The History of New York State
Book II, Chapter V
Part V

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

Mr. Bryne has prepared plans for another bridge, extending from First Avenue, between Eighth and Ninth streets, Manhattan to Metropolitan and Union Avenues, Brooklyn. The principal span would be 1,800 feet in length with a combined roadway width of 118 feet, more than twice the width of Manhattan Bridge, and the longest single span of the type. Incidentally, the Brooklyn Bridge has a main span of 1,595 feet, the Manhattan 1,470 feet, and the Williamsburg 1,600 feet. The Eighth Street Bridge, as this tentative structure is termed, would help to handle the traffic in an area which contributes seventy-five per cent of the total volume now flowing across the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges. It also would serve to open for further development the Greenpoint, East New York, and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn. The bridge would have four vehicular roadways, two foot walks and two tracks fort rapid transit trains. The plans contemplate a new boulevard from First to Fourth Avenues, Manhattan, between Eighth and Ninth Streets, 206 feet in width. The bridge plan involves an estimated coat of $41,820,000, inclusive of property. This figure maybe compared with an estimated outlay of $106,000,000 to bore four tunnels of equal carrying capacity beneath the river. At various times the desirability of tunnels instead of bridges has been urged to provide an additional outlet for the interborough traffic, but Commissioner Mills is convinced that bridges will supply the solution so pressingly needed.

The proposed plan and the survey now going on sum up the department's work in grappling with the problem. At present the city has forty-three bridges and three viaducts in use. Three other bridges are under construction. A span over the Beach channel in Jamaica Bay, queens, erected at a cost of $475,000, will soon be opened, and another over the North Channel to cost $725,000, will soon be opened. These bridges are expected to result in an early development of the neighboring district that will rival the activity which usually follows a new transit line. Another span at Roosevelt Avenue, queens, across the Flushing River, will cost about $2,700,000, and the work is about one-forth completed. Still another bridge will link Brooklyn and queens at Greenpoint Avenue, to cost $1,750,000, taking the place of an older structure. The last bridge for which the department has prepared estimated is to cross the Bronx River at East One Hundred and Seventy-fourth Street, calling for an outlay of some $400,000. If a question should be raised as to the need of new structures across the East river it could be answered by reference to the traffic figures. 

 

On a typical day in 1922 the number of persons crossing the four bridges was as follows:

Brooklyn Bridge

150,211

Manhattan Bridge

353,791

Williamsburg Bridge

481,435

Queensboro Bridge

131,215

Total

1,116,652

 

On a recent day the traffic count show the result:

Brooklyn Bridge

144,145

Manhattan Bridge

468,179

Williamsburg Bridge

504,920

Queensboro Bridge

159,839

Total

1,277,083

Although the latter figures do not reflect any great increase, the fat must be borne in mind that the traffic fluctuates considerably and a busy day of the present is likely to be much busier the such a day in the past. It is worth while to note the large increase of passengers using the Manhattan Bridge, amounting to 115,000. Broadly speaking, at lest, 1,250,000 people traverse the four bridges every week day. but the gain in vehicular traffic far surpasses the gain in passengers. 

 

On a typical day in 1922, and August , 1925, the figures were as follows:

 

1922

1925

Brooklyn Bridge

1,739

8,620

Manhattan Bridge

37,668

58,622

Williamsburg Bridge

22,870

36,475

Queensboro Bridge

28,094

52,605

Totals

90,371

156,322

If there were any way to compute the ton-loads of these many vehicles the expansion would be impressive indeed. It is a matter of common observation that the volume of motor haulage across the bridges is increasing at a record rate. Brooklyn Bridge once more bears its part of the traffic, after a suspension of motor service and extensive work, which has restored the bridge to its full usefulness. New York has upward of $1250,000,000 invested in its forty-nine bridges, completed or under way. The Manhattan structure was the most costly, totaling $31,084,705. The Brooklyn first of the great spans, cost $25,094,577. Should the tri-borough structure come to fulfillment, it will be the most extensive and ambitious project yet undertaken in the notable history of New York bridge building. Turning from the East River structures and other under the direction of the city department, the need for bridges may be clearly perceived at widely separated points., where the municipal administration leaves off, the Port of New York Authority takes up the task. This body, authorized by congress and joining the efforts of two States, is preparing plans for bridges to connect New Jersey and New York. These would extend from Elizabeth, New Jersey to Howland Hook, Staten Island, and from Perth Amboy to Tottenville, Staten island. The first would require an estimated expenditure of $6,583,800, the second of $10,122,800. The plan of the Elizabeth bridge, of the cantilever type, provides for a clear opening of 600 feet across the Arthur Kill, at right angles to the channel, rising 135 feet above the water. The Perth Amboy Bridge, of the same type, would have a clear opening of 675 feet over the channel, with two other spans, reaching a total of 1,230 feet. The plan again provides for 135 feet of clearance, which is the approximate height of the four East River structures. #8

Two hundred thousand dollars have been made available, one-half from each of the States, for purposes of the survey. The bridges form a part of the broad plan laid down by the Port Authority for the development of means to handle freight in the metropolitan zone. They would serve to open new channels of traffic between the northern sections of that zone, running as far south to Tottenville and New Jersey, thus diverting some of the pressure that bears upon the harbor and existing facilities. Even Manhattan and Brooklyn would experience relief. Both of these bridges would exact tolls from users, with two twenty-foot road-ways for vehicles and sidewalks for foot travelers. Undoubtedly they would go far to hasten Staten island's development, now restricted by its dependence upon ferries.

Every consideration that bears upon the problems of Staten Island and interborough developments across the Eat river applies with great force to the plans for bridges to span the Hudson. For years New York has discussed the great bridge proposed by Gustav Lindenthal, which would cross the river at West fifty-seventh Street. Nothing like this great bridge exists. The conception surpasses everything that might serve as a model. Mr. Lindenthal has behind his plan the authority of large achievement, notably as the designer of that engineering marvel, the Hell Gate Bridge, which opened New England to rail traffic from the South and the West. In 1890 Mr. Lindenthal obtained a Federal charter and organized the North River Bridge Company to erect the Hudson structure. In accordance with the plan of organization tolls would be charged and the bridge would finally revert to the Untied States Government. One of the outstanding problems of a bridge over the Hudson has been Federal opposition to any piers that might block navigation. Therefore, the Lindenthal Bridge would sweep across the Hudson in one vast span, providing a capacity of 360,000,000 passengers a year, a figure approaching the passenger traffic of the four East River structures. That figure also compares with the 100,000,000 annually transported by the Hudson River tubes.

The Lindenthal Bridge would be of double deck pattern, with a width of 225 feet on the lower level for twelve railroad tracks, and 235 feet on the upper level, affording room for two fifteen-foot promenades, forty feet of trolley lines and busses, and a center roadway to accommodate sixteen lines of automobiles. These bare statements scarcely convey the sweeping extent of the plan. The bridge would be expected to carry a considerable part of present traffic across the river, transit, motor and foot. Its tracks would connect with north and south subway lines, perhaps involving loops to present subways and direct connections with new lines. The man responsible for this plan works upon a scale equal to the problem, he has proposed a raised roadway running across Manhattan Island to Queensboro Bridge, giving direct access from New jersey to Long Island. Another viaduct would extend along Ninth Avenue, with ramps to eleventh and Twelfth Avenues. Numerous other facilities would be provided to draw traffic from the burdened lines at present in use. Mr. Lindenthal has placed the total cost of this bridge, property and incidental expenses at $180,000,000. If carried to completion it would remake the central section of Manhattan Island an exert a broad influence upon the whole city, becoming, in fact, the very axle on which New York must turn. That prospect by no means is vague or distant. Commissioner Mills, after making a study of the bridge and related questions, reported favorably to the Board of engineers upon the general plan.

The last of the great bridge projects engaging attention deals with a structure from the neighborhood of West One Hundred and Seventy-eighth Street to a point in Englewood, New Jersey. This proposed span is favored by the Port Authority, and also would be a toll structure. It has been pointed out that the volume of automobile traffic from Manhattan tends steadily northward and such a bridge would relieve the congested arteries downtown. Two ferry lines offer access to New Jersey from the upper west side. Although conceived on a lesser scale then the Lindenthal structure, the One Hundred and Seventy-eighth Street Bridge, nevertheless, would be a mighty span, exceeding the bridge recently erected near Bear Mountain, both in capacity and picturesque qualities. Up to the present plans for the bridge have not advanced beyond the point of discussion. Figures as to its cost are not available.

Bridge construction is a slow process. Before the next important span shall rise above any of the city's waterways, it is certain that New York will have laid a further heavy burden upon its means of transportation. The earliest promise of relief will come from the vehicular tunnel under construction between Canal Street, Manhattan, and New Jersey. This tunnel is expected to handle a great volume of trucking that crosses by ferry at present. And it also will be open for motor car traffic. It should be in service next year. Both the Queensboro and the Manhattan bridges were completed in 1909, and sixteen years have passed since the city had any important expansion of its bridge capacity. At that time the new structures were considered sufficient to provide for the growth of decades. The Queensboro Bridge in particular was almost a deserted highway of the air in its early days. But the congestion has grown until the borough is seriously hampered in its further development. In November, 1914, the number of vehicles crossing the bridge in one day was 5,000. In August of 1925 the total had become 52,605. There is something magical about the four great spans which join Manhattan to its other boroughs. Seen at night, with their myriad lights, the bridges stir the fancy. If New York builds four more spans of this sort they will become an unmatched spectacle. #9

Changing Fifth Avenue--The continuous transformation of the city is perhaps as clearly indicated in its chief artery as on any other channel of transportation. Once the heart of social life it was become the greatest shopping enter in the world.

Men tear and rend its buildings. Great holes gape in the ground, gaunt walls crumble daily under the attack of the wreckers. Scaffoldings surround many of its famous edifices. The old haunt of aristocracy is going through another of those metamorphoses which have s profoundly changed its appearance in the last fifty years. never has Fifth Avenue shown so many signs of rapid alteration as now; nor is change by any means confined to one part of it. Near Washington Square the builders are at work. Only a few weeks ago the old Brevoort home disappeared to be replaced soon by an apartment house. Above Forty-second Street tokens of a new era are abundantly visible. Delmonico's has disappeared; the Vanderbilt chateau is going; the beams of the Church of Heavenly Rest gape at the sky through broken roof and walls. Large stores are pushing further and further north. High buildings in that fantastic Babylonian outline which the new zoning laws sanction are springing up on the sires of old landmarks. Even the Waldorf-Astoria is yielding to the resistless influence of commerce and giving over a large part of its ground to shops. The Fifth Avenue of even ten short years ago is disappearing rapidly; while of the avenue of forty years ago there remains hardly a trace from Madison Square to the Plaza; such of its homes as are still left in this stretch are doomed. The change is more than physical. There is a difference in atmosphere. The leisurely charm of the old street has been routed by a more bustling spirit. The dignity of wealth and cultured homes has been replaced by a gorgeous display calculated to make shopping irresistible--if one possess the price. The eye, at any rate, enjoys an unending pageant of luxury. The crash of demolition and the riveting of new structures arrest the attention. Watching the old avenue disappear you pause, perhaps, to remember what a variety of life it has witnessed; how much social and political and financial history.

A different avenue it was in the '80s, when Ward McAllister held sway and New York's social life centered in Madison Square. That park was then thick with big trees. Its walks were filled with well dressed woman, with nurses and children from neighboring homes. Along the curbs stood long lines of hansom cabs, the popular vehicle of those days--now almost lost, save where an occasional ancient cabby flicks a discouraged whip in the clouds of gasoline fumes. Those were rosy days for cab drivers. There were no meters and the rates were high. A homeward-bound gentleman who had been dining too well was likely to be charged enough to cover the maintenance of horse and cab for weeks. The pavements were of Belgium block, and over them rolled the fashionable equipages; landau, victorias, phaetons--the last now chiefly remembered as having appeared in the title of a Kipling story. Through this old square, where the two principal thoroughfares of the town crossed, flowed the business and social life of New York. It was said the, as it has been said since, of many another street corner, that if one stood long enough at Twenty-third Street and Fifth Avenue, one might see everybody of importance. Men drove downtown for business. Women rolled by on their shopping adventures. And people walked much more than they do now. You might there encounter men famous in New York's business history of the great '80s, when the country was growing by leaps and bounds--the Vanderbilts, the Goulds, Daniel Drew, Jim Fiske and many others whose names were on every one's lips.

Over the way was the old Fifth Avenue Hotel. Facing it, across the Square at Twenty-fifth Street, was the only slightly less famous Brunswick. They were of white stone and quite monumental in size for those days. Trees grew in front of them, and the shifting crows made a picture almost Parisian. It was still the day of parasols, When the weather was warm, women with their wide flounced skirts, tight bodices and jaunty bonnets, mincing by under gaily colored sun shades, lent the charm of color to Fifth Avenue, dimmed by subsequent prevailing drabness. Recently, however, color has begun once more to be fashionable, so that the avenue blossoms again in things beautiful and weird. The men at that time has but lately discarded their old plum-colored and blue coats, substituting for them that conservatism in apparel which called for dark and shapeless garments. Who, even now, does not remember the old gentleman in his long coat and high hat, who clung to his paper collar and string tie long after they in turn had become passé? In fifth Avenue Commodore Vanderbilt, Robert Bonner, General Grant, Leonard Jerome, and other famous horsemen used to show off their favorite mounts. Then the trotting horses gave way to four-in-hands, to the tandem and the dogcart. Horses played as important a part in the life of Old New York as the automobile now. The fashionable drive was up to the avenue to the old Croton Reservoir at Forty-second Street and back again to Washington Square. This interest in horses led, a few years later, to the inauguration of the horse show. Madison Square Garden was opened in 1890. But in the '80s men used to meet at the St. James and discuss the merits of their horses over a pint of the best. The Brunswick was also a favorite resort for such comparing of notes. From its doors tandem and four-in-hands were wont to start for a run to New Rochelle. They were a glittering sight, the passengers of those ancient wagons, in club suits of green decorated with brass buttons--the guard sounding the coach horn from the rear seat. In winter the avenue was filled with sleighs, their bells jingling merrily as New Yorkers were carried over the snow to their work or to Central Park, then a wilderness, with a royal skating pond in the center. "those were real winters," old New Yorkers are fond of recalling. There was almost always skating before Christmas, it seems; but whether their recollections is made mellow by time of the winters or the winters then were actually colder is a matter of dispute. The first sleigh of the season to drive uptown to a certain famous old roadhouse would be rewarded with a bottle of fine wine or whiskey.

Those drives took one past corners bearing no resemblance to their present aspect. The home of August Belmont, containing his famous art gallery, was at Eighteenth Street; the home of John Jacob Astor was at thirty-third, and that of William W. Astor at Thirty-fourth. On the opposite corner stood the famous marble mansion of A. T. Stewart. Traveling uptown one came to the William H. Vanderbilt home, at Fortieth Street; to the old Windsor Hotel at Forty-sixth, and the Buckingham, still of recent memory, at Fiftieth. The avenue was lighted by gas, and through the windows of these homes could be seen the sparkle of huge and wonderful glass chandeliers. At night life centered in some of the clubs, which stood then near Madison Square, or further down the avenue near Fourteenth Street; in the homes also of the socially elect; in theatres near the Square; or in Delmonico's, the Brunswick and the Fifth Avenue Hotel. What throngs of celebrities might be seen abroad at hours when New York fared forth to open the evening. Horace Greeley, Isaac Bull, Hamilton Fish, Thurlow Weed, John A. Dix, Henry Clews, William R. Travers, "Tom" Platt (who founded the Amen Corner in the Fifth Avenue Hotel), Samuel J. Tilden in his famous plus hat, Roscoe Conkling, Mark Twain, Edwin Booth, Cyrus W. field, William Cullen Bryant.

There was one room in the old Fifth Avenue Hotel which was famous for a custom handed down to the present day in a more completely developed form and with an enlarged technique; a custom that finds it opportunities in many more places then were available in the '80s. On the second floor was a room called the "ladies; room," where, at any hour of the afternoon, or evening one might see ardent young couples engaged in earnest whispered conversation. Many a proposal was made in the "ladies' room,"; many a romance was born in that quiet and dignified seclusion. Society found much of its diversion in Delmonico's; for whether it was there that Ward McAllister formed the "400," or in the ballroom of Mrs. William Astor, the social leader of the day, Delmonico's was the place above all others where society dined and danced. #10

The story of the "400" is the story of Fifth Avenue of that time. It was devised to exclude some of those who had climbed, fought or bought their way into the circles of the socially exclusive. New York was growing apace. The wealth of the great newly developed empire of the West was flowing into it, and bringing with it men and women who aspired to place the city at their feet--or at least to find away to get in near somebody's footstool. The former placid ways of New York social life were disappearing under the pressure of the invasion; and Ward McAllister's dictum came at the psychological moment. Most of the theatres--the old Madison Square, back of Fifth Avenue Hotel, the Lyceum, and other--were within a stone throw of Madison Square in those days. North of this, square brownstone dwellings stretched as far as the Cathedral in an almost unbroken front. Their old high stoops and stone steps were done away with when the avenue was widened in recent years. the entire upper reach of fifth Avenue, between Thirty-fourth and fifty-seventh streets, became in a few years a church center, thus giving rise to the Easter parades and fashion shows to witness which people flocks from afar. The people who made the parades famous do now often walk there now, though the parade continues. "Such was the avenue--a quietly charming street, where homes predominated, though commerce was even then beginnings to insinuate itself, particularly below Twenty-third Street. Of all the homes that existed then between Thirty-fourth and Forty-second Streets, only one remains, the square unpretentious house built by John Gottlieb Wendell, at Thirty-ninth Street. Its dark shuttered windows make it an object of curiosity to all who see it for the first time, so strange an anachronism is it, but the house will stand as long as Mr. Wendell's sisters elect occasionally to return to it, and the yard will remain too--that million-dollar yard, which was kept so that the dog might have a place to play."

Fifth Avenue is today a vivid, vibrant, lined with all that is beautiful in art, with the handiwork of the artificer in jewels and precious metals, gay with rugs of the East, with delicate and shining fabrics--a great Old World bazaar in modern guise, where each object is set in its window case like a rare pearl. Precious things from the markets of Europe and Asia stream into the shops of the avenue. The exhibition of these things has become an art in itself. And then there re the structures. Stewart's first store was at Broadway and Chambers Street; later he daringly moved all the way uptown to Eighth Street. folks always shake their heads when some sagacious person moves farther uptown. They used to call the Fifth Avenue Hotel "Eno's Folly." When a few merchants shifted over to Fifth Avenue there was much croaking and prognostication of failure. When A. T. Stewart built his downtown emporium, Fifth Avenue was a cow pasture for most of its length, a realm of swamp and running brook. Now it is the greatest shopping center in the world, and its fame is greater than that of Bond Street or Rue de la Paix. From Madison Square, where a huge business building stand on the site of Franconi's Circus and the old Fifth Avenue Hotel , one may walk north past bookshops, little specialty shops, great silk and fur houses, departments stores, where every luxury is offered, and where buyers with modest purses may find what they want, too.

Where the famous Coventry Waddell home stood, a gray Gothic structure in which Thackeray stayed after what he called "a long drive into the country," is now a department store. Another big store covers the ground on which was once the William h. Vanderbilt home. A bank occupies the site of Sarsaparilla, Townsend's home. Where the Public Library is the Croton Reservoir used to be. The Waldorf-Astoria replaces the Waldorf and Astor homes, August Heckscher was asked recently what he remembered of the Fifth Avenue of the '80s. "I don't remember the '80s as well as I do the '70s.' he said, "In the '70s one could buy a lot on the avenue for $10,000. Last years the value of Fifth Avenue real estate between Thirty-fourth and Fortieth streets was estimated to be more then $71,000,000. The old Wendell place alone, the only remaining residence is valued at more then $2,000,000."

Above Forty-second Street a new sort of life is coming to the avenue. Her are huge office buildings. Above Fifty-ninths Street the pioneer homes remain; but all about them soar vast apartments houses. In the park appears the imposing art museum. All these are comparatively recent. Where the trotting horses of earlier days paced on their way to Harlem, now wend thousands of automobiles, turning the broad avenue into a main artery of traffic. Where the old stage coaches with gayly painted Indians rolled, double-deck buses pass. The avenue hums with life. The placidity of the old is no more. It is not likely to return until, perhaps, Macauley's traveler sit on the ruins of the library and gazes on a vanished civilization. There are those who mourn the old days--but there is no denying that Fifth Avenue is the most brilliant thoroughfare of its kind, unique among the shopping centers of the world.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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