In the fall of 1872, an unfortunate horse plague swept across New York City after making its way through Toronto, New England and Michigan. The New York Times headline from October 25th read, “The Horse Plague, Fifteen thousand horses in the city unfit for use.” While the city was no stranger to disease inflicted horses, the magnitude of this particular outbreak was unprecedented.
As Washington, D.C. attempts to rein in the crowds on this Inauguration Day, New Yorkers can be thankful someone else is dealing with the traffic snarls for a change. We’re guessing, though, that if Donald Trump had any say on the matter, New York City would be hosting the inauguration as it did for the nation’s first president in 1789.
Grand Central Station in the early 1900s
Historic photos of the original Penn Station are almost as common as images of the current site, since its demolition in 1963 is often credited with spearheading the modern preservation movement (and because its grandeur is a startling reminder of how loathed the current station is). Conversely, Grand Central is typically celebrated as a preservation victory. In 1978, the courts ruled in favor of the Landmarks Preservation Commission when Penn Central Railroad sued them to build a huge tower atop the terminal and demolish one of its facades. But believe it or not, the 1913 Beaux-Arts building was not the first Grand Central, and photos of these grand earlier structures are rarely shared.
Though it might seem that each recent generation attempts to take credit for the rise of the futuristic “skyscraper,” buildings that rise ten floors or higher were born with the Gilded Age. “Ten & Taller: 1874-1900,” on view through April 2017 at the Skyscraper Museum in Battery Park City examines every single building 10 stories and taller that was erected in Manhattan between 1874 through 1900 (h/t Curbed). Beginning in the mid-1870s, the city’s first ten-story office buildings rose on masonry to 200 feet high with spires that stretched 60 more feet. By 1900 New York City could boast of 250 buildings at least as tall; the world’s tallest office building was the thirty-story 15 Park Row; framed with steel, it soared to 391 feet. As technology brought elevators and new methods of construction, the vertical expansion was becoming a forest of tall towers.
With a new president entering the White House this month, there is a lot of uncertainty in the air, particularly when it comes to the rights of minority groups in the U.S. In light of these tumultuous times, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has created an interactive map that highlights, and celebrates, the fight for social justice that’s taken place in and around the East, West and Greenwich Villages. The map tool covers more than 100 locations, each signifying a site where African Americans, women, immigrants, Latinos and the LGBT community have fought for equality and representation over the centuries.
While paper might be becoming a thing of the past, it’s often the one thing that remains of our recorded history. And while it was often our sole means of recording that history, paper is among the most difficult media to preserve. To that end, New York City’s painstakingly stacked, filed and boxed New York Supreme Court records, part of an immense collection of official documents dating back as far as 1674, are being moved from the archival homes they’ve occupied for, in some cases, centuries. The New York Times reports on a heroic effort by dedicated archivists to round up the these city records in order to preserve them for posterity and make them more accessible to researchers.
The first New Year’s Eve ball to drop in Times Square in 1907
In 1904, the New York Times moved from the City Hall are to the triangular piece of land at the intersection of 7th Avenue, Broadway, and 42nd Street. People thought they were crazy for moving so far uptown, but this was the same year the first subway line opened, passing through what was then called Longacre Square. Not only did their new Times Tower have a printing press in the basement (they loaded the daily papers right onto the train and got the news out faster than other papers), but it was the second-tallest building in the city at the time. To honor this accolade, the company wanted to take over the city’s former New Year’s Eve celebration at Trinity Church, and since the church elders hated people getting drunk on their property, they gladly obliged. So to ring in 1905, the Times hosted an all-day bash of 200,000 people that culminated in a midnight fireworks display, and thus the first New Year’s Eve in Times Square was born. But it wasn’t until a few years later that the famous ball drop became tradition.
In the natural wonders department, the East Coast has its very own version of the Grand Canyon. Sitting under about 60 feet of water at the mouth of the Hudson River, the Hudson Canyon was created during the last ice age 10,000 years ago. Located on the continental margin (the zone of the ocean floor that separates the thin oceanic crust from thick continental crust) off New York and New Jersey at the outlet of the Hudson River, it’s so deep (estimated to be at least a mile) that we don’t know much about what lies at the bottom, but we do know that it’s a biodiversity hotspot. Jon Forrest Dohlin, vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society and director of the New York Aquarium tells NYMetro that due to the unique phenomenon of an upwelling of cold water mixing with warmer surface currents, the submarine canyon is able to provide a home for hundreds of species from plankton to turtles, sharks, whales and birds.
This may be hard to imagine, but one of the holiday’s most iconic stories was written in none other than Manhattan’s Chelsea. Ephemeral NY recounts the origins of Clement Clarke Moore’s quintessential Christmas tale, “The Night Before Christmas,” and points to early 19th century life in New York as the inspiration for the classic. As the story goes, the year was 1822, and Moore was said to have come up with the poem on a snowy day while riding around Chelsea in a sleigh, on his way to pick up a turkey from the market.
Scene of the opening ceremonies on the Manhattan side of the tunnel, via NYPL
On December 22, 1937, the center tube of the Lincoln Tunnel opened to traffic. The $85 million project ($1.5 billion in today’s dollars) linking Weehawken, NJ to Midtown Manhattan was hailed as a “new link of friendship between New York and New Jersey” and an “engineering feat.” On that inaugural day, 7,661 cars drove through the 1.5-mile-long tunnel, paying 50 cents and likely not realizing they were 97 feet underwater.
Nearly 141 years ago, something quite momentous happened in New York history: the first subway line was opened to the public. The system was the invention of Alfred Ely Beach and his company Beach Pneumatic Transit Company. Beach put up $350,000 of his own money to build the first prototype and tunnel and his company managed to put it together, somewhat covertly, in just 58 days. The tunnel measured about 312 feet long, eight feet in diameter, and was completed in 1870.
Jean-Louis Goldwater Bourgeois, son of the celebrated sculptor Louise Bourgeois, is transferring the deed for his $4 million West Village townhouse to a non-profit organization run by the Lenape tribe, who were among the original Manhattanites. The 76-year-old architectural historian and activist told the New York Post, “This building is the trophy from major theft.” Bourgeois explained his romance with the city and the fact that he feels guilty that he has profited from actions that have appalled him. “The right thing to do is to return it.”
It’s hard to envision blocks and blocks of Lower Manhattan being destroyed by a raging fire, but that’s exactly what happened there 181 years ago to the day, December 16th, 1835. That year marks one of New York’s most traumatic fires in history, known as the Great Fire of 1835. It came at a time the city was developing rapidly, with the arrival of new businesses, railroad terminals, and people. But there were also major concerns that came with the city’s boom: there was a lack of a reliable water source for the city, and there were not enough fire departments to keep everyone safe. And so the forces collided into a traumatic fire that would change the course of New York’s development significantly.
Among the more positive things to emerge from the 2016 election was the very visible outpour of love and solidarity by New Yorkers, who not only took to the streets together to stand up for what they believe in, but without inhibition expressed their anger, fears, hopes and words of comfort for one another on colorful Post-Its stretched along the 14th Street-6th/7th Avenue subway corridor. Recognizing the historic nature of this spontaneous art movement, Governor Cuomo announced this morning that the New-York Historical Society will partner with the MTA to preserve some of the thousands of “Subway Therapy” sticky notes that have materialized over the last weeks.
Just when you thought you’d get to enjoy a low-key pre-holiday Friday, the New York Times compares Donald Trump to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While just 12 blocks away Trump Tower snarls traffic and confounds anything resembling daily life in the surrounding area with a round-the-clock hive of security details, reporters and protesters—and of course the prez-elect himself, his entourage and various cabinet-members-to-be—Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute director Harold Holzer reminds us of another presidency whose earliest days were spent ensconced in a NYC residence. Of the century-old double-width townhouse at at 47-49 East 65th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, now the Institute’s home, Holzer says, “It was the Trump Tower of 1932-33.” The 65th Street residence was the longtime home of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt.
The Urban Lens: Langdon Clay’s 1970s photographs of automobiles also reveal a New York City in decay, Fri, December 16, 2016
6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment Langdon Clay shares photos from his new photo book “Cars — New York City 1974-1976.” Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
New York as a grimey, crime-ridden metropolis sounds like something out of a dystopian sci-fi novel, particularly as we sip our soy lattes and brush artisanal donut crumbs from our lips. But as photos from Langdon Clay’s book “Cars — New York City 1974-1976” show, 40 years ago, Manhattan was more about crowbars and break-ins than cronuts and Airbnb.
In the 18 years Clay lived as a young man in New York City, he spent three of those years exploring the streets of Manhattan in the middle of the night alone. During those wee hours Clay took to some of the city’s most dangerous streets with his Leica camera and a few rolls of Kodachrome, snapping photos of the colorful cars he saw parked against the forlorn urbanscape. Ahead Clay shares with 6sqft some of his favorite images from that time.
As part of their new exhibit “Mastering the Metropolis: New York and Zoning, 1916–2016,” the Museum of the City of New York has shared this historic map of manufacturing industries across the city. Published in 1922 using census data from 1919, the colorful depiction shows us that women’s wear was the industry of the time, with more than 8,000 factories employing 169,965 people and coming in with a yearly product value of $1.7 billion. Manhattan was all but covered with manufacturing, and as CityLab points out, this included everything from rubber tires and umbrellas to coffins and cigar boxes.
On December 21, 1912, a 60-foot-tall tree arrived by horse-drawn truck from the Adirondacks to provide Manhattan’s Madison Square Park with the glow of 2,300 colored electric bulbs. The twinklers were donated by the Edison Company, and the tree was the first of its kind: Having a Christmas tree in one’s living room was a familiar custom, but a tree outside in a public park was something new.
Images: Lemessurier and 6sqft
The Midtown building formerly known as Citicorp Center has just been designated a city landmark. The building, now known simply as 601 Lexington Avenue, is one of 12 buildings in Midtown East to be given landmark status by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. This newest batch of landmarks brings the number of official historic buildings in the area to 50, Curbed reports. The 59-story office and retail tower, designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates, was completed in 1978. It was considered quite innovative for its time, with distinctive features that included a 45-degree angular roof and a base of four stilt-like columns. The latter allowed it to cantilever over Saint Peter’s Church, also on the site. There is also a privately owned public space that connects the buildings to the Lexington Avenue-53rd Street subway station.
The last time a political outcome stunned the country with such a polarizing impact was in 1919, when the 18th amendment—prohibiting the production, sale, and distribution of alcohol—was ratified. After a 70-year campaign led by several groups known as The Drys, who insisted alcohol corrupted society, the ban on alcohol arrived in 1920 and was enforced by the Volstead Act.
But the Noble Experiment did little to keep people from drinking. Indeed, Prohibition led citizens to dream up creative ways to circumvent the law, turning the ban into a profitable black market where mobsters, rum-runners, moonshiners, speakeasies, the invention of cocktails, and innovative ways to market alcohol took the country by storm. Prohibition in many ways fueled the roaring twenties, and it made things especially exciting in New York City.
December 5th marks the 83rd anniversary of Repeal Day, when 13 long years of Prohibition finally came to a close.