Skip links

Changing Times

That’s a view looking west from Nassau Street, along Liberty Street, circa 1908. The Library of Congress says 1910, but there’s a simple way to show that’s too late, described below. Obviously the 1908 Singer tower is the centerpiece of the photo and what draws your eyes the you look at it, but that’s not actually why I wanted to post this picture. The very ornate, classically-styled, near-white building in the center is the 1901 New York Chamber of Commerce Building, and it’s pretty much the only thing in this view that still exists.

All of the buildings on the south side of Liberty Street between Nassau Street and Broadway were demolished in the mid-1960s for the 1967 Marine Midland building at 140 Broadway, most famous for the Noguchi sculpture in front of the Broadway entrance. So that’s everything left of the Singer tower gone. The dark building on the right side was demolished for the 1909 Sinclair Oil Building at 55 Liberty Street. So that’s most of the right side gone as well as good evidence that this photo can’t be as late as 1910.

The Williamsburg City Fire Insurance Company building west (left) of the Chamber of Commerce was demolished for the 1924 Westinghouse building at 150 Broadway. The tall building with the bare flagpole just to the right of Singer is the 1908 City Investing Building, torn down, like Singer, for the 1973 US Steel Building at One Liberty Plaza (AKA 165 Broadway).

The Williamsburg City Fire Insurance Company is gone, as is the Phenix National Bank. I assume both were absorbed into larger companies. The practice of putting street signs on building facades, like the “Nassau Street” and “Liberty Street” signs on the far right, is gone. The bishop’s-crook street lampposts are gone except for a small number that have been landmarked. Perhaps most significantly, the extraordinarily dense streetscape of lower Manhattan is mostly gone, the victim of redevelopment and the 1916 and 1960 zoning laws.