The Project Gutenberg eBook of New York: The Nation's Metropolis

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Title: New York: The Nation's Metropolis

Illustrator: Peter Marcus

Contributor: James Monroe Hewlett

Release date: February 16, 2021 [eBook #64572]

Language: English

Credits: Chuck Greif, ellinora and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)


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I.Times Square.
II.Lower Broadway.
III.Exchange Place.
IV.Looking West on Brooklyn Bridge.
V.The City Hall.
VI.Wall Street.
VII.The Old Bridge.
VIII.The Tombs Prison.
IX.Looking West Along Peck Slip.
X.The East Pier, Brooklyn Bridge.
XI.The Municipal Building.
XII.New York from Fulton Ferry.
XIII.The Metropolitan Tower.
XIV.The Cathedral on the Avenue.
XV.Queensboro Bridge.
XVI.Fifth Avenue at Fifty-ninth Street.
XVII.Hell Gate Bridge.
XVIII.Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
XIX.The Cathedral on the Heights.
XX.The Viaduct.
XXI.Grant’s Tomb.
XXII.The Battleship “Oklahoma” on the Hudson.
XXIII.High Bridge.
XXIV.Washington Bridge.
XXV.Grand Central Station.





NEW YORK is preëminently the City of Violent Contrasts. Towering shafts of brick and stone and steel, soaring traceries of cables, derricks, girders and electric signs, smooth stretches of gray asphalt, subway and sewer excavations, broad harbors and stately ships, oily canals and garbage dumps, classic columns, gilded domes, palaces and shanties, parks and fountains, factory chimneys and gas tanks; these are a few of the items that occur in this as in other cities, but nowhere else are these and other manifestations of beauty and ugliness, prosperity and squalor brought into such vivid and striking relief, and of no other city can we say with equal truth that it defies the effort to summarize briefly its typical characteristics. Fragments and details suggestive of widely differing phases of its life persistently force themselves into a single picture without regard to orderly classification or proper dramatic sequence.

Appreciation of the beauty of nature as undisturbed by man seems inherent in our race, but man in his material progress is constantly defacing nature, constantly destroying, constantly substituting forms and arrangements dictated by utility, not by beauty, and{10} shocking to our finer instincts. Then imagination steps in and gradually invests these new forms with new meanings derived from history, logic, romance, symbolism and pure poetic fancy. Some are condemned and discarded as unnecessary or useless, while others at first glance equally ugly acquire a significance and a soul. Of him who would interpret such a theme as New York our first demand must therefore be prophetic vision.

To the artist who seeks to penetrate the outer surfaces of his subject and to suggest and interpret an activity, a creative power, a vastness of scale and a variety of functions beyond human power to portray, charcoal is a most, perhaps the most, inspiring medium. It is surely the medium that most readily lends itself to the simultaneous expression of form, mass, line and tone.

Hopkinson Smith once said that Venice is nothing but air and water. There all else has been so softened and moulded and enveloped as to become part and parcel of sea and cloud. The portrayal of this is preëminently a painter’s job. But New York, in addition to being a lot of other things, is a Venice in the making, and all the ugly paraphernalia by means of which this making is slowly going forward, all the unlovely processes, physical and chemical, structural and commercial, must be recognized and expressed and by the light of poetic vision be made a part of its beauty and romance.

A painter might perhaps strive to envelope and obscure whatever seemed objectionable in a glory of{11} color. An architect might lay undue stress upon the many examples of distinction in the work of his craft, which are often all but details in a vast scheme. The pictorial expression of New York requires a blending of the view points of the painter and the architect in which both contribute to an image of something not yet realized, perhaps never to be fully realized, and help in dramatizing the struggle towards that thing.

Peter Marcus is a painter not an architect, but he is also a designer experienced in the goldsmith’s craft and there is evident in these charcoal studies a pleasure in the delineation of the tracery of bridge cables and trusses, derricks, scaffolding and electric signs, that in contrast with his broad and greatly simplified expressions of architectural form and detail, adds vastly to the eloquence of his work. Furthermore, he is a native of New York as his parents were before him, and the slow development by which New York has climbed upward has been part and parcel of his life. These are the days of a premature development or forcing of the artistic personality, usually expressed at some sacrifice of the prevailing characters and sentiment of his subject.

To my mind the most distinctive quality of these drawings is found in the complete subjection of the artist to the spirit of the thing represented.

Lower Manhattan from the harbor, from Brooklyn, from across the Hudson and from the air has been exploited to such an extent as to destroy for the native New Yorker much of the impressiveness of this majestic panorama, but lower Manhattan as seen from{12} within by the man in the street has a different kind of impressiveness and pictorially has hitherto been somewhat neglected. Five drawings are devoted to this theme—“Lower Broadway,” “Wall Street,” “The City Hall,” “The Tombs,” and “Exchange Place.” These five drawings as a group seem to me to represent the culmination of the artist’s achievement. They show a simplicity and ease of method, a definite conception and an admirable sureness of values and textures. In imaginative power and sinister suggestion, “Exchange Place” brings to mind Bochlin’s “Isle of the Dead” and it is not like that, a creation of the imagination but a truthful characterization of locality. A second group of five are “The Metropolitan Tower,” “Times Square,” “Grand Central Station,” “The Municipal Building,” and “The Cathedral on the Avenue.”

As these take us further up town into wider streets and more extended surfaces of sky, distance and silhouette become increasingly important in their composition, and what we lose in concentration we gain in tonal interest.

“The Old Bridge,” “Washington Bridge,” “Queensboro Bridge,” and “The Viaduct,” fall naturally into a third group. Here we have a different manifestation of energy, the architecture of the engineer, crisp and nervous in rendering, beautifully expressive of structure unadorned.

If in the drawings thus far mentioned certain qualities of Piranesi, Méryon and Brangwyn are brought to mind; in “High Bridge,” “The Soldiers’ and{13} Sailors’ Monument,” “Hell Gate Bridge,” “Grant’s Tomb,” and “The Cathedral on the Heights,” there is equally a suggestion of Whistler. Less vigorous than the others in draughtsmanship, they are full of the suggestion of subdued color. By reason of the more subtle quality of their rendering, they lend themselves less readily to reproduction but even the reproductions convey beautiful impressions of shadowy foliage and quiet waters, bare, wind-swept branches and lonely spaces.

It is safe to predict that if he continues his interest in charcoal as a medium, Peter Marcus will gradually and naturally acquire a more characteristic personal manner, but it will come from ease of mastery not from assumed eccentricity, and whatever he may achieve in future this series of drawings will stand as the most comprehensive and broadly discerning study of New York in its entirety that has yet been made.

J. Monroe Hewlett
President of the
Architectural League of
New York








TIMES SQUARE is at the juncture of Broadway, Seventh Avenue and Forty-second Street. It is the very heart of uptown Broadway. Not the downtown Broadway of finance and of towering buildings, but the Broadway of theatres, restaurants, gay crowds and bright lights. It is bustling, congested, whirling. It is in a constant state of being rebuilt and repaired. Its sidewalks are littered with timbers, pipes, derricks and showy women. One hears jazz music and Klaxtons. It is the playground of the pleasure seeker, the battleground of the taxis, the dream of the chorus girl on the road, and the nightmare of the traffic cop. It is white lights, green lights, red lights,—flashing, spinning and winking. It is noise, crowds, motion. Sun and storm, day and night it roars along, churning,—a whirlpool in a mighty river. Incongruous, incessant, enormous.{17}

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THE changes in New York in the last hundred years have been almost fabulous and yet the greatest of all perhaps has been lower Broadway. The proud steeple of Trinity Church once dominated a scene of fashion. It is now surrounded, dwarfed, overshadowed. Once Beaux and Belles, in Brummel-like hats and directoire skirts, came grandly here to worship,—and meant it. To-day, one picnics in the church yard and eats luncheon bananas on the graves. The enormous buildings of commerce, finance and trade are filled to overflowing. Here is progress, wealth and unlimited resource. It is a tremendous hive full of golden honey. And it is doubtless very good. But it is also good that this small church of a bygone time, still stands undaunted,—respected among these colossal towers; and that it still brings from the past some of that calm strength that is of even more lasting stuff than the masonry of the church itself, and that through it, the spirit of Old New York still “carries on” in Lower Broadway.{19}

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RUNNING east from Broadway, just below Wall Street, is Exchange Place. It is a narrow street and a short, but it is not a little street. Huge buildings are its walls, which seem almost to meet overhead. Straight up they tower, face to face, staring at each other with countless eyes. Daily into these few buildings come thousands and thousands of people: old and young, gay and sad, financiers and office boys,—to work. It is a good-sized town in one street. It is a veritable cañon of the city.{21}

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ONE of the “Views of New York” most often pictured and most often snapped by amateur photographers is that of lower Manhattan as seen from a distance. And yet from a painting, photograph or drawing, who can feel what it is? As with pictures of the Grand Cañon, it seems impossible to realize the scale or to give the sense of its enormous size. To know what it is, one must have seen it. A picture, in this case, can only serve to refresh the memory of the man who knows.{23}

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NOTHING better exemplifies the growth of New York than does the City Hall, standing as it does almost in the shadow of the Municipal Building. In the old days when it was the principal structure on City Hall Park, its three stories afforded ample room in which to carry on the city’s affairs. It now houses only four offices, including that of the Mayor and that of the Art Commission. The other city offices, and their number is astounding, are elsewhere. But although the city has grown beyond recognition, the City Hall has proudly kept its place, and is honored as is a venerable old man, a bit less active than he was perhaps, but still the dignified head of a noble house.{25}

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HERE is the force of the sea and the romance of a fairy tale. Here immense fortunes are won in a day and lost in less, and the hopes and savings of years vanish in an hour. Here are bank messengers who become millionnaires overnight and capitalists who awake penniless. It is the market of the whole country and of others. Here are corn and wheat heaped in huge confusion, millions of bales of cotton and barrels of oil, high-piled above the sky-scrapers. Railroads, steamers, banks and bullion; raw gold and ore, coal, silver and copper, mounting to the clouds in glimmering pinnacles and smoking hills. And through it all and around it all, pulses the restless swing and change, the tireless tide of “the street.”

And the traders! Giants and pygmies. Tumbling over each other, swarming, pushing, struggling. Here holding up a million head of cattle to the highest bidder, there beating down the price of a small nation. Here is a man beaten by a crowd for buying oil and there is another lying dead because he sold it. And away over there runs a little man who has succeeded in stealing a pig and is now scurrying off with it to safety.

This mountainous market of hopes and of nations, of success and failure, of tragedy and comedy, of ships, steam, mines, and the lives of men, towering phantom-like and vast,—is Wall Street.{27}

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BROOKLYN BRIDGE the first bridge between Manhattan and Long Island. The day of its opening was one of great public enthusiasm. Parties were given for walking or driving across the bridge, and that night half New York and Brooklyn were on the house-tops to watch it illuminated by fire-works. In those days it was called “The Bridge.” But now since the Manhattan, the Williamsburg and the Queensboro bridges have been added to the East River giants, it has become “The Old Bridge,” a name meaning many things to those who have known it from its beginning. Its erection was a long step towards close relationship between New York and the whole of Long Island.{29}

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WHO can look at a prison without being glad that he is not in it? At the corner of Lafayette and Franklin streets is the great gray pile that is the Tombs. Its turrets, towers and narrow windows suggest dungeon keeps and feudal castles; its heavy gateways,—medieval strongholds. Its high exterior wall and “Bridge of Sighs” make one remember the lugubrious histories of the Doge’s Palace and of the Tour de Nesle. Those inside bear the double burden of being imprisoned and of knowing that close about them is all the life of the great city: its lights, its restaurants, its countless activities and its friends. Yes, looking at the Tombs, grim as it is, makes one feel strangely fortunate.{31}

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IF Father Knickerbocker should come over to New York on the Fulton Ferry, as in times gone by he used to do, when he had been visiting his respected neighbors on Brooklyn Heights; and if he should stand on South Street and look up Peck Slip and see it as it is to-day—how he would stare through his horn-rimmed spectacles and how his dear old heart would thump under his brass-buttoned coat! How he would pinch himself and wonder what it all could mean! What was that enormous shaft all white and glowing in the afternoon, rising eight hundred feet or eight thousand to the very sky? What were those towers, spires and turrets, soaring above the clouds, the brilliant sunlight gilding their countless feathers of steam and decking their phantom minarets with myriad candles? What could it mean? Had he landed on Manhattan or was this some island built by fairies or by elves? Nay, this place was far too fair for that, and must be then the work of witchcraft and the devil. Or was it, after all, the same old place that he had known, but grown and glorified beyond belief? And when he finally realized this to be the case, Father Knickerbocker without doubt would be wondrous proud of his great-grandsons and of the New York of to-day.{33}

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LIKE twin Colossi, silent amid the hum of cities and the whistling of a thousand boats, the grim piers of Brooklyn Bridge stand sentry at the river’s gate.{35}

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ASTRIDE of Chamber Street at Park Row stands the Municipal Building. Under its roof are half a hundred commissions, departments, boards and bureaux that regulate such petty affairs as the highways, parks, water supply, bridges, taxes and fire-fighting for upwards of six millions of people. A gigantic task, and accomplished in a building well worthy of its responsibility.{37}

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WATCHING Manhattan as the boat comes near its shore, one seems to come under the spell of its incalculable weight, its stupendous mass of iron, brick and stone. It is oppressive, ominous. One feels the past, the present and the future; and the tremendous forces which must have worked together to produce this titanic offspring, to have spawned this mountain of precipices. One feels the hidden activity, the pitiless struggle going on beneath; yet a few puffs of smoke are all that betray the smouldering of the mighty fires. One lets one’s mind sink into the vast depths between, to see little humanity running here and there like ants amid the tangle of wires, tunnels and pipes. Little humanity that built it all.

In the past, church spires rose majestic above the surrounding city. Now they are lost. The buildings of commerce, creeping high and higher, have struggled upward, climbing upon one another’s backs, and mounting each on the shoulder of each, in their ceaseless effort to be the tallest among their fellows. And just as it is among men and the rulers of men, as surely as one has gained the supremacy, has come another to surpass him, swinging upward yet another fifty, one hundred, or two hundred feet, and from their thousand brazen throats has boomed again the cry, “Long live the king!”

Eight hundred feet towers the monarch of to-day. He is called “Woolworth,” and twelve thousand men live daily in his strength. His head is of gold but his feet are of clay, and who will be king to-morrow?

And wondering, one looks up and up, above the mightiest of these kings, and yet above the very summit of his crown, and there one sees—the sunset.{39}

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THE Home Office of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. is in the “Metropolitan Life Building.” It covers the whole block between Madison and Fourth Avenues and from Twenty-third to Twenty-fourth streets: some twenty-five acres. Its forty-odd-story tower dominates the whole of Madison Square and dwarfs its neighbors of a meagre twenty stories. Above the level of their roofs the face of a giant clock covers three stories of its front and stares unwinking at the thousands in the park. To old women and to newsboys, to strong men and to wasters, to honest and to sick, to those who read the columns under “Help Wanted—Male,” and to those who have gone far beyond doing so, to the restless and the lonely among the crowds, waiting for that thing to “turn up” that never, never does; to all these this ponderous clock points the passing of the minutes, hours, days,—of life itself: this clock, relentless as the sun, upon the Life Insurance tower.{41}

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SAINT PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL on Fifth Avenue is the largest and finest Catholic church in the city. It is a magnificent structure, taking up the whole block between Fiftieth and Fifty-first streets and Madison Avenue. It fronts, of course, on Fifth Avenue, from where perhaps it can best be seen. One longs to see it standing in a more open space and to see its beauties as a whole from further off as one now sees its spires, which are remarkable from nearby but glorious from a greater distance.{43}

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QUEENSBORO BRIDGE is the most northerly of Manhattan’s four East River bridges. Its mile and a half of mighty steel structure reaches from Second Avenue and Fifty-ninth Street well into Queens County, Long Island. Far below it in the middle of the river is Blackwells Island, on the south end of which is one of the city hospitals. The rest of this island is the cheerless home of an ever-changing group of those unfortunates, who through some unkind trick of fate have slipped, or have seemed to slip, into that uncharted realm vaguely called “Without the Law.{45}

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WHETHER under the régime of private or of business houses the region of Fifth Avenue at Fifty-ninth Street has been for a long time the luxury-centre of New York. On this enchanted soil is the well-known Vanderbilt home, one of the few dwellings that still resist the tide of business uptown to this point. Southward for miles “The Avenue” used to be the smartest residential street in the city. It is now the home of Rembrandts, pearls, sables, Rolls Royces beyond number, first editions, tear bottles, jades, and silken ankles. It is more dangerous to cross than the Continental Divide. It separates East from West in the city.{47}

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HELL GATE BRIDGE derives its name from the treacherous section of the East River which it crosses. It is a most important part in a wonderful piece of railroad engineering. At New Rochelle tracks lead from the old New York, New Haven and Hartford lines to Port Morris, from here over Hell Gate Bridge, through the Borough of Queens and Long Island City, under the East River and half of Manhattan, to come to the surface at the Pennsylvania Station. Hell Gate Bridge runs from above Port Morris over Bronx Kills and Randall’s Island, across Little Hell Gate and Ward’s Island, and last, with its huge span, over Hell Gate to Astoria in Queens. It is six miles long. If laid over Manhattan it would reach from Wanamaker’s store at Eighth Street, to One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street. It is a remarkable link in the great chain between the two railroads. It obviates breaking bulk at New York, and connects Southern New England with “all points west.{49}

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IT is not what some one may say, but what the Nation feels, that tells the story of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.{51}

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THE EPISCOPAL CATHEDRAL of Saint John the Divine is the chief church of the diocese of New York. It stands on Morningside Heights, a magnificent site, from which it dominates all the surrounding city. Its enormous dome suggests that of Saint Peter’s and on the very pinnacle of the apse the angel Gabriel faces east, sounding the trumpet in an endless note of triumph.

Viewing this structure, although as yet unfinished, one tries, almost in vain, to realize that it is to be still larger and more wonderful when fully completed, and when time has mellowed its stately stones and has hung about its walls the indescribable dignity of age.{53}

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THE HUDSON and the Palisades combine in making “Riverside” one of the most naturally beautiful driveways in the world. Yet it owes much also to the workers of magic in steel. Northward from Grant’s Tomb and Claremont for half a mile or more it is upheld by giant arches of their making. Across a whole valley, this broad roadbed all glistening in the sun and streaked by the gay lines of endless pleasure traffic, rolls grandly on, supported by the silent strength of that great land bridge, the Viaduct.{55}

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THE tomb of Ulysses S. Grant at One Hundred and Twenty-second Street and Riverside Drive is one of New York’s best known landmarks. A structure of impressive grandeur and large historic interest, it encourages the thousands of New Yorkers that pass it daily to look forward to the time when their city will be ennobled by a fitting memorial of the heroic officers and men of the great world war.{57}

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IT often seems more difficult to recognize beauty in things with which we are familiar than in those which are more foreign to us. The Hudson is, beyond question, as splendid a river as any of which European cities can boast, yet visitors to New York often seem to appreciate it more than do the New Yorkers themselves. Whether twinkling under myriad lights on a summer night, or storm lashed in January, the Hudson sweeps the whole west shore of Manhattan in lasting yet ever changing grandeur. Imagine yourself in an unknown, distant city, and watch the sun go gorgeously down behind the Palisades, while on the water its long reflection is ploughed to pieces by the river craft.{59}

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BOLDLY across the Harlem River at One Hundred and Seventy-fourth Street stands High Bridge. It differs remarkably from other New York bridges in that it is built entirely of masonry. No steel construction, no suspension cable, no huge rolling lift or counter-poise relate it to the present dynasty of bridges. One hundred and thirty-five feet of solid stone it rises gray and enduring amid the surrounding green. Surely it belongs to the Old World and to another time, and looking through its arches one half expects to see the towers and battlements of some old chateau, clear cut against the sky. One may even fancy,—but here a blunt-nosed tug rams puffing up against the tide, smoke belching from its stumpy funnel, the water churned to froth; and one has lost the wonders of the past in wonders of to-day.{61}

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WASHINGTON BRIDGE is one of the many arteries that join the Borough of the Bronx with Manhattan, and in thus connecting its enormous area and population with the rest of the metropolis, is a material factor in making New York the foremost city of the country.{63}

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THE GRAND CENTRAL is one of the finest railroad stations in the country. Fronting on Forty-second it extends to Forty-fifth Street and from Vanderbilt Avenue to Lexington. The group of figures forming the clock cartouche above its main façade is a piece of masterly sculpture. Its main hall is gigantic. The system with which its hundreds of trains arrive and depart is little less than magical. Yet greater far than these is the story of the crowds that come to New York on these trains, and the mass of hopes and aspirations that they bring to the city through this great gate. And of all who come buoyant, confident and convinced that they will wrest success from this thronging mart of millions,—how few achieve! And yet, though comparatively few, these victors form so vast an army that they many times outnumber the successful sons of the city, and are a mighty force in the making of New York, the Metropolis of the Nation.{65}

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