This picture portrays the city of New York in the beginning of the 20th century, shown from the location of Pennsylvania Station. The author of the picture is Hughson Hawley who was born in England in 1850. He had a prodigious 50 years career that spanned one of the great eras in American architecture, from the construction of the first tall buildings in New York City until the onset of the Great Depression.
The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was a period of big changes for New York. First of all, in 1863 it took place the worst civil revolt of the North American history. When the revolt finished the rate of immigration from Europe increased and New York became the first destiny for millions of people who looked for a new and better life in the United States. In 1898 the city was divided in the five boroughs in which the city is divided nowadays. Later on, in the first half of the 20th century the city became a world center of industry, trade and communications.
In the image we can see many different elements of the city of New York like Pennsylvania Station, Time Square District with the New York Times Tower, the Hudson river, etc. We can also appreciate the characteristic town planning of the city which is regular. This plan is the most common in big cities and it is similar to the urban layout that the Greek and Roman cities had. It uses parallel and perpendicular streets in order to facilitate the flow of traffic and this is the reason why they used as a source of inspiration for the urban extension of the cities during the industrial revolution in the 19th century.
In the foreground we can see the Hudson river passing through the city. This river starts in the Adirondack Mountains and reachs the Atlantic Ocean at New York, establishing the fringe between the states of New York and New Jersey. In the top of the picture the Time Square District is situated. It was the center of entertainment industry due to all the construction that took place in that area during this century, as cinemas, theatres, luxury hotels, etc. Nowadays Time Square is still one of the most important economical areas of New York. Inside Time Square District, the New York Time Tower is located. That tower was the second highest building of New York in that period with 110 meters of height; the arrival of the New Year was announced on it every 31st of December. It was used by the company of the newspaper The New York Times till 1913 when the diary inaugurated a new block of offices, leaving the New York Time Tower in a second place. However it is one of the most important buildings of that period and one of the first skyscrapers built in New York.
In the bottom left corner we can find Pennsylvania Station, as it looked in that period. That station received a lot of passengers that came from the other side of the Hudson river. The original Pennsylvania Station in New York City was a vast structure that occupied two whole city blocks. Inside the station there were enormous corridors with big vaults of iron covering the routes and accesses to the platforms, monumental stairs, an immense hall built as the frigidarium of the roman thermal baths, columns of Corinthian style and large windows at the top of the building. The boundaries surrounding the structure were 31st and 34th Streets, between 7th and 8th Avenues. It was designed by the architect “Charles McKim” in 1910. Afterwards, around the 1960, it was leveled, and replaced by Madison Square Garden, due to the economical problems that the architect had. The demolition of this building was an important loss for the architecture of New York.
Paula Martínez Feito