Monday, January 30, 2012

Oldest Photograph of New York - The Mystery of the Location.

This is possibly the oldest photograph, actually a Daguerreotype, of New York City. I have enhanced this image to provide greater detail.  The original sold for $62,500 at an auction at Sotheby's in March of 2009. The photo was found at a small auction in New England with the following handwritten note attached:
This view, was taken at too great a distance, & from ground 60 or 70 feet lower than the building; rendering the lower Story of the House, & the front Portico entirely invisible. (the handsomest part of the House.) The main road, passes between the two Post & rail fences. (called, a continuation of Broadway 60 feet wide.) It requires a maganifying glass, to clearly distinguish the Evergreens, within the circular enclosure, taken the last of October, when nearly half of the leaves were off the trees.
May 1849. L. B.
So does this mean it is 1848? More importantly, were on the Bloomingdale Road is it?

 This is one possibility, this might be the house in the photo.  This photo is from about 1902 of a house on the east side of Broadway between 100th and 101rst Streets. Broadway had only been called Broadway north of 59th street for 3 years, prior to that it was called "The Boulevard".  The Bloomingdale Road, a road that was, for the most part, absorbed into the grid of 1811, ran just east of the current Boulevard and the even more current Broadway. The house at the time of this photo was the residence of Reverend J. Peters. It was replaced by Emory Roth's 210 West 101rst Street.
Notice the 5 widows across the second floor.

 This is a map from 1867 which clearly indicates the Bloomingdale Road. Along the Road, between 101rst and 100th streets, in between the properties labeled "Peters" and "Jackson", there is a structure. Obviously the Reverend Peters owned the house and the land in 1867.  The Boulevard or Broadway of the future is indicated by a shaded in road (or avenue for lack of better description).

This is a map from 1897. The house is very close to The Boulevard, it is yellow indicating that it is a wooden frame structure. It is located in block number 1872 and has a "46" on it. The blue lines to the right are the old boundary lines of the Bloomingdale Road.
Now the 1902 picture of the house clearly shows the front of the house. The house front faces west. Why? The view was better, you could probably see the river from the front porch when this house was built. If the photograph was taken from the east side of the Bloomingdale Road then we are seeing the back of the house.  This has to be were the daguerreotype was taken from, east of the road facing west. The location of the road in relation to the house in the 1867 map matches that of the daguerreotype.  Even with the indication on the map of 1867 of more structures in the area than in the daguerreotype,  the development is still sparse.  In addition there is a 19 year difference from the daguerreotype to the map and things change in this town over almost 2 decades.  As for the hill, New Yorkers have been leveling this island since the Dutch showed up in 1609, so a more dramatic hill in 1848 is not unusual.  The topography has changed on this rock so much that I can accept an uphill slope towards the west from somewhere in the middle of or just east of what is now Amsterdam Avenue.

Monday, January 9, 2012

West 104th Street - My Block

The great imposition on this rock, the bestowed conformity on this island, the declaration that would give order to the chaos, the Commissioners Plan of 1811, right or wrong, gave us a grid of right angles which I suppose is better than wrong angles.  Since the island was tamed and it's evolution dictated, streets began to open where there had only been stone markers before. Those stone markers holding the promise of future order and West 104th street.

  This is a map from 1867.  The shapes on this map are obviously houses. These are wood fame houses, stone or brick structures would be indicated with a reddish color. The house and piece of property labeled M.T. Brennan became the home of Isidor and Ida Straus, who were lost on the Titanic.  The Straus's purchased the"old country home" and land in 1884.  Matthew T. Brennan, a volunteer fireman who became a city official and allied himself with William M. (Boss) Tweed. When investigations began to expose the Tweed Ring in 1871, it was said that Brennan, Who had become Sheriff, had collected $150,000 in fees for escorting 5,627 prisoners to prison, when in fact there had not been more than 340 prisoners. ''Who Would Not be a Sheriff?'' The New York Times headlined. The 1866 house, which was one of the last of the country homes to be built on the upper west side, contained the first cast iron bathtub in the United States. The house was torn down the year after the Titanic sunk and was replaced by 924 West End Avenue.

Mr. Straus made the once summer home a full time residence.  One of the earliest telephone subscribers in the old village of Bloomingdale, Mr. Straus had to get downtown, to the store that by 1896 he owned, Macy's.  In 1870 he had taken over the china department, by 1888 he had been made a partner. The newly opened Ninth Avenue Elevated was the quickest way (with it's average speed of just over 4 miles per hour) to get downtown. His driver would take him over to the station at 104th and 9th (Columbus) Avenue in the morning and then would pick him up in evening.

This is the 104th Street Station again, but looking north. These pictures were taken in 1940 just before demolition began. Up ahead is Morningside Park. Note the wooden platforms and the old style railroad signal.

 This map again from 1867. Although the streets appear on the maps, west 104th street did not open officially until 1884.  The house with the name "W.P. Dixon" above it is on the site of 895 West End Avenue (at 104th street for those of you from out of neighborhood). Indicated on the map is a semi-circular driveway leading in from West End Avenue. To the west of the house is a pond. Mr. Dixon was a landowner in this area. He owned a tract of land along 110th street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. The simple wooden houses he built for a working class community was referred to as "Dixonville".  The name on the right, on what would be west 103rd street, Furniss, is the name of the landowner who owned "The Colonial White House" on Riverside between 99th and 100th streets.

Block numbers 1890 and 1891, grew up on the former, live on the latter.  This is a map from 1897 and there are some familiar shapes beginning to take root. The Dixon house is gone and a row of 20 foot wide townhouses have sprung up along West End Avenue on both blocks, including the side streets. In the upper left corner of block 1890, that dotted line where 315 Riverside Drive  (again at 104th street for those of you from out of neighborhood) will be is a stream that ran from the pond down to the Hudson. This neighborhood was covered with streams, some still existing. The basement of P.S. 145 on Amsterdam and 105th street used to flood every spring.  And have you ever wondered why you hear rushing water coming from below the street on the west side of Broadway and 108th?
On the lower left corner of block 1891 is stone, not brick, house owned by a family named Bacon. That is the site of 320 Riverside Drive. The lower left corner of block 1890 is the mansion that was the original 310 Riverside Drive.

This is a map from 1916. The Bacon House is still there on 104th and Riverside but stone and brick get the same color now. The brownstones that repalced the Dixon house have been replaced by the recently constructed "Mentone" or 895 West End Avenue. The original 310 Riverside still stands across from the newly built "Clearfield" or 305 Riverside Drive. Just south of the "Clearfield" is the original 300 Riverside Drive, the Foster mansion. 

This is the Foster mansion.

This is the original 310 Riverside Drive.

This is 1879 and the retaining wall is being constructed with Manhattan Schist, the bedrock on which we can build such tall buildings on this island. The rock was probably cut on site and I am guessing but the break there in the wall is for the staircase at 103rd street, but the caption for this photo is "looking north at 104th street and Riverside Drive".

Looking west on 104th street in 1922.  The building on the right, a private home, is on the site of the current 900 West End Avenue. The big building in the picture is none other than 905 West End Avenue. It must be a Monday or Thursday as there are no parked cars on the north side of the street.

 315 - 318 west 104th street in 1913. These are on the north side of the street and were designed by Martin V.B. Ferdon. The row on the south side were designed by Clarence True. Clarence True is considered to be one of the Godfathers of the upper westside.   Clarence True was an architect who was also a developer. He built 100's of speculative houses on the upper westside. He started in the office of Richard Upjohn, who designed (amongst other famous New York City landmarks) the 1846 Trinity Church on Wall Street. When Clarence True had an office, he employed a young William Van Alen who went on to design the Chrysler Building. You can draw a line from Richard Upjohn to William Van Alen. Pretty cool.

This looking north on the Riverside Drive service road from 104th street. The house on the right is part of the Bacon house. All of these would be demolished very soon in order to add the current 320 Riverside Drive to the cityscape.  Was it worth the visual cost?  "We will be judged not by what we have built . . . but what we have destroyed".

Saturday, January 7, 2012

One More of Manhattan's Very Own West 110th Street

This picture was taken some time before 1940. This is a northbound Ninth Avenue Elevated train coming around "suicide curve", just south of 110th street. The reason I am so sure that this is before 1940 is that the Ninth Avenue Elevated was torn down in 1940.  Have you ever passed the corner of west 110th street and Columbus avenue and wondered why the buildings on the east side of the avenue were oddly shaped? The curve of the pre-existing before the tenements went up railroad dictated the shape of the structures on the site. This is where the Ninth Avenue Elevated curved off Columbus Avenue, headed down 110th street and turned north to head up 8th Avenue.
Looks remarkably the same, doesn't it?  The still extant building on the south west corner of 110th and Columbus, the grounds of Saint John The Divine just across the street.  A little further up on the south side of 100th street towards Amsterdam Avenue, after the taller apartment building, what appears to be undeveloped land is the landscaped grounds (very small grounds) of the hospital known as "The Women's Hospital".  A newer high rise and a Con Edison facility sit on the spot now, but other than that it still looks the same.