Thursday, August 05, 2010

another coach on 5th

Here's the second of the Detroit Publishing Co. photos of the coach service on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. Like the first, it was taken about 1900, and as before the camera is pointed northward. This time, however, it's early afternoon on a warm summer's day. The men sport boaters and most of the women are in shirtfronts. The dappled horses have been given sporty caps themselves.

The Steinway window in the background advertises the 5th Avenue showplace of the company's famous pianos. There's a family connection here. William Steinway owned an estate in Queens not very far from the one owned by my paternal great-grandfather, Louis Windmuller. The two men had much in common: both born in 1835, both emigrating from Germany to the US at mid-century, both acclimating rapidly to the new environment and changing their names in the process, both successful businessmen, both ardent supporters of German-American causes, and both advocates of political and economic reform. They were friends and newspapers reported the two together at social events of the time.

They differed in one thing: Steinway was a strong proponent of public transit who successfully lobbied for a horsecar rail tunnel under the East River what would eventually become the IRT Flushing Line. Windmuller loved to walk and agitated for pedestrian safety. He complained of policies with regard to trolleys and autos which made street crossing dangerous for people afoot.

{Caption: A Fifth Avenue stage, New York, ca. 1900, 8 x 10 in.; source: Library of Congress }

As in the last post on this subject, there's minimal harnessry.

This is clearly a posed shot, nothing candid; once again, old and young, male and female have paid their fare and taken seat. How do ladies mount so high without indecorum?

The camera draws the attention of all, including one who must crane her neck to see.

The coach clearly needs a repair. It seems half the brake system is not functioning; can this be?

The whole outfit is interesting but the shoes arrest attention.

Out of focus because in deep background, a pretty buggy driven by a man who's removed his coat in the warmth of the day.


In this photo and the last, the operators of the Fifth Avenue Coach seem to be fulfilling their purpose genially and to their customers' general satisfaction, but the history of the line is not one of gentle prosperity. The first coaches were put in service in opposition to a proposed horse-drawn service on rails, the plutocrats of The Avenue not wanting rails to disfigure their pavement. Vanderbilt and Sloane, Astor and Belmont, Fiske and Seward used their influence with the local papers to propagandize their cause.* Having swayed public opinion, they persuaded the major and alderman to support their stage coach alternative. The company which they set up, however, soon came down a miserable failure. Its successor did better, but the whole enterprise survived less than a generation before the motor omnibus overcame all opposition. You can read the story in this nice history of the Fifth Avenue Transportation Company, 1885-1895; Fifth Avenue Coach Company, 1895-1962, New York, New York.



The building where Steinway sold his pianos was the Windsor Arcade. Built a few years earlier to replace a hotel that had burned to the ground, it was itself torn down in 1911.

{Windsor Arcade at 5th Avenue and 46th Street by Adoph Wittemann, taken in 1895; source: Library of Congress}

WINDSOR ARCADE, FAMOUS FIFTH AVENUE LANDMARK, GIVING WAY TO GREAT COMMERCIAL STRUCTURE; Wreckers Tearing Down Upper Half for W. & J. Sloane's New Business House -- Palmy Days of the Windsor Hotel and Its Prominent Patrons Recalled -- A Valuable Site Acquired by the Goelets Years Ago for $2,000 -- New Building on Forty-seventh Street Corner Will Be Eight Stories High and of Dignified Appearance. New York Times, May 7, 1911, Sunday, Real Estate Financial Business News Section, Page XX2. First paragraph: "Fifth Avenue is now witnessing the passing away of another landmark, the Windsor Arcade. Wreckers began early last week tearing down the northern portion of this ornate, tax-paying structure, which was completed just ten years ago, occupying the site of the famous Windsor Hotel, which was burned with great loss of life."


See also:

The Cravath firm and its predecessors, 1819-1947, Volume 1, by Robert T. Swaine, reprinted, 2007, by the Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.

NO ROOM FOR AHLWARDT; Prominent Germans Strongly Denounce the Anti-Semite. WILLIAM STEINWAY PRAISES HEBREWS A Catholic Priest's Remonstrance Against the German Prelate's Narrow-Mindedness -- W.V. Weber's Views. New York Times, December 4, 1895, Wednesday, Page 5, 1232 words. First paragraph: "Among the passengers on the steamship Spree, which is due here to-day, is the noted German anti-Semitic agitator, Dr. Ahlwardt of Berlin. In order to ascertain the sentiment of the local German-Americans as to Ahlwardt's mission in this country, a reporter for THE NEW-YORK TIMES asked the views of many who are well-known in German circles, and others who are prominent in all matters pertaining to this element of this community." Steinway is reported as saying Ahlwardt's anti-semitism was obnoxious and disgusting. He praises the contributions of Jews to New York City and the nation and concludes by saying, "I am certainly convinced that Rector Ahlwardt will find but barren field for his tirades against the Hebrew race in this country. I hope that his whole projected lecture tour will, in its pitiful results, convince him that he had better go home again."

William Steinway on wikipedia

NEIGHBORHOODS: STEINWAY by the Greater Astoria Historical Society

The Steinway Family of Astoria, Queens, on

Steinway & Sons Records and Family Papers, 1857-1919



* THE FIFTH-AVENUE JOB. New York Times, November 19, 1885, Wednesday, Page 4, 844 words. Summary: "It is a curious and discouraging proof of the lack of public spirit in New-York that citizens of decent reputation should be found organizing the 'strike' for a horse railroad in Fifth-avenue." It is a "predatory scheme," exhibiting "reckless and unscrupulous greed," and "the most important thing is to shame the people engaged in intriguing for the new road out of their connection with this disreputable project."

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