Have you ever wondered what New York City was like during the 1890s or 1900s ? As it turns out, the thriving metropolis was similar to how we view it today: bustling, save for the trolleys and droves of people wearing Victorian attire. Recently, Thrillist posted a video by Yestervid with clips containing what could be the oldest surviving film footage of New York City. At 8 minutes and 29 seconds, the video includes 28 clips that were combined together and reveal some of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. A map was added to the video to show the exact locations in the clip. Some landmarks such as The New York Public Library, The Statue of Liberty, the Flatiron Building, and the Washington Square Arch date as far back as the 1890s. Here are some fun facts about some of the landmarks shown in the clip above:
In 1903, the New York Times building, now One Times Square (the emptiest but most profitable building in Midtown) was built. But still by 1905, low-rise, walk-up buildings still existed in Times Square. They housed neighborhood businesses like tailors, clothiers and a dentist, as well as services related to the horse and carriage industry. Packard Motors was headquartered here until it moved to the Columbus Circle area in 1907.
See the evolution of Times Square in vintage photographs from 1898 to now.
We previously showcased this video from inside the IRT subway line in 1905, a few months after the opening. In the video, the subway travels from 14th Street to 42nd Street which ran at the time between City Hall and 145th Street. According to France’s Le Monde (translated) ” To shoot this trip, a camera was installed in front of a subway train, itself responsible for following another car located a few meters ahead. The device also includes an engine, running on a parallel track, built specifically to illuminate the tunnels between stations.”
A commenter on the YouTube video takes notice of “how short the station platforms were.” Indeed, the beautiful City Hall Subway Station, the “jewel in the crown,” had only a 400 foot platform. The curvature of the platform could not accommodate the longer trains we see today without extensive renovations, so the station was decommissioned in 1945.
In 1903, the Wiliamsburg Bridge would have had trolley tracks. The streetcars travelled into an underground terminal in Manhattan underneath the intersection of Delancey Street and Essex Street. The underground terminal is currently abandoned; however, this terminal may be converted into a public space that will be called The Lowline. See 10 more fun facts about the Williamsburg Bridge.
The Flatiron Building, originally named the Fuller Building after its main tenant, caused windy conditions at street level. This video clip shows men losing their hats (but probably more notable were the women whose skirts flipped up and the riff raff who gathered to watch this occurrence). Read about 10 fun secrets of the Flatiron Building.
Roosevelt Island was once known as Blackwell’s Island, and filled with “undesirable” populations, with prisons, a smallpox hospital and more. Shown in this video is the James Renwick designed lighthouse, that still stands today.
In 1903, the base foundations of the Queensboro Bridge had been laid. Check out more photograph of this and other NYC bridges under construction
In this view of Lower Manhattan, the approximate site of the World Trade Center site is located in the video. Later it would become home to Radio Row, a thriving electronics district, demolished for the construction of the original World Trade Center. See the changing coastline of the World Trade Center site in maps.
Shown here is Castle Clinton, which used to be an island in the water. Landfill brought into the Battery Park, as you can see here in 1903. See what it looked like on the original 1811 Commissioners Map of New York City that outlined the street grid.
Another photo of the Flatiron Building from Madison Square Park. Below on 23rd Street, wind picks up the skirt of a girl in Victorian dress:
Pictured here is the second Madison Square Garden, designed by Stanford White, where he was later shot and killed on the rooftop. See all the prior incarnations of Madison Square Garden in photographs.
High Bridge, currently under renovation, is the oldest bridge in NYC still standing. It was built in the style of an aqueduct and actually carried water to the city until 1917. It’s really a stone arch bridge from 1848 with a steel arch added in 1927.
In 1902, downtown on Lower Broadway looks built up but many of the buildings would be demolished and replaced later by even larger skyscrapers. What has remained constant is Trinity Church and cemetery, in the left of the scene.
The Star Theatre, formerly Wallack’s Theatre, on 13th Street and Broadway opened in 1861. The theatre was reknown for its productions, with theater greats on the bill. The area at the time was a stronghold for entertainment, but the industry moved uptown within a few decades. In 1901, the Star Theatre was demolished and the process recorded in a timelapse film.
This 1899 film shows the temporary Dewey Arch, built to commemorate George Dewey’s victory over the Spanish at Manila Bay. It was just one of several temporary arches that went up here over the years. See photos of the others here.
This scene is from the earliest known footage of New York City, from 1896.
Herald Square had its beginnings in 1846, when the city acquired the area for the extension of Bloomingdale Road, now Broadway. Its name comes from an architecturally distinctive building that once sat at the intersection of Broadway and Sixth Avenue: The New York Herald Building.