Monday, August 22, 2011

West 103rd Street July 1, 1888


This is the Downes Boulevard Hotel & Restaurant. The photo was taken form the roof of a building whose original address was 890 Boulevard, a mixed commercial/residential speculatively built structure.  The building still stands, although it has been renumbered 2708 Broadway and is home to Petland Discounts. The photo was taken on July 1, 1888 and it was one of at least 17 taken that day by an unknown photographer.
The street in the foreground is 103rd street.  The Downes Boulevard Hotel & Restaurant was located on the block of 103rd street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. According to the 1867 map of the area the structure is there with a little lane running diagonally across what would become the block from south west to north east. The lane may also have served as a property line. Contemporary accounts of the hotel and restaurant were not all that favorable. If the hotel was in operation just after the Civil War it served a purpose - a place to stay if travel down the old Bloomingdale Road was difficult due to weather or other circumstances. Kind of a Motel 6 for the last half of the 19th century. The 9th Avenue Elevated did not open until 1879.

 This is looking south on the Boulevard. As the old Bloomingdale Road was tamed and made compliant to the Commissioners Plan of 1811 (the grid plan of Manhattan streets north of 14th street), it was widened and called The Boulevard. South of 59th street the street was called Broadway. On February 14th 1899, the name Broadway was applied to the entire street, the only street to run the entire length of Manhattan. When the previous photo was taken the street was still called The Boulevard.
I believe that this picture was taken by the same unknown photographer. The view is from the same vantage point as the previous picture and it looks to be not just the same time and season, but the sign for The Downes Boulevard Hotel & Restaurant is visible as well. In addition, back then, photography was such a pain in the but that no one dragged a camera around to take just one picture.

 This looking south from the same vantage point. This is west 103rd street leading up to West End Avenue. The wood frame house in the center sits were 878 West End Avenue stands today. The little house behind it is still standing but it was moved from that location on West End Avenue and 102nd street to it's present location, 102nd street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. It was also raised up a level so what you see as the first floor in the photo is now the second floor. The house was moved because the land on West End Avenue was more valuable than the land on the side street.

 The shack in the middle sits where 884 West End Avenue now stands. The photo, again, appears to be one of the at least 17 taken on July 1, 1888. What crop is being covered in the foreground is a mystery. The house with the conical tower is not on the map of 1867. According to the map of 1867 the land on which this shack sits was owned by Furniss family whose holdings in the neighborhood where reduced throughout the 19th century down to the block between West End Avenue and Riverside from 99th to 100th street. The property line stretched out into the middle of 103rd street between West End and Broadway. The streets were on the maps of 1811 but there was nothing there where the streets eventually would be. On many occasions, property lines in no way adhered to the grid plan. In many cases the streets were laid out, sewer and water lines put in and the road graded and flattened but the surrounding property was left untouched and often turned these newly laid out streets into mud filled gullies.

The house in the center of the photo is on the map of 1867. The land was owned by W.P. Dixon.  I do not know if Dixon lived in the house as they owned other land in this area that had large houses on it as well.  In addition, he also owned land along 110th street on which he built simple wooden houses for a working class community called Dixonville.  The 2 story frame house in the middle with the Adirondack Chairs on the porch is now occupied by 895 West End Avenue.  Dixon, Furniss, De Peyster, Rogers, Stryker (sometimes spelled Striker) and Astor are common names of land owners in this area. The stone castle looking building sits approximately where 320 Riverside stand today. The telephone pole and the top of the street light (at the very bottom of the photo) are on Broadway.


  1. These are fascinating photos, and I understand your point about photographers not lugging their cameras around, but they hardly look like July. No or few leaves on the trees, for one. Plus, if those covered areas are indeed crops they would be covering seedlings, not plants. It looks more like a March photo to me.

    1. I have the original photo at the top of this post. On the back it is written, in beautiful late 19th century penmanship, "July 1, 1888" and "#17". I believe that the next pictures were taken at the same time. The first, second, third and fifth pictures have trees with leaves-a-plenty. The fourth one, there are a couple of sparse trees, it is true. It could be that the photographer came back to this lofty perch and these are not from the same day as the first photo. If this is the case that means somewhere out in the world there are more pictures of this area from that time.

  2. Gary, Can you read what is written on the front center of the lower picture? Is part of the photo or something written on the face of the photo?

  3. What is written there is painted on what appears to be rocks. My father told me once what he believed it said but I cannot remember. I will ask him the next time I talk to him. It was some sort of advertisement, not a product but maybe land. My father actually owns the original photo at the top of this series, purchasing it about 35 years ago. Although we do know that the photographer did take at least 17 pictures on that day (July 1, 1888) I am beginning to doubt my assertion that all the pictures in the series were taken that day. The third, fourth and fifth pictures in the series are considered by many to have been taken on the same day as sort of a panorama. However, the vegetation depicted is not all consistent is the main thing that is giving me this doubt. The third picture down, looking south at 103rd street in the foreground and down to west 102nd street, the vegetation is very lush. The only extant structure in that picture is the house I wrote about being moved off the avenue and on to the side street to it’s current location on west 102nd between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. The house may have been built after 1888. In the fourth and fifth pictures, the covers over what ever was growing indicates colder weather and some of the trees are bare, especially in comparison to the first, second and third picture in the series. The house in the fifth and last picture, the house right above the telephone pole is on the 1867 map, with the driveway you can see in the picture. Look close and you can see 2 Adirondack chairs on the porch. Also I do firmly believe that all of the pictures where taken from the same spot, 890 Boulevard (now the home to Petland on Broadway between 103 – 104) and possibly by the same person, perhaps a local non – professional photographer. I always hope that there are more photos out there.
    As soon as I find plausible answers to your question as well as my own, I will repost these pictures with updated text.