Thursday, January 14, 2010

Madison Park 1905

This set of two photos shows the west side of Madison Square in New York City on a warm and sunny day in 1905. It was taken from the Flatiron Building, then only a couple of years old and known as the Fuller Building. Edward Steichen made a famous photo of this building the year before.*

The view is to the north up Broadway on the left and Fifth Avenue on the right.

The large building on the left side is the Fifth Avenue Hotel which stood there from 1859 to 1908.**

The tower in the second photo adorns the old Madison Square Garden.

The photographer worked for the Detroit Publishing Co. which was famous for large-format shots such as the ones you see below.

The two photos that make up this panorama come from collections of the Library of Congress Prints and Photos Division. Here they are in high resolution jpg files. Click to enlarge.

Here are details from the two photos.

1. In this detail we are looking up Broadway. The clock tells us that is near noon. By the shadows you can tell the sun is directly overhead indicating that this day is one near the summer solstice. June 21 fell on a Wednesday that year and this is was probably taken that day or maybe the one before or after it. The many (many) trolley cars are powered by electric lines running under the street between the rails. There are horse drawn wagons, hansom cabs, and carriages. A mounted policeman speaks with a sanding one. Traffic is orderly and seems to be moving at a leisurely pace. Pedestrians use the street as well as the sidewalks.

2. You can see a street clock more clearly in this detail. The street lamp is electric, converted from gas. In those days as this one, New Yorkers seemed to prefer to wear black over any other color. The ticket taker on one of the trolley cars is standing on the running board.

3. It's a breezy day. In these windows of the Fifth Avenue Hotel you can see that a curtain blown out of an open window and people have let the awning cords flop loose.

4. A man sits on the hotel balcony observing the street scene below. I expect others will join him as the afternoon wears on and the building's shadow offers some shade.

5. Below the man on the balcony there's a pith-helmeted sanitation worker dressed in white, one of a vast crew known as white wings. You can see many gents taking their liesure under the awning of the hat store and the columned portico of the hotel.

5. The building that separates Broadway from Fifth Avenue sports a whiskey ad; behind it you see the familiar Cross logo used to advertise apartments and chambers.

6. The building that sports the whiskey sign belongs to Berlitz, which advertises its English classes more than its foreign language ones. The monument in front of it honors General william Jenkins Worth.

7. There's a set of real estate offices in Berlitz Building and in one window a woman observing the scene in General Worth Square below.

8. This detail shows Fifth Avenue from 23rd Street north toward 34th. You can see a couple of trees on the north west corner of Madison Square and by them a small open motor car.

9. Near the monument the mounted policeman speaks with a colleague.

10. On the other side of the monument — on the wide expanse of pavement where Fifth Avenue splits off from Broadway — we see a bicyclist, motor hansom cab, delivery wagon, and sundry pedestrians.

11. A bit to the south, where Broadway crosses Fifth, we see another motor hansom and a most unusual trackless trolley.

12. This shows part of a wire fence which creates a traffic-free space at Broadway and Fifth, a kind of a cab rank it appears.

13. Here are lots more hansom cabs parked on the west side of Madison Square along with a white horse hitched to a delivery wagon.

14. A close-up of horse and wagon.

15. Many New Yorkers are enjoying a quite noontime moment in the park.

16. A woman pushes a baby pram through the park.


A bonus:

Here are two other photos of Madison Square taken at about the same time. The first was taken on a day very similar to the one on which the panorama photos were taken; the second was shot during a winter snowstorm. The camera is facing south down Fifth Avenue in both shots (hence hotel is on the right). Like the pano shots, the two are from the Detroit Publishing Co. collection in LC.



* Here's a copy of this famous photo.

{The Flatiron Building in a photograph of 1904, taken by Edward Steichen; source: wikipedia}

Here are two other contemporary photos of the Fuller Building from LC.

** More on the Fifth Avenue Hotel:

{The Fifth Avenue Hotel when new in 1859; source: Old New York}

{An albumen print of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, from a stereoscopic pair of images taken sometime between 1859 and 1896; source: wikipedia}


James said...

Remarkable set of HIGHLY-detailed photographs. They're inspiring, and one can really sail through time on them. One thing -- the rail cars are probably cable cars -- not electrically-powered. Lighting on-board was probably generated by a battery (kept alive by the movement of the car). A rain storm would have shorted out the car almost immediately, without an elevated third rail (or, of course - trolley, overhead). The slot in the center had the moving cable in it -- just as in San Francisco to this day.

Doug K said...

In most cities a channel between the tracks wouldn't indicated a cable car. However, in New York, overhead wires were banned, and the electric streetcars drew their power from an underground "conduit" accessed through that slot between the rails. I believe Washington DC also had this ban and conduit power. They worked out the shorting issue somehow.

Doug K

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

Doug's right. There's a wikipedia article on this subject:

The author says:
"Conduit current collection is a system of electric current collection used by electric trams, where the power supply is carried in a channel under the roadway, rather than located overhead. The power rails for conduit cars are contained in a vault between and underneath the running rails, much in the same fashion as the cable for cable cars. The vault contains two "T" section steel power rails of opposite polarity facing each other, about 12 inches (30.5 cm) apart and about 18 inches (45.7 cm) below the street surface. Power reached the car by means of an attachment, called a plough (US - plow), that rode in the conduit beneath the car. ... New York City had the largest installation of conduit cars, due to the prohibition of stringing overhead wires on Manhattan Island. ... The primary reason for the initial adoption of the conduit "plow" in Manhattan was the fact that return currents from conventional overhead wires using track return grounds were eroding gas mains. ... The huge expense of building new conduit, however, gave New York the distinction of having one of the last horsecar lines (the Bleecker Street Line) in the U.S., not closing until 1917."

See also:

and a book by Stephen L. Meyers called Manhattan's Lost Streetcars (available on

ronfrankl said...

Gen. Worth is actually buried under the monument; he was interred there in 1857, 8 years after his death from cholera.