Monday, August 23, 2010

Monroe & Hamilton

This photo shows another street market on the east side, but this time the main subject isn't the crowd of buyers and sellers but rather the skyline of lower Manhattan. It's a Berenice Abbott kind of cityscape with a jumble of rectilinear forms fronting a haze of distant towering structures. The horse-drawn wagon in foreground attracts attention, but — being unfocused — doesn't arrest it.

{Caption: New York City, including the Lower East Side, from Manhattan Bridge, c1917, by the Detroit Publishing Co.; source: Library of Congress}

Here are some details.

1. The imposing structure is the Manhattan Municipal Building, built only a few years before the photo was taken. On the right you see the New-York Edison Company, then but one of many neighborhood suppliers of juice, now part of Con-Ed, the city's electric utility.

2. The tower on the left is the Singer Building of 1908, one of the city's first skyscrapers. On right is the Woolworth Building which opened in 1913 and which was, until 1930, the world's tallest building.

3. The tall building with pyramidal roof, at far left, is the Bankers Trust Company Building. Directly to its right is the many-windowed double-rectagle of the Equitable Building. The Singer Building is next and by it is the City Investing Tower.

4. In center, to right of the flag, is the double-topped Park Row Building. To its right is the steeple-topped Temple Court building. Next along, the shiny dome tops the The New York World Building.

5. Unable to string clothes lines across an alleyway, residents are using the pole method to get things dry. I like the variety of window treatments you see in the facade that faces us: distinctive curtains, shades, and awnings. The American flag is a nice touch in this low-income immigrant neighborhood.

6. This is a mystery. The front part is set up to be drawn by a pair or two of horses, but whether it's a single contraption or six parked together I can't tell.

7. Here is the back half of the block, tenements shading the barrows and storefronts.

8. The front half is much the same. If I'm right, the street sign says "Market."

9. Here's our goods wagon with its white horses. Evidently the shop behind belongs to a barber, but is not now open.

I'm pretty sure the location is Monroe and Hamilton Streets, as shown in this extract from an atlas published the year before.

There was no Manhattan Bridge when Will L. Taylor made his panoramic map of Manhattan in 1879. The arrow shows the direction of the camera's lens.

{Detail from: The city of New York, by Will L. Taylor, 1879; source: Library of Congress}

This 1928 aerial view comes from the Fairchild Aerial Surveys Company. I've marked it to show roughly what the camera lens captured.

{Aerial view of lower manhattan looking southwest from east river july 1928; source: photo is available from various sources and can be found on flickr}


In 1935, Berenice Abbott placed her camera two blocks west on Henry Street to capture two iconic towers. Though there are obvious differences in vantage and content, this photo is much like our photo. As did the anonymous Detroit Photographic cameraman, she selected a view point which creates a separation between middle distance and far. There's abundant, unseen space between the strongly-lit foreground space and the far-away buildings in hazy light. Both images also have converging diagonals and geometric blocks of dark/light to the right.

{Henry Street. November 29, 1935. Caption from Museum of the City of New York: "Just east of New York's civic center lay some of the city's oldest slums. Abbott made the most of this stark juxtaposition, showing the Municipal Building and the Woolworth Building rising above the old-law tenements of Henry Street. Monuments to civic pride and private enterprise, both skyscrapers were built on the eve of World War I. The Henry Street Settlement and the Jacob Riis Settlement House lie just outside the area depicted in the photograph. Ironically, the ancient tenements of Henry Street remain exactly as they did in Abbott's day, accommodating the overflow from Chinatown of recent Asian immigrants. The Woolworth and Municipal Building towers still rise up over the tenements, but they were dwarfed by the twin towers of the World Trade Center, completed in the 1970s. My source: wiredinnewyork}

Notice that Abbott's shot includes one of two turrets that you can also see in the Manhattan Bridge photo.

Here's another Abbott photo — one of my favorites — which shows the Manhattan end of the span of the Manhattan Bridge. Our unknown photographer place himself on the span to the right, our of our sight, and aimed his camera still further to our right.

{Pike and Henry Streets, Manhattan. Looking down Pike Street toward the Manhattan Bridge, street half in shadow, rubble in gutters, some traffic. March 06, 1936; source: Library of Congress}


Some sources:

A Brief History of Con Edison by ConEd

a re-creation of the living world, a post of Berenice Abbott photos on my blog

Singer Building on

The Woolworth Building on

The Municipal Building on

Park Row Building on

City Investing Tower on

Temple Court on

The New York World Building (also known as the Pulitzer Building) on

Bankers Trust Company Building on

Equitable Building on

Manhattan Bridge on

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"To its right is the steeple-topped Temple Court building" WRONG! That is the Tribune Building