Tag Archives: skyscrapers

New York City in the Jazz Age! Presenting Our Podcast Summer Series

The Bowery Boys are heading to the speakeasy and kicking back with some bathtub gin this August — with a brand new summer series focusing on New York City in the Jazz Age.

The 1920s were a transformational decade for New York, evolving from a Gilded Age capital to the ideal of the modern international city. Art deco skyscrapers reinvented the skyline, reorienting the center of gravity from downtown to a newly invigorated Midtown Manhattan. Cultural influences, projected to the world via radio and the silent screen, helped create a new American style.

This summer we will be telling this story from the perspective of two major figures of the Roaring ’20s — one from New York’s poshest circles (who dabbled in the debauched), the other from the seediest corner of the underworld (who briefly broke through to the mainstream). Their lives share similar paths — familiar places and events. They certainly rubbed elbows. They might have had an illegal drink together.

Two devastating events in particular will disrupt the lives of these two characters and upend New York’s giddy good times. A gruesome murder will began an epic unraveling of corruption. A financial calamity will freeze the city’s progress in place.

Getty Images

Our new podcast series begins this Friday (August 4th) with a profile of one of the most fashionable characters of the Jazz Age and the backdrop of unfathomable prosperity that transformed New York City into the most powerful city in the world.

Before we begin, make sure you’ve heard these six episodes from our back catalog. The stories of the people and events described in these particular shows will reverberate into the situations presented in our next three podcasts.

You can download these shows from iTunes, stream from most any podcast listening player, or listen to them below:

The story of Mayor John Purroy Mitchel doesn’t take place in the 1920s but you may consider it a prequel to the first part of our mini-series. It’s the story of a well-meaning, likable and photogenic young mayor who was swiftly overwhelmed by the corruptible engine of government.


New York City was the international capital of publishing by the 1920s, and the writers, critics and bon vivants who gathered for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel during this period helped define the eras style and sass.


Courtesy Open Culture


As one of the most famous nightclubs of the Roaring ’20s, the Cotton Club launched careers and electrified New York’s raging nightlife although its policies of segregation tarnish its musical reputation. This show is full of music to get you in the mood for a Jazz Age summer!



Few events in New York City during the 1920s typify the decade’s feverish creation of the modern celebrity more than the death of silent screen idol Rudolph Valentino, a former dancer in Times Square nightclubs who became America’s most exotic movie star.


The movie star was one of the most vibrant — and dangerous — performers on the New York City stage in the 1920s. She would get her inspirations from the ladies of the speakeasies and the alternative cultures of Greenwich Village.

Ten & Taller: Height Makes Might in the latest Skyscraper Museum exhibition

Skyscrapers feel like constructs of the modern age because their appearances are constantly evolving — from Frank Gehry’s 76-floor twisty, silvery rocket at 8 Spruce Street to the elegant glass monolith of One World Trade Center.

But buildings with ten or more floors are an invention of the Gilded Age. Skyscrapers are older than subways, recorded music, and the cinema. And a concise new show at the Skyscraper Museum in Battery Park City — Ten & Taller: 1874-1900 — excellently lays out New York’s contributions to the form.


The subtitle to the show is key — “Mapping all Manhattan buildings ten stories or taller by use and date.” The show is a living catalog come to life. Or rather, a living map, specifically this one, illustrating the development of every tall building in Manhattan up to the start of the 20th century.  The show is based on the research of structural engineer Don Friedman who organized this special group on Manhattan structures (252 in all) in chronological order here.

Central to the exhibition is a gloriously massive map of Manhattan,  arduously stitched together from dozens of map plates derived from the 1909/1915 G. W. Bromley and Co. Atlas of The City of New York. This alone is worth the price of admission. If you are a map junkie, just the scale of this impressive work may distract you from subject at hand.

Below: George Post’s Produce Exchange Building (1884-1957) which once sat near Bowling Green.


By studying this map, two facts about New York’s earliest skyscrapers will become obvious — 1) they weren’t merely a lower Manhattan phenomenon, and 2) builders sure loved to line Broadway. Animated maps like this one slowly fill the vast expanse of Manhattan with blips representing the presence of a new skyscraper.

Observing development overhead like this reveals vast numbers of new works, from the tip of Manhattan to the area around the American Museum of Natural History.

Below: The far less glamorous side of the Dakota, 1899


The Dakota Apartments, one of the most northerly contributions, may not strike you as a skyscraper per se.

One wall of the exhibit lines up most of these tall buildings like a rogue’s gallery, and the overall effect is striking. Most ten-story buildings of this period, whether masonry or steel-frame construction, weren’t built to feel tall.  Many are ornamented in the Beaux-Arts style, the sort of decor seen more frequently on shorter buildings.  A design language specific to skyscrapers was yet to be developed.

Below: The sleekest of the pre-1900 buildings often shot up from small lots like the ones featured in this display.

In addition, the exhibit focuses on one particular building — the Havemeyer Building, a 14-story skyscraper constructed in 1892, once located on Church Street — presenting massive blueprints to illustrate the grandiosity of its architect George B. Post. Nearby displays offer models revealing the evolution of building techniques up to steel-frame construction, finally allowing buildings to reach higher into the sky.

You’re certain to find at least one odd, long-departed building to fall in love with.  I was personally enamored by the Gillender Building, a short-lived marvel so slender that it was virtually useless. What a very curious (and very beautiful) use of space.



Visit the Skyscraper Museum website for more information.  The museum is located in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City at 39 Battery Place, near the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Museum hours are 12-6 pm, Wednesday-Sunday.  General admission is $5, $2.50 for students and seniors


Flatiron Building: A Three-Sided Story

PODCAST For our 8th anniversary episode, we’re revisiting one of New York City’s great treasures and a true architectural oddity — the Flatiron Building.

When they built this structure at the corner of Madison Square Park (and completed in 1902), did they realize it would be an architectural icon AND one of the most photographed buildings in New York City?

1The George A. Fuller Company, one of the most powerful construction firms in Chicago, decided to locate their new New York office building in a flashy place — a neighborhood with no skyscrapers, on a plot of land that was thin and triangular in shape. They brought in Daniel Burnham, one of America’s greatest architects, to create a one-of-a-kind, three-sided marvel, presenting a romantic silhouette and a myriad of optical illusions.

The Flatiron Building was also known for the turbulent winds which sometimes blew out its windows and tossed up the skirts of women strolling to Ladies Mile. It’s a subject of great art and a symbol of the glamorous side of Manhattan.  In this show, we bring you all sides of this structure’s incredible story.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #184: The Flatiron Building: A Story From Three Sides

Below: A cleaned up look at the Flatiron Building, courtesy Shorpy. Click here for a look at the details!

Courtesy Shorpy
Courtesy Shorpy



The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

Starting this month, we are doubling our number of episodes per month. Now you’ll hear a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!



A dramatic illustration of 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue, where the Flatiron Building would soon stand. From here you can see the taller Cumberland building which would be used for billboards.




The structures that pre-dated the Flatiron Building, pictured here in 1897.

Courtesy Museum of City of New York
Courtesy Museum of City of New York



The smaller buildings have already been cleared away for the construction of the Fuller/Flatiron Building, but the taller building remains to some promotion of Heinz products.

Courtesy vintageimages.com
Courtesy vintageimages.com

Construction of the Flatiron, picture from late 1901 or early 1902.

Courtesy Library of Congress

From every angle, the Flatiron takes on a new shape…..

Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
Courtesy New York Public LIbrary

…inspiring artists like Edward Steichen to frame the building in romantic and even mysterious ways (such as his iconic shot from 1904)


A view, similar to the classic one above, of the Flatiron after a snowstorm in 1905

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

The Flatiron has inspired thousands of photo-mechanical post cards back in the day, highlighting its alluring shape-shifting form upon the changing New  York skyline.


Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The cigar store in the narrow ‘cowcatcher’ served as a recruitment office during World War I, topped with military weaponry.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

Another postcard focused on the Flatiron’s particularly windy properties!



American Mutoscope and Biography Co. filmed this humorous look at ladies in the wind on October 26, 1903:


A Max Ettlinger illustration from 1915 — Flatiron, you’re drunk!

Courtesy Museum of City of New York
Courtesy Museum of City of New York


A July 4th parade, passing up Fifth Avenue.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The Flatiron in 1935, from an angle that makes it appear almost two dimensional.



The Flatiron — still a magnet for budding photographers everywhere! Here a couple modern images from photographers Jeffrey Zeldman, Thomas HawkGiandomenico RicciAnurag Yagnik, and eric molina.

Courtesy Jeffrey Zeldman/Flickr
Courtesy Jeffrey Zeldman/Flickr
Courtesy Jeffrey Zeldman/Flickr
Courtesy Jeffrey Zeldman/Flickr
Courtesy Thomas Hawk/flickr
Courtesy Thomas Hawk/flickr
Courtesy Giandomenico Ricci/Flickr
Courtesy Giandomenico Ricci/Flickr
Courtesy Anurag Yagnik/Flickr
Courtesy Anurag Yagnik/Flickr
Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH



CORRECTION: A small correction to this week’s show. The beautiful Madison Square Garden tower — with the nude Diana statue — is actually in a Spanish style, not an Italian style.

Before Woolworth: The early towers of lower Broadway at the birth of the skyscraper boom

Next week is the 100th birthday of the opening of the Woolworth Building.  The classic skyscraper designed by Cass Gilbert changed everything about perceptions of tall buildings in Manhattan — for good and ill.  Suddenly, towers could be as graceful and important as monuments, and as playful and enigmatic as castles.

New Yorkers were anxious to fill their downtown with glorious towers for business, to best their rivals in Chicago (where many of the finest architects worked) and to prove the city’s grandeur to the world.

To that end, the New York Sun on April 13, 1913, ran this curious map in their real estate section, under the header “Rebuilding of Lower Manhattan Progressing Slowly.”  The point of the section is clear;  lower Manhattan was filled with useless old, rundown buildings that needed to be replaced at once!

It was this push at the start of the 20th century that gives lower Manhattan its unusual character, with few buildings before 1890 still standing.  The ‘canyon’ of lower Broadway was beginning to develop by 1913, only to be further dramatized with taller, more dramatic structures in the coming years.  The height of the structures along Broadway and around Wall Street soon eclipsed those structures on Park Row and most of the early skyscrapers built further up Manhattan, around Madison Square.

Some of the buildings lining Broadway before 1913 included:

The Singer Building (149 Broadway), the tallest building in the world in 1908 (at left, with St. Paul’s Chapel in center, photo from 1910):

The Manhattan Life Insurance Building (64-70 Broadway), the tallest building from 1894-99 (pictured here in 1895) There’s an entire blog devoted to his building. Pic is from there.

The building being constructed in the photo above is the American Surety Building (100 Broadway) which is still standing today.  The building was constructed in 1896.  In the background you can also see another mighty skyscraper, the very Venetian-styled Bankers Trust Company Building (14 Wall Street), finished in 1912. (Pic courtesy LOC)

And the Trinity Building (111 Broadway), completed in 1907, also still around today.  It replaced a five story office building from 1853 that had been designed by Richard Upjohn. (LOC)

I love that most of the above buildings can be seen in relation to Trinity Church (79 Broadway), once the tallest building at 284 feet.  (Pictured below completely surrounded by skyscrapers by 1916, picture courtesy LOC)

All of these buildings pre-date the Woolworth Building and, of course, the 1916 Zoning Resolution that required architects to build setbacks into their designs.  In fact, in the photo of Trinity above, you can see the principal reason the zoning law was enacted — the colossal Equitable Building, finished in 1915.

Next week: More on the 100th anniversary of the Woolworth Building!

You can read the New York Sun section from April 1913 here.

PODCAST: The Chrysler Building

Ah, the classic Chrysler Building! She’s got style, glamour and all that jazz. But what magical surprise did she spring on New York in October of 1929? Join us as we tell the story of New York’s most beautiful art deco treasure.

Listen to it for free on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or you can download or listen to it HERE

The picture above is of famed photographer Margaret Bourke-White, who had an studio on the 61st floor of the Chrysler. Her iconic photographs of the building helped create the building’s mystique as a sleek, magical tower. Of course later, as a correspondent for Life Magazine, she became one of the most intregal documenters of World War II, particularly the bombing of Moscow.

One unusual aspect of the Chrysler building is that it’s ‘something you look up at’. At street level and for several floors up, its a rather drab structure. In fact there are many buildings nearby that exhibit a far more striking art-deco style at street level, including the Chanin Building just across the street, and the Daily News Building a block away.

But the top of the Chrysler more than makes up for it, with its silver spire and repetitions of triangular sunbursts draped in silver nickel steel (a specialty metal called Nirosta designed by the German company Krupp). The real punch of the Chrysler at night comes with these triangular windows, with their almost crown-like appearance, which pierce the night and create truly dramatic scenes on foggy evenings.

Photo at right: Courtesy Frank Jermann, Voelzberg, Germany 

 The Cloud Room, a swanky nightclub and speakeasy in the 30s, occupied the top floors until the 1970s. As with many things in New York at that time, the building fell into disrepair in the 70s and 80s; thankfully much of its luster has been returned thanks to the current owners Tishman Speyer. Given the recent trend of restoring New York landmarks to their former glory, might we see a return of the Cloud Room in the near future?

Van Alen was racing to build the Chrysler Building before his former estranged business partner H. Craig Severance finished with the building down at 40 Wall Street. Severance finished first, but Van Alen stole his thunder by erecting the Chrysler spire which pushed its height above 1,000 feet.

The 40 Wall Street building, still impressive but far less ornate, has had a rather rocky history. Referred to as the “Crown Jewel of Wall Street,” it held the title of world’s tallest building for all of four days. At one time known as the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building, it was hit by a Coast Guard plane in 1946, killing four people. In the 90s it was bought by Donald Trump, who funded extensive renovations and turned it all to commercial space. It’s actually called The Trump Building now. The American Express headquarters is housed here. According to Real Estate Weekly, 40 Wall Street is the tallest mid-block building in the world, which I guess has some sort of cache.

Incidentally, a former 40 Wall Street building which stood in its spot was office to the first president of the New York Stock and Exchange Board when it was first organized in 1817.

As for the Severance’s former partner, Van Alen did bask in a brief fame as architect of the Chrysler, despite Walter Chrysler’s refusal to pay him the remainer of his commission for the project due to bribery. Perhaps strangely, his most circulated photograph actually has him dressed up as the Chrysler Building. The event was the 1931 Beaux-Arts Ball for the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects. Van Alen was a student in Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts and was a regular attendent at these high-class and often rowdy functions. This New York Times article gives a thorough recap of the event. But just to put it in perspective, many architects came that year dressed as the buildings they created, including William F. Lamb as his newly constructed Empire State Building. The jovial bunch is featured below:

And finally, I apologize for giving short shrift on the podcast to the work of Edward Turnbull, who painted the brilliantly colored ceiling mural in the lobby of the Chrysler Building.

A mixture of Sistine Chapel magnificence and perhaps a bit of prescient Communist-esque propaganda, “Transport and Human Endeavor” is actually one of the largest indoor murals in the world, displaying an enthusiasm for American progress and mechanical ingenuity. Lit in the warm glow bouncing off the marbled wall and oak floor, the mural hides many fascinating details full of blimps, airplanes and automobiles. Just make sure you dont stumble over one of the building security guards as you look upwards.

You can find another lovely picture of it here

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