A Change In Perspective

by Don Friedman on May 17, 2017


That’s “The Rush Hour, New York City” by Colin Campbell Cooper, painted in 1906. The view is south, across the northeastern tip of City Hall Park. The tall tower on the right is the Park Row Building, the two buildings flanking the narrow street in the center are the old New York Times building on the right and the American Tract Society building on the left, the tall building with the dome is the Pulitzer building, home of the New York World newspaper, and the spire in front of the Tract Society is the Tribune building. The intersection of Park Row (the street cutting across left to right that nearly all of these buildings face), Nassau Street (the narrow street), and Spruce Street (the short end of the Times building) was known as Printing House Square for the newspapers surrounding it.

The title of the painting is illustrated by the mob of people in the foreground. The four kiosks in the lower right are entrances to the Interborough Rapid Transit Subway, which opened only two years earlier. Those entrances are still there, without the kiosks, leading to the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall station on the 4/5/6/J. The pedestrian bridge on the left with the inverted-V stairs ran over Park Row and allowed commuters easy access to the Brooklyn Bridge railroad station, where elevated trains terminated after crossing Brooklyn and the bridge. Here’s a less romantic view of that station, looking north and east.

To us, this painting is a view of old New York, picturesque and almost homey. In 1906, it was a celebration of the power of modern technology – the new skyscrapers, the Brooklyn Bridge itself (only twenty years old), the brand-new subway – in the American Impressionist style that was then stylish and modern. Both perspectives are accurate, just not at the same time.

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