Posts Tagged ‘Changing New York’

Edgar Allan Poe on New York’s “inevitable doom”

October 23, 2017

New Yorkers tend to agree on one thing: any change in the look and feel of the city is never good.

Modernization, development, improvement—all are buzzwords for the end of Gotham as we know it.

In the 1840s, Edgar Allan Poe felt this way too.

Poe may have died in Baltimore, but in the 1830s and 1840s, Poe hopscotched around New York, living on Greenwich Street, West Third Street, today’s West 84th Street and then a cottage in the Bronx, where his young wife, Virginia, died of tuberculosis.

Like many residents, he eased his mind with long walks and wanderings.

His outings gave him a unique view of New York’s charm (and its noise, grime, Sunday alcohol laws, and the ugliness of Brooklyn houses, but lets save that for another post).

In an 1844 letter, he bemoaned the way the city was urbanizing before his eyes—which he saw after he rowed out to Blackwell’s Island and was able to see New York from the water. [Above right, the Beekman Estate in the East 50s]

“The chief interest of the adventure lay in the scenery of the Manhattan shore, which is here particularly picturesque.”

“The houses without exception are frame and antique. Nothing very modern has been attempted—a necessary result of the subdivision of the whole island into streets and town-lots.” [Above left, the David Provoost Mansion at East 57th Street]

“I could not look on the magnificent cliffs, and stately trees, which at every moment met my view, without a sigh for their inevitable doom—inevitable and swift.”

“In twenty years, or thirty at farthest, we shall see here nothing more romantic than shipping, warehouses, and wharves.”

In another letter that same year, he described the villas along the East River. [Above right, the Riker estate at East 75th Street]

“These localities are neglected—unimproved. The old mansions upon them (principally wooden) are suffered to remain unrepaired, and present a melancholy spectacle of decrepitude.

“In fact, these magnificent places are doomed. The spirit of Improvement has withered them with its acrid breath. Streets are already ‘mapped’ through them, and they are no longer suburban residences but ‘town-lots.'” [Above left, the Rutgers mansion in Yorkville]

“In some thirty years every noble cliff will be a pier, and the whole island will be densely desecrated by buildings of brick, with portentous of brownstone, or brown-stonn, as the Gothamites have it.”

Was Poe right or what? [Above, East River at 86th Street in the 1860s, by Currier and Ives]

[Images: Wikipedia, NYPL Digital Collection]

Sixth Avenue and 28th Street: 1938 vs. 2010

October 13, 2010

“Ride on the Open Air Elevated” commands the side of this Sixth Avenue El station—an attempt to lure New Yorkers away from the IND underground.

Berenice Abbott took this photo in November 1938. The 28th Street station had already closed and was slated for demolition, notes Changing New York, as was the entire Sixth Avenue elevated line . . . and eventually all the els across the city.

Here’s the same view up Sixth Avenue today. This stretch, center of the shrinking flower district, is open and appears wider and brighter.

Nothing from the 1938 photo looks similar, except the decorative border around the building on the left that’s now a McDonald’s.

Could it be the same building with the top floors sheared off? Possibly; back then, this McDonald’s was a Child’s restaurant.

461-463 West 18th Street: then and now

July 7, 2010

In 1938, Berenice Abbott took this photo of two circa-1880s stables on far West 18th Street.

“In Abbott’s day, the bar-restaurant at 463 West 18th Street was attached to a corner liquor store at 130 Tenth Avenue,” explains Abbott’s Changing New York.

“These businesses and the junk shop at 461 served the seamen and dockworkers of the still active West Side waterfront.” 

Today, the lovely old stables look very much the same. albeit cleaned up and restored. French restaurant La Luncheonette is located on the ground floor of 463, while 461 is a private residence.

And the West Side waterfront? Anchored by Chelsea Piers, it’s the site of lots of leisurely jogging/biking/strolling.