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So Close

Berenice Abbott took three photos that I know of from the top of the Irving Trust Building in 1938. Yesterday’s was the first, looking east down Wall Street. The picture above is the second, looking south along Broadway. You can’t quite see Bowling Green because of the slight curve at the very foot of Broadway, so from this angle it looks like the street ends bypassing Battery Park.

Castle Clinton is the only building visible in the park from this angle. The collection of skyscrapers along Broadway goes as far back as the 1880s – One Broadway, the last building on the right side of the street before the park – and through the 1930s. A little further west we have the cluster at the foot of West Street: 17 Battery Place (both the original, past the tall flagpole on the roof of 39 Broadway, and it’s later and taller addition), and 20 and 21 West Street. 

All of this is within two or three blocks, at the most, of the river. In addition to Liberty Island, Ellis Island (to its right) and the railroad-covered waterfront of Jersey City, Abbott happened to be at the right time and the right place to capture the SS Normandie setting sail. Normandie was the French Line’s equivalent of Cunard SS Queen Mary, except much sleeker in design. There’s an argument to be made, if you like Art Deco, that Normandie was the high point of trans-Atlantic steamer design. Abbott caught the ship, four months after her roof-top shot, leaving pier 88.

It’s worth remembering that New York’s success, for hundreds of years, came from trade. It’s not an accident that the Financial District took over the boundaries of the original settlement facing the harbor.