Below is a series of shots Cushman took of Lower Manhattan on June 6, 1941 and, unless otherwise noted, what these same spots looked like on June 6, 2010. These are the first known color shots he took of New York City. As you will see, some of the areas look virtually identical today but others are virtually unrecognizable.
Wall Street – Toward Trinity Church
The area of Manhattan around the New York Stock Exchange has remained pretty much the same since 1941. One difference that stands out, however, is the color of Trinity Church. It turns out that Trinity’s exterior was cleaned in the early 1990′s, which explains the color difference today. Another notable difference is the heavy presence of security in the area, which today is sealed off from all vehicular traffic.
* * *
Statute of Liberty from the Battery
Cushman made his way to the southern tip of Manhattan to take this shot and then proceeded east toward South Ferry (also where the Staten Island Ferry Terminal is today).
* * *
Three Bums from South Ferry Flophouses
As he made his way through Battery Park en route to South Ferry, Cushman came across a few ”bums” sitting on a bench on the eastern edge of the park. It was possible to guesstimate this spot because as it is between the previous and subsequent shots he took, both of which may be confirmed as to location and not that far from one another. A close inspection of one of the buildings in the background of the Cushman shot (albeit out of focus) compared to the buildings that remain today also confirms the approximate location. This is on the far east side of Battery Park near State Street.
The saying “Times don’t change; people change” seems particularly fitting. We call them homeless people today but whatever the label, the bums in Cushman’s day carried themselves with a degree of dignity I find conspicuously absent from many of the homeless (as opposed to mentally ill) people you will see on the streets of Manhattan today. Hell’s bells, they carry themselves with more dignity than many people with homes today.
There is a good chance the flophouse to which Cushman refers was The Municipal Lodging House, Annex No. 2 (referred to in the Guide (p.81)), which was an old ferry shed at the foot of Whitehall Street that was used to provide up to 1,300 homeless men a place to sleep.
* * *
Looking Up into the Financial District from South Ferry
The Now shot was taken on November 28, 2010.
Cushman continued east from Battery Park and took his next shot from South Ferry looking north. He was standing approximately in front of where the Staten Island Ferry Terminal is located today. He captures perfectly the narrative of this area provided in the Guide (p. 61): “At the southeast corner of the park opens the great plaza of South Ferry, where all forms of Manhattan’s transportation — subway, el, ferry, bus, and taxi — have a compact major terminus, and where the heavy traffic artery, South Street … opens out opposite, bordering the docks to the east.”
Suffice it to say, this area of Manhattan is virtually unrecognizable from what it looked like in 1941. The shorter buildings that ran along Whitehall Street in the background of Cushman’s shot have long since been razed. Massive office buildings, such as One New York Plaza (the building on the right) occupy much of that area today. As a result, Front Street (where the El tracks can be seen in Cushman’s shot) no longer ends at Whitehall Street (today, it ends at Old Slip, I believe).
Another interesting aspect of the Cushman shot is the distinct red brick building in the background on the left. This was the U.S. Army Building (located at 39 Whitehall Street) which was erected in 1886. According to the Guide (p. 65) it housed many of the Army’s New York district departments, such as recruiting, information, and pictorial services, and also an engineering unit. A viewer pointed out a March 5, 1995 New York Times Q&A in the Real Estate section that provides some interesting information about what happened to it:
The Army Building closed in 1972, a rare Victorian relic in an area that had been rebuilt several times over. With its cast- iron fence decorated with American shields, the building was almost completely intact in 1978 when Fraydun Manocherian, a real estate developer, bought it for renovation as a branch of his New York Health and Racquet Club. At first Mr. Manocherian indicated that he was going to generally preserve the eight-story building and convert the upper floors to apartments.
He did not immediately proceed, and in 1983 the Landmarks Preservation Commission scheduled a hearing to consider designating the building a landmark. Around the same time, Mr. Manocherian began demolishing the building without a permit. The commission protested, but demolition had done so much damage that it gave up. (No penalty was assessed; a Buildings Department spokesman said that in those days only repeated infractions led to fines.) Apparently Mr. Manocherian had changed his plans in the intervening years: his architect, Schuman, Lichtenstein, Claman & Efron, gave the building a new, reflective glass skin and an 11-story addition.
In 1986, when the new building was completed as 3 New York Plaza, Mr. Manocherian told The New York Times that he had originally wanted to preserve the exterior but that he “very reluctantly” decided to change the building because its exterior was “extremely, hazardously loose.” He blamed the problems on bomb damage from Vietnam War protests in 1968 and 1969.
An exterior wall inspection report prepared in 1983 by his engineer, Harold J. Dooley, did suggest sheet-metal coverings for the exterior sandstone ornament but found the walls to be in fair condition and recommended only spot repointing.
The uglified black glass building that occupies that spot today can be seen in the Now shot. What would we do without the Preservation Commission.
* * *
Lower Manhattan Skyscrapers from East River Pier
The Now shot was taken on November 28, 2010.
From South Ferry, Cushman headed east along South Street and then walked onto one of the many piers that jutted out from Manhattan back in 1941. The Guide contains a black and white photograph from an almost identical angle (labled as South Street Pier and Wall Street Towers), which leaves little doubt Cushman had it in mind when he took this shot. From the Guide (p. 81): “On mild sunny days the drifters sit along the docks with their “junk bags,” and stare endlessly into the water.”
Based on a review of a map and an aerial shot of Lower Manhattan from the 1930′s/40′s, Cushman was standing on a pier just south of Coenties Slip where the Coenties Slip Barge Canal Terminal was located (just south of where the heleport pier is located today). The buildings that ran along the Slip can be seen in his shot. They start with the taller brown-bricked building on the far right and include the shorter (mainly red-bricked buildings to its left) and end at Water Street. Surprisingly, the two buildings on the far left side of his shot (along Water Street) are still there and made it possible to confirm the distance and angle. The buildings that ran along Coenties Slip have long since been razed (Cushman actually returned to this spot in 1960 to take his own Then and Now shot) and today a massive office building runs along the Slip. The Viet Nam War Memorial is between the two new buildings. The pier Cushman stood on is long gone as well.
* * *
South Street Teems with Trucks Along East River
Cushman proceeded up South Street to take this shot. This is a view of South Street from where today the elevated FDR Drive descends and merges with South Street. The strip of buildings in Cushman’s shot ran between Coenties Slip (where the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial is today) and Old Slip. In the lower left corner of the Cushman shot are a group of sailors strolling along the sidewalk some six months before we entered World War II.
It was not possible to stand where Cushman did due to heavy traffic (not to mention that FDR Drive would obscure the view to a significant degree). The strip of buildings in Cushman’s shot are all gone save one at the very end of the block. That building was home to the First Precinct Police Station which is described in the Guide (p. 82) as “a grim, solid structure reminiscent of the fortified Florentine Renaissance palazzo.” Today, it is home to the New York City Police Museum.
The Guide also notes the building next to it with the high chimney. On page 82-83: “North, across the street, is the United States Assay Building, a five-story granite building with a massive chimney. The public is not admitted to this sanctuary where scrap gold and silver are melted into bullion.”
* * *
Another View of Downtown Skyscrapers from East River Pier
Cushman continued walking (north) along South Street to take this shot. It was taken from a pier close to Wall Street (the Now shot was taken from the Wall Street Pier). The white building in the foreground is 120 Wall Street (completed in 1929). According to the Guide (p. 83) it was the thoroughfare’s only skyscraper at the time. The Guide describes it as “a huge, white 33-story building, uncompromising in its literal conformance to the setback ordinance,” with a bronze Plaque identifying it as the site of Murray’s Wharf, which is where George Washington landed on April 23, 1789, on his way to Federal Hall for his inauguration as President. According to Emporis, 120 Wall Street would remain the only skyscraper on the East River downtown waterfront until the post-1970′s construction boom. Designated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation as the city’s first and only Association Center — a designation that brings with it special real estate tax advantages for not-for-profit tenants — it is no surprise that 120 Wall Street houses 36 such tenants today.
* * *
A View Up the East River Toward The Brooklyn Bridge
Cushman most likely pivoted to the right to take this shot looking north up the East River. The Guide no doubt inspired this shot. A passage from page 81: “Viewed from the piers of the Battery end of South Street, the East River bridges — Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg– form a superimposed pattern of steel and stone, like a photograph that was jarred during exposure.”
* * *
The Old World and Tribune Buildings
The Now shot was actually taken on a very frigid January 3, 2010. Obviously, the trees would completely obscure the view during the warmer months.
Cushman made his way to the area of City Hall to take this shot from City Hall Park. It’s not a surprise that he was drawn to two of the most prominent buildings which ran along the old “Newspaper Row.” According to the Guide (p. 99):
Across Park Row from City Hall Park near the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge, stands the brownstone Pulitzer Building, once the proud home of the World; its guilded dome makes it one of the section’s most imposing buildings. George B. Post designed the structure in 1890; it was enlarged in 1908. This was an early example of buildings whose walls carry their own weight; the floors are supported by columns. Nevertheless, the exterior walls are, in places, more than nine feet thick.
Today the World is dead, the dome in which Joseph Pulitzer had his office is deserted, and the structure has become merely another office building — a relic of Newspaper Row. In the late decades of the nineteenth century Park Row and northern Nassau Street constituted the publishing center for the great metropolitan dailies. …
A little to the south of the Pulitzer Building, at Spruce and Nassau Streets, is the red-brick, clock-towered Tribune Building, former home of the Tribune and one of the earliest elevator buildings.
Tragically, these buildings were razed in 1955 to make way for ramps to the Brooklyn Bridge. And the City would not create the Landmarks Preservation Commission for another 10 years from that time. But, as previously noted, it’s not as if one should have a ton of confidence that the Preservation Commission would have actually preserving these buildings even if it were around at that time.
* * *
Cushman would return to Manhattan in September to take his next series of shots. Please go to the September 27, 1941 page to view the series of Then and Now shots from that day.
Note: The Cushman shots have been reproduced on this site with the written consent of Indian University, which owns the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection.