The haunting outlines of old New York buildings

Anyone who walks the streets of the city comes across these ghosts. They’re the faded outlines of what was once a New York home or building, sometimes still with the demarcations separating rooms—as the side of an empty tenement on Third Avenue and 109th Street shows in the image below.

Knocked down or uncovered during construction, they usually reveal themselves only for months, maybe a few years, before they are quickly covered up again when a new structure is built over it.

My favorites are the edges of the kinds of buildings New York doesn’t build anymore, like this second one above, what looks like a squat, three-story walkup with a small chimney. It was once attached to the side of a larger tenement on West 96th Street near Riverside Drive.

A peaked roof (above) at Franklin Street and one-block Benson Place north of City Hall piques my interest. Was an old Dutch or Federal-style building here in the 17th or 18th centuries, when Benson Place was still a dead-end alley?

This tenement-looking outline is an unusual one (above); it’s on Lexington Avenue in the 50s. I wonder what the view from the back must have looked like, and how easy it was to see what the neighbors in other tenements were doing.

On Madison Avenue and 31st Street, an old-school tenement that blended in with its neighbors was torn down (above). It looks like it was set back a bit from the sidewalk, and it too probably had a wooden water tower on top.

I noticed this phantom outline in Tribeca several months ago (above), but I still am not sure what kind of building stood here. Something appropriately low and squat, maybe a stable? The dark smudges on the brick building that used to be its neighbor look like smoke stains from a chimney.

This last one, I believe from Greenwich Street downtown, is also a mystery. The angle of the roofline makes me think it’s a remnant of an old Manhattan structure of some kind when the city was concentrated below today’s Soho.

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18 Responses to “The haunting outlines of old New York buildings”

  1. The haunting outlines of old New York buildings | Real Estate Marketplace Says:

    […] Source: FS – NYC Real Estate The haunting outlines of old New York buildings […]

  2. Marilyn Says:

    I always notice these, too. Glad you do, as well. Nice posting.

  3. The haunting outlines of old New York buildings | News for New Yorkers Says:

    […] Source: FS – NYC Real Estate The haunting outlines of old New York buildings […]

  4. keenanpatrick424 Says:

    Thanks for these photos! Interesting to see the shadows of yesteryear ghost buildings. Does anyone know the name of photographer whose pics where similar to these except those pics were of old ads that had been painted on sides of buildings years ago and temporarily revealed before a new structure would hide them from view or the building they were painted on was razed.The evanescent ephemera of his photos were sad and beautiful.Much appreciate to know his name and if his photos are online and/or in print form.

  5. Buzz Says:

    I think that Keenanpatrick424 is thinking of Frank Jump, who published the splendid “Fading Ads of New York City” some years back. You’ll also find examples online if you search “ghost signs of New York City” or “ghost ads of New York City.”

  6. Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk Says:

    When I lived on the 5th fl of 336 E 13 St many years ago, looking out the front and back windows (can’t be seen from the front) was a remnant of an old wall with a large nail stuck in it. I’ve always been intrigued what the nail was doing there and what picture was it holding up. Something I’ll never know. A building torn down to make room for the one I was in at the time. Perhaps a current tenant has some better idea.

    • Tom B Says:

      What was it like walking up & down 5 flights every time you left home? Did that influence your daily plans?

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        As someone who spent years in a 5th floor walkup apartment, I can definitely say yes. On the plus side though, it’s great exercise.

      • Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk Says:

        I’d say it had little affect on me, did it stoned, sober, with people, without, but I suppose being young and ready to go had some influence. I doubt I could one time now! Haha!

  7. keenanpatrick424 Says:

    Thank you Buzz!!! Nice to find out Frank is still alive!

  8. Patricia Nardone Says:

    I love this about New York. Hey wouldn’t of wanted to been born in any other city.

  9. keenanpatrick424 Says:

    I lived 40 yrs. Up and Down to 5th fl. Leaving the apt.I would take a minute to make sure I had everything and coming home I made sure I did not forget to buy something I needed(i.e. milk,bread). It was my stairmaster.In my 20’s I could double step all the way up.In my 60’s every other flight.Great thing about top floor- no one walking over your head.

  10. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Same here about making sure not to forget anything so I’d have to go back down and up again. I lived in a West Village tenement with many older longtime tenants, and sometimes they would have to stop and catch their breath on the third or fourth floor stairwell. But no one complained, it was just the way it was–the price you paid for a cheapish apartment in the Village.

  11. bknbowswbellnet Says:

    I am really enjoying your posts. Well done and interesting.

  12. Kiwiwriter Says:

    I have seen plenty of these over the course of my life.

  13. Sheri Says:

    Do you have anything relating to THE MIRACLE OF YORK AVENUE?

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