See Dozens of New York City Landmarks That No Longer Exist

When can you call yourself a real New Yorker?

There’s no set length of time, but some residents assert that you cross that threshold when you can walk past a block and lament the shuttered restaurant, store, or other destination you once enjoyed that used to stand there.

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Lost New York, a new exhibition on the first floor of the New-York Historical Society (NYHS), plays with New Yorkers’ memories by showcasing 90 paintings, artifacts, lithographs, and photographs of landmarks that once defined its landscape and no longer exist. 

Chief Curator Wendy Ikemoto wanted to highlight the museum’s collections, but her idea to trace the city’s history through its long-forgotten monuments came from two Richard Haas paintings depicting views of the Manhattan skyline nearly 150 years apart. One shows the Croton Reservoir, which supplied the city’s drinking water, and the New York Crystal Palace, an exhibition hall featuring the latest wonders of industry. The other painting features the New York Public Library and Bryant Park, where the reservoir and palace once stood.

“The idea of the exhibition started to crystallize when we brought in this pair of paintings with a view of the same vantage point. One is of Old New York and the other of New New York,” Ikemoto told Hyperallergic.

Longtime New Yorkers may recognize remnants of their youth. Three vibrant paintings of women shopping and lunching at the S. Klein’s department store on Union Square adorn a side wall. NYHS President Louise Mirrer, who accompanied her grandmother on afternoon shopping trips, remarked that she remembered walking by the store’s well-utilized temporary daycare center, called “Check-a-Child.”

“I often saw children playing happily in their special section of the store with benevolent oversight,” she said in a message the museum posted at the exhibition’s entrance. “It was, in my opinion, a fantastic idea, and exclusive, as far as I know, to that now-lost department store.”

Some vestiges of the city’s 400-year history remain little known. 

For instance, approximately 20,000 pigs, or one pig for every five New Yorkers, wandered Manhattan and aided sanitation efforts by eating trash off the street in the 19th century. Artist De La Prelette Wriley’s 1839 painting shows one such pig on the Bowery plodding near a woman in full-length Victorian dress, two decades before the city banned the animals south of 86th Street in 1859. 

“They weren’t feral pigs, people owned them and they sparked class warfare because they were thought to have spread disease,” Ikemoto explained. “Wealthy New Yorkers warned others to stay away from certain areas with a lot of pigs.”

And did you know the city’s first mass transit system, depicted in a William Seaman painting from 1850 called “Knickerbocker Stage Line Omnibus,” was a horse-driven carriage that ferried 12 to 28 passengers on designated routes along the city’s street grid? Walt Whitman often rode the Broadway Omnibus, from which he shouted Shakespearean passages at pedestrians, Ikemoto said. 

Other periods have been deliberately forgotten. An 1838 map of Seneca Village is one of the few visual records of an Upper West Side enclave of middle-class Black landowners that the city seized in 1857 to build Central Park. About 10% of the city’s Black population at the time lived in that neighborhood, and their eviction had lasting consequences.

“When they were evicted, they lost suffrage,” Ikemoto said. “You needed to own $250 worth of property for at least three years in order to vote, but that policy didn’t apply to White men.”

The most profound artworks evoke a sense of civic loss and show that it’s never too late to correct a mistake.

And some displays show that a good idea is never out of style. One scale model of nearly two dozen floating bathhouses with wells that the city built over the Hudson and East Rivers through the early 1940s resemble a 21st-century version of floating pools in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Jules Crow’s 1906 watercolor of Pennsylvania Station and Alexander Hatos’s 1965 photograph of its demolition harken to a half-century-long effort to rebuild the terminal in an ode to its former glory. A replica of Augusta Savage’s 16-foot-tall sculpture commemorating Black music, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was demolished at the end of the New York World’s Fair in 1939, has inspired the nonprofit organization Monumental Women to reconstruct a full-sized version.

“They were lit by gaslight so you could go swimming at night and it was seen as a public health necessity,” Ikemoto said. “The water used was river water so it was still very polluted water. I don’t think I would have swam in it.”

William Seaman, “Knickerbocker Stage Line Omnibus” (c. 1850), oil on canvas


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