What remains on a Hell’s Kitchen block from an 1883 painting

Louis Maurer immigrated to New York from Germany in 1851 when he was 19 years old (second image below). He first worked as a cabinetmaker in the antebellum city—but within a few years he became a painter and lithographer working for Currier & Ives and then his own lithography firm from an office on William Street.

As an artist, his subjects ranged from firefighters to racehorses. But in 1883 he painted what might be one of his few urban landscapes, “View of Forty-Third Street West of Ninth Avenue.”

Maurer didn’t have to go far to paint this Manhattan street scene. His longtime home where he lived with his wife and children (including Modernist painter Alfred Maurer) was at 404 West 43rd Street, according to his New York Times obituary from 1932. (You can see what were probably his front steps with cast iron handrails on the far right of the painting.)

Maurer would only have to look out his parlor window to capture the action: children playing in the Belgian block street, adults in the background going about their day on the sidewalk, and the man whose job it was to empty ash barrels pouring the contents of one into his horse-drawn wagon (while a black scaredy cat runs off).

What’s special about the painting is how ordinary it is—depicting what was likely an average unglamorous city block, with red brick tenements on three corners, horses and carriages traversing the streets, and the steam train sending belching smoke along Ninth Avenue.

What else is unique about this piece of visual poetry? The corner doesn’t look entirely unrecognizable now, 138 years later. (Or even a half-century later in the above photo of the same block in the 1930s.)

Sure, the Belgian blocks are now asphalt; the ash barrels have been replaced by garbage and recycling bins. It’s been decades since kids played in New York City streets, and parked cars have replaced a waiting horse and wagon. The Ninth Avenue El met its bitter end in 1940. Times Square, just a few avenues away, was sparsely settled Longacre Square, at the time the center of New York’s carriage trade.

But see the tenement building with the side entrance on the northwest corner—today it looks almost identical. And across Ninth Avenue on the northeast corner is another red-brick building looking strangely similar to the one in Maurer’s painting.

[Second Image: Wikipedia; third image: NYPL]

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10 Responses to “What remains on a Hell’s Kitchen block from an 1883 painting”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    Fascinating!!

  2. countrypaul Says:

    What’s old remains new, or at least current. Great piece; thank you!

  3. Ricky Says:

    I worked on 43rd Street between 10th and 11th for 10 years from 1982 to 1992 and it was not a pleasant place in the 80’s with the street workers coming out in the evening and leaving “remnant” pieces of last nights work on the sidewalk. Then one night the brass bed factory in the middle of the block caught on fire and burned itself and the firehouse next door down. Next, the high rises went up at a fast pace and after I left the building I worked in was sold and is no longer there. But what I do miss is the fantastic banana cream pie at the Market Diner on the northeast corner of 43rd and 11th.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Speaking of pie, I was thrilled to discover that The Little Pie Company is still in business on that block! I thought they closed down after they closed that outpost they had in the Meatpacking District a couple of decades ago. At a former workplace we used to order many pies to celebrate coworker birthdays….

  4. teresa Says:

    I love the history in this. Gives me a perspective of when our little homestead was built, just 10 years after your painting. I am not sure how and when my husband’s family came here, however my family too came here from Germany and settled in Huntington IN. one of their cabins is a part of a museum there. Thank you for sharing.

  5. anne e davis Says:

    In the photo below the portrait you can see the church that is now Westside Theatre 9white roof) which gives a good perspective of the location in general.

  6. George Edward Morgenweck Jr. Says:

    I am 86 years old and lived in the heart of the ORIGINAL Hell’s
    Kitchen which boundary lines were starting with the North side of 34th st to the South side of 42nd st then from 8th ave West to the river. That info comes from my great grandfather passed on to my grandfather passed on to my father who passed it on to me. I lived at 448 38th st for 15 years my father and grandfather lived right around the corner of 38th st and 10th ave and grandpa worked in that big 4 story building painted yellow and green. When grandpa worked there it was the railway express building. I can tell many stories about growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, my wife wants me to write a book before I die.

  7. Mark E. Phillips Says:

    A delightful painting, and always happy when a building has survived the wrecking ball. Makes that modern skyscraper on 8th Avenue look like a giant spaceship.

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