By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
THEN: Once the most fashionable high-end residential neighborhood in the rapidly expanding metropolis, lower Fifth Avenue was home to wealthy and influential residents who fought to improve the military parade grounds built over the potter’s field burial grounds. On the far left of this archival panoramic photo from the turn of the 19th century, we see the Stanford White-designed marble Washington Arch in Washington Square. Marching up the street from Washington Square north along the west side of Fifth Avenue, single family townhouses dominate. Miss S. R. Rhinelander resided at #2 Fifth Avenue, with its backyard also fronting the avenue, then F. Spencer Witherbee at #4, Lispenard Stewart at #6, and Pierre Mali at #8 completed the block. Crossing 8th Street with the trolley car coming up from Sixth Avenue, the Edison Company had its offices at #10 on the corner, while an apartment house was adjacent at #12. Finally, #14 is a townhouse off the right of the photo. While Fifth Avenue was mainly residential, 8th Street looks to be built up with commercial and residential mixed in, above. Photo Credit: NY Public Library Archives
NOW: Replicating the panoramic shot today shows what is lost and what has been retained, starting with the Washington Arch at the well-maintained Washington Square Park, now closed to vehicular traffic. Number 2 Fifth Avenue is now a luxury apartment block that has replaced Miss Rhinelander’s home and yard, as well as her neighbors’, up to Mr. Mali’s at #8 Fifth Avenue. 8th Street retains many of its older buildings. The buildings at #10, #12 and #14 Fifth Avenue remain in a somewhat altered state, now sporting commercial establishments on the ground floor. Photo credit: Brian Pape.
Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP, is an architectural consultant in private practice, serves on Community Board 2 in Manhattan, and is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee.