3. 43rd Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan – The Draft Office Riots


The stark skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan, functional, unornamented towers of glass, steel and concrete, can be loosely grouped under the heading International Style, which grew out of modernist design movements like Bauhaus (a list of the most stylish International Style buildings in New York can be found here). In 1863, before the skyscraper was even an architect’s pipe dream, 43rd street and Fifth Avenue was occupied by what was then a novel edifice: a draft office.

Until July 11th of 1863, the Union Army was a full volunteer force. That Saturday, the names of the first 1200 conscripts were announced; two days later, the draft office was smashed by an organized mob. Poor white immigrants, already smarting under the economic effects of the Emancipation Proclamation–the recently freed slaves competed with them for jobs–did not want to fight in a war they did not consider their own. Mobs roamed the streets, murdering and killing at will. By the time the police had retaken the city four days later, perhaps 2000 people had died.