Skip to main content

A Walk on Lower Fifth Avenue: Illusory Scenes in Black and White

A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
From the steps of the Salmagundi Art Club at 47 Fifth Avenue, looking south.
An historic art club founded in the 1871 by people who loved to sketch, the club moved to this 1852 brownstone townhouse, originally Irad Hawley House, in 1917.


Like the headwaters for a river that runs upstream, Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village serves as the base for the mighty Fifth Avenue. From the park, the avenue runs north all the way to the Harlem River at 142nd street, bustling at key intersections like Madison Square at 23rd, the Empire State Building at 34th St., Bryant Park at 42nd, and the southeast corner of Central Park at 59th St. Lower Fifth Avenue, stretching from Washington Square to the Flatiron Building at Fifth Avenue and 23rd St., may not be as well known as the more famous blocks from Rockefeller Center to Central Park, but this more sedate stretch of avenue, a comparative dowager, connects in spirit to New York's late Gilded Age as well as to the first stirrings of bohemianism in the Village. It's a pleasure to walk slowly.

A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
at the beginning of Fifth Avenue, looking south to the Washington Square Arch,
built in 1895


A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
elegant revolving doors at 24 Fifth Avenue.
Note the pretty cursive writing on the entrance mat.


With many imposing brick and stone buildings dating from the mid-nineteenth century through the 1920s, lower Fifth Avenue often gives the illusion of permanence, as if its regal Old New York demeanor will always be best suited for the pen and ink drawing or a photographer working in black and white. Yet, its permanence is an illusion. Many spectacular buildings up and down the avenue, and especially in the northern reaches near Central Park, have given way to newer buildings over the decades, some of them even grander but others pitiful replacements. For a bold example, look at the giant hole in the ground on the east side of Fifth Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets. Here, the New School is constructing a new sixteen-story brass and glass University Center, replacing a bland three-story affair. Fifth Avenue is always in flux.

A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
On the west side of the avenue at W. 11th St., the Church of the Ascension, consecrated in 1841


A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
Across the street on the east side, corner of E. 11th and Fifth Avenue. 43 Fifth Avenue was built in 1905
and popular with writers and actors. Marlon Brando lived here in 1946, the year before he became Stanley Kowalksi.


A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
E. 13th Street and Fifth Avenue. The construction site marks the future home of
New School's contemporary University Center.


In our time, we think of the lowest part of Fifth Avenue as a mainly residential thoroughfare, especially compared to the heavily commercial areas in the blocks north. Yet in the 1870s, the era depicted by Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence, lower Fifth Avenue began to lose its stature as a fashionable place to live for more commercial pursuits. In the charming 1872 work, Lights and shadows of New York life: or, The sights and sensations of the great city. A work descriptive of the City of New York in all its various phases, author James Dabney McCabe noted, "From Madison Square to its lower end, the avenue is rapidly giving way to business, and its palatial residences are being converted into equally fine stores. Hotels and fashionable boarding-houses are thick in this quarter." Up until 1910, it should be noted, "the Fifth avenue" was a much narrower thoroughfare than it is now, sporting wide sidewalks for strolling. (see illustration from book at end of post) By the time the avenue was expanded, the center of interest, especially residential, had shifted uptown.

A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
intersection of E 16th and Fifth Avenue. This area within the Ladies' Mile Historic District features more retail than the blocks to the south, so the pace is beginning to pick up.


A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
The Pierrepont Building dates from 1895. 


A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
91 Fifth Avenue. 1894. caryatids, high above the street. The retail floors are home to J. Crew.


These handsome blocks are anchored by Washington Square Park at the south end, dominated by its fountain and historic arch, and Madison Square Park at the north end, with its dazzling architecture. Washington Square Park has just opened its renovated eastern side, and locals and tourists flock to the park to read books, listen to music, or just hang out. Similarly, Madison Square Park draws people for its well-kept lawns, nearby food offerings, and public art program. While people tend to rush through the more frantic blocks of Fifth Avenue uptown, the pace between these two parks is slower, making it easier to imagine scenes of fashionable types of a hundred years ago out and about on an afternoon walk.

A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
originally Arnold Constable Dry Goods Store. now ABC Carpet, Fifth Avenue side, 115 Fifth Avenue.
built 1868-1869; extended in 1870s.


A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
looking back south from W. 22nd St. and Fifth Avenue. The building with the rounded corner
and cupola has recently been restored.


A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
Albert Building, neo-Renaissance building from 1861-1862; home to Restoration Hardware.


Depicted in this post are several buildings that represent moments in the long life of Lower Fifth Avenue. The map includes more details of the prominent buildings and sites. A set on Flickr includes a total of fifty images documenting, or imagining, this section of the avenue. See link below.

A Scene from Lower Fifth Avenue
23rd Street, looking south along Fifth Avenue. The Flatiron Building is on the left.
originally Fuller Building. 175 Fifth Ave. to Broadway, E. 22nd St. to E. 23rd St. 1901-1903.
Daniel Burnham & Co.


View Lower Fifth Avenue in a larger map

illustration from Lights and shadows of New York life: or, The sights and sensations of the great city. A work descriptive of the City of New York in all its various phases, by James Dabney McCabe, 1872.


Photographic images by Walking Off the Big Apple taken with the iPhone4 and Hipstamatic app. For those who would enjoy a leisurely virtual walk up Fifth Avenue, crossing both sides of the avenue to take a look at buildings and stopping to look in every direction, please see this slideshow on Flickr WOTBA. Sometimes, it rains; sometimes, the sun comes out. That's the way it works around here.

Comments

Caroline Taylor said…
Conclusion: Fifth Avenue should always be photographed in black & white (why does B&W fire the imagination so?)

Wonderful, chockful post and great photos, Teri. Thanks!
Caroline
Anton Deque said…
I know this stretch well. After this article post I feel I know more. It is illuminating to have your additional knowledge of some grand buildings gracing this historic neighbourhood. I join Ms Taylor in applauding the use of black and white (but I would wager I am older and for me it was what I grew up looking at).
Teri Tynes said…
Caroline and Anton - Thank you both. I initially took about four pictures in black and white while walking home along Fifth Avenue on day last month, and when I saw them, they looked "right." So, I was inspired to go back and take many more. I think the images create a tension between what is imagined and what is permanent as well as the gray line between fiction and non-fiction.
Caroline Taylor said…
Yes about the "tension between what is imagined and what is permanent ... fiction and non-fiction"! Perfectly said. And like you, Anton, I was lucky enough to grow up in what still could be called the B&W era (I'm 61). Lucky us, yes? Anyway, delicious stuff. Thanks, you guys.
New York City always looks more majestic in black & white. Great captures!

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

25 Things to Do Near the American Museum of Natural History

After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, explore attractions on the Upper West Side or in Central Park. Visitors to New York often run around from one major tourist site to the next, sometimes from one side of the city to the other, and in the process, exhaust themselves thoroughly. Ambitious itineraries often include something like coffee in the Village in the morning, lunch near MoMA, a couple of hours in the museum, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in the afternoon, cocktails at the midtown hotel, a quick dinner, and then a Broadway show. It's a wonder people don't pass out at the theater. While sitting on the steps of the American Museum of History, consider exploring the Upper West Side and nearby sites of interest in Central Park. There's a better way to plan a New York trip. Consider grouping attractions together geographically. Several posts on this site address this recommended approach. The Wild West of the Tecumseh Playground Groupin

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

The Marx Brothers in New York: Interlude - On Groucho Walking

This special new series about the Marx Brothers in New York continues this week, following the brothers into a career in Broadway and into the movies, but first I would like to take a little time to discuss Groucho's peculiar way of walking. Sometimes described as a "lope" or "stoop," Groucho's silly and often lecherous walk became just as an important part of his persona as his glasses, eyebrows, cigar and greasepaint moustache. He didn't walk this walk all the time, but as you recall from the films, Groucho would often bend his knees and lean forward as he proceeded from point A to point B. To imitate Groucho properly at a costume party, it's important to get this part down. • Groucho explained that it was simply a bit of inspired improvisation. From the book Hello, I Must Be Going by Charlotte Chandler, he says, "I was just kidding around one day, and I started to walk funny. The audience liked it, so I kept it in."(pps. 153-154) Chand

Visiting New York on a Monday

Mondays are OK. Let's have a look at some of the museums open Mondays - • American Museum of Natural History • Jewish Museum • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) • National Museum of the American Indian • Neue Galerie • Guggenheim Museum • South Street Seaport Museum Any of these museums could be paired with a nearby restaurant or bar, making a complete full afternoon or day in New York. Monday is especially good for a museum visit, because the crowds tend to be thinner, and restaurants, too, tend to be less busy than on a weekend. A fun museum and bistro walk on the Upper West Side would be a combination of the American Museum of Natural History and the nearby Cafe Lalo on W. 83rd St. I also would suggest a pairing of the Neue Galerie with a nearby cafe, but the two cafes inside the musuem are so good, why go anywhere else? Image above: The Guggenheim on left and Beaux-Arts townhouse on right. View from E. 88th St. by Walking Off the Big Apple.

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u