recycled and renovated for exactly the same purpose they were built for a century earlier. How often does that happen in Manhattan? But the grand size and functional design of these structures made them still ideal for retail purposes.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Yes, great observation, though I guess the 1990s stores were less luxe. I still miss Barnes & Noble, which moved into one of those grand buildings in the mid-1990s.

  5. Tom B Says:

    Is the picture from 2012 what gentrification does to a neighborhood from the picture of 1975? Should there be cudos or critizism for the changes? Nice work showing 3 pics from the same location spanning almost 100 years.

  6. Stephanie Says:

    I worked in the O’Neill Building while it was still home to a publisher–I’d love to see what the old office floor looks like as an apartment. I’ve also worked in the repurposed downtown _and_ uptown locations of B. Altman’s.

  7. rick mcginnis Says:

    An aside, but why do street scenes of a century ago – or even into the 30s and 40s – always seem so much more populated? The population was smaller but so was the city, but this can’t just be a matter of density. The car taking pedestrians off the street seems a plausible explanation anywhere except Manhattan, where taxis and transit are still more practical. Anyone have any ideas?

  8. diane e. dreyfus Says:

    how lovely to find this blog…I miss the NYC of the 40’s 50’s 60’s and 70’s as much as the 40 years I spent on those smooth and anxious streets.. thanks for this

  9. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks! Your time in New York spanned many changes…if anything comes to mind to explore in a post, I’d love to hear it.

  10. april Says:

    Anyone notice the dandy-like fellow? on the right sporting that lovely (hand)bag? Or is that a medical bag? It almost appears that he’s looking for the hand of the other gent sporting a nearly identical bowler/derby. How continental!

  11. JD Noble Says:

    I find the lampposts really interesting. They were replaced in 1975, but then it looks like the originals were brought back. How cool. I wonder where they were kept all those years. What other relics are stored away in warehouses waiting to be given new life?

  12. trilby1895 Says:

    I am ever grateful that these magnificent cast-iron buildings haven’t been demolished at the hands of avaricious, conscious-less “developers”( read “destroyers”). Kudos to whomever, or whichever group, successfully prevented demolition!

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