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Queensboro Bridge: 1909

New York, 1909. The new Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge over the East River. 8x10 inch glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection. View full size.

New York, 1909. The new Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge over the East River. 8x10 inch glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection. View full size.


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The current view east on 59th Street of the Queensboro Bridge isn't as tidy as it appeared in 1909. Below is the identical perspective taken in April of 2010.

59th Street

The south side of 59th Street. Photographed from upper level of Queensboro Bridge during 100th Anniversary Celebration of the opening of the bridge.

Still Seedy After All These Years

60th Street on the other side of the bridge is home to Scores strip club. Gotta go one more block to get a little more upscale.

The pedestrian path on the upper level is gone. Bike/ped access is now on the lower level, also on the opposite side of the bridge.

The first three arches on the left house city maintenance garages, the fourth arch (blocked by the wagon with blanketed horses) is First Avenue. The next five or six arches house a supermarket with astonishing Guastavino tile ceilings and very weird acoustics, a supermarket that took 20 years to arrive because of resistance from the $utton Place community to the south and east that didn't want the neighborhood north of the bridge encroaching on its own.


I like "Rent Very Low" sign -- you don't see that much in NYC anymore.


Although the tracks in the picture might have had underground electric supply, there were cable cars in New York not far from where this picture was taken. The cars which crossed the Brooklyn Bridge were cable powered from 1883 through 1908. There were other cable car lines in New York City as well.


Fill 'er up

Those natural-gas tanks are still around. The tank will partially retract into the ground when its contents are low. As the amount of gas rises, so does the tank. The cage supports the adjustable design of the tank.

Kickin' down the cobblestones

I moved to NYC in the fall of 1986, and the first time I tried to drive over this bridge it was tied up with construction workers paving over the brickwork surface. I sat sulking in the traffic jam for a long time before I realized that those of us stuck on the bridge were seeing -- for the last time -- the cobblestones sung about by Simon and Garfunkel. And suddenly I was glad to be there.

The Bridge

It is fascinating that the south side of 59th Street overlooking the Manhattan-side bridge approach has remained the same for a century, while almonst the entire surrounding blocks have been upgraded to the nth degree. I lived only five blocks south of here in the 1960's. The very first T.G.I. Friday's saloon opened four blocks north at 63rd and First back in 1963 -- I was one of their first regular customers.

Cable Cars

Apparently the street cars were powered by cable? I did not realize that form of propulsion was in places other than San Francisco (then again I never really thought about it). Am I incorrect?

[These are electric streetcar tracks with an underground power supply. - Dave]

This is the exact location

This is the exact location of the original photo. I walk or drive past this street almost daily. It's one-way from 2nd Avenue halfway to 1st Avenue. Westbound traffic is allowed to enter only the outer roadway of the lower level of the bridge. I know, it's confusing to many in New York City too!

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Gas Lights

Are those foot pegs on the post for lighting/servicing the light?


What do you think the round cagelike structure on the left is?

[It's the framework for a gas tank. - Dave]

Junk Shop

Filled with today's valuable antiques!


Okay, you urban savants, we have a sizable smokestack rising from the middle of a sidewalk, evidently still doing its thing. Now, what and where is the source of the smoke? Suburban minds want to know.

[It's a smokestack for the Con Edison steam plant at York Avenue. - Dave]

As Is

The row of tenements on the right side is intact today. It is 59th St between First and Second Avenues on the downtown (south) side of the street. It is just as seedy looking today as it was in 1909. If you travel one block in any direction you're in a high rent district.

Still Smokin'

A lot has changed, but the old smokestack is still standing sentinel.

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Feelin' Groovy

She doesn't get as much play like her more famous sisters the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, but she's a beauty just the same. She offers one of the best views of the Manhattan skyline, too.

It's Amazing!

Given that it is 1909 it is amazing the large and heavy construction that was done. At this time I would assume it was mostly horsepower and manpower to dig the holes for the pilings, to lift the heavy beams and pour the concrete.

[They used steam-powered dredges, shovels and cranes. - Dave]

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