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TRAVEL where we may, in the New or in the Old World, we shall not find as long, lively, and rich a street as the famous Broadway of
New York. The Italian Boulevard of Paris, and the Regent Street of London, surpass it in breadth, but the American thoroughfare outstretches its European rivals in length, and leaves them miles in the rear. New York even has many an avenue of greater width, and its main street is consequently not entitled to the distinctive appellation of Broadway. Longway, it should be rather called.
When the city of New York shall have filled up with its various structures the whole island of Manhattan, of which it now occupies so large a part, its Broadway, stretching from one end to the other, will have the length of about twelve miles. It has already reached its sixth, and bids fair, at the present rate of progress of the city, soon to complete its twelfth mile.
The course of Broadway, after leaving the older and more populous portion of the city, becomes somewhat erratic. At its commencement, directed by the surveyor's eye, it was made to divide the town into tolerably equal portions; but stretching in length, it came upon an old country thoroughfare (the Bloomingdale Road), and assumed its more irregular ways for its own. Thus Broadway, after running from south to north for three or four miles through the centre of the island city, turns diagonally to the left, and finally skirts its western border close to the Hudson River. Though Broadway will always, wheresoever it may be, retain no doubt its prestige, it will be forced, in the upper parts of the city, to divide its honours with the newer and more central avenues. For the present, however, it is everywhere facile
The highest number of all the houses of Broadway is 1516, but the street possesses many scattered structures beyond, and, with its pavement and gas-lamps, has the aspect, more or less, for the distance of several miles, of a city thoroughfare.
Broadway has been so called ever since the English took possession of New York in the year 1664. Their Dutch predecessors had already given the road which led into the interior from their little settlement of odd, staircase, gabled structures, grouped about the shore of the southern tip of the island, the name of Heere Strass or Heere Wegh. This, which literally means high street or highway, was freely translated by the English colonists into Broadway. In colonial times a small portion only of the present great thoroughfare was included within the precincts of the city. As late even as the year 1700 the walls stretched across Broadway at Wall Street, and thence its name, only a few hundred yards from its commencement. Within was the
city proper; without was the country, divided into various farms or plantations, as they were called. The first proprietors of these, after the native Indians, were some favoured Hollanders, to whom they had been granted by the Dutch Government. In the names of some of the streets which intersect Broadway, as, for example, Courtlandt and Dey, there still exists a record of these early possessors of the adjacent land.
Broadway owes its first introduction to genteel society, to one Captain Archibald Kennedy, of the British Navy, collector of the port of New York, and afterwards Earl of Carsilis of the Scotch peerage. This gentleman, confident in his own claims to gentility, did not hesitate to take the initiation of building himself a house on Broadway, and thus give the hitherto scorned street a recognition among the best society. The captain, having bought and demolished the tavern long kept by old Pieter Kocks, a Dutchman, raised upon its site an imposing structure of brick imported from Europe. This, which still exists, is No. 1 of the whole number of fifteen hundred and sixteen houses of the present Broadway.
Architecturally, as far as its public buildings are concerned, Broadway may not be entitled to rank high; but for shops, warehouses, and the various structures for business of all kinds, it is not equalled by any street in the world. Government has done but little, as yet, for the great thoroughfare, and in that little it has been greatly surpassed by what has been accomplished by private persons. The City Hall, in the Park, is a sham inadequate structure, with a veneered front of marble looking to the lower part of the city, and its back, painted or whitewashed, turned towards the upper. It thus faces about one-tenth of Broadway, and uncivilly turns tail upon the remaining nine-tenths. of that dignified thoroughfare. The municipality, however, in raising the structure, and giving it its present altitude, is acquitted of any unmannerly design. The short-sighted eyes of the town-councillors of these times were not in the habit of looking further than their noses, and according, seeing only the little village which lay within their view, did not look far enough into futurity to catch a glance at the great city within ours.
Besides the City Hall, there is no other completed government building in Broadway. There is, however, in progress of construction, a court-house of marble, which, if ever finished, will be an imposing affair, though it should have presented its front, instead of one of its ends, as it does, to the great street.
Private enterprise has fortunately more than made up for all the shortcomings of the municipal government, and beautified Broadway with long rows of imposing structures. There are churches, theatres, banks, hotels, warehouses, and shops, of every variety of style and material, all of which have been built at the cost of private individuals. This cost, moreover, has been something enormous, beyond, it is believed, that of any buildings for similar purposes in London, Paris, or any other part of the world.
With the large and rapid increase of the population of New York, which in 1830 counted only two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, and now counts a million, and with the great increase of its commerce and trade, the importance of Broadway, which is the chief thoroughfare of the city, has proportionately augmented. The prices of choice building sites have reached a height which would have appeared marvellous to our New York fathers, and will be hardly believed by our London and Parisian contemporaries.
Lots on Broadway bought, scarcely two hundred years ago, from the native Indian, for a handful of wampum, or a string of beads; from hard-headed Dutchmen and prudent Englishmen, in colonial times, for a score or two of pounds; and from sharp Yankees in our own days for a few thousand dollars, are now worth half a million or The proprietor of the "New York Herald" paid for a lot, about fifty feet in width, and a hundred in length, the sum of 750,000 dollars, of which amount 250,000 dollars were paid to Barnum, the celebrated showman, for the lease he held, and raised upon it a structure of white marble, which is said to have cost at least 300,000 dollars. The piece of ground next to the "Herald building, one hundred feet in length and fifty-six feet in width, was purchased by a New York insurance company for 350,000 dollars, and upon it they are constructing an edifice which will cost 800,000 dollars. A thin slice of land, only four feet in width, and a hundred feet in length, lately brought the large sum of 75,000 dollars. The lease-mark it, the lease only-of another Broadway lot was but a few days since sold for 200,000 dollars, although within the last ten years the same lease had exchanged hands at the comparatively insignificant price of 25,000 dollars. A merchant built a warehouse which, with the ground, cost him 400,000 dollars; its value is now estimated at 800,000 dollars. A bookseller bought, some ten years ago, the Society Library building in Broadway for 150,000 dollars, and a few months since sold the lot, after the building was burned down, for 450,000
dollars. The purchasers are raising upon it a structure which is to cost a million.
Rents have, of course, become proportionately high, and fifty, or even sixty thousand dollars is no uncommon price for a year's hire of a Broadway store. The writer knows two young orphan girls who inherited three Broadway stores, from which they derive a yearly income of one hundred thousand dollars.
Many of the shops and warehouses, or stores, as they are called in the United States, are as sightly as such structures can be made. Some of them are built of a marble of as pure a white as that of Carrara, hewn from the quarries of Westchater, within a convenient distance of the city. Where the ground is of so high a value, it has been necessary, of course, to economise space. The lots accordingly are very narrow, and the buildings, for the most part, are of little width, but exceedingly deep and lofty. Many of them start some two or three stories down below the ground, and rise five, six, seven, and even eight stories above. These subterranean compartments, by careful construction, the skilful use of cement, and the ingenious contrivance of the side walks of iron and glass which roof them, are rendered as dry, light, and habitable as the stories above ground. In fact, much of the most important business of Broadway is carried on far below the footsteps of the pedestrian and the rumbling wheels of cart and carriage, for these underground apartments often extend under the whole street.
A fastidious taste might object to the architectural style of many of the Broadway structures, which are often unnecessarily loaded with ornament, and deficient in lightness and grace of proportion. For convenience and adaptation to its special purpose, however, the modern Broadway store is unequalled. It is generally in the form of a long parallelogram, with its stories ranging regularly one above the other, and communicating by staircases at the sides. It is ordinarily perfectly lighted by long windows in front, but principally by skylights in the roof. It is provided with every possible convenience in the way of safety vaults, water contrivances, iron shutters, and all the necessaries for safety and use. The Americans have certainly a genius for what may be called domestic architecture, the internal construction of shops, houses, and steamboats. If they have still something to learn from the Old World in the aesthetics of building, they in turn have much to teach in the practical.
It is evident from the long zig-zag line of the Broadway roofs, in