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Around New York City:
The Approach From The Sea
The Streets In The Morning
Downtown New York
The New City
The Ebb Tide
Fifth Avenue At Four
Shops And Shopping
New York By Night
Homes And Houses
The Tenement Dwellers
The Water Ways
Docks And Ships
For Mere Culture
The Larger City
Traffic And Trade
More Articles About New York City
Index Of Articles About New York City
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Three o'clock is the hour when the heaped-up people in the lower city begin to move outward again. That is the time when the exchanges close. No more large operations can be carried on that day — at least not on the ex-changes —and the operators begin to think of going up town, or "out home" in New Jersey or Long Island or along the Sound. It is the turn of the tide, and from then until six or seven o'clock, the human stream flows outward, seeking the places whence it came in the morning. The little men—the book-keepers, clerks, messengers, and office-boys — are usually the last to go. A day does not mean for them from ten to three; and long after the presidents, directors, and members of the firm have disappeared, the window-frames of lights up in the tall buildings show where the clerical force is still at work, straightening out the day's books and business.
The movement outward in the afternoon is substantially a repetition of the morning movement. The more prominent or more wealthy men, to avoid publicity or unwished-for companionship or idle curiosity on the part of the throng, leave their offices "hurriedly" (at least they always do in newspaper reports) in cabs or automobiles. They are "whirled off up town" (according to the news-papers again), which means that they frequently join in a slow procession up Broadway in the wake of some heavily loaded truck that obstructs, the thoroughfare. As for the rank and file, long platoons of them disappear down the side streets toward the ferries or tunnels, hawked at and howled at by newsboys, collar-button men, and peddlers of oranges and peanuts. Once more the hurrying throng finds its way around boxes and barrels, circles about upright showcases standing on the sidewalk, or pitches over steps and iron gratings until finally the advance guard disappears in the ferry-houses or tunnel entrances.
Other contingents move in other directions and keep disappearing down subway steps, like pieces of coal running down a chute. The Broadway cars groan with people fore and aft, the. elevated stations and trains are congested to the danger point, the sidewalks over-flow into the street with those who are working along toward the Bridge entrance and the cars to Brooklyn. For several hours these crowds of people keep coming down and out of the tall buildings, as though the supply at the fountain-head were inexhaustible. Where they all come from is as much of a wonder at night as where they all go to is in the morning.
What is the need for the "rush" at night since business is through for the day? There is nothing ahead but dinner and sleep. Why not "take it slowly"? There is only one answer to this. It is not in the American make-up to take matters slowly. After business hours there are plenty of things to do, and even if they be only play things yet must they be done energetically. The New Yorker works at his play—drives as hard at his amusements or his meals as he might at a new enterprise on the exchange. Leisure is a novel word in his vocabulary. He will devote as many hours to golf, perhaps, as to work, but he will not go about it leisurely unless very old or very ill. Up town, down town, or out at the country club the game has to be played in a businesslike manner.
Those who make up the "rush" at evening all have very definite ideas as to why they are rushing. Some are going up to the hotels to carry on the same shop talk they have just left behind. There are enterprises canvassed, and orders taken to sell or buy, in the lobbies of the up-town hotels as well as in the offices down town; and a very lively stock business is carried on in West Thirty-Third Street after the exchanges on Broad Street have closed and sunk into darkness. Some drop into clubs to play billiards, or to chat with acquaintances, or to fight a bag, or to have a game of squash and get a swim afterward. Some, again, are bound for open-air exercise at out-of-town clubs, or riding, or driving in the park. A thousand forms of amusement, or ways of putting in a couple of hours before dinner, offer themselves to different minds. There are those, even among busy men, who to oblige wife or kindred drop in at teas on the way home, or go to art galleries to see pictures, or stop in a library to read some new book. Of course, the great body of the clerical force, when it gets a chance, scorns all these more effeminate forms of enjoyment and goes to the ball game, sits on the bleachers, and roars its approbation or displeasure at the various players.
There is still another class, of those living on the island and doing business in the lower city, that gets some rational enjoyment and exercise out of its late afternoon hours. This is the class that walks up town—young men of high spirits walking in pairs, middle-aged people of full blood in need of exercise, leisurely old men out for the air and a stroll. Stick in hand and with eyes open for all that passes, they march up past the Astor House, look across at MacMonnies' "Nathan Hale," sniff the citified trees in the little park, and feel perhaps some civic pride tugging at the buttons of their waistcoat at sight of the City Hall. The tumult and the roar of the street usually do not bother them. It is remarkable how dead the sense of hearing becomes to accustomed sounds. Occasionally a person drops off into a side street, leaving the high buildings and the noise of Broadway' behind him; but that is not necessarily because of the noise. On the side streets there are unusual sights to be seen. Some of the corners and buildings and little parks there seem to have slight relation to the things of the great thoroughfares, and the people there care nothing about business on the ex-changes, and know nothing about the commerce or life of the lower city.
The East Side of the city is an illustration to the point, and its streets and people are interesting to look at if one does not mix in too much of the social question with his walk. Superficially regarded, the people who dwell there seem happy enough. They talk and chatter on the stoops while the children play in the gutter, and outwardly there is little sign of woe. Then, too, the gay colors in the costumes, carts, and shop-fronts lend a liveliness which is not exactly a mask. The empty-headed ones really are quite content, quite happy. They live in the present, taking no thought for the morrow; and, perhaps, have never known any different or better life.
There are dozens of ways by which the East Side may be reached, but for the man walking up town after business hours the easiest route is by way of Park Row. After passing City Hall Park and the newspaper offices, with their afternoon crowds, there is a swift change of houses -and people. A hundred yards beyond the Bridge entrance is sufficient to land one in the region of pawn shops, cheap clothing-stores, small brick buildings, and collarless citizens. The nationality is not here very pronounced, but becomes more so as you near Chatham Square. Just off the square to the east there is a forlorn-looking scrap of ground on a terrace that may suggest the dominant race. It is an old Jewish cemetery (Beth Haim), and the tablet on the iron gate proclaims it the oldest of its kind in New York, it having been purchased in 1681. It is no longer in use, save as a receptacle for rubbish, flung over the fence or from the back windows of the tenements that look out upon it. Even its sun-light is in measure shut out by the strings of laundry that hang high above it almost every day in the week. But all the Jews of the quarter are not under its sod. Any street now that leads to the cast will plunge you at once into the ghettos. There are nearly a million Jews in New York and it requires no still-hunt to find them.
But the sights of the ghettos are not exactly pleasure-giving, and perhaps a less depressing view of our foreign population can be had in the streets west of the Bowery and east of Broadway. Turn then to the left at Chatham Square and enter Doyers Street. In twenty-five steps you are in Chinatown — quite another world. The old New York buildings with iron balconies have been trans-formed by signs, symbols, and banners into something Oriental; the shop windows glitter with Chinese trinkets,. fabrics, porcelains; and across the way is the one-time Barnum Museum, refitted and redecorated to make the Chinese Theater of to-day. The curved street has its quota of celestials, standing in store fronts, loitering along the side-walks, or chatting with one another — almost all of them in native costumes. Behind the doors and windows you get an occasional glimpse of Chinese wives and mothers; and in the doorways there are Chinese babies playing on the floor.
Chinatown is a small but rather exclusive little spot, embracing Doyers, Pell, and the lower end of Mott streets — only two or three blocks. There one has a whole city in miniature — Chinese hotels, restaurants, shops, offices, banks, "joints," what you will. The Chinese are quite undisturbed in their possession, save by the Italians who crowd in upon them and, in measure, live with them. The Italians are about the only neighboring nationality that will do this. The Jews are close at hand but will not affiliate. They hold aloof. Nevertheless all three nationalities touch elbows as you move up Mott Street and come to Bayard Street. The Italians now dominate, though Chinamen are seen; but the Jews hold the end of the next parallel street to Mott (Elizabeth), and crowd through Bayard toward Mott. In fact, the foot of Elizabeth Street is the great East Side clothing market of, the Jews. There trousers and coat brokers, with goods upon their arms, move along the streets and make sales in 'the saloons, which are the chief exchanges. The modest charge of the saloon is that after each sale the seller must buy a drink. A thriving business is thus done by all parties concerned; and the clothing curb is in consequence a lively and a much-sought place.
But the Jews stop at the junction of Bayard Street with Mott. The upper part of Mott for many blocks is sacred to the Italians, as is also Elizabeth Street. Here one finds a repetition of the poorer quarters of Naples, with crowded tenements, hundreds of men and women, thousands of children. And hereabouts everything rings with color. Doyers and Pell streets are gay, but Mott Street is "loud." Especially is this true when there is a celebration of some saint's day, say, that of Saint Michael the Archangel. Then there will be a huge baldachino in gold and colors erected in front of some building, with awnings above and effigies of the Madonna and Child be-low; there will be a procession, with a band playing Italian airs, and rows of fire-crackers for many blocks that run up and explode with a tremendous blast in front of the Madonna; there will be prayers and ceremonies and goings-on for, perhaps, days 'at a time. During these celebrations all the doorsteps, windows, and balconies for blocks are thronged with people in bright dresses; there are flags and banners and festoonings in many colors; the curb below is lined with push carts showing brilliant-hued fruits, vegetables, or dry-goods; while scarlet and violet and saffron shawls and shirts go by in bands and bunches. The color is more astonishing than Naples itself.
One emerges from Mott Street with his impressions somewhat confused. It is a strange tangle of people, shops, signs, carts; and yet out of it all comes perhaps a vivid recollection of a quaint old New York doorway with fluted wooden columns and a wrought-iron railing to the stoop, or a fine old church with square tower and heavy stone-walls now being occupied by possibly two or three congregations of foreign extraction, or a new schoolhouse of excellent architecture and superb proportions put down here by the municipality to educate the children of these Italians in American ways. It is difficult, indeed, to realize that this is New York, so contradictory seems the scene, so unbelievable the mixture of the old and the new.
If one turns at the top of Mott Street through Houston Street to the east, crossing the Bowery to Second Avenue, he finds himself in the midst of another nationality, and surrounded by entirely different associations. It is the quarter of the Hungarians; and their shops, amusement halls, and houses are scattered hereabouts. It is a much better quarter than Mott Street — in fact, with its balconies and music, its cafés with potted shrubs and bits of grass, its houses with flowers on the window-sills and vines on the walls, it is very attractive. There is some re-minder here of a Paris boulevard of the second class. Perhaps this is due to the presence of the "kave-haz" at every turn. The populace are devoted to the café with its sidewalk tables, and if one visits such a place as the Cosmopolitan, he may fancy that all Hungary in America is devoted to chess, for it is played there all day and most of the night.
But here, again, on Second Avenue is the strange mingling of the old and the new. Hidden within the block of Second and Third streets on the west side of the avenue, with access to it cut off save by a grated passageway, lies the quiet and beautiful Marble Cemetery, which few people to-day ever see or hear about. It is a part of old New York, a chapter that is now closed and sealed and practically forgotten. Not half a block away, on the north side of Second Street moving toward First Avenue, is a larger Marble Cemetery, exposed to the street yet guarded by an iron fence — another quiet and beautiful spot of green, surrounded by tenements, crowded by newcomers, and yet holding under its sod some of the people of old New York, Robert Lenox, Thomas Addis Emmet, and their contemporaries. In the midst of a roar and a rabble, in an overcrowded section of the city, these clean and well-kept cemeteries not only please the eye, but impress one strangely by their unruffled calm, their abiding peace.
Something of the same feeling is produced by old St. Mark's at Second Avenue and Stuyvesant Street. The square brown church with its simple lines of roof and steeple, its fine porch and entrance, its green grass and (for New York) ample grounds, is very impressive, almost startling. Such things do not occur often in the city, and it is fortunate that St. Mark's still endures with its feeling of restfulness here in the troubled street by the noisy tenements. Counting by the new world calendar the church has stood for a long time. It is old — several generations old. On its site Peter Stuyvesant, last governor of New Amsterdam, caused to be built a chapel for the use of his neighbors and himself, who were living near by on their "bouweries." The chapel was in use in 1660; and in 1682 Stuyvesant died, and was buried in a vault beneath it. Afterwards the chapel was pulled down and in its place arose the present St. Mark's. This was finished in 1799, though the steeple was not completed until 1826. Stuyvesant's ashes are still under the church; while under the flat slabs on the green without are a number of colonial governors and other notables of revolutionary New York.
Further up Second Avenue one comes to Stuyvesant Square, lying on either side of the street, and still possessing some large trees, some last-century houses, and the substantial Friends' Meeting House, with its suggestion of Philadelphia in the red brick and white-marble trimmings. This is a delightful portion of the old town, but one that, unfortunately, is no longer occupied by old New York families. With a few exceptions they have moved out and left the park to the new East Sider. The reason given is that access to it is now attainable only by passing through disagreeable streets and quarters. In this respect Gramercy Park, lying a few blocks to the northwest, is better off. It still retains many fine houses, and it also keeps an air of tranquillity quite unshaken by the city's roar.
From Gramercy Park the transition to more familiar streets is quickly made. Broadway and Madison Square with the upper avenues are near at hand; and perhaps the pedestrian thanks the Deity under his breath that there are upper avenues. Charity worker or philanthropist though he may imagine himself, he usually has small desire to live in Mott or Bayard Street. The problem of congestion in the tenement district is one that he will help solve with purse or pen or voice, but at a reasonable distance. Settlement work is not to every New Yorker's fancy.
There is another walk up the East Side for those who prefer to see the city without so much admixture of the ghetto or "Little Italy." It is by way of Center Street from the City Hall. This takes one through a district fast building up with sky-scrapers. The new Municipal Building is in course of construction at the right; and there are great structures of a forbidding nature on the left, designed no doubt with their sculpture to be "Renaissance" in style, but are instead only huge conglomerations of stone. Farther on the new Tombs in gray stone, with the suggestion of a mediaeval French prison in its roof and towers, is more interesting to the artistic; and the little prisoner's bridge that runs from it across the street to the Criminal Court Building is doubtless more harrowing to the morbid.
Just beyond the Criminal Court Building, on the corner of White and Lafayette streets, stands a striking illustration of our architectural borrowings. It is a miniature French chateau doing service as a fire engine house! The amusing as well as amazing part of it is that it answers its purpose very well, and even looks quite charming planted there on the curb under the shadow of the heavy Court Building. English, in suggestion at least, is the new Police Headquarters at Grand Street. It suffers somewhat, as any such domed building must, by being too much shut in by other buildings. There is little opportunity to see it in its entirety, to study its proportions. It is right enough as architecture, but does not belong on the watermelon slice of ground allotted to it.
Moving as straight up town as the now divergent street will allow brings one once more in contact with tenement quarters and congested populations. They soon disappear, however, as one passes across Bleecker Street into the region of Great Jones Street and Lafayette Place. Here the walker may, if so disposed, pass straight across the city to what was once Greenwich Village by practically the same route that New Yorkers traveled a hundred years ago. What is now the Bowery was the main road leading out of lower New York, and at the present Astor Place there was a branch road leading over to Greenwich. The line of it to-day may be only guessed at, but undoubtedly it led directly past Washington Square — originally a marsh where the Dutch shot ducks, and afterward a pauper burying-ground. When the branch road became a fashionable drive, the smart folk of the day objected to the presence of the burying-gound and it was moved farther away to what is now Bryant Park. Not until 1827 was the land laid out as a park and called Washington Square, and not until some years later was the dignified row of brick and marble residences on the north side built. From the square onward the route was probably by Waverly Place, and from thence into the Monument Lane of history but no longer of fact. To-day one goes up Waverly or down Christopher Street, and either thoroughfare soon lands him in the middle of what was once Greenwich Village.
Greenwich is one of the very oldest places on the island of Manhattan. At first it was an Indian village, called Sapokanican, and was probably near the present site of Gansevoort Market. The Dutch governor, Wouter Van Twiller, coveted it, and finally secured it as a tobacco farm. The farmhouse he built upon it, as 1r. Janvier tells us,' was the first building erected outside of the Fort Amsterdam region, and practically the beginning of Greenwich. The village had an uneventful history under the Dutch, and when it passed to the English it had a suburban character for many years. It was a place where the Warrens, the Bayards, and the De Lanceys had country homes. The building up of it was a gradual affair. It was of some proportions when in 1811 the City Plan, whereby New York was cut up into checkerboard "blocks," came into existence. The new plan jostled the rambling nature of Greenwich to the breaking point, and yet left some of its quarter-circle and corkscrew streets sufficiently intact for the people of the middle nineteenth century to build substantial dwellings along them. These streets with their red-brick buildings remain to us and make up perhaps the most picturesque glimpse of old New York that we have. Along them one sees scattered here and there the gable-windowed wooden houses of an earlier period, with a quaint St. Luke's Chapel, or a scrap of a park, or trees and vines and garden walls that now look strange in the great city.
But Greenwich Village is one of the fast-disappearing features of the town. And here again the contrast is presented. Above the gambrel roofs of the past are lifting enormous sky-scraping factories and warehouses, the traffic from the ocean-liners rattles through the streets, the Ninth Avenue Elevated roars overhead. St. Luke's Park (or, as it is now called, Hudson Park) has been re-modeled into a sunken water-garden with handsome Italian-looking loggias that make one gasp when seen York was being rebuilt every ten years ? At any rate the statement had some truth in it in his day, and is perhaps even truer now. The past is quickly obliterated by the present. New York is nothing, if not modern. And its average citizen prides himself upon being up to the day, if not ahead of it.