Discover New York with Henry Hope Reed, Jr.
Excerpt from Discover New York With Henry Hope Reed, Jr.: A Series of Well-Mapped Walking Tours, Reprinted From the Pages of New York Herald Tribune We are about to enter the world of the Astors. Here, the children and grandchildren of the rich and powerful John Jacob Astor lived before they migrated to Fifth Avenue. In their day (the 1840's and 1850's), Lafayette Street was known as Lafayette Place, and it ended at Great Jones Street. It formed an oasis between the popular Bowery to the east and the commercial Broadway to the west. Not until 1904, with the construction of the East Side subway, was Lafayette Place cut south through to Prince Street to become a street. Despite changes over the years, a number of landmarks survive to recall its heyday. Our tour starts on Astor Place, just southwest of the subway station. On the site bounded by Lafayette Street, Astor Place and 8th Street, stood the Astor Place Opera House, the center of the city's music life around 1850. It was here that the Astor Place Riot broke out in May, 1849 - a battle between admirers of two great Shakespearean actors, the American Edwin Forrest and the Englishman William C. MacReady. The riot lasted three days, and was ended only through the intervention of the Seventh Regiment. South on Lafayette Street, the visitor may be astonished to come on a row of high Corinthian columns of Westchester marble. It is the extant remnant of Colonnade Row (or La Grange Terrace, as it was officially named, after the chateau of the Marquis de Lafayette). It was built in 1831 for one Seth Geer by Alexander Jackson Davis, the architect chiefly responsible for Federal Hall Memorial on Wall Street; the actual stonework (much to the annoyance of members of local building trades) was done by Sing Sing prisoners. Originally the row extended south, but five houses were destroyed to make way for what was formerly the Wanamaker warehouse. No. 432 in the row was the residence of Franklin H. Delano, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's great-uncle, who married a granddaughter of John Jacob Astor. At what would be No. 426 once stood the house of Warren Delano, the late President's maternal grandfather. Across the street at 425 Lafayette, now the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), is the old Astor Library, built under the will of the old Astor. When it opened in 1854 with 100,000 volumes, it was the largest library in the country. The presence of the library made the quarter a literary center after fashion had abandoned it in the late 1850's; Richard Watson Gilder, editor of The Century, lived for a while in Colonnade Row. The building was given up when the Astor collection was moved to the New York Public Library in the early 1900's. Just south of the library, William Backhouse Astor, son and heir of old John Jacob, had a large Greek Revival house. "The better sort have been regaled, of late, by a grand wedding. Mr. John Jacob Astor has married Miss Augusta Gibbes..." wrote Mayor Philip Hone in 1847 of the son of William Backhouse Astor. "Last evening my daughter and son went to a grand at Mr. Astor's and I also was tempted to mix once more in the splendid crowd of charming women, pretty girls and well-dressed beaux. The spacious mansion on Lafayette Place was open from cellar to garret, blazing with a thousand lights." Beyond, at 393 Lafayette, is an imposing structure - the former De Vinne Press Building. Under the aegis of Theodore Low De Vinne, printer and bibliophile (he was a founder of the Grolier Club), three of America's most important periodicals - The Century, Scribner', and St. Nicholas Magazine - were printed here. The building itself was designed by Babb, Cook & Williard in 1885, in what is now called "Roman utilitarian" style. About the Publisher Forgotten Books publishes hundreds of thousands of rare and classic books. Find more at www.forgottenbooks.com