The Changing Face of Astor Place and Cooper Square

The Changing Face of Astor Place and Cooper Square
From the Landmark permit application for 770 Broadway

As we do every month, we just added some new historic images to the Village Preservation historic image archive from the latest Landmarks Permit Applications which we have reviewed. This round had an intriguing one of Astor Place/Cooper Square from 1925 which shows how many of the striking historic buildings remain from that time (largely thanks to landmark designation), and one that has changed quite a bit.

Cooper Square looking north from East 7th Street, 1925. From the Landmark permit application for 770 Broadway.

A similar view today, via google streetview.

Comparing the 1925 view (which seemed to be taken from the vantage point of a rooftop) to a similar view from today, we see a marvelous trio of intact historic landmarks and one which has long since disappeared. The Carl Fischer building at 56 Cooper Square on the near left was only a couple of years old when the 1925 picture was taken, and looks nearly the same today. Thankfully, it is part of the NoHo Historic District and enjoys landmarks protections.

On the right is the iconic Cooper Union Foundation Building, built 1853-1859 and designated an individual New York City landmark in 1966 — one of New York City’s first designated landmarks. In the back center of the photo is the very large Wannamakers Warehouse Building, also part of the NoHo Historic District.  However, between the Wannamaker Warehouse and the Carl Fischer Building a difference between the 1925 and the present day image (a big one, in fact) becomes apparent. In the place of what appears to be modified 19th-century row houses is a large undulating glass tower built in 2004 known as “The Sculpture for Living.” This site is just outside of the NoHo Historic District, so the design of this very large and out-of-place structure did not have the benefit of Landmarks review, which is a shame given its prominent location and proximity to the surrounding historic structures.

22-36 Astor Place.

But interestingly, the 20+ story “sculpture” did not replace the modified 19th-century rowhouses we see on the site in the 1925 photograph; in fact, the site went through many more iterations before reaching its present-day incarnation.  Apparently those 19th century buildings remained on the site at least through 1955, as indicated  by historic maps. Another photograph from Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive (part of the Jack Dowling Collection) shows the site in the late 1960s. By this time the 19th-century buildings had been demolished, and the Astor Place Luncheonette was then located on the site — a classic New York City diner. You can see the outline of the demolished 19th-century buildings which were still evident in the 1925 image on the north side of the Fischer building in the 1960s picture.

Astor Place Luncheonette and the Cooper Union Foundation Building, late 1960s.

Some time later, the luncheonette was demolished and the site was made into a parking lot.  Another picture from our Archive from our Carole Teller’s Changing New York Collection from the early 1980s shows the site during that stage.

Alamo Sculpture, mural, vendors, & musicians on Astor Place, looking south from 8th Street, between Lafayette Street and Cooper Square,  early 1980s

The Wanamakers Warehouse at 770 Broadway also features prominently in the 1925 photograph. Built in two stages in 1903-07 and 1924-25, it was designed by the Chicago based architecture firm of D.H. Burnham & Co. It was built as the annex to the original Wanamakers store to the north and connected via the “Bridge of Progress” which used to cross over 9th Street between Broadway and Fourth Avenue, as seen in yet another photo from our archive.

Bridge of Progress over 9th Street between the original Wanamakers and the Warehouse Annex, 1924, from Broadway, looking east.

Wanamakers closed in 1955, and sadly, shortly thereafter, the original Wanamakers building was lost to a fire. The annex remains intact and happily is part of the NoHo Historic District and is therefore protected.

Old photos are addictive, I think, and comparing them to the present day, illuminating. It can also make you thankful for our neighborhood protections. To see more historic photos from our neighborhood, go to Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive.  To see the latest additions to our archive like the 1925 photo, click here.  And if you want to see more historic photos of the Astor Place/Cooper Square area, or any other part of the city, just search using our historic image archive map here.

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