The Origin of Broadway: The Story of a Street

PODCAST What makes a street so extraordinary that it becomes a destination in itself? What makes it Broadway? This is the history of New York City’s most famous street and a progression through the entire history of the city.

In this episode, Tom is joined by Fran Leadon, the author of a new history of Broadway, called Broadway: A History of New York in 13 Miles.

We’ve discussed Broadway, the street, in just about every show we’ve done — as so many of the city’s key events have taken place along Broadway or near it. And that’s also the point of Fran’s book — by telling the story of a street, you’re actually telling the story of the entire city.

On today’s show, we’ll be discussing how Broadway moved north — literally, how did it expand, overcoming natural obstacles and merging with… or avoiding… old, pre-existing roads, and how did it take such an unusual route?

And perhaps most surprisingly, how did Broadway survive the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 which imposed a rigid street grid on the city?

You’re in for a few surprises.

LISTEN HERE:

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You can read Greg’s review of Fran Leadon’s book from a couple months ago here. “Fran Leadon, an architect and co-author of fifth edition of the AIA Guide to New York City, is a perfect biographer for Broadway, a main character in the development of one of the world’s great cities. His book is dense, richly written and researched, loaded with a million fun anecdotes.”

The beginning of Broadway — from a map of New Amsterdam and one from the Commissioners Plan

 

New York Public Library

Undated image of the commerce of Broadway. The Western Union building was located on Broadway and Dey Street, placing this view in lower Manhattan. Note the telephone and telegraph wires!

Library of Congress [No Date Recorded on Shelflist Card]
Broadway at Canal Street, 1836, in a lithograph by T. Hornor

Museum of the City of New York

The unique ‘Broadway bend’ that begins on 10th Street, attributed, some say, to the farm of Henry Brevoort.

 

From the Commissioners Plan of 1811, both Broadway and the Bowery were to ‘disappear’ into a massive open space called the Parade.

 

The glamour of Broadway and 42nd Street as it heads into Times Square. Broadway’s many ‘accidental’ plazas are responsible for most of New York’s cultural hubs. Thanks to the subway and proximity to the two major train stations, the ‘center of it all’ seemed to remain in Times Square, even as the city continued to move further northwards.

Library of Congress

 

Broadway at West 62nd Street and at West 153rd Street, circa 1900-1915. City planners had an opportunity to make Broadway in upper Manhattan into a grand boulevard, Paris-style.

Museum of the City of New York

 

Museum City of New York