Broad Street Lunch Carts, New York City

Lunch carts at the corner of Broad Street and Beaver Street, in the Financial District of New York City, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The same street corner in 2014:


Absolutely nothing from the original photo still exists today.  Well, I suppose the lunch carts might be hanging around somewhere in a museum or antique store, but nothing is still at the site today.  Even the sellers and customers are long-dead.  Francis Draz & Co., which sold wine, is gone, as is its building, and the site is now occupied by one of Manhattan’s ubiquitous Duane Read drugstores.  Out front, workers in the financial district can still grab something to eat from a street vendor, except frozen yogurt has evidently replaced 3 cent hot frankfurters (or, 2 for 5 cents!) and one cent glasses of lemonade (or 2 cents if you want yours made to order).  Above Francis Draz & Co., a “lunch room” evidently caters to those who have the luxury of sitting down for their lunch break.  On a side note, several of the 1906 lunch carts are sponsored by “Young’s Hats,” which, according to one of the least reassuring advertising slogans of all time, are “now better made.”

Fraunces Tavern, New York City

Fraunces Tavern at the corner of Broad and Pearl Streets in New York City, between 1900 and 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


After its reconstruction, around 1907-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


In 2014:


Claimed to be the oldest building in Manhattan, the building was constructed in 1719, and was used as a tavern in the second half of the 18th century and well into the 19th century.  However, the building suffered some serious fires in the mid 19th century, and was consequently reconstructed several times.  By the turn of the century, it looked nothing like its original appearance.  In fact, when it was finally “restored” in 1907, it was redesigned based on what was presumed to be colonial appearance; its actual 18th century configuration is unknown.  I don’t know how much of the original structure is left, but I would hazard a guess that it is an architectural equivalent to the ship of Theseus, with the question being, if a building has, over time, had every single part of it replaced, is it still the same building? And if not, at what point did it cease to be the same building? But, if it is the same building, what would happen if, theoretically, all of the original pieces were recovered and reconstructed, say, across the street. Which would be the “real” building? Inquiring minds want to know.

Broad Street, New York City

The view looking north on Broad Street between 1900 and 1910, with the New York Stock Exchange in the left-center. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The same street in 2014:


A few buildings from the early 1900s photo still exist today, perhaps most notably the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Hall National Memorial.  Just as it was 100 years ago, Broad Street is at the heart of the American financial industry.  In the first photo, though, there are actual financial transactions going on, right in the street.  This was the location of what was called the Curb Market, where brokers would buy and sell shares outside.  This was often the way for investors to buy shares of small companies in highly speculative markets that would not be eligible for the New York Stock Exchange.  The curb market practice of trading outside – regardless of weather – eventually ended in 1921, when the market moved to a permanent, indoor location.  However, the market itself survives today, as NYSE MKT, formerly American Stock Exchange (AMEX).

A close inspection of the first photo reveals a fascinating glimpse into everyday life a century ago.  Of course, almost all of the people visible in the photo are men, and nearly all of them are wearing identical three-piece suits, with bow ties and identical straw hats.  Many of them likely dined at Barron’s cafe and buffet lunch on the right-hand side of the photo, and perhaps purchased “Special Blank Books” from William F. Albers’s business, as advertised on the carriage in the lower right corner.  I don’t know how they got home, but they likely didn’t take the subway; New York City’s first subway line opened in 1904, but the Broad Street station visible on the far right of the 2014 photo didn’t open until 1931, by which point many of the younger curb market brokers in the photo had probably gained a fortune in the Roaring Twenties, only to lose it in the crash of 1929.

J.P. Morgan & Co., New York City

The headquarters of J.P. Morgan & Co., at 23 Wall Street, between 1900 and 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The location in 2014:


Both buildings in the photos were owned by J.P. Morgan & Co., directly across Broad Street from the New York Stock Exchange.  However, in an unusual reversal, the taller building was replaced with a much shorter building, which was completed in 1913, the same year that J.P. Morgan died.  Intentionally built only four stories high in a neighborhood surrounded by much taller buildings, it showed off the fact that the company was able to afford using such a high-value lot for such a short building.  It was the target of the September 16, 1920 Wall Street bombing; much of the interior was destroyed, and the shrapnel damage is still visible on the exterior of the building.

New York Stock Exchange

The New York Stock Exchange around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2014:


The first photo was taken right around the time that the current New York Stock Exchange building was opened, and in the intervening years the building saw the 1920 Wall Street bombing, the economic boom of the 1920s, the 1929 crash and Great Depression, all the way up to the September 11 attacks and the latest economic recession.  Today, it is still at the heart of the financial district, and it is also a major tourist site, as seen in the 2014 photo.