Section VIII (including Broadway and hotels and businesses)
When the nation's capital was transferred from New York to Philadelphia, Abigail Adams noted ruefully, "When all is done it will not be Broadway." Broadway continued to be held in high regard; in the 1850s, Charles Mackay wrote in the Illustrated London News, "there is not a street in London that can be declared superior, or even equal, all things considered, to Broadway."
Broadway's transformation from a residential to a commercial street was ongoing, and by mid-century one prognosticator predicted that if the present trend continued, Broadway would, in a few years, "present three miles of unbroken shop front" from the Battery to Union Square.
The street could be chaotic. Even in the 1830s one writer commented, "every
. . . part of Broadway, up to its farthest extremity is filled with carts,
carriages, omnibuses, dust, dirt, noise, and uproar." Some of that confusion
was caused by construction. In the summer of 1853, the Daily Tribune recorded
37 demolition or construction sites on Broadway between the Battery and
Union Square. Some of these construction sites were to become new hotels.
Nineteen hotels opened on Broadway alone between 1850 and 1854, partly
in response to increased tourism, spurred by the 1853 World's Fair at the
James William Pirsson (American, 1833–1888)
James Pirsson was only a schoolboy when he recorded this panorama of
the east side of Broadway from about Cedar Street to Houston. Among the
buildings he has described in this portion of the panorama between Leonard
Street and Ann Street and Park Row are: The Tabernacle, Broadway Theater,
the Masonic Hall, Stewart's "Marble Palace" (misspelled as "Stuart's"),
City Hall, and Barnum's American Museum.
Paul Girardet (French, b. Switzerland, 1821–1893)
Putnam's Monthly commented about Broadway in 1854 that it was "altogether the most showy, the most crowded, and the richest thoroughfare in America," but "the peculiarity of Broadway consists in its being not only the main artery of the city, not only the focus [but also] the agglomeration of trade and fashion, business and amusement, public and private abodes, churches and theaters, barrooms and exhibitions, all collected into one promiscuous channel of activity and dissipation."
This view looks down Broadway from just above Spring Street. The building bearing the name "Ceinese" [sic for Chinese] –went through many incarnations. In 1852, it became the Broadway Casino and in 1853, Buckley's Minstrel Hall. As the Melodeon Concert Hall (1858–61) it was notorious. It was rebuilt and opened in 1865 as Barnum's New Museum.
As new hotels moved onto Broadway between Canal and Houston in the early
1850s, other "undesirable elements" followed. Elegant brothels, formerly
on Church Street in the Park Place area, also moved north, and established
a red light district from one end of Greene and Mercer to the other. Available
young women could also be found in any of the several hundred concert saloons,
like the Melodeon. This "seamy side" of Broadway was not apparent in the
daytime, when the greatest danger was the risk of being run over while
crossing the street. A fire truck and firemen add to the traffic confusion
in this lithograph. Fire fighting was still the responsibility of volunteer
companies, which were closely tied to city politics, and membership in
a company was often the first step in a political career. Only in the mid-1860s
did increasing property losses from fires stir the state legislature to
create a paid professional department.
This panorama begins with The Washington, the 18th-century Kennedy mansion
at No. 1 Broadway, which survived the 1845 fire only to be leased as a
hotel in 1848. The view extends to the Franklin Hotel, just beyond Dey
Street (not far from the intersection captured in the Baroness Hyde de
Neuville's watercolor of Greenwich and Dey. The Old City Hotel, probably
the first built expressly as a hotel in New York, now bears the name Swift
and Company (first listed as grocers at this address in 1860–61).
Wholesale trade was replacing retail shops and hotels, which had moved
north, a pattern which seemed to be the natural order of New York urban
The first mammoth luxury hotel in New York, Astor House opened in 1836 on what had been the site of John Jacob Astor's home between Barclay and Vesey. With five stories and 309 rooms, Astor House regularly accommodated more than 500 guests, and was the first hotel in New York to offer bath and toilet facilities, the water pumped by steam (before the Croton water system). Astor House, well-managed and conveniently located, remained the city's most fashionable hotel well into the 1850s, when a number of palatial hotels were built on Broadway between Canal and 14th streets.
Several contemporary commentators, including Mrs. Trollope, noted that
with the development of the luxury hotel, many young affluent couples postponed "going
into housekeeping," preferring to live in the hotel with its many services.
The Mirror in 1835 observed, "fashionable and wealthy people arranged
for suites in the Astor House, then being built, as winter residences." Summers
were spent on the Hudson in comfortable villas.
Howland (William, James, and Joseph Howland; American wood engraving firm,
active 1840s and 1850s)
The Collamore was one of the luxury hotels that challenged the supremacy
of Astor House.
Frank Leslie (?) (American, b. England, 1821–1880)
The St. Nicholas Hotel, when it opened on Broadway and Spring early
in 1853, was considered to be the most luxurious hotel in town. The Home
Journal gushed, "Comfort, convenience, magnitude, and luxury seem to
have attained their climax . . . in the vast and magnificent St. Nicholas." The
hotel "embraces every requisite of personal comfort and luxurious ease,
which the most exigent of Sybarites could desire."
Phalon's Hair Dressing Establishment in the St. Nicholas Hotel. 1852
William Roberts (American, active 1846–76)
The city's most fashionable barber, Phalon, rented one of the shops
on the ground floor of the St. Nicholas. Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room
Companion summed up the merits of a visit to Phalon's: "The American
who visits New York, and does not go to Phalon's Hair-Cutting Saloon [is]
in infinite danger . . . of departing this life without having had the
slightest idea of what it is to be shaved."
Madison Cottage (known as Corporal Thompson's roadhouse), a tavern at the intersection of Fifth Avenue (northwest corner), Broadway, and 23rd Street, was razed in 1852 to make way for Franconi's Hippodrome, which, in turn, was demolished for the Fifth Avenue Hotel.
Fifth Avenue Hotel. Madison Square. About 1880
When the Fifth Avenue Hotel opened in 1859, it was considered to be too far uptown to attract a clientele, but its surprising success spurred hotel construction nearby. By the 1870s and 1880s, Madison Square was flourishing with hotels, restaurants, theatres, and numerous shops along the stretch of Broadway extending from Eighth to 23rd streets, which became known as the "Ladies' Mile." Other "ladies" found their way to the area as well. Just as brothels had moved from Church Street to Greene and Mercer, following the luxury hotels, so now they settled in the East 20s. In the 1870s and 1880s, there were 57 brothels between 24th and 30th streets west of Sixth Avenue, according to the Gentleman's Companion, a pocket-sized guide to New York brothels.
The northward migration of the fashionable center of the city continued,
and by the 1890s, Madison Square was on its way to becoming an office area.
The Grand Central Hotel opened in August 1870 on the site of the Winter
Garden (formerly Metropolitan) Theatre, which was destroyed by fire in
1867. Both the Grand Central Hotel and the Grand Union Hotel were massive,
mansard-roofed buildings, typical of hotels built in the 1870s. By the
1880s, this area of Broadway was changing. The St. Nicholas remained profitable
in the 1870s, but closed in 1884; the Metropolitan lasted until 1895, when
it was replaced, like many other buildings south of Houston, by the lofts
that still define today's Soho.
After James Brown (?) (American, active 1844–55)
Matthew B. Brady photographed the most important figures of his day.
He had several studios during his nearly 30-year career, relocating his
shop as his illustrious clientele moved north to the latest fashionable
neighborhood. He opened the Daguerrian Miniature Gallery in 1844 on Broadway
and Fulton (where his shop is seen in New York from the Steeple of
St. Paul's Church , but in 1853 he moved to a larger studio at 359
Broadway, near Franklin Street. He continued to move uptown, next to 643
Broadway, and finally, in 1860, to 785 Broadway at Tenth Street. In 1871
he filed for bankruptcy.
By 1860, the prime wholesale district was moving up Broadway, and wholesale
warehouses, like Fairbanks and Co., were replacing shops and hotels as
far north as Canal Street; office buildings in turn had almost entirely
supplanted the warehouses farther down along lower Broadway by 1870. The
editor of Harper's Magazine wrote in 1862, "If you go below Canal
Street of an evening, there is something ghostly in the gloom of the closed
warehouses." The most fashionable shops, like Tiffany's (550 Broadway)
and Lord & Taylor (Broadway and Grand), in the early 1870s abandoned
Broadway south of Houston to the warehouses. In 1870 Tiffany's purchased
the Church of the Puritans at 15th Street and Union Square and constructed
a cast-iron building on the southwest corner. Lord & Taylor opened
a new store the following year on the corner of Broadway and 20th Street.
A. T. Stewart opened a new department store in 1862 at Broadway between
Ninth and Tenth streets; the "Marble Palace" on Chambers became his wholesale
Sarony and Major (American lithographic firm, 1846–57)
The music publisher Sarles & Adey was located at 629 Broadway, when
this was the fashionable shopping area. During the early 1850s, Broadway
between Canal and Houston was the focus of commercial development: the
finest hotels (such as the St. Nicholas) and the best-known shops (for
example, Tiffany's) were opening there. However, one developer foresaw
that at some future time this would change. He built several fine wholesale
warehouses opposite the St. Nicholas. Although initially they were rented
as retail shops, eventually they were leased to the wholesale trade.
John Bachman(n) (American lithographic firm, 1849–79)
In this remarkable view of New York and the areas around Manhattan, certain landmarks stand out, particularly the parks: the Battery and Bowling Green at the tip of the island; along the central artery of Broadway, clusters of trees that mark Trinity Church, St. Paul's, and the nearby City Hall Park with its fountain; to the west, St. John's Park; and at the foot of Fifth Avenue, the thin rectangle of Washington Square Park. Nearby is Union Square Park with another fountain, and above that, Madison Square Park; on the East Side, Tompkins Square is a rare rectangle of green, and the oasis of Gramercy Park is barely discernible. Other landmarks are the Croton distributing tank at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue and the holding reservoir on the Upper East Side. Churches with disproportionately tall steeples dot the island; they, too, were moving uptown. In 1825, of 84 churches, 45 were located south of Canal. By 1857, there were 290 churches on Manhattan, and only 17 were south of Canal Street.
Jersey City, Hoboken, Williamsburg, and Brooklyn, on the periphery of this aerial view, are becoming quite built up. The growth of the New Jersey and Brooklyn suburbs may be explained in part by a Times article from 1865, which complained that "New York furnishes the worst place of residence of any city in America." Clerks, teachers, young lawyers, and doctors "are compelled to pay [rents] . . . so intolerably high as to trench on their daily necessities, to crowd them into smaller and smaller spaces, and drive thousands of them from the city."