Thursday, December 18, 2014
The two Rotographs on this page date from around 1905, but the architecture seen in them echoes backwards and forwards across a span of Manhattan history at least 160 years in duration. Walter B. Chambers's 1882 Washington Building (the red structure above) still stands along Battery Place between Broadway and Greenwich Street, though it has been greatly modified and is now known as the International Mercantile Marine Company Building or as One Broadway. The Bowling Green Building, which dates from the 1890s and was formerly associated with the White Star Line, is likewise still extent; its address is 11 Broadway.
On the other hand, the three low buildings to the left of the Washington Building, two of which can be seen more clearly in the card below, are long gone, as are, of course, the elevated railway tracks and station seen in the background. (I'm not quite sure why the Bowling Green Building is not visible from this angle.)
Those three buildings can be dated to at least 1853, when they were captured by Victor Prevost in one of the earliest photographic city views of Manhattan, shown below. They stand on the right side, clustered in front of the steeple of Trinity Church.
It's possible that the buildings even predate the great fires of 1835 and 1845, which destroyed much of what is now lower Manhattan but seem to have skirted Battery Place. In any case, in the early years of the 20th century the tallest of the three was Reinhardt's Hotel, an establishment that appears to have catered to the city's large German immigrant community. It was already Reinhardt's in 1879, when the New York Times recorded the suicide in his room of one Albert Sattler, 45, a recent immigrant from Coln (that is, Cologne). The building to its immediate left was the Battery Park Concert Garden, which also may have catered to Germans, while the third building (only partly visible in the second postcard) was the Lion Brewery. The roughly contemporary images below show greater detail, including the doorway of an Exchange Office with a German inscription.
The three buildings were still standing at least as late as 1930 (below), but they looked a bit the worse for wear. They were apparently demolished around 1947.
Sources: Scouting New York has a nicely illustrated post about One Broadway. The German-language blog New York - History - Geschichte has a long (but somewhat difficult to navigate — scroll down to Part 3) article on "The Lost Houses of Battery Place," from which several of the above images were taken. The melancholy account of the death of Albert Sattler can be found in the New York Times of May 3, 1879.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
This Rotograph depicts Manhattan's Five Points Mission, founded in 1853 just off the complex intersection that gave its name to one of the city's most notorious slums. It does not, however, show the original mission building, which itself had been constructed on the footprint of the squalid Old Brewery tenement that the Police Gazette once proclaimed "the wickedest house on the wickedest street that ever existed in New York, yes, and in all the country and possibly all the world."
Standing across from a tiny triangular plot of land called Paradise Square (later Paradise Park), the Old Brewery, true to is name, had been a working brewery until around 1837. It served as a tenement for only about fifteen years, but that was long enough for it to establish a reputation as a warren of depravity like no other. Tyler Anbinder, the author of the definitive book on the Five Points neighborhood, is understandably skeptical of some of the more lurid accounts of the building, such as Herbert Asbury's "ridiculous" contention that an average of one murder a night occurred there throughout its occupancy, but the important point is that contemporary New Yorkers — or at least some of them — regarded it as an intolerable carbuncle on the body politic. It was demolished in 1852 at the instigation of the New-York Ladies' Home Missionary Society, a Methodist organization that seemed to be at least as interested in converting the Catholic heathen of the neighborhood to Protestantism as it was in helping the poor, and replaced with a four-story complex (shown below) that included a chapel, a parsonage, school rooms, and apartments.
The Five Points Mission remained active throughout the second half of the 19th century, hosting an elaborate annual Thanksgiving dinner for the local poor, but it eventually outgrew its building, which was torn down in 1894 and replaced with the more expansive structure shown in the postcard, which was designed to incorporate, among other things, a choir loft that could accommodate 150 and enough classroom space for 900 children. It would serve its purpose for only one generation, however, before succumbing to the wrecker's ball in 1915 in order to make way for New York City's Civic Center district, which largely obliterated the original topography of the Five Points.