Time Lines and Sidebars



Manhattan, 1760s



 “Economic Factors Affecting Manhattan Real-estate Development.”

The City as a financial capital:

Throughout the post-Revolutionary War era the fiscal policies set by the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton (and partially practices by the Bank of New York), quickly elevated Manhattan as the budding nation’s economic epicenter.

The City as a worldwide port:

The ice-free New York Harbor always provided a safe haven and year-round shipping venue, after the War of 1812—with Fulton’s proto-type, the Clermont moving full-steam ahead, and with America’s re-establishing freedom of the seas—the city’s docks and warehouses were on firm ground to become an important world-trade port. Then, when the Erie Canal opened, in 1825, which connected an Atlantic Ocean port with the Midwest and Canadian agricultural markets, the city was positioned to grow into the world’s busiest commodities trading center, which it did and did remain such for over 100 years.

The recurring boom-to-bust and bust-to-boom economic cycles are:

  • The panic of 1819, which was the city’s first major economic depression, and lasted throughout 1820;
  • The panic of 1837, which continued for six years, and was the century’s second longest economic downturn;
  • The panic of 1857, which began to recover in early 1859;
  • The panic of 1873, which ended in 1878, five years later;
  • The panic of 1901, which was caused by railroad stock manipulations, and resulted in a stock market pandemonium;
  • The panic of 1907, which was a banking crisis, and resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve System;
  • The panic of 1929, which became the 1930s Great Depression;
  • The panic of 2007, which lead to the Great Recession, and gave rise to a protracted readjustment for real estate development.

Manhattan, 1797




Recurring Smallpox, Measles, Yellow Fever, Cholera and Malaria flare-ups were commonplace in a settlement created nearby marshes. The initial mid-1700s epidemics were mostly seasonal, hit unexpectedly and ferociously, and then disappear as quickly. It was the more-lethal second and third waves, which occurred after the 1778 yellow fever that ravished an already susceptible population. Trade between extended Atlantic ports contributed to the city’s vulnerability to deadly diseases. Sailors, traders, and emigrants brought with them fresh strains of familiar diseases from far-off ports, further straining the city’s prevention capacity and cure limitations.

Furthermore, 19th-century medical treatments—before standardization—were as likely to harm patients as help as notions without an experimented basis. Throughout the early 1820s, a large portion of the citizens (who could!) fled wharf districts and near to the Collect Pond, and they resettled in the better air north of Canal Street. By the 1830s, 20 percent of Manhattan’s 250,000 residents left the city for the summer. Few returned after the virulent 1832 Cholerae Vibrio episode.

Little municipal concerted effort met the threat of an upcoming disease. The city did not pursue methods to contain the onslaught, and addressed refuse problems, water quality, and sanitation issues in the overcrowded housing only marginally, giving a wide berth for a new strain to reach epidemic proportions. The common council did appoint a board of health, without significant power beyond occasional quarantines.

These epidemics, therefore, were assumed to be a fact of colonial and Federal-era life. That epidemic diseases significantly brought greater suffering in the poor neighborhoods was written off as a result of moral lassitude instead. Mass exoduses from Lower Manhattan followed the mid-1700s smallpox. The Yellow Fever outbreaks occurred in 1794, 1798, 1805, 1819, and 1822. Worse, the Cholera contamination dangers in 1832, 1848, 1849, 1854, and 1866, not to mention, the 1918 (Spanish) Influenza, caused havoc to the city’s very medical relief capabilities.      


“Great Fires.”

Initially, the fire-fighting methods were comprised of bucket brigades, manned by all citizens. The fire prevention system, improved somewhat by Governor Peter Stuyvesant included patrolling night watchmen, and strategically placed hooks and ladders, and buckets. The British appointed a fire warden, but not much else. Therefore, 90 years later, while the city had grown by leaps and bounds, firefighting methods and preventative measures had not. Fires routinely destroyed a massive portion of town, took numerous lives, and caused widespread devastation. They altered the course of how Manhattan operated. Eventually, building codes, drawing on centuries of experience, provided a foundation to safeguard life and property, and to ensure the tragedies of the past were not repeated.

These worse of the fires occurred in:

1776: Three days after British troops occupied Manhattan, a blaze started within Fighting Cocks Tavern spread rapidly, igniting the close by west side dock district warehouses. The British army attempts to fight the fire failed, and 10 percent of the homes and 25 percent of the buildings were smoking rubble by morning. The surviving population rushed to the Common, now New York City Hall Park, and set up a “tent city.” Ironically, before General Washington abandoned the city, his advisors suggested leaving nothing behind for the British. While Washington declined, it did not elude him that a Patriot did the job for him.

1835: The Great New York Fire began one summer night a decade after the Erie Canal had made the city a worldwide market hub. By this time, half the nation’s exports, more than 33 percent of American imports, moved through New York harbor. Seven hundred structures east of Broadway were destroyed, and the area encompassing Bond Street (the fashionable shopping enclave), South Street (the warehouse district), Wall Street (the financial hub), and Hanover Square (the dry goods mercantile center) was in ashes. Since Lower Manhattan’s population, already decimated by epidemics only two unfortunate citizens died. Developing supply and distribution solutions were discussed, however, little was accomplished. Firefighters still relied on 40 strategically placed fire cisterns. However, the long-term Croton Reservoir Viaduct system continued to advance, which would supply adequate water to fight fires.

1845: The Gunpowder Explosion and Fire occurred after two fires already consumed Lower Manhattan. This third disaster started early on a Saturday morning. When fire broke out at 34 New Street, one block south of Wall Street, the flames were fed by highly flammable stored whale oil barrels. The fire spread so quickly that four firefighters, 26 civilians, and 345 buildings were consumed. Thereafter insurance company-instigated and city-enforced edicts banned construction of wood frame structures; ultimately, all new, wood-frame construction were restricted within the densest parts of the city. This approach did not provide immediate benefit—eventually. Only as older buildings gave way to new development were devastated areas rebuilt with sturdy, masonry structures. The spread of fires was limited. Multiple-family construction remained unchanged, though.

1864: After a rash of fires ripped through the city, press exposés brought to light 15,000 inadequate tenements mushroomed to accommodate 480,638 inhabitants. One horrific instance proved that 25 recent immigrants rented a cellar—by the month—with a two-foot-wide passage. Escape from a fire was impossible, not improbable.

1866: The state legislature defined proper standards for New York City construction, thereby distinguishing dwellings.

1867: The first Tenement Housing Act created a Tenement Housing Committee. However, their insignificant recommendations applied only to “new construction,” even then most often landowners failed to comply.

1879: The city improved the Tenement Housing Act of 1867 (Old Law) by creating a competition for new tenement designs.

1882: A Tenement Consolidation Act initiated some progress, and degreed that architects had to comply with general New York City building laws. Interestingly, the clause stated “that fire escapes could be designed to the liking of the architect.” As a result, a building’s appearance and image could still trump safety if the architect chose aesthetically-pleasing balconies over fire escapes that would make a building safer.

1884: Felix Adler, a strong tenement reform advocate, established a second Tenement House Committee. Twenty years passed before progressive-era reforms—already in the New York City Building Code—were actually implemented. These reforms even applied retroactively to the pre-Civil War single-family houses, many of which had been converted to tenement-style housing.

1901: After corrupt Housing Department practices were brought to light, the Tenement Act (New Law), designed to relieve unsafe living conditions, was made ready for implementation.

1905: Finally, the Allen Street Fire, when 20 of 200 tenants died, elicited such public outrage that it “gave teeth” to housing reform enforcement.

1911: One-hundred and forty-six employees died at Greene Street and Waverley Place, east of Washington Square in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire ashes of the Ashe Building. On a Saturday evening, 500 young girls were preparing to leave the top three floors of the building, floors 10-12, when they were trapped by flames. The firefighters’ ladders reach no further than the sixth floor, and their hose water stream reach the seventh floor only. The horror of these deaths led to numerous changes in working conditions and safety standards. Between 1911 and 1914, thirty-six laws were enacted to reform labor codes.



1831, real-estate ownership map



“New York City commissioners’ 1811 Grid Plan”


The gridiron plan originated in 1807, devised by three commissioners, Governor Morris, Simeon Dewitt and John Rutherford, was approved by the New York State legislature in 1811. The heavily built-up city—a web of crisscrossing narrow lanes and vaguely wider streets—could not be reconfigured practically. However, the commissioners had a free hand entirely from 13th Street north—the southernmost east-and-west (crosstown) streets to complete the island. While there were convertible Forfeiture tracts available in the center and east, Greenwich hamlet, with its hit-or-miss streets, was determined to be respected, and so the street courses to West Fourteenth Street—whether blocked or twisted so askew that, actually, had West Fourth crossing West 12th Street—remained, as was.

However, nothing prevented the commissioners from starting their plan as far south as feasible, and then adapting it wherever necessary, and they did. Consequently, the adjustments accommodated during the 1807-11 debates are settled within the plan. On the East side, Houston (North) Street is the last unnumbered street east of the Bowery; from that point, rare exceptions incorporated exist northward.

Their report, approved by the State of New York legislature in 1811, an admirable presentation of their logic and foresight, contains in their own words:

“Gazing upon the Manhattan of farm and orchard, cliff and waste land, and pondering its future prayer-fully, the Commissioners decided in favor of twelve broad north-and-south Avenues, 100 feet in width, running from the built-up section to West 155th Street, and one of them—Tenth Avenue—extending farther north to the Kingsbridge over the Harlem.

“These Avenues are spaced as follows: 650 feet between First and Second Avenues, 610 feet between Second and Third Avenues, 926 feet between Third and Fourth Avenues, 926 feet between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, 800 feet between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

“And so on to the Hudson River.

“The cross-streets ranged from 60 to 100 feet in width, with from 199 to 203 feet in the intervening blocks. The wide streets, always more favored than the others, were Fourteenth, Twenty-Third, Thirty-Fourth, Forty-Second, Fifty-Seventh, Seventy-Second, Eight-Sixth, Ninety-Sixth, One-Hundred-Tenth, One-Hundred-Sixteenth, One-Hundred-Twenty-Fifth, and One-Hundred-Fifty-Fifth Streets.

(Second Avenue, the commissioners thought, commonsensically, would be the sought-after residential thoroughfare; early on, however, Fifth Avenue usurped that proud position.)

“Considering the physical limitations of the terrain, from one and one quarter to one and one half miles in width and from six and one half to eleven and one half miles in length, the commissioners probably could not have worked out a better plan for all purposes—residences, trade, and horse-drawn transport.

“. . . that one of the first objects that claimed their attention was the form and manner in which the business should be conducted; that is to say whether they should confine themselves to rectilinear and rectangular streets, or whether they should adopt some of those supposed improvements by circles, ovals and stars, which certainly embellished a plan whatever might be their effect as to convenience and utility. In considering that subject they could not but bear in mind that a city is to be composed principally of the habitations of men, and that straight sided and right angled houses are the most cheap to build and the most convenient to live in. The effect of these plain and simple reflections was decisive.

“Having determined therefore that the work should be in general rectangular, a second, and in their opinion, an important consideration, was so to amalgamate it with the plans already adopted by individuals as not to make any important change in their dispositions.

“This, if it could have been {a} effected consistently with the public interest, was desirable, not only as it might render the work more generally acceptable, but also as it might be the means of avoiding expense. It was therefore, a favorite object with the commissioners, and pursued until after various unsuccessful attempts {had not} proved the extreme difficulty, nor was it abandoned at last but from necessity. To show the obstacles which frustrated every effort can be of no use. It will perhaps be more satisfactory to each person who may feel aggrieved to ask himself whether his sensations would not have been still more unpleasant had his favorite plan been sacrificed to preserve those of a more fortunate neighbor. If it should be asked why the present plan was adopted in preference to any other, the answer is, because, after taking all circumstances into consideration, it appeared to be the best; or, in other and more popular terms, attended with the least inconvenience.

“It may be to many a matter of surprise that so few vacant spaces have been left, and those so small, for the benefit of fresh air and the consequent preservation of health. Certainly if the City of New York was destined to stand on the side of a small stream such as the Seine or the Thames, a great number of ample places might be needful. But those large arms of the sea which embrace Manhattan Island render its situation, in regard to health and pleasure, as well as to the convenience of commerce, peculiarly felicitous. When, therefore, from the same causes the prices of land are so uncommonly great, it seems proper to admit the principles of economy to greater influence than might, under circumstances of a different kind, have consisted with the dictates of prudence and the sense of duty.

“. . . The City of New York contains a population already sufficient to place it in the ranks of cities of the second order and is rapidly advancing towards a level with the first. It is perhaps no unreasonable conjecture that in half a century—it will be closely built up to the northern boundary of the parade and contain four hundred thousand souls. . . .

“To some it may be a matter of surprise that the whole island has not been laid out as a city. To others it may be a subject of merriment that the Commissioners have provided space for a greater population than is collected at any spot on this side of China. They have in this respect been governed by the shape of the ground. It is not improbable that considerable numbers may be collected at Haerlem before the high hills to the south-ward of it shall be built upon as a city; and it is improbable that (for centuries to come) the grounds north of Haerlem Flat will be covered with houses. To have come short of the extent laid out might, therefore, have defeated just expectations; and to have gone further might have furnished material to the pernicious spirit of speculation. . . .

“(Signed) Gouv. MORRIS



The 1811 plan changed much, for better and for worse (too), and much of which the commissioners could not have foreseen. It is easy with hindsight to appreciate the advantage additional north-and-south avenues would be, and decreased crosstown streets, but supplemented wider east-and-west streets, too. Yet, in 1811, extensive north-and-south traffic was not the case; the demand was river to river. It seems natural that the Avenues were destined to develop as arteries. In fact, the north-to-south emphasis did abet development northward.

The 1807-11 debate issues centered around, the:

  • Stretches between Third and Fourth Avenues and between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, which were adjusted eventually by the intermediary Madison and Lexington Avenues.
  • Intention to eliminate Broadway, denying it a connection with Bloomingdale Road was abandoned fortunately by public opinion and pressure from realty interests.
  • St. Nicholas Avenue, formerly the Haerlem Lane, old Middle Road continuation, also threatened as the link to Kingsbridge Road, survived as a diagonal thoroughfare.
  • Scant provision for open spaces, beyond the four public squares—
  1. Parade Grounds, at 23rd to 34th Streets, and from Seventh t0 Third Avenues;
  2. Bloomingdale Square, West 53rd to 57th Streets, and from Eighth to Ninth Avenues;
  3. Hamilton Square, East 65th to 69th Streets, and from Fourth to Third Avenues;
  4. Manhattan Square, West 77th to 81st Streets, and from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue;
  5. Observatory Place, East 89th to 94th Street, and from Fifth to Fourth Avenues;
  6. Haerlem Marsh, East 106th to 109th Street, and from Fifth Avenue to the East River
  7. Haerlem Square, West 117th to 121st Streets, and from Sixth to Seventh Avenues;

Although 470 acres were provide—somewhat generous for the time, not all the spaces remained in public use. For example, later actions reduced the Parade Ground to Madison Square, carving the allotted 20 acres to six. Bloomingdale Square was eliminated by dint of Central’s being nearby. Hamilton Square was bisected by Lexington Avenue, and Observatory Place by Madison Avenue, both were subdivided in to standard lots.

Of course Central Park does not appear in the commissioners’ plan; it was an afterthought dating from the 1850s. Values had altered, an appreciation of open spaces developed after the early century yellow fever epidemics. Curiously, this mid-island site’s proponents argued the conducive health and well-being value of that (swamp and marshy) area for the citizens. Moreover, the sole alternate, Jones Woods, was kept in the courts by the Rhinelander heirs. Four late 1800s parklands were added: Riverside, along the shoreline, whose opportunity came about due to a railroad right of way, which no commissioner could foresee; the northern Morningside, St. Nicholas, and Colonial Parks, added 65 years after the plan, due to intractable protrusions that city engineers could not level sufficiently to grade.

Beyond the initial commissioner’s plan boundary, West 155th Street, are three important Manhattan parks, with vast open riverside acreage: Fort Tyron, Inwood Hill, and Highbridge Parks—each envisioned in a more (relatively speaking) progressive environmental aware age. Besides, as harbor activity decreased throughout the late 1900s, more shoreline was devoted to public promenades and gardens. Plus, an ignoble oversight—the Lower East Side without a common or open public space—was rectified by East River Park.

While shunning short, crossing access circles, ovals, and star-like layouts, like those favored within the L’Enfant’s national capital plan, the Manhattan grid plan afforded eight squares created by Broadway. Were they elaborated upon sufficiently? Additionally, other than a truncated one-mile long Haerlem Lane, the hard-and-fast gridiron arrangement provided no northeast-to-southwest or northwest-to-southeast diagonal thoroughfares. Then, ignoring Broadway’s foremost value, in fact, is its very utility: cutting Manhattan’s checkerboard quality by crossing more than half of the north-and-south avenues. Proof that lacking a similar beneficial channel is throughout Midtown East Side development consistently lagged behind the West Side.

The first burst of enthusiasm for Second Avenue as the preferred residential avenue was usurped by Fifth Avenue, which occurred before the grid plan was even put up for debate. A central avenue succeeding the old Middle Road, splitting Manhattan in two, allowed “Fifth” to be the Avenue destined for greatness from its start on Washington Square. Fifth Avenue immediately captured the imagination of the city’s elite, the aristocratic appeal—as an absolute—was set in stone with the complementary progressive concept, Central Park. It is true, nevertheless, that at the park’s northernmost point, Fifth Avenue’s dignity and panache abruptly ends, too—now devoid of what had commended it to the imagination of all America.

Remarkable remains that the city advanced any plan at all in 1811, and that its commissioners selected to read the future well enough to conceive a grid implementation as far north as West 155th Street (which would not be incorporated into New York City entirely for 60 years): regulating an area capable of accommodating 20 times its current population. Here was a city of 85,000 laid out for a population close to 2,000,000. Of course, the commissioners did not reckon the need for buried electric cables, elevated then submerged mass transit, the elevator making a skyscraper possible, and so they modestly said their planned area “would serve 400,000 souls.” For an 85,000 citizen city to project itself even a 400,000 future so far north are extraordinary enough cases for a vision; Manifest Destiny stirrings were there.

Mass Transit Development

After 20 years, the grid plan effect had produced rampant “grid lock.” Ubiquitous horse-drawn rail cars, freight wagons, providers’ carts and private carriages were all vying for the same narrow lanes. To exacerbate the situation, Manhattan rapidly expanding northward (after all, it had no other way to go, and now with avenues to facilitate the growth), was far quicker than prognosticated. The need for mass transportation was obvious. In an age of innovation, the quest for the solution, above and below the streets, began.

At first, private companies offered stagecoach routes along the established north-and-south   roadways within the city limit (at Canal Street). The routes to Love Lane (Madison Square) evolved as stagecoach lines, and eventually as surface mass transit routes, which were established beginning in 1815, by Abraham Brower. Hopelessly off schedule, his initial private stagecoach services fought through the traffic jams as far as Love Lane, 21st Street and Fifth Avenue. Competitors developed in many directions and by every means available—from Brower’s horse-drawn-tram cars to elevated steam engines to electric subways. The lengthened initial routes included:

From the Battery

  • Pearl Street followed the East River to Worth Street, which was Chatham Square. The parallel landfill streets and avenues were devoted to moving freight.
  • Broad Street moved north, as an arc to the Common (known as the Fields), at Worth Street.
  • Greenwich Street, beginning at the Battery followed the North (Hudson) River beyond Worth Street, and then expired as far north as Greenwich Lane, the west-to-east walking trail (Bleecker Street).
  • Broad Way, at mid-island progressed north as a narrow corridor, where an initial northeast fork, Park Row, linked the Common to Chatham Square. Then Broad Way continued due north, beyond Canal and North (Houston) Streets, and there connected to the north-northwest running Bloomingdale Road (today, Broadway).

From Chatham Square

  • The Bowery continued as the Boston Highroad to North Street, and, thereafter as Bowery Road advanced northwest to Union Place (East 13th to 17th Streets), where it merged with the parallel-running Bloomingdale Road, and then progressed to Love Lane (21st Street) as one roadway. The Bowery (Third Avenue, above East Ninth Street) continued north as a primary easterly artery.

From Love Lane

  • Eastern Post Road, the south-and-north Weckquaesgeek trail-and-trade route, moved northeast. Gradually, winding around rocky and marshy portions, hugging closer to the East River shoreline, and by East 66th Street, it moved northwest to, approximate, Third Avenue. This highway then continued directly north, and, became Haerlem Bridge Road. It crossed Haerlem Creek, at East 128th Street, and then becoming Boston Post Road.
  • Bloomingdale Road, following a north-northwest trajectory, traversed mid-island through large farm tracts, which comprise present-day Midtown West and the Upper West Side. It also crossed both Bloomingdale and Haerlem villages, West 106th and 128th Streets, respectively. The roadway then continued due north, ending near the Haerlem Common boundary at West 146th Street. Here it joined with the Kingsbridge Road, coming from the southeast.

Off Eastern Post Road

  • Middle Road (at Fifth Avenue) veered northwest at East 28th Street, and ran north from East 41st to 94th Streets. Running northeast as Haerlem Bridge Road, the thoroughfare joined the Eastern Post Road to the Haerlem Bridge. Beyond Middle Road’s terminus, on 95th Street, a roadway led to Haerlem’s northwest diagonal highway.
  • Kingsbridge Road, the northern Weckquaesgeek trade route, originates as that northwesterly folk. After traversing McGowan’s passage (West 113th Street), Haerlem Lane (St. Nicholas Avenue) provides the link to West 124th Street. From there, this important roadway traversed north-northwest to Bloomingdale Road’s northernmost point, and then continued as the sole access to Spuyten Duyvil (West 222nd Street). Once across King’s Bridge and on the mainland, it then was Albany Post Road.

Road to Greenwich Accesses

  • Greenwich Road ended at the first northerly Dutch settlement. From the established northeast-to-southeast path (Christopher Street), the roadway joined with Greenwich Lane (coming from the Native people’s village and trading post). As Greenwich Lane, the cobblestone route connected to Love Lane (at 21st Street) via the southwest-to-northeast running Southampton Road, also a trail. Thereby, Greenwich Road, from the city, met up with the important easterly north-and-south roadways to Upper Manhattan. All of these were once the Native peoples’ mid-island interconnecting paths and trails.
  • FitzRoy Road (approximating present-day Eighth Avenue) began near the Greenwich Lane and Southampton Road interchange. It continued due north to Reed Valley, so named because it was there that the Kanonnewaga village traded their reeds for regional squaws to weave into grass skirts. The dirt road then spanned West 41st-to-50th Streets, where numerous creeks converged near the North (Hudson) River.  From there, the east-and-west footpath became a short dirt lane accessing Bloomingdale Road.

In addition, several minor indigenous crisscrossing paths were expanded as country roads. Most notably converging at The Bowery were: Art Street, the major east-and-west trail (Bleecker Street), Sand Hill Road (Astor Place), St. Mark’s Place (East Eighth Street), and Stuyvesant Street (linking East 9th and 10th Streets, from The Bowery to Second Avenue).

To the west were: Union Road (Christopher Street’s southeast continuation), which connected Greenwich Lane and Southampton Road by reversing direction to the northwest; and Warren Lane which ran off Southampton Road, at West 17th Street to Love Lane, parallel to FitzRoy Road. The southeast-and-northwest half-mile lanes accessed off Bloomingdale Road, and extending west to the riverbank, from south to north, included:

  • West 41st Street, Norton Farm Lane;
  • West 48th Street, Verdant Road;
  • West 54th Street, Hooper Lane;
  • West 72nd Street, Harsens Road.


By necessity truly mass transit development advanced rapidly, despite a rocky financial start. The city’s elevated railway experiments began in earnest at Greenwich Street with three miles of tracks above Ninth Avenue to West 30th Street. A wire rope wrapped around cable drums, driven by stationary steam engines placed beneath the sidewalk, grabbed and propelled cars to the next engine and then the next, thus, moving the car along the tracks. Operations commenced and continued in 1868 and continued through 1870. However in addition to technical problems, a single track proved impractical, and was finally abandoned. The tracks lay idle for months, until creditors bought the line for a pittance at a sheriff’s auction.

Repairs were made to strengthen the existing 1867 structure, and steam engine operation began nine months later. In its sixth year, 1878, 14,000,000 passengers were carried over the “El.” With the Third Avenue branch’s enormous popularity, the combined traffic doubled. Then, a third and fourth line were built on Sixth and Second Avenues, which completed the encasement of a dense central corridor. Spurs were soon devised to access New York City Hall and the Battery from Chatham Square. Soon, new lines along Forty-Second Street, stopping at Grand Central Station, and they connected the Third to Sixth Avenues lines, augmenting the “El” service. In turn, the Sixth and Ninth Avenue lines were joined, via a West 53rd Street spur to West 58th Street and Eighth Avenue. The Ninth Avenue line then continued on Columbus Avenue, and it ran along the Kingsbridge Road, in order to cross King’s Bridge.

The expanded service dominated the mass transit question for the next decades. The overhead routes were precursors of the submerged routes to come, and nowhere were they as condensed as at the narrow southern tip. The four elevated railroad lines originating in the city, spreading north, were:

  • The Ninth Avenue “El,” along Greenwich Street;
  • The Sixth Avenue “El,” on West Broadway beyond Canal Street;
  • The Third Avenue “El,” along Pearl Street to Chatham Square;
  • The Second Avenue “El,” along Division, then Allen, next First Avenue, and finally, the East Twenty-Third Street spur to Second Avenue.


Meanwhile, the Hudson River Rail Road laid initial freight-line tracts below Canal Street. The line ran at street level along Hudson and West Streets, with a right of way to the terminal at Chambers Street. In 1861, Cornelius Vanderbilt consolidated his New York Central, and build a new St. John’s terminal (formerly St. John’s Park). It included Beach to Varick Streets. The mid-island terminal, at West 34th Street, within a decade moved passengers north to Spuyten Duyvil. The overhead link from the terminal (then known as the Miller Line, and now High Line) was a 20th century addition.

The precursor passenger service time line is, as follows,

  • 1831: the city’s first public transportation route ran along Broadway from the Battery to North Street, added the “Sociable” and “Omnibus” to the initial 12-seat stagecoach, “Accommodation.”
  • 1832: The New York and Harlem Railroad opened, using horse-drawn cars on metal rails.
  • 1848: The first West Side Freight, the only freight railroad directly into Manhattan, began. It evolved rapidly to include a daily Milk Train from dairies upstate.
  • 1855: 593 horse-drawn, street railway trams, known as omnibuses, traveled 27 Manhattan routes along First, Second, Third, Sixth, and Eighth Avenues.

The “El” era operating lines are, as follows:

  • 1870: Elevated railroad operation began along Greenwich Street.
  • 1871: The West Side elevated track construction continued along Ninth Avenue to West 34th Street.
  • 1873: Under lower Broadway, through a 312-foot tunnel, a subway car ran by “pneumatic pressure” blown by a giant fan.
  • 1875: The East Side overhead right of way was established for Third Avenue.
  • 1879: Ninth Avenue operations were extended to West 8lst Street and Columbus (Ninth) Avenue. It included stations at West 59th, 66th, Seventy-Second, and 81st Streets, and one month later to West 86th, 93rd, 99th, and 104th Streets.
  • 1879: The approved Second Avenue Elevated Railroad construction began, and was completed in 1880.
  • 1886: Construction began on the Sixth Avenue branch to supplement the Ninth Avenue line.

In the 1890s, electric trolleys replaced horse-drawn cars; the trackless coaches, using overhead power lines appeared; and then motor buses operated on Fifth Avenue, including the double-decker, so beloved by New Yorkers.

The subway progressed, as follows:

  • 1902: The IRT East Side subway line, below Lexington Avenue, was created to the Bronx.
  • 1904: The IRT 7th Avenue Broadway subway line was operational for nine miles, from New York City Hall Park to West 145th Street.
  • 1932: The Eight Avenue subway line, the first Independent Rapid Transit Railroad (IND), opened.

1940: New York City consolidated all the rapid transit systems. And, as the mass transit subway system offered access throughout Manhattan, still for only a nickel, the nosier, dirtier, sun-blocking surface-level elevated system became obsolete.

“Rapid Transit Development.”       

1832: The New York and Harlem Railroad opens, using horse-drawn cars on metal rails.

1855: Horse-drawn train routes run along Third, Fourth, Sixth, and Eight Avenues.

1870: Elevated Railroad operation begins along Greenwich Avenue.

1871: The west side elevated track construction starts along upper Ninth Avenue.

1875: The East Side elevated lines right of way is established for Third Avenue.

1879: The Second Avenue Elevated Railroad construction begins, and was completed in 1880.

1902: The IRT East Side subway line, below Lexington Avenue, is created to the Bronx.

1904: The IRT Broadway subway line is operational for 9 miles, from New York City Hall Park to 145th Street.

1932: The Eight Avenue subway line, the first Independent Rapid Transit Railroad (IND), opens.

1940: New York City consolidates all the rapid transit systems. And, as the mass transit subway system consolidated, extending access throughout Manhattan, still for only a nickel, the nosier, dirtier, sun-blocking surface-level elevated system became obsolete.


           “The Upper East Side’s Eminent Architects.”

The architects who designed Fifth Avenue mansions—built for robber barons, industrialists, and their financiers—and society’s architecturally significant Upper East Side town houses include Richard Morris Hunt (W. K. Vanderbilt’s Fifth Avenue château, representing America’s first complete expression of the Beaux-Arts style), Carrere and Hastings (the Sloane, the Frick, and the Starr [completed for Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III] mansions, as well as Henry J. Hammond’s town house), Horace Trumbauer (the Duke and Mrs. Amory S. Cahart  mansions), Babb, Cook & Willard (the Carnegie mansion), C. P. H. Gilbert (the Warburg, Kahn, Fletcher-Sinclair, and Sloane families’ mansions), and Delano & Gilbert (the Straight mansion and the Baker compound, on Park Avenue and 93rd Street, at Carnegie Hill’s zenith).

Additional ultra-exclusive Upper East Side notable architects are Ogden Kimball & Thompson (the Rhinelander Waldo mansion, on Madison Avenue at East 72nd Street), John Russell Pope (the DeKoven mansion, on Park Avenue at East 85th Street, and the 93rd Street mid-Madison-to-Park-Avenue-block mansion, for Virginia Graham Fair Vanderbilt), Walker & Gillette (the Lowe Vanderbilt mansion, next door on East 93rd Street), and Governor Atterbury (the Edith Vanderbilt Fabbri mansion, off Fifth Avenue, on East 95th Street .)

The Upper East Side society’s turn-of-the-century town-house equally significant architects also include Charles A. Platt (the Sarah Delano Roosevelt, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, a double-town- house pair), Welch, Smith & Provot (the Seman-Duke house, opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on Fifth Avenue at East 82nd Street, which remains a privately-owned, important Beaux-Arts residential property), James Gamble Rogers, of Hale & Rogers (the 50-foot-wide Harkness town house, on East 75th Street and in the Fifth-to-Madison-Avenues block, completed in 1896), John H. Duncan (11 East 70th Street, abutting the Frick mansion), Cass Gilbert (One East 94th Street), Foster, Gade & Graham (the Iselin house, on East 79th Street and in the Madison-to-Park-Avenue blocks), F. Burrall Hoffman, Jr. (17  East 90th Street, a landmark designated, speculatively built town house).

As distinguished are the architects who designed the Fifth-to-Park-Avenue town houses, such as George Keister  (the George L. McAlpin house), Wallace McCrea (the Grafton-Minot house), Mott B. Schmidt (the Emily Trevor house), Warren & Westmore (the Sloane-Burdens and Livingston-Beeckman house) Ogden Codman, Jr. ( Mrs. Robert Livingston, Mrs. Lucy Drexel Dahlgren, and his own home),  Trowbridge & Livingston (the Clark  house), Flagg & Chambers (the Gould-Jennings home), William Rogers (the Pagenstretchers home), Thornton Chard (the Hennen-Morris home), Arthur C. Jackson (the Krechs house), and Charles I. Berg (the Moors house).

Of particular note is Henry J. Hardenbergh for his working-class, single-family dwellings, at 1340-50 Lexington Avenue, and of special distinction is the town-house row constituting the entire west Park Avenue block front, between East 69th-to-68th Street, which, from north to south, are designed by Walker & Gillette (680 Park Avenue), Delano & Aldrich (686 Park Avenue), Mc Kim, Mead & White (684 Park Avenue, and 680 Park Avenue, with partner-in-charge, Charles F. Mc Kim).

And finally, the three renowned Upper East Side luxury apartment-house architects—with many designated landmark buildings—are Rosario Candella (and his mentor, Gaetano Ajello, though predominantly an Upper West Side architect-developer), James Carpenter (with his builders Anthony and Arminio Campagna),  and Emory Roth.  The additional impressive Fifth and Park Avenue architects include Delano & Aldrich, Mott B. Schmidt, Bachman & Fox, C. P. H. Gilbert, De Pace & Juster, George Pelham, Rouse and Goldstone, George and Edward Blum, Schwartz and Gross, Thomas Graham, A.B. Ogden & Son, and James E. Ware. Of special note are Harde & Short (45 East 66th Street Apartments), Electus Litchfield (1067 Fifth Avenue), and Sanford White (998 Fifth Avenue, Fifth Avenue’s pioneer limestone apartment house).

Designed by Sanford White


 “Tenement Apartment Houses.”

A little information about tenements is helpful to distinguish a 19th- or 20th-century tenement from a single-family dwelling converted to apartments. Although from the exterior most tenements in the 19th-century (some as early as 1880) as well as 20th-century tenements were erected with a high stoop, street-level entry, or a three-step stoop, the interior differences, prior to The Tenement Act of 1901, are far more significant.  A brief illustration of the conditions provides a better understand tenement life as experienced by the tenants.

Tenement-dwelling began in 1878, with a building-trade magazine sponsored multiple-dwelling design contest. The Plumber and Sanitary Engineer competition directive was, on a 25-by-100 feet Manhattan lot, to create an easily constructed structure that complied with the upcoming 1879 Tenement House Law (which was to be known as the Old Law) minimum light, ventilation, and sanitary codes, and that would maximize a landlord’s profit.

The prizewinner was the noted architect James Ware. His design was dubbed the dumbbell tenement—after the narrow airshaft running through the middle of a six-story structure. It consisted of front and rear units, connected by the long hallway, where 300 people could be housed in 84 rooms.

Immediately, Ware’s design was constructed by the thousands. While built in accordance with the proscribed standards between 1880 and 1900, the dumbbell configuration provided only one window per room, with airshafts to admit additional light and air. Given their narrowness and the building height, these wells merely trapped foul air, and worse: they became garbage receptacles, with all matter of refuse remaining to rot before being cleaned out.

The long unlit hallway’s communal water closet and shared sink for four families caused constant spillage. The stench alone was horrible, but using the same basin to clean food, dishes, clothes, as well as to bathe imposed unsanitary conditions. In wintertime, the dark hallways froze; the icy steps became dangerous. Over 23 years, throughout the late-19th century, an untold tens of thousands tenement-apartment buildings were quickly put up; burned to the ground; or were left deteriorating, with poor masses huddled in overcrowded, unsafe and unhealthy slums conditions.

The Old Law buildings, when brought up to the 1901 code had to be reconfigured as one-room units, with the bathtub and sink in the kitchen, and one water closet. Even fifty-years later, an Old Law structure renovation still required gutting the entire building; whereas a building complying with the 1901 code had far more layout design flexibilities.

East Village, Alphabet City


“Tompkins Square Park.”

Beginning in 1857 and throughout the 19th century, this commons has been an historical backdrop for social unrest and violence, the scene of perpetual demonstrations—some turned increasingly violent, with periodic outright public disturbances resulting. At first, the large-scale demonstrations involved immigrants protesting unemployment and food shortages, although not terribly violent, subsequent periodic demonstrations created temporary chaos throughout the area. Next, a mob’s resentment of those who could afford to pay $300 and avoid military service went rampant and 119 participants and passersby were massacred, which culminated into the New York Draft Riots of 1863. Next, the 1874 Tompkins Square Riots involved overworked, underpaid workers—a precursor to later deadly labor-management conflicts—and became bloody when police stormed the demonstrators. Finally, the most violent riot of all, in 1877, occurred when the National Guard, called in to control 5,000 demonstrators amassed to hear socialist revolutionary speeches, engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

As the slum conditions surrounding the park grew exponentially, more of the same unrest continued until Tompkins Square Park was reconfigured (through a Robert Moses a Great Depression-era parks rehabilitation program.) The new park design had a specific objective: curtail violent demonstrators by creating paths to better manage unruly crowds. The plan worked, that is until the 1960s Vietnam War demonstrations.

During the ensuing decades Tompkins Square Park’s downward-spiral deteriorated into an uncontrollable, dangerous, and community-wide blight: Tompkins Square Park was the City’s Mecca for crime and drug trafficking and the homeless. A series of early 1990s, violent incidents forced the City to lock the gates, cordon off nearby streets, and institute day and night surveillance. Then, after a two-year renovation the park re-opened and finally drew—not the genteel, but soon-to-be-prosperous young professionals. Once a new mega-urbanite generation staked this East Village district, between Avenues A and C, something new was born, Alphabet City.  And that something was far closer to what the donor, Peter Stuyvesant’s heir, envisioned rather than what it had become.

Tenement house, detail


“Immigration Waves.”

There are two tales to the City in the 19th century: the Lower East Side and Upper East Side, the political corruption and social reform. Just prior to the mid-century mark—beginning with the 1845 to 1852 Irish Potato Famine—immigration waves became never-ending, and so the population steadily grew. Next, the Civil War displacement migration off farms to industrialized areas compounded Manhattan’s growing numbers. Next, teeming masses arrived—escaping Europe’s economic problems and, shortly thereafter, political unrest, including the East European Jews, who would work in the sweatshops, brought tens of millions—all needing to occupy the same limited available, already overcrowded tenement-apartment-house dwellings.

Manhattan’s Lower East Side was the first stop for these millions, seemingly moving five or six times each year, endlessly seeking better housing as their immediate rent budget increased or decreased. And so the slums crept beyond Houston Street, and to the East River’s commercial waterfront. Without a doubt, recurring urban blights—gut-wrenching poverty, epidemics, fires—hit hardest on the Lower East Side tenement-apartment-house dwellers.

It was the European immigrant’s lot—as a poorly paid laborer, packed into tenements with City-building-code violations, street-crime and violence everywhere—that turned into a daily struggle, which caused the Lower East Side to become a breeding ground for social unrest and unionization. In contrast, by the mid-19th century, as evidenced by the opulent mansion-and-town-house-building explosion, uptown Manhattan, especially near Central and Riverside Parks, became the epitome of wealth.

Wide-scale political corruption had its roots during the late 1840s, shortly after the Democratic Party machine, Tammany Hall, came into being. With immigrant Irish-American support, its influence rapidly grew, resulting in the first Tammany mayor in 1854. Almost immediately once establishing power, Tammany dominated political graft and bribery guided City life, including the lucrative housing-construction trade.  Moreover, it exacerbated the working-poor’s plight.

Meanwhile, the 1880s innovations—with the Dakota Apartment House (at Central Park), the Osborne Flats ( on West 57th Street), the Chelsea Hotel (on West 23rd Street), and Number 34 Gramercy Park East—brought Manhattan’s nascent upper-middle-class, whose dwelling habit changes were in evidence too, into the luxury high-rise-apartment-house-living era.

For nearly eight decades, precious little change occurred regarding slum conditions, in particular their shabby construction and poor sanitation, which continually worsened and culminated in fires and epidemic outbreaks. Nonetheless, waves of immigrants arrived, and Manhattan became the great melting pot, as symbolized by the 1886 Statue of Liberty (cast of base metal, indicating a melting pot), which was a gift from France to New York City for its role in the quest for liberty and freedom.

Manhattan became a stage for social reform too. Throughout the 1880s progressive reformers forced the state legislature to enact revised housing codes. Furthermore, with the Progressive Era’s growing fervor outraged humanitarian citizens, who demanded tenement safety and sanitary conditions improvements, and to a large extent coaxed by Jacob Riis’ stark pictorial documentation of the Lower East Side squalor, the standard tenement dwellings were prohibited 20 years later, and replaced by the narrower, two apartment per floor, “railroad” configuration.

All the reformers efforts though could not halt northward slum-expansion, and at the 20th century’s advent, two-thirds of Manhattan’s population lived in 42,700 tenements. Twentieth-century housing reforms though did change quality-of-life issues for 98% of the City’s population still living in tenements. The revised codes, especially conversion from gas to electricity brought fewer fires and lighted hallways, and the new sanitary provisions provided clean water and better ventilation.

On the other hand, workplace safety reforms too were needed: only a tragic 1911 fire, when the Asch Building’s tenth, ninth, and eighth floors, loft-style sweatshops on Greene Street and Washington Place, known as the Shirtwaist Factory Fire disaster—where scores of workers lost their lives—would bring about those workplace reforms. And, so to quell a City-wide, knee-jerk reaction, the ladies garment industry—a City powerhouse—was permitted unionization.

A decade later, between the world wars, reformist Fiorello La Guardia was elected mayor and Tammany Hall fell, ending its 80 year dominance. Under the new municipal government infrastructure, wide-scale labor abuses and housing corruption were reined in. Meanwhile, as immigration slowed, the City’s demographics stabilized; moreover, labor unionization brought at least a modicum of protection and security for the working classes.

The 20th-century Great Depression and the Second World War, however, delivered even more devastating consequences to downtown Manhattan, and despite the era’s Midtown skyscrapers, including numerous recognizable Art Deco masterpieces (for example) the Empire State, Chrysler, and General Electric Buildings, nothing of the sort was erected downtown or in Lower Manhattan.

Downtown Manhattan’s residential blocks were deteriorating tenement rows, covering every street from the Bowery east to the East River, between East 14th and Canal Streets; even engulfing small, once-thriving, working- and middle-class pockets, and transforming the few distinctive row-house streets, where all single-family dwellings became little more than rooming houses. The culturally diverse, multi-lingual communities, between Houston and East 14th Streets, surrounding Second Avenue, where Ukrainian, Polish, several Slavish dialects, and Yiddish shared the same streets, were gobbled up and slowly faded away.  Eventually, downtown Manhattan’s entire eastern portion was one enormous and continuous urban landscape: slum. Only after the mid-century post-War prosperity was well underway would downtown Manhattan slowly revive, grow, and thrive.

Nolita, traditional tenement


“Greater Chinatown.”

There has been unprecedented growth creating greater Chinatown from the traditional Chinatown, which was below Canal Street to the Foley Civic Center area, and from Center Street east to Chatham Square, at the Bowery. It has grown to roughly two square miles: with Kenmore (then Delancey) Street at its north, and northeast, and East and Worth Streets in the south, with Allen Street at its east—engulfing the Williamsburg to Brooklyn Bridges stretch along Water Street—and west to Broadway.

Once the transcontinental railroad was complete in 1870, Chinese workers migrated to large cities, where the job opportunities were. So much so, by 1880, the Five Point slum district—then mostly Irish-American—was also home to a growing Chinese community. (Interestingly, in the late 1870s, a few illegally smuggled Chinese workers found their way to a New Jersey laundry factory, soon after they moved to Manhattan; and this handful sparked the hand laundry explosion.)

The initial Chinese migration to Manhattan was contained at Canal Street by the established Irish- and Italian-American communities, Little Italy, with at the northwest. Nevertheless, once the Chinese community overflowed Five Points, the expansion followed along East Broadway, from the Bowery southeast to Grand Street, eventually displacing the established Jewish community, and then included almost the entire Lower East Side.

One hundred years later, when the Chinese immigration quota was raised in 1968, the mainland Chinese flooded in: Chinatown’s population exploded, obliterating any previous borders. Greater Chinatown crossed into Little Italy, often by buying buildings—with cash—turning tenements into garment factories or mini-office buildings.

Greater Chinatown