Posts Tagged ‘14th Street New York City’

Three centuries and three views of Union Square

February 13, 2012

As one of the first parks in the city (established in 1815 as a public commons), Union Square has been the subject of many early photos.

This one below is from 1893. published in the wonderful book New York Then and Now, it looks west at the south end of Fourth Avenue and East 14th Street.

“This photo was probably taken on an early Sunday morning, for on 14th Street—a popular and important shopping center—stores are closed, there is little traffic, and only a few pedestrians are evident,” reads the caption.

At right is the equestrian statue of George Washington; farther back is one of Lafayette. On the southwest corner of Broadway and 14th Street is the Domestic Sewing Machine Building. On the northwest corner of 14th and University is the nine-story Lincoln Building, from 1885.

Here’s the same stretch in 1974, when Union Square was seedy and derelict. The statues have been moved inside the park; the Domestic Sewing Machine Building is gone. Mays, a discount department store, dominated the south side of Union Square.

Now, in 2012, Union Square is luxe again. We’ve got Whole Foods instead of Mays, which departed in the late 1980s. A glass condo rises on 14th and University Place. The one constant: the Lincoln Building, on the right, now housing a Diesel clothing store.

Dance-hall days on 14th Street

December 21, 2009

Fourteenth Street near Union Square has gone through many incarnations. In the late 1800s it hosted New York’s theater district, home to theaters and music halls as well as piano and organ salesrooms.

You can see the Steck Pianos sign and a sign for Estey, an organ manufacturer, in this 1880s photo of 14th street. And the street car on the left has the word “theatre” printed on the front.

By the the turn of the century the area slid into more of a low-rent vaudeville and dance-hall hub. It must have been a colorful, slightly depressing place to visit.

The narrator of “The Princess With the Golden Hair,” a short story by Village writer Edmund Wilson, published in 1942, observed:

“In the restlessness of my after-dinner boredom, I began looking in on the dance-halls. The first one I visited was desolating and soon drove me out again. Sparse couples—uninterested hostesses and  elderly stolid men—were shuffling  or revolving to monotonous music under lighting that was glamorless and garish.

“I wondered whether they were all like that or whether there mightn’t be gayer places: was this the type of the popular recreation that a city like New York had to offer?”