As part of Archtober, NYC’s annual celebration of the city’s buildings, the New York Public Library (NYPL) has been providing virtual tours of Archtober venues and offering resources to help us learn more about them. One fascinating example: A block-by-block visual record of Broadway at the turn of the 20th century, from Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan to 56th Street. The pictorial description in the library’s digital collection includes advertisements and business indeces that relate to nearby businesses. Published by the Mail & Express Company who also published the Evening Mail daily newspaper, the panoramic drawings give a snapshot of history along “America’s most notable thoroughfare.”
Loew Bridge ca. 1868, via NYPL
Lower Broadway is the city’s oldest thoroughfare and has always been one of the busiest. In fact, in 1867, the intersection of Broadway and Fulton Street was “continually thronged with vehicles of all kinds, rendering it almost impossible for pedestrians to pass.” Without the benefit of traffic lights, the crush of traffic was so snarled and thick that policemen had to untangle the flow during business hours so pedestrians could cross. Concerned that the sheer mortal hazard of simply crossing the street was losing him business, nearby hat shop owner Philip Genin convinced the City to build a bridge across Broadway that would ease foot traffic and just so happen to deliver pedestrians safely to his shop.
Last week we took a look at why there are three Broadways in Manhattan–the thoroughfare proper, East Broadway and West Broadway– and learned that Broadway actually extends through the Bronx and into Westchester. There’s even a one-block street in Harlem called Old Broadway. As if that weren’t enough confusion, though, there are four other Broadways in the outer boroughs–one in Brooklyn, one in Staten Island, and two in Queens.
Broadway is arguably the most famous street in New York City. It’s synonymous with the Theater District; it runs from the southern tip of Manhattan all the way up to Westchester County; and it’s the oldest north-south thoroughfare in NYC. While we might not all know these fun facts about the street, we undoubtedly know a thing or two about Broadway and its nonconformity to the street grid. But did you know there’s also a West Broadway in Tribeca/Soho and an East Broadway on the Lower East Side/Chinatown? They’re not extensions of Broadway proper, so how did they receive their monikers?