Posts Tagged ‘old postcards of New York City’

The streetcars and street characters of 14th Street in 1905

February 27, 2023

You can practically hear the clacking of the streetcar and the pitch from the vendor with a sack over his shoulder in this richly detailed view of West 14th Street looking toward Fifth Avenue from 1905.

A young man stands in front of the camera, looking defiant; a woman carries packages under her arms on this busy shopping street of middle-class department stores and emporiums. Another woman is in the street, perhaps trying to cross?

Fourteenth Street over a century ago had no garish store signs or street architecture, but its hustle and energy feels very similar to the vibe of the street today.

[Postcard: MCNY; x2011.34.328]

“On the Beach at Rockaway”

July 27, 2010

Beachwear sure was formal back when this (undated) photo was taken. Unlike the men, at least the little girls get to bare their legs!

[Postcard from the NYPL digital collection]

The battle over naming the Queensboro Bridge

May 8, 2010

What’s in a name? Plenty, especially among certain factions of New Yorkers at the turn of the last century.

That’s when the city began building a great bridge that would link Manhattan to Queens. City officials planned to name it the Blackwell’s Island Bridge, after the spit of land (now Roosevelt Island) it would skip over in the East River.

But real estate bigwigs from Manhattan and Queens objected; they felt the name had bad connotations. Blackwell’s Island at the time was infamous for its poorhouse and prison.

The real estate guys were afraid New Yorkers would shy away from the bridge—and their neighborhoods—to avoid the unsavory assocation.

On the other hand, many Irish residents were opposed to the Queensboro name because they felt it sounded too British.

The leader of one Irish group even suggested calling it the Montauk Bridge, thinking it had a more American ring to it.

In the end, Queensboro was selected as the official name before the bridge opened in 1909. And it’s stuck ever since.

Where was “Boys Lake” in Central Park?

April 15, 2010

Some areas and structures in Central Park still hang on to their antiquated names, such as Scholar’s Gate (at Fifth Avenue and 60th Street) and the Ladies’ Pavillion (that cute Victorian-era shelter in the center of the park).

But I’d never heard of Boys Lake until I came across this postcard. Looks like it’s where the northernmost tip of the Lake is now. 

The postcard also offers a glimpse of pre-apartment building lined Fifth Avenue as well as Temple Beth-El, a gorgeous, Moorish-looking synogogue that once gleamed on Fifth Avenue at 76th Street.

Built in 1891, it was demolished in the 1940s. An apartment house now occupies the site.

An enchanting view of the East River

February 3, 2010

It’s a city of islands, pulsing with color and motion. There’s the Triborough Bridge in the forefront; the 59th Street Bridge skip across Roosevelt Island in the background.

And the East River has never looked so magically blue:

Lower Manhattan criss-crossed by wires

December 12, 2009

As this 1880s postcard reveals, New York streets in the late 19th century held messes of wires—telephone and telegraph wires like these as well as power lines.

The streets are much more attractive—not to mention safer—now that all the wires have to be buried underground. It’s a result of the Blizzard of 1888. That March storm dumped so much snow on the city, exposed wires and polls all over New York snapped like twigs, knocking out power and communication and paralyzing the city. 

The East River waterfront, 1906

November 30, 2009

Here is bustling, turn of the century Lower Manhattan, before skyscrapers. The Woolworth Building won’t be built for another seven years. The Williamsburg Bridge is just three years old; the Manhattan Bridge is three years away.

Shipping is still the lifeblood of the city, and probably no one can imagine that South Street will be just a tourist attraction before the century is over.

Things look dark, packed, and coated in grime. But the city radiates excitement and beauty.