Skip links

Not Quite A Panorama

Simply put: photography in the late nineteenth century was not advanced enough to create true panoramic pictures. The closest approaches to panoramas were taken by putting a big camera on a tripod somewhere protected and taking multiple long-exposure pictures, turning the camera slightly each time, and then exposing different areas of a single print. The picture above wasn’t that fancy. It consists of two shots taken from a single location – most likely, the roof of the Washington Building at One Broadway, looking east and northeast. I have, through the magic of computer imaging, squashed the two together, lining up the seam as best as possible. It’s not a clean joint, but it more or less works.

The big building with the square tower is the Produce Exchange, directly across Bowling Green from One Broadway. The white castle with the curved turret is the Cotton Exchange; both exchanges were designed by George Post, apparently in moods ranging from square to round. As the tall-building boom gradually worked its way east from the Broadway/Broad Street/Nassau Street spine, the eastern fringe of the financial district and the western fringe of the industrial waterfront have taken on a lumpy appearance, with the big new buildings towering over the older ones. There were buildings downtown taller than the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, but they’re all off to the left of this view. The transition on the river – full-rigged ships sharing space with steamships – is equally lumpy.

This is not the past as presented in postcards, so it’s not pretty. But it’s hard to not see the reality of New York, then or now: moments of astonishing grace surrounded by chaos.