Seeing The Future From A Balloon

by Don Friedman on November 12, 2017

That’s a view looking north over the southern tip of Manhattan, taken from a balloon, in 1906. The cluster of skyscrapers is centered on Wall Street and Broadway. The oval park midway up and towards the left side is Bowling Green, at the foot of Broadway.

This view brings home the mixed-use aspect of the area past 1900. The three easternmost strips of blocks, between South Street (on the East River, at the right) and Front Street, Front and Water Street*, and Water and Pearl Street** (the irregular diagonal that has the easternmost tall building midway up towards the right) are all covered with mid-1800s low-rise industrial buildings serving the industrial use of the docks. A similar pattern is visible along the Hudson, from West Street to Washington Street and from Washington to Greenwich Street. More than half of the land area below Wall is devoted to (literally) low-rent industrial and semi-industrial use.

That cluster of skyscrapers shows what will happen in the future. The big buildings are worth more than small ones on the same pieces of land, so as demand for office space increases through the twentieth century, the low-rises will be demolished for skyscrapers, until we reach where we are today, with both Bowling Green and Jeanette Park*** surrounded.

* Not yet widened into a major thoroughfare.

** The original shoreline before landfill.

*** The trapezoidal park adjacent to the East River.

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