The 1903 photo above was taken from the roof or top floor of the old Post Office at the foot of City Hall Park, looking north. The title is “City Hall, New York, N.Y.” and that’s the building prominent in the center, but I find myself looking past City Hall to the buildings further north.
The building right behind City Hall and of a similar size and shape is the New York County Court House, then and forever known as the Tweed Courthouse. The building just to the right of Tweed is the mid-1800s City Courthouse, soon to be demolished. The little building to the right of that, also soon to be demolished, was being used as a firehouse although it may have originally been something else.
The big construction site beyond the City Courthouse is the new Hall of Records, about halfway through its eight years of construction. That’s not a forest of cranes at the top – those are the steel rafters for its mansard roof. On the left, behind Tweed and facing Broadway is the original A. T. Stewart department store, which by this time had been converted to offices. (It’s now the NYC Department of Buildings.) The tall (15 stories) building behind Stewart was the Dun Building, an early skyscraper, as is the 16-story Central Bank Building peeking out behind it. The tall and very long building in the distance is the 13-story New York Life Insurance Building, constructed in two phases in the mid-1890s.
A similar photo today would have many, many more high-rises, and ones much taller than what’s seen here. Things changed fast after 1900.