Posts Tagged ‘New York in the early 1900s’

Beautiful ruins of the early 1900s “Bankers’ Row” on West 56th Street

July 5, 2021

When an area in Manhattan becomes fashionable—as Fifth Avenue in the upper 50s did in the 1880s and 1890s—only people with the most elite names (think Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt, and Vanderbilt) are typically able to acquire property and build their mansions there.

The gaping hole between 17 and 23 West 56th Street

But Gilded Age New York was minting many social-climbing millionaires. So the side streets off Fifth Avenue filled up with beautiful, costly, single-family townhouses designed by top architects. In many cases, these architects gave opulent facelifts and redesigns to preexisting modest brownstones, which were now out of style.

One block in particular, 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, became home to so many financiers and their families, it earned the nickname “Bankers’ Row” after the turn of the century.

30 West 56th Street, former home of investment banker Henry Seligman

And while it’s hard to imagine this block with some notably shabby exteriors and empty lots as a wealthy New Yorker’s enclave, enough of the old dowager beauties with illustrious backstories remain to prove you wrong.

One of these is Number 30 (second from left, above, and below), designed by C.P.W. Gilbert and completed in 1901 for investment banker Henry Seligman and his wife, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

“Henry and Adelaide had three children, Gladys, Rhoda and Walter,” states the LPC. “The lavish townhouse at 30 West 56th Street also housed a Scottish butler; an American valet and chauffeur; a Swedish footman, maid and laundress; two Irish cooks; and three English, Swedish, and French servants.”

The couple lived in the house until their deaths in 1933 (the year Henry died of a heart attack inside) and 1934; it was converted into apartments in 1941, per the LPC.

26 West 56th Street, once home of E. Hayward and Amelia Parsons Ferry

Number 26, currently behind scaffolding, sits two doors down from the Seligman mansion (above, center). Built in 1871, it was remodeled in 1907-1908 with a limestone facade and copper roof and “long occupied by banker E. Hayward Ferry and his wife Amelia Parsons Ferry,” according to w50s.com.

“E. Hayward Ferry was a prominent businessman who served as first vice president of Hanover Bank from 1910 to 1929,” w50s.com states. “He and his wife occupied  this house from 1908 to 1935.”

28 West 56th, in the Arts & Crafts style

Dr. Clifton Edgar is one resident of Bankers’ Row who wasn’t actually a banker. A prominent physician, Edgar had 28 West 56th Street redesigned in 1908 from its original brownstone style to an Arts and Crafts townhouse (above)—one of few examples of this architectural style in Manhattan, states Community Board 5.

Widow Edith Andrews Logan acquired her wealth from her industrialist father and horsebreeder husband, who was killed in the Spanish-American War. In 1903, she bought 17 West 56th Street and had it redesigned in the neo-Federal style, with fluted columns and Flemish bond brickwork, per the LPC.

Mrs. Logan’s townhouse, where her daughter made her society debut

Logan made good use of her stylish home: She held an “informal dinner dance” that served as the debut of one of her daughters into New York society in 1909. The next year, she hosted that daughter’s wedding reception. Long after Logan departed her house, Number 17 became a trendy restaurant called the Royal Box in the 1930s.

These days, what was once Bankers’ Row is now more of a Restaurant Row. Many of the wealthy palaces of the early 1900s have long since been converted into ground-floor restaurants and chopped into apartments.

Some original modest brownstones, others lavish townhouses

Others have been demolished entirely; the block has missing buildings and lots of signs of redevelopment. But beneath the restaurant signs, grime, and scaffolding, some of the former showstoppers of Bankers’ Row are still hanging on.

[Fourth image: Google]

Greetings from Thanksgivings past in New York

November 20, 2017

Do you send greeting cards wishing friends and family a happy Thanksgiving? Probably not—especially when a text or Facebook post will do.

But New Yorkers a century ago sent out these penny postcards emblazoned with turkeys, Pilgrims, pumpkins, corn, American flags, cherubic children, and other Thanksgiving images.

The New York Public Library has a large collection of these early 1900s cards in their digital gallery. All were sent to New Yorkers (Brooklyn and Manhattan primarily).

And none have ZIP codes—those didn’t come until 1963!

[NYPL Digital Collection from 1907-1909]

Jack London: a hobo in City Hall Park

October 22, 2009

Writer and San Francisco native Jack London is usually associated with California, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska, thanks to novels like White Fang and To Build a Fire.

But he spent some time in New York City too. While hobo-ing around the country in the early 1900s as a young man, London lived for a few months in City Hall Park downtown.

JacklondoninchairHe recounts a typical day as a park vagrant in his autobiographical memoir, The Road, published in 1916:

“It was during a week of scorching weather. I had got into the habit of throwing my feet in the morning, and spending the afternoon in the little park that is hard by Newspaper Row and the City Hall. It was near there that I could buy from push-cart men current books (that had been injured in the making or binding) for a few cents each.

“Then, right by the park itself, were little booths where one could buy glorious, ice-cold, sterilized milk and buttermilk at a penny a glass. Every afternoon I sat on a bench and read and went on a milk debauch. I got away with from five to ten glasses each afternoon. It was dreadfully hot weather.”

London goes on to describe a nearby game of “pee wee” played by some “gamins” before the cops broke it up. It’s a pretty neat glimpse into daily life in downtown New York City at the time. Read more from The Road here.