Seventh Avenue as a dark, mysterious canyon

If you’ve never imagined New York as a concrete canyon, this 1935 photo by Berenice Abbott just might change your thinking.

Abbott manages to turn utilitarian 35th Street—not exactly the city’s most picturesque east-west thoroughfare—into a river carrying vehicles and pedestrians surrounded by the shadowy cliffs of buildings.

It looks like Abbott aimed her camera in the Garment District. MOMA’s caption for the photo mistakenly says this is Seventh Avenue at 35th Street, but smart Ephemeral readers pointed out that MOMA had the caption backwards.

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24 Responses to “Seventh Avenue as a dark, mysterious canyon”

  1. nancy anderson Says:

    Can’t be 7th Avenue, which runs north-south. This street runs to the Hudson River, although it certainly could be in the Garment District

  2. Richard Calhoun Says:

    My thoughts exactly. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem wide enough to be 7th.

  3. Tom B Says:

    Is that the silhouette of the Empire State Building at the very top left center? That could help with N, S, E or West.

  4. Richard Calhoun Says:

    Just found this photo in Abbott’s “Changing New York”. According to the caption, it’s 35th Street as seen from the roof of 25 7th Avenue.

  5. nancy anderson Says:

    Thanks for your sleuthing Richard Calhoun!

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, thank you both for correcting this!

  7. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    Seeing in this highly chiaroscuro photo, the looming dark, hulk’n big ole buildings and the brightly illuminated street, it makes one believe NYC has more than one ‘GREAT WHITE WAY!’

  8. Richard Calhoun Says:

    CORRECTION: This actually is 7th Avenue after all. My copy of the Abbott book is the German edition (no idea how that happened) and the photo caption reads “25 Seventh Avenue, Blick von der 35th Street nach Süden”…all in the same typeface. I first assumed that 25 was the building number, then realized it’s the plate number…should have known 25 Seventh couldn’t be at 35th Street. My shaky grasp of German prepositions compounded the confusion. The real key to the puzzle is at the top of the photo. If you look closely you see that the street jogs to the left…as 7th Avenue does when it crosses Greenwich Avenue with the river and adjacent buildings being off to the right. If this were 35th Street, it would run straight to the piers and the river. The 3D image on Google maps gives a good representation of the area. Much ado about little, but a fun exercise on a slow summer day.

    • Tom B Says:

      I thought the same thing about the street jog. So the tall building in the very top upper left must be 40 Wall Street or a similar Wall Street skyscraper.

  9. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    This was my original assumption too. If you look at the photo, you can see Seventh Ave veer to the left right after what looks like the old St. Vincent’s hospital (RIP!), at 11th Street a block from Greenwich Ave.

  10. Zoe Says:

    This is beautiful.

  11. Zoe Says:

    BTW Ephemeral you are causing me to have an internet addiction. Especially by your inclusion of the ‘Related’ links which lead me down various NYC rabbit holes. (Sheer willpower has prevented me from getting lost in these for *hours*). If I am institutionalised for this I am showing the people in white coats your blog for explanation. (At which time I will make my escape as they are absorbed in reading it).

  12. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    If you ever are institutionalized, make sure it’s in NYC—I do have a lot of posts about all the fascinating things that have happened at Bellevue over the years!

  13. Walk About New York Says:

    Berénice Abbott is a featured personality on our Gay Village Walking Tour []. Discover how a young woman from Springfield, OH got that extra accented ‘e’ in her name. Take the Tour; Know More!

  14. Joseph Tomasello Says:

    What had me confused is 35th Street has always run west and been a one way street since I can remember. I was thinking it must be 34th Street,Thank You Richard Calhoun and Ephemeral
    New York

  15. Richard Underwood Says:

    I just saw this, and the info on release of Esther’s new book on the Gilded Age. I am releasing a new book on September 19 called GASLIGHT LAWYERS: Criminal Trials And Exploits In Gilded Age New York (2017). This is one of several books I have been working on over the past years, and at 68 I decided I had better publish before I croak, even if it does not sell. The cover has a very scary picture of the Flatiron Building at night with gaslights glowing. I gathered up old newspapers and materials from John Jay’s Lloyd Sealy Library, and it may be over-researched for some.

    Last year I released CrimeSong: True Crime Stories From Southern Murder Ballads (2016). If you like 60s folk scene you might like this. It is written from a lawyer’s perspective – “true facts” (not alternate facts) from old records and newspapers.The book actually got some Independent Publisher awards. 🙂

    Interested? I could not figure out how to contact Esther. I am a 68 year old law professor who has a hard time with a simple telephone.

  16. krishnakumarsinghblog Says:


  17. Jeremy Says:

    This positioning of this picture is difficult to figure out. As it has been pointed out it is certainly looking downtown on 7th ave. Looking downtown on the west side of 7th ave one can see the old walker telephone building (now condos on 17th st) and one can also make out 7 penn plaza on 31st and 7th (west side of 7th) ..and seeing the position of 7 penn plaza on 31st it looks as if the photo was taken from somewhere fairly high over the old Penn Station somewhere between 32nd and 33rd st. indeed that flag pole may be apart of the station- though from this position it’s very hard to tell. I’m really not sure how one could have gotten that high above the station but it looks like someone did. (It’s actually higher up than 7 penn) Last, If this photo would have been taken on 35th st of course we would have seen a bit of Macy’s which is not the case and as well we certainly would have seen bits of penn station which again is only partially in view.

  18. Says:

    Oh come on. Really. Seventh Avenue wasn’t a one-way street until the 1950s!! And while this looks a bit wide to be anything other than Park Avenue, maybe the lanes were narrower back then. It CERTAINLY CANNOT POSSIBLY BE 35TH STREET, which is a narrow one-way sidestreet. Does anyone here look at google-maps before posting? And the Avenue in the photo has an angle in it just like Seventh Avenue has where it becomes Varick. If this is a sidestreet looking west it is crossing WAY too many Avenues before hitting the Hudson, and those Avenues are all WAY too narrow. How can the Avenues it is crossing be so narrow compared to this street if THIS is the side street?

    The clincher is that if you use Google’s 3D maps and get up in the air and look south (grid-south, that is), the top of the Hotel Pennsylvania is exactly the same now as it was back then. Then the next two buildings going south from the Hotel Pennsylvania are exactly the same now as they are in the photo.

    This might not be 35th street because then where is the much-wider 34th street? But the big canyon we are looking down is definitely 7th Avenue, looking south, during a decade when it was a two-way street. Maybe this is the NW corner at 33rd with the Hotel Pennsylvania IMMEDIATELY catty-corner at the SW corner of 33rd and at the extreme left of the photo. If this is 33rd the building Abbot was on has been demolished and replace with something short and modern, and of course the Penn Station office-tower isn’t in her photo. But all else is the same.

  19. A Manhattan train station had a potbelly stove | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] riders at this West Side station had that luxury, as seen in one of the wonderful photos taken by Berenice Abbott in the 1930s for her legendary book, Berenice Abbott’s New […]

  20. A Manhattan train station had a potbelly stove | Real Estate Investing Says:

    […] riders at this West Side station had that luxury, as seen in one of the wonderful photos taken by Berenice Abbott in the 1930s for her legendary book, Berenice Abbott’s New […]

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