Before SoHo Was SoHo IV: All in a Day’s Work

The Stone Bridge, from The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York (1865)

One of the many perks of my “day job” at New York Bound Books is that I get to pore through lots of rare books about New York, for research and just for fun.  I recently photographed a few for our catalog that included several image of old SoHo, and when I say old, I do not mean when Dean and Deluca on Prince Street old, I mean when Canal Street was a canal old.

Title Page of the Valentine Manual 1865

The first image, of the Stone Bridge (see above) in 1800, is from the 1865 edition of the Valentine Manuals.  Officially titled The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, this series of books was commonly called the “Valentine’s Manuals” for David T. Valentine, the clerk of the Common Council who compiled the volumes that included the city’s annual reports and directories. (read more about Valentine Manuals here at New York Bound Books).

A little research produced an article entitled “The Old Stone Bridge at Canal-street and Broadway” by Capt. Walker Bicker in The New York Times about his memories of  the bridge and its environs in the early 19th century, published April 9, 1886:

Broadway was not paved beyond “the stone bridge” which stood where Canal-street now crosses Broadway.  This was a famous resort for us schoolboys.  It was considered “out of town”—all north beyond as well as the immediate vicinity was country, post and rail fences dividing the land into different sized parcels.  This bridge spanned a small stream which conveyed water from the Collect on the east side of Broadway (where now stands the Tombs) to the west side, where was an extensive meadow covering most of the ground from Broadway to the north River and from Lispenard-street to Spring-street.

Here’s another image of Broadway, just one block to the north, in 1824.

Corner of Broadway and Grand Street, 1824 from The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York (1865)

Perhaps even more enlightening than the Valentine Manuals is Edward W. Browning’s New York Real Estate Brochure that lists buildings, apartments, apartment hotels, tenements, and stores to be sold at public auction on June 17, 1929.

Edward W. Browning’s New York Real Estate Brochure

513-519 Broadway through to 84 to 94 Mercer Street from Edward W. Browning’s New York Real Estate Brochure

This brochure contains a lot for sale at “513-519 Broadway through to 84 to 94 Mercer Street,” a plot that contains three buildings on Broadway, two of which go all the way through to Mercer Street, that would bring in an estimated whopping $80,700.00 in rent when fully occupied, presumably annually.  I found a recent article on Curbed about a unit in this lot for rent today:

Hank Azaria, best known for doing his voices on “The Simpsons” (Moe, Apu, Chief Wiggum among others), told the Wall Street Journal that he’s renting out his loft at 84 Mercer Street for a cool $16,000 per month. For that moolah you get a 4,000 square foot loft with 3 bedrooms. He picked the place up from photographer and director Cindy Sherman for $4.25M back in 2005, but he plans to spend a lot more time on the West Coast.

If a renter will pay $16K per month for a loft, imagine how much one of those retail spaces fetches!  I pride myself on being pretty good at math, but I’m not even going to attempt to figure out the percentage of appreciation between 1929 and 2011.  (And I don’t know if Azaria is BEST known for his Simpsons voices, fantastic though they are.)

Last, but not at all least, here is a newspaper clipping from February 9, 1907 of a picture of The Hall of Science, “where the freethinkers foregathered seventy-five years ago.”

This building on Broome Street (probably between Mott and Elizabeth)  was purchased for $7,000 by educational reformer Frances Wright in 1829. According to the entry on Wright:

Commencing a career as a lecturer, she bought a Baptist church and renamed it the Hall of Science, housing a lecture hall, a secular Sunday school, and a bookstore for free-thinkers. Wright’s lectures challenged evolving concepts of domestic ideology when she explained the experience and ideals of Nashoba, criticized evangelical revivals, and advocated education and equal rights for women. Her favorite topic was educational reform. She proposed a “guardianship system” through which state government would establish district boarding schools, where Americans could be raised for social equality through a curriculum that instructed all children in free inquiry and the physical sciences. Wright found admirers in New York among the reformers and artisans who comprised the city’s Workingmen’s Party and who also advocated enlightened public education and such issues as the ten-hour workday, abolition of imprisonment for debt, and attacks on the privileges of banks and capitalists.

Three random items.  Three SoHo locales.  Three interesting stories.  All in a day’s work.

To read more about rare books on  New York City visit

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10 Responses to “Before SoHo Was SoHo IV: All in a Day’s Work”

  1. wendy Says:

    How lucky you are to have a job that matches your interest in NY history. Oh, how I wish I could time travel to that bucolic Broadway. Thank, Yukie.

  2. Carol Goodden Says:

    That was FASCINATING, Yukie. What great research. Wonderful engravings.

  3. The Same Old, When It Was New « The SoHo Memory Project Says:

    […] Shaping our collective memory one post at a time. « Before SoHo Was SoHo IV: All in a Day’s Work […]

  4. RD Wolff Says:

    The clipping with the Broadway Central Hotel is pretty interesting, haven’t seen that one before. I was 13 when it collapsed that August day in 1973 and while it was being demolished I snuck in a number of times and explored the ruins for artifacts to bring home. I have one of the brass elevator call buttons from the basement and a brass mercury thermometer from one of the boilers along with a few others.
    I corresponded about 12 years ago with the fellow who owned the Mercer Arts- Sy Kaback and his wife cyndi, at the time Sy was in very poor health, but I was sent a CD full of photos and whatnot, along with more personal details about the collapse.
    I also found a fireman/chief around then who was involved in the FDNY rescue. I remember he said the collapse was caused by a chase cut into the brick wall and a wall in the basement that had been cut into.

    Sometime around then I figured out a couple of interesting things- the site was the former home for the Lafarge Hotel/Metropolitan hall which had been severely damaged by fire. A line cut of the lafarge’ facade from 1854 is especially interesting because when compared to the Broadway central’s facade one can see exactly what happened- the windows and windowheads etc are identical on the 2nd-5th floors on both facades!
    What appears to have happened was quite clear- after the fire was out on the Lafage/Metropolitan hall they simple re-used the facade and then ADDED 3 more floors on top plus the mansard roof.
    Obviously the original Lafarge foundation and facade was designed for a 5 story building with a short 6th floor, the fact it was in a major fire plus all the water from putting out the fire would have weakened it. It was the heavier center section with the 9th floor “attic” section that collapsed. It had been reported that there was a bulge in the brick facade there a short while before the collapse, but it had obviously not been repaired and the facade collapsed that august. Sy’s wife was in fact on the phone with the city about their hearing noises in the walls and there being cracks in the walls, the conversation was cut off mid-sentence by the collapse.

  5. RD Wolff Says:

    There’s another interesting anomaly I noticed nearby on broadway, this one involving that row of marble facades by 657 broadway, I believe they are 655, 657 (blue arrow) , 659 and 661 (red arrow). In this compiled photo of 1978 along side a view ca 1870 The “Grand central hotel” sign is the original broadway central hotels’ name.
    Looking closely at both photos it can be seen that 657’s facade was changed, and they added a floor onto 661 which also has a new horizonal cornice instead of gabled.
    The facade (at the very least) of 657 was substantially changed, and changed to match both 655 and 659 in both style/materials as well as floor height.

    The ca 1870 view shows Broadway looking North, and there are some horse-drawn omnibuses in view- a number of years before the trolly cars and tracks came to replace them, and the cable cars replacing those in 1894. Broadway was a two-way street in this view as one of the omnibuses can clearly be seen travelling North.
    The 1979 view was taken the day after a devastating fire which completely destroyed 655,657 and 659 which burned and collapsed, leaving only the marble facades free-standing with a little bit of the structure behind them. I remember the owner threatening to sue if the fire dept caused the facades to collapse from their high pressure hoses, they survived the massive fire and were re-incorporated into the new construction.
    obviously these buildings are older than 1870 and I believe they actually were dated back to the middle 1850s or 1860s

  6. RD Wolff Says:

    Here’s one more anomaly on the Broadway Central,

    This view was apparently taken ca 1868 as it appears as though the upper floors of the building were not yet totally finished inside because of the haphazard way the windows up there are left open- the top sash completely down on some windows seems odd to me and not the usual position someone occupying the rooms would have their window in.

    The oddity is when you zoom in on the corner and look at what you can see with a little enhancing on the old image:

    You see an old painted sign there that clearly says “HOUSE”
    and above it you can make out “___ARGE”
    Also, notice the bricks surrounding it are a different color than those further back of the letter “H” and above, to me this is further proof that the OLD burned out LaFarge house facade was re-used- the only reason that “LaFarge house” painted sign would have been there on the new Grand Central Hotel is if it was there before- on the brick side-wall of the burned out LaFarge building.

    Here’s the picture I wanted to include previously:

    So all of this substantially proves the hotel’s facade was an added onto burned-out LaFarge facade, and goes a long way to explaining how the collapse happened- 3 more floors than it was designed to hold were added on with the construction of the hotel in 1867, damage from the fire and water, and then modern alterations all came together in 1973 to cause the collapse.

  7. Roderick Bradford Says:

    If you’re gonna use my image without my permission of “In Honor of Thomas Paine” Hall of Science from my Truth Seeker magazine. Please credit Roderick Bradford.

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