The Cornelius Vanderbilt II Mansion on 57th Street and 5th Avenue, now demolished. Photo via A.D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library.
New York City’s Fifth Avenue has always been pretty special, although you’d probably never guess that it began with a rather ordinary and functional name: Middle Road. Like the 1811 Commissioner’s Plan for Manhattan, which laid out the city’s future expansion in a rational manner, Middle Road was part of an earlier real estate plan by the City Council. As its name suggests, Middle Road was situated in the middle of a large land parcel that was sold by the council in 1785 to raise municipal funds for the newly established nation. Initially, it was the only road to provide access to this yet-undeveloped portion of Manhattan, but two additional roads were built later (eventually becoming Park Avenue and Sixth Avenue). The steady northwards march of upscale residences, and the retail to match, has its origins where Fifth Avenue literally begins: in the mansions on Washington Square Park. Madison Square was next, but it would take a combination of real-estate clairvoyance and social standing to firmly establish Fifth Avenue as the center of society.
More on how the gilded mansions of 5th Avenue came to be
, Mon, September 25, 2017
Radio Row, looking east along Cortlandt Street towards Greenwich Street, by Berenice Abbott Image via NYPL.
Before the internet and before television, there was radio broadcasting. The advent of radio at the turn of the 20th century had major repercussions on the reporting of wars along with its impact on popular culture, so it’s not surprising that a business district emerged surrounding the sale and repair of radios in New York City. From 1921 to 1966, a roughly 13-block stretch going north-south from Barclay Street to Liberty Street, and east-west from Church Street to West Street, was a thriving small business stronghold known as Radio Row.
Read more about Radio Row here
Mrs. Astor’s House on 65th Street and Fifth Avenue. Image via Library of Congress
Last week, 6sqft went through the many mansions, predominately lost, along Millionaire’s Row on Fifth Avenue up to 59th Street. Most of this stretch has been converted into upscale luxury retail and corporate skyscrapers, but Millionaire’s Row continued northwards along Central Park, which opened in 1857. Though some have been lost, a significant number of these opulent Gilded Age mansions still stand within this more residential zone. The AIA Guide to New York City calls this area of Fifth Avenue from 59th Street to 78th Street the “Gold Coast,” and rightly so.
Walking up 5th Avenue, you’ll first pass the decadent Sherry-Netherland Hotel with its recently uncovered 1927 Beaux-Arts mural and the Stanford White-designed Metropolitan Club, founded by J.P. Morgan in 1891 for friends who were rejected from the old-money Knickerbocker Club. But even before the construction of the Metropolitan Club, a mansion was rising less than a block away on 61st Street and Fifth Avenue.
Find out more about these incredible mansions here
Image via Library of Congress
While the news industry today continues to shift from bustling offices to laptops in coffee shops, it may be hard to imagine that the publishing industry was at the epicenter of some of the world’s most important architectural feats. But this was the case in late 19th century New York City, when the daily newspaper industry was centered at Park Row, near City Hall. Such institutions included The New York Times, The New York Tribune and The New York World.
Take a trip back in time with us and explore Newspaper Row
The glossy cultured patina of Lincoln Center reveals nearly nothing of what the neighborhood once was, and New Yorkers, accustomed to the on-going cycle of building and demolition, have likely forgotten (or never knew) about the lively San Juan Hill neighborhood that was demolished to make way for the famous cultural center. Any such development dating from the 1960s wouldn’t be without the fingerprints of the now-vilified Robert Moses, who was more than willing to cut up neighborhoods both poor and wealthy in the eye of progress.
Learn more about Lincoln Center’s incredible past here
Image via Library of Congress
Herald Square is today known for many things. There’s the flagship Macy’s department store and the pedestrianized part of Broadway that extends to Times Square. And it serves as an epicenter of the retail corridor that now runs from 5th Avenue to 7th Avenue. Some may remember the song, “Give My Regards to Broadway,” from the George M. Cohan musical “Little Johnny Jones”with the iconic line, “Remember me to Herald Square.” But written in 1904, “Give My Regards to Broadway” references a very different Herald Square than the one we’re familiar with today.
Learn about the evolution of Herald Square here
It’s hard to imagine today that people had to be lured to settle on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but such was the case at the turn of the 20th century when the first New York City subway line opened. The Interborough Rapid Transit Line (IRT) started at City Hall, with the most epic of subway stations (now closed off to the public except on official Transit Museum tours). The Astors and other enterprising investors owned the land uptown, purchased in a speculative property boom. Now, the question was how to brand the area.
The history behind the opulent doors of the Upper West Side
Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) and 114th Street in 1895
Today, it’s hard to imagine Morningside Heights without the flurry of students hurrying to class at Columbia University. It may be even harder to imagine it without some of its signature architecture: the gothic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest cathedral in the world, Riverside Church, with its former bowling alley, or Grant’s Tomb along the Hudson River. But Morningside Heights got an exciting start in the history of New York City (and America, as it turns out)!
The incredible story of Morningside Heights, from past to present, this way