To the dweller in New York, Broadway is what the Boulevards are to the Parisian. It is the centre of life, gayety, and business; the great artery through which flows the strong life-current of the metropolis. From the Bowling Green to the Central Park, a distance of five miles, it is lined with stately edifices and thronged with an endless crowd of busy workers, restless pleasure-seekers, the good and the bad, the grave and the gay, all hurrying on in eager pursuit of the objects before them. To the stranger it is the great "show street" of the city, and certainly no more wonderful sight can be witnessed than this grand thoroughfare at high noon.
The history of the street is the history of the city. It has grown steadily with it, shared its vicissitudes and good fortune, and, like a true mirror, has reflected every phase of the wonderful progress of New York.
Broadway was laid out as a street by the original Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, and was called by them the "Heere Straas," or "High Street." In the days of the Dutch colony it was lined, especially on the east side, with rows of pleasant mansions, the gardens of which ran back to the marsh, on the present site of Broad street. Under the Dutch rule it was extended to Wall street, where the city wall terminated it; and beyond this were pleasant fields and pastures, where the portly "mynheers" turned out their cows to graze, and dreamily smoked their pipes under the wide-spreading trees.
When the English came into possession of the city, and changed its name to New York, Broadway took a step forward. The character of the buildings was improved, and Bowling Green became the centre of a thickly settled and fashionable district. Mr. Archibald Kennedy, His Majesty's Collector of the Port of New York, built the house now known as No. 1 Broadway, a stately mansion in its day, and at one time the head-quarters of the British General Sir Henry Clinton. The great fire of 1776 greatly damaged the street, but it was afterwards rebuilt in a more substantial manner. By the opening of the nineteenth century, Broadway had advanced from the Old Dutch Wall to a point above the present City Hall Park, and by 1818 it was built up beyond Duane street. In 1830 it had passed Canal street, and the portion between Chambers and Canal streets was the fashionable shopping quarter of the city. By 1832 it had reached Union Square, and by 1841 had been extended to Madison square. Since that year the growth of the street to the Central Park has been steady and rapid. Year after year its various portions have changed their character. Business has steadily driven out the residences, until now along the whole distance of five miles there is scarcely a dwelling house proper left.
The first thing that strikes the stranger in looking at Broadway, is its narrowness. The early citizens never dreamed of the future greatness of their favorite thoroughfare, and laid off a street with an average width of sixty feet. For many years past, numerous plans have been offered for widening certain portions of the street, but each has been abandoned because of the immense expense attendant upon the enterprise. The probability is, therefore, that Broadway will retain its present width for all time. Through this narrow street pours an unending throng of vehicles of every description, which fairly choke it, and cause it to resound with the thundering roar of their wheels. The sidewalks are filled with handsomely dressed ladies, with men of wealth and fashion, with people in plainer clothes, representatives of all classes and conditions of the people of the city, hurrying on - for everybody walks rapidly on Broadway - jostling each other good humoredly. Over all pours the bright radiance of the sunlight, which seems to shine more beautifully here than elsewhere, and on all sides are evidences of the wealth and prosperity of the great city.
A stroll along Broadway, we mean along its entire length, is one of the most interesting occupations to which the stranger in New York can devote himself. It requires considerable "leg power," for the distance is five good miles, but the scene is so full of interest, and there is so much to divert one's thoughts from fatigue, that we invite the reader to accompany us.
We start from the Bowling Green, a small park lying between the lower end of Broadway and the Battery Park. Here we are in a region once the home of wealth and fashion, but now occupied by the offices of the foreign consuls, and the headquarters of the great European steamship lines. Among these are the familiar names of the "Cunard," "Inman," "White Star," and other leading companies, whose palatial Steamers ply over the great ferry between New York and Liverpool. Higher up are the heavy importing houses, dealing chiefly in wines, and above these are the main offices of the great Express Companies.
Opposite Wall street is the stately edifice of Trinity Church, lying back among the grand trees of its church-yard, and surrounded by the time-worn grave stones of the old New Yorkers who lie sleeping peacefully amid all the turmoil and strife going on around them. The tall spire points solemnly heavenward, as if to lift the soul above the vulgar worship of mammon in the city below, and at intervals the sweet tones of the chimes come floating down into the street, telling that wealth is not all, folly is not all, pleasure is not all, business is not all, but that there is something purer, nobler, waiting high above the golden cross which the sunlight bathes so lovingly. Looking down Wall street one sees an equally busy throng, and catches a glimpse of the stately edifices with which the street is lined.Mouseover Expands Images
Passing Trinity Churchyard we notice the immense brick building which forms its upper boundary. This is the headquarters of the coal trade, not only of the city, but of a large portion of the Union, and here fortunes are made and lost by wise or unwise dealings in "black diamonds." Insurance offices now begin to multiply on both sides of the street, and on the right we notice the superb structure of the Equitable Life Insurance Company, above which is the marble building of the Mutual Life. These are very Towers of Babel, and dwarf the neighboring structures, which are themselves buildings of large proportions. On the left, at the corner of Dey street, the tall tower of the Western Union Telegraph Company rears its lofty head, and from it a bewildering network of wires stretches away in all directions, high overhead, and looking like a gigantic spider's web drawn against the sky. Across the way, at the corner of Fulton street, is the office of The Evening Post, eight or nine stones in height, a massive structure of brick. On the same side, above Fulton street, is the beautiful white marble building of the National Park Bank, its front elaborately ornamented with statuary, one of the most sumptuous bank edifices in the city. Next door is the Herald Building, also of white marble, in which is published "the King of American Dailies," the world-famous New York Herald.
Opposite these two buildings, on the west side of Broadway, occupying the entire block from Fulton to Vesey streets, is St. Paul's churchyard, with its rows of crumbling tombstones. In it stands the venerable St. Paul's Church, one of the few ante-Revolutionary buildings remaining in the city. In this church the "Father of his country," in the early period of the War of Independence, heard himself denounced by the Royalist clergyman as a "Traitor to his King and his God." The square above the church is occupied by the Astor House, once the most famous hotels in New York, and even now, though reduced in size, an excellent and well-patronized establishment.
Opposite stands the great Post Office, running far back into the City Hall Park, of which it now forms the southern boundary. At the southern end of the Post Office, Broadway and Park Row come together at an acute angle, and the porch of the great building constitutes one of the best points from which to view the lower part of the former street. Nothing in the street life of New York is more striking than the scene before us. From morning till night there moves by an ever-changing procession of vehicles, that have poured into the great artery from a thousand tributaries, and to cross Broadway, at times, at this spot, one must needs be a sort of animated billiard-ball, with power to carom from wheel to wheel until he can safely 'pocket' his personal corporacity on the opposite walk.
The crush of vehicles here is sometimes so great as to delay movement for ten minutes or more, and it requires the greatest energy on the part of the police to disentangle the dense, chaotic mass and set it in progress again. For those who are not obliged to cross the choked-up thoroughfare, the scene is full of a brief amusement - hack-drivers, truckmen, omnibus drivers, swearing vehemently at each other, or interchanging all kinds of 'chaff'; passengers indignantly railing at the delay, and police officers yelling and waving their clubs in their attempts to get the machinery of travel again running smoothly. If, at such a time, a fire-engine comes rattling up the street, post-haste for the scene of a fire, and attempts to enforce its right of way, the confusion becomes doubly confounded, and the scene a veritable pandemonium. Ordinarily, however, such tangles of traffic do not occur, for this locality is fully supplied with policemen, whose main business is to facilitate the passage of travel and prevent such blockade as we have described.
The outlook down Broadway from the Post Office is in all respects picturesque and impressive, and fills the mind with a vivid sense of the immense activity of New York life. In the distance the towers of Trinity Church and the Equitable Life Insurance Building lift themselves as landmarks, and noble buildings thickly studding the squares between the New York Evening Post Building and the Western Union Telegraph Building, attract the eye by their massiveness and dignity; and directly opposite the spectator, but standing diagonally to each other, the Astor House and Herald Building demand the attention, as representing institutions which have been household words in New York for the last forty years or more.
Up and down this vista roars and streams an ocean-tide of travel and traffic, and the eye can find food for continual interest in its changing kaleidoscope. Well dressed men and women are brushed in the throng by beggars and laborers grimed with the dust of work; and grotesquely attired negroes with huge advertising placards strapped to the front and back, pace up and down, in happy ignorance of the inconvenience they give to others by taking up a double share of room. Fruit and flower stands offer their tempting burdens on every corner, and retail venders of all kinds peddle their goods, and add fresh discord to the din by their shrill crying of their wares..
About six o'clock in the afternoon, however, the feverish activity of this region begins to abate, and it is not long before the appearance of the scene becomes lethargic and quiet. Down town, New York has now begun to go to sleep, and it will not be many hours before the silence and emptiness will be alone relieved by the blaze of lights in the newspaper establishments of Printing House Square and the Western Union Telegraph Building, by the occasional tramp of the policeman or reporter, or the rattling of a casual carriage over the stony pave. This busy part of the city will not begin to waken again till about five o'clock in the morning, when the numerous street car lines which terminate in this vicinity commence to run their carfe, bringing down porters, mechanics and laborers as the vanguard of the great army whose thronging battalions will make the new day the repetition of the one before.
Continuing our stroll up Broadway, we pass on our right the City Hall Park, the only open space in this section of the city. Here are the City Hall and the new Court House, both handsome buildings, and across the Park looms up the tall tower of the New York Tribune Building, surmounted by an illuminated clock. On the west side of Broadway the buildings are handsome, large, and generally of iron or marble. The upper floors are devoted mainly to offices, and here the lawyers congregate, because of their proximity to the courts. Fireproof safes, firearms, and the lighter articles of machinery have their headquarters here. At the northeast corner of Broadway and Chambers street is an elegant marble structure, once the wholesale house of the great firm of A. T. Stewart and Co. but now devoted to other purposes.
Above Chambers street we enter a region devoted mainly to wholesale dry goods and kindred establishments, such as ribbons, fancy goods, boots and shoes, clothing, etc., and these establishments give character to the street almost to Union Square. The buildings are large and elegant, marble and iron being chiefly used. Some of the iron structures are fancifully ornamented in gay colors, and present a pleasing contrast to the long rows of solid colored edifices. Glancing down the cross streets we see long rows of equally imposing business structures, stretching away as far as the eye can reach, all telling of the immense amount of trade and wealth embraced in this section of the city. Not one of these buildings would shame Broadway, and the little narrow lane, lying just west of and parallel with it, and known as Church street, fairly rivals the great thoroughfare in the splendor of its business edifices.
At the corner of Leonard street is the marble building of the New York Life Insurance Company, one of the finest structures ever erected by private enterprise in America. It is a model of taste and elegance, and forms one of the most imposing features of the street, being of pure white marble on both the Broadway and Leonard street fronts. Its interior decorations and arrangements are magnificent.
Canal street is now reached. This is a broad, handsome thoroughfare, extending from the Bowery to the Hudson River, and crosses Broadway at right angles. It was once the bed of a stream, which has since been converted into a sewer. At the southwest corner stands the Brandreth House, a monument to the success of the "Patent Medicine" trade. From this point a fine view is had of Broadway in both directions - from Trinity Church on the south to Grace Church on the north. The eye takes in the long lines of stately buildings, the constantly moving throngs of pedestrians and vehicles, and the ear is deafened by the steady roar which goes up unceasingly from the streets, for this is one of the busiest parts of Broadway.Mouseover Expands Images
Higher up the street, between Broome and Spring, is the St. Nicholas, once the most famous, and still one of the most thoroughly comfortable hotels of New York. In the square above is Tony Pastor's Theatre; and at the corner of Prince street, on the east side of Broadway, is the imposing brownstone structure of the Metropolitan Hotel, in the centre of which is the handsome entrance to Niblo's Theatre, which lies immediately in the rear of the hotel. Above Houston street, on the west side of Broadway, is the marble front of the Grand Central Hotel, rising to a height of eight stories, and surmounted by a Mansard roof - a monster establishment. Above this the buildings for several squares are not as handsome as those lower down the street, but improvements are being constantly made, which will soon render this portion of Broadway equal to anything above or below it. The square between Washington and Waverly Places is occupied by the simple but aristocratic-looking red brick front of the New York Hotel, one of the most ultra fashionable houses of the city, and the favorite resort of the Southerners who visit the city.
Immediately opposite is Harrigan and Hart's new theatre, the most attractive variety show in the metropolis. A square above, Astor Place opens to the eastward, and we catch distant views of the Cooper Institute and the Great Bible House, with the elevated railroad rising beyond them. The western side of Broadway here is largely devoted to the book trade, several of the leading publishing houses of the country being quartered in magnificent buildings, erected especially for their uses. At 9th street, and extending on Broadway to 10th, and from Broadway back to Fourth avenue, is the immense iron structure occupied by the house of A. T. Stewart and Co. - probably the largest establishment of its kind in the world.
Long rows of private carriages are always standing in front of it, and an unbroken throng of purchasers is constantly entering and departing from its doors. Immediately above is Grace Church, a handsome edifice of white marble, with a pretty rectory of the same material; and just opposite, at the corner of 10th street and Broadway, is the fine building of the Methodist Book Concern, the street floor of which is occupied by one of New York's monster dry goods stores.
Here Broadway turns slightly toward the northwest, and pursues a straight course to Union Square, about a quarter of a mile distant. This portion of the street is handsomely built, and improvements are being constantly made in it. The stores are mainly devoted to the retail dry goods business, millinery, fancy goods, and jewelry.
At the northeast corner of 13th street is Wallack's Theatre, for many years the favorite place of amusement with the dwellers in the great city. In the course of a few months the house will be deserted by its present occupants, and a new "Wallack's" will be opened higher up town.
At 14th street, a noble thoroughfare, stretching across the entire island from east to west, we reach Union Square, a handsome park of three or four acres, which breaks the continuity of Broadway. This is one of the handsomest of the smaller parks of New York, and is tastefully adorned with shrubbery, statuary and fountains. We shall refer to it again elsewhere. Broadway passes around Union Square in a northwesterly direction, and is lined with large and elegant buildings of marble and iron. At the southwest corner of 14th street is the splendid iron building of the Domestic Sewing Machine Company. Just above 14th street is Brentano's News Depot, the great literary rendezvous of New York; and on the southwest corner of 15th street is the famous jewelry establishment of Tiffany and Co., the largest of its kind in the United States.
Union Square is left at 17th street, and we pass once more into Broadway proper. This is the narrowest portion of the great street, and plans are being constantly presented for widening it on the east side. Consequently, while the west side of the street is built up with magnificent structures of marble and iron, the east side is lined with small, unpretending buildijigs. The entire block on the west side, from 18th to 19th streets, is occupied by a row of magnificent marble buildings, used as retail dry goods and fancy goods stores.
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The 19th street end is occupied by the great dry goods house of Arnold, Constable and Co. At the southwest corner of 20th street is another of these monster dry goods houses, a beautiful iron building, owned and occupied by the firm of Lord and Taylor.
The show windows of this establishment constitute one of the prettiest sights of Broadway, and are filled with the richest and rarest goods of every description, amounting in value to thousands of dollars. In the square above, on the east side, is the Park Theatre, one of the prettiest, as regards the interior, in the city.
At 23d street Broadway crosses the Fifth avenue, going obliquely to the northwest. From the southwest corner of Broadway and 23d street we obtain one of the finest views in the city. 23d street, one of the widest in the metropolis, stretches away east and west, lined with stately buildings. On the right is Madison Square, the handsomest of all the smaller parks, beautifully shaded with noble trees, and adorned with shrubbery, fountains and statuary. On the east side of the Square is Madison avenue, one of the stateliest and most fashionable streets of the metropolis. The Fifth avenue leads away to the northward, a splendid mass of brownstone buildings, broken at intervals by numerous church spires. To the northwest is Broadway, lined with superb marble edifices as far as the eye can reach. The throng of vehicles and pedestrians is very great here, coming and going in all directions, and all the streets which centre here present a gay and animated appearance, and the whole scene constitutes a panorama unequaled by anything in any of the great capitals of the Old World.
Crossing 23d street and Fifth avenue at the same time, we come to the Fifth Avenue Hotel. This immense building occupies an entire square, from 23d to 24th streets, and fronts on both Fifth avenue and Broadway. It is built of white marble, and is six stories in height.
The block from 24th to 25th streets is occupied by the Albemarle and Hoffman Houses, in the order named. Both are of white marble. Immediately opposite, at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth avenue, is a handsome granite monument, erected to the memory of General W. J. Worth, a gallant soldier of the Seminole and Mexican wars. Facing this is the New York Club House, a tasteful red brick building, fronting on Broadway and Fifth avenue. Above this, and also fronting on both streets, is the famous restaurant of Delmonico. At the southwest corner of 26th Street stands the St. James Hotel, also of white marble; and just across the way is the Victoria Hotel, formerly known as the Stevens House. It is an immense pile of red brick, with light stone trimmings, and is five stories high, with a Mansard roof containing three stories more. It was the first of the monster "Apartment Houses" erected in New York, and was built by the late Paran Stevens.
On the northwest corner of 27th street is the Coleman House, and at the southeast corner of 29th street is the Sturtevant House. On the opposite corner of 29th street, also on the east side of Broadway, is the Gilsey House, one of the most magnificent hotel edifices in the city. It is built of iron, is highly ornamented, and is painted white. Diagonally opposite, on the west side of Broadway, is Daly's Broadway Theatre, formerly known as Wood's Museum. At the southeast corner of 30th street rises Wallack's New Theatre, one of the most perfectly appointed and beautiful establishments of its kind in New York. Immediately above this is the marble building of the Grand Hotel. On 32d street, between Broadway and Sixth avenue, is the superb marble structure of the Union Dime Savings Bank, facing northward.
At 34th street Broadway crosses the Sixth avenue obliquely, still pursuing its northwesterly course. Above this point the street is poorly built up. At 42d street are two handsome hotels, the Rossmore, on the southwest corner, and the St. Cloud, on the southeast corner, immediately opposite.
Continuing its northwesterly course, Broadway crosses the Seventh avenue at 44th street. This portion of the street is sparsely built, and is uninteresting unfil the neighborhood of the Park is reached, where immense blocks of "Apartment Houses" line it on both sides.
Below 14th street there are no street railways on Broadway. From Union Square to the Central Park there is a single horse-car line, which passes into University Place and thence southward below 14th street. From Union Square to the lower end of the street Broadway is traversed by several lines of stages, which monopolize the street traffic in this section. On all portions of the street the travel, as we have stated, is very great. It is estimated that at least 20,000 vehicles traverse Broadway every twenty-four hours. All day the roar and the rush are continuous, and the scene is brilliant and attractive. In the morning the throng pours down town, and in the afternoon the tide changes, and flows back northward to the upper portions of the city.
As night comes on, the lower portion of Broadway begins to be deserted. But few persons are to be seen on the sidewalks, and the omnibuses and carriages have the roadway to themselves. By eight o'clock Broadway below Canal street is almost deserted, save in the immediate neighborhood of the Post Office. Gradually this region becomes silent also, and below Union Square but little of interest is to be seen. The true night-life of Broadway is to be witnessed chiefly between 23d and 34th streets.
From Union Square to 34th street the great thoroughfare is ablaze with the electric light, which illumines it with the radiance of day. Crowds throng the sidewalks; the lights of the omnibuses and carriages dart to and fro along the roadway like myriads of fire-flies; the great hotels, the theatres and restaurants, send out their blaze of gas-lamps, and are alive with visitors. The crowd is out for pleasure at night, and many and varied are the forms which the pursuit of it takes. Here is a family - father, mother, and children - out for a stroll to see the sights they have witnessed a hundred times, and which never grow dull; there is a party of theatre-goers, bent on an evening of innocent amusement; here is a "gang of roughs," swaggering along the sidewalk and jostling all who come within their way; here a party of young bloods, out for a lark, are drawing upon themselves the keen glances of the stalwart policeman, as he slowly follows in their rear. All sorts of people are out, and the scene is enlivening beyond description.
Moving rapidly through the throng, sometimes in couples, sometimes alone, and glancing swiftly and keenly at the men they pass, are a number of flashily-dressed women, generally young, but far from attractive. You would never mistake them for respectable women, and they do not intend that you shall. They do not dare to stop and converse with men on the street, for the eyes of the police are upon them, and such a proceeding would be met with a sharp order to "move on." These are the "Street Walkers," one of the most degraded sections of the "Lost Sisterhood." The men of the city shun them, and their prey is the stranger. Should they succeed in attracting the attention of a victim, they dart off down the first side street, and wait for their dupes to join them. Woe to the man who follows after one of these creatures. The next step is to some of the low dives which still occupy too many of the cellars along Broadway. Here bad or drugged liquors steal away the senses of the luckless victim, and robbery, or even worse violence, too often ends the adventure. These women have gone so far down into the depths of sin, that they scruple at nothing which will bring them money.
The throng fills the street until a late hour of the night. Then the theatres pour out their audiences to join it, and for an hour or more the restaurants and cafes are filled to their utmost capacity. Then, as midnight comes on, the street becomes quieter and more deserted. The lights in the buildings are extinguished, and gradually upper Broadway becomes silent and deserted. New York has gone to bed; and Broadway enjoys a rest of a few hours, only to begin at daybreak a repetition of the scenes of the previous day.
The upper part of Broadway constitutes, as we have said, the fashionable shopping quarter of New York. Here are the finest stores, the richest and most tempting display of goods. New Yorkers prefer to shop here, for they know that Broadway prices are no higher than those charged in other sections, while the stock of goods to choose from is larger and better. You pay here only what an article is worth, and no more, and you can rely upon the representations of the employees in the leading houses as truthful. Yet it must not be understood that all the Broadway merchants are models of honesty and fair dealing.
The street reflects the good and the bad qualities of New York, and there are many establishments along its length where the purchaser must use his wits and keep his eyes open. The greatest scoundrels deal right alongside of the most reputable merchants. In one thing only does Broadway maintain a uniform standard. It represents the cheerfulness and success of the great city. No struggling merchants are seen along its miles of palaces of trade, and failure has no place in the street. Successful men alone deal here, no matter by what methods the success has been won. Poverty is banished to the back streets, and Broadway glitters in the sunshine of prosperity.Lights and shadows of New York life; or, The sights and sensations of the great city. A work descriptive of the city of New York in all its various phases with full and graphic accounts of its splendors and wretchedness; its high and low life, its marble palaces and dark dens, its mysteries, and its crimes. 1872; by James Dabney McCabe, Jr.