Posts Tagged ‘Vintage NYC postcards’

Deconstructing a 1905 view of East 14th Street

August 23, 2021

Not much from the 19th century remains today on East 14th Street between Fifth Avenue and University Place. On the north side, a 1960s white brick apartment residence dominates the block; on the south, two black-glass buildings frame a string of chain stores.

14th Street looking West toward Fifth Avenue, about 1905

But what a different scene it was around around 1905 (above), when a publishing company produced this postcard! This difference between then and now reveals a lot about the changes that came to this stretch of 14th Street just west of Union Square.

For starters, the sign on the right for “Biddles Piano” is a reminder that the block was firmly in New York’s first piano district, and 14th Street near Union Square was piano row.

In the late 19th century, having a piano in your brownstone parlor was a status symbol; player pianos later came on the market and became wildly popular. Steinway & Sons led the way on 14th Street in 1864, opening a showroom at Fourth Avenue. More piano company showrooms followed, including Estey, Steck, Wheelock, and Biddle.

The “no pain” sign on the lower left is also a relic of an era when dentistry was an emerging profession, and getting a tooth extracted even in a dentist’s office was a risky venture. People at the turn of the century were terrified of the possibility of pain, so dentists made a point of advertising no-pain procedures.

The sign for Japanese Art on the left reflects the Gilded Age craze for “Oriental” or Eastern art and design. Men wear straw hats and women stroll the street in white shirtwaists. It’s probably a warm day, and the brownstones on the right have their window shades down—the closest thing to air conditioning at the time.

The lone streetlight would have made this a much darker block than we’re used to today. Refuse cans (or are they ash barrels?) wait at the curb for pickup, perhaps by a White Wings street cleaning crew. Carts and wagons move through the street. If you needed to know the time, you would glance at the clock at the top of the building on the right at the corner of Fifth.

Looking past Fifth toward Sixth Avenue, trees can be seen on the north side of the street. That would be the Van Beuren Homestead, two circa-1830 brownstones surrounded by gardens and a patch of what was once farmland. (Imagine, a farm with a cow and chickens on the prime Gilded Age retail strip of Ladies Mile!)

Here, the lone survivor of the old New York family that built this homestead lived until 1908 while the urban city, with its 10-story limestone buildings and the Sixth Avenue Elevated, edged closer with each passing year.

[Top image: MCNY X2011.34.334]

Girls playing games in Central Park in springtime

May 2, 2016

I’m not sure what these girls are up to as they hold hands and form a line under a towering tree with the Plaza Hotel in the distance.

Centralparkshowingplazanypl

A girls’ school recess, perhaps? The woman standing under the tree could be a headmistress or teacher. In any case, it looks like a carefree spring day.

[Photo: NYPL Digital Gallery]

Grand Central Station like you’ve never seen it

October 5, 2015

Looking strangely out of place on 42nd Street, this is Grand Central Station (formerly Terminal) in the early 1900s, after a renovation of the original 1871 structure—which had become too small for the growing metropolis.

Grandcentral1898postcard

Grandcentralterminal1871Cornelius Vanderbilt’s red brick terminal with its towering cupolas underwent a French Renaissance remodeling, which added three stories.

In the distance is the Queensboro Bridge, built in 1909. This version of Grand Central wouldn’t last long; it would be knocked down and replaced by the current Beaux-Arts beauty by 1913.

Glowing beauty of the Brooklyn Bridge at night

April 13, 2015

Now this is enchantment: the globes of light from the bridge deck, the boat lights illuminating the East River, the twinkling skyline of lower Manhattan.

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“This view shows the well known Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground, and the most prominent of New York’s skyscrapers in the distance,” reads the back of this postcard.

“This scene is probably more familiar than any other to the multitude of people living in Greater New York.”

The 1940s tourist attractions of the “Penn Zone”

October 29, 2012

If you think the streets around Penn Station are crowded with out-of-towners now, imagine how jammed they must have been in the 1940s.

Back then, this was the “Penn Zone,” according to this vintage postcard, a stretch of Midtown brimming with massive hotels and must-see sites for tourists.


Some are still here, of course, such as the Empire State Building and Macy’s (number 8). But the original Penn Station (2) bit the dust in 1963, and the Hotel McAlpin (4) is now called Herald Towers and is a rental apartment building.

Gimbel’s (10) and Sak’s 34th Street (9) are ghosts. The Hotel New Yorker (6) keeps packing them in, while the Hotel Martinique (3) endured a tortured history as a 1980s welfare hotel before reopening as a Radisson.

The Manhattan entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge

July 12, 2012

No, not the confusing crosswalk thing going on down around City Hall Park these days.

This was the Park Row Terminal, a transit hub that provided access to railroads and street cars that took passengers to the Brooklyn side.

Street cars disappeared from the bridge in 1950. I don’t know when the terminal bit the dust, but I like the open view of the bridge we have today.

The Fifth Avenue entrance to Central Park

April 5, 2012

I love the decorative street lamps and lack of traffic signs (as well as street furniture like newspaper boxes and garbage cans) in this undated postcard, which depicts the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.

The General Sherman statue is there, so it must be at least 1903, when the monument went up. “When the civil war ended, Sherman moved to New York City and rode his horse and carriage through Central Park daily,” states centralparknyc.com.

The Plaza Hotel is across the street. But is it the Plaza hotel that’s there today, the beauty that completed in 1907, or the first Plaza Hotel, which opened its doors in 1890 and demolished 15 years later?

If only a postmark existed so we could know for sure.

What happened to Central Park’s Swan Bridge?

November 7, 2011

This vintage postcard, stamped July 1928, shows off a really breathtaking part of Central Park, with boaters and swans on the lake and people sitting along benches.

But wait, isn’t that Bow Bridge—the one the postcard calls Swan Bridge? As far as I can tell, there’s never been a Swan Bridge or Swan Island in the park.

Bow Bridge was always the name for the 60-foot cast-iron bridge that gets its moniker from its gentle bow shape, reminiscent of the bow of an archer or violinist, explains centralparknyc.org.

A shipment of sea lions at the Central Park Zoo

February 22, 2011

I’m not sure if this is the exact sea lion pool currently at the Central Park Zoo. But these funny creatures were clearly as big a hit with zoo-goers a century ago as they are today.

They may be the same sea lions described in a June 1891 New York Times article, about an “unexpected” addition of 23 adult and one infant sea lion, captured in California and then seized en route to Buffalo from a railroad car at 60th Street.

“The animals remained shut up in the tight box car all night without food or water,” reported the Times.

“Streams of water were turned upon the survivors, and two wagonloads of fish were fed them. They were carted in three stock-yard express wagons to the Menagerie.”

Progress made building the “great cathedral”

January 5, 2011

“The great cathedral on Morningside Heights is nearing completion faster than most of us imagine,” states the opening sentence of this New York Times article from November 28, 1909.

Well, not exactly—the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is still unfinished more than a century later.

The cornerstone was laid in 1892, and workers instantly encountered problems.

First, geological snags had to be fixed before the foundation could be poured.

In 1905, controversy erupted when it was discovered that sculptor Gutzon Borglam had created female angels in one of the chapels. Four years later, the Byzantine-Romanesque design was shelved in favor of a Gothic look.

Some of the seven planned chapels were completed, as was the crypt and nave, by the 1930s. Then World War II halted construction, postwar efforts to get things going occurred in fits and starts, and a fire in 2001 destroyed part of the northern end.

But even at only three-fifths complete, it’s still breathtaking and beautiful.