Clustered

Another dramatic picture from Berenice Abbott’s “Changing New York” project, titled “Vanderbilt, From East 46th Street.” We are looking south on Vanderbilt Avenue to its end at 42nd Street. Vanderbilt’s north end is at 47th Street – the short avenue was added because Grand Central Depot (the first Grand Central) blocked Fourth (now Park) Avenue. The idea was simply to give north-south traffic a nearby outlet. Grand Central Terminal (the third and almost certainly last Grand Central) has an elevated viaduct that allows Park Avenue to continue past the building, but it is closed to trucks and obviously does not serve local traffic. So Vanderbilt’s existence continues to be justified on traffic-engineering grounds as well as the fact that it contains a number of extremely expensive buildings. Note that you can just barely make out the viaduct on the left, as a series of elevated straight-vertical street lights next to the curved street light on Vanderbilt.

The behemoth blocking the end of the avenue is the Lincoln Building at 60 East 42nd Street. If there were an award for the most forgettable very tall building, Lincoln would win. There is absolutely no connection between this building and Abraham Lincoln: it was named for the warehouse that used to be on the site, which was named for a bank, which may have been named after Lincoln. The building is 53 stories and 673 feet tall and when I look away from it I forget what it looks like. It was only five years old when Abbott took this shot, and it was part of a cluster of new skyscrapers directly around Grand Central: Lincoln, Chanin, and Chrysler right nearby, Daily News not far away. In 1935, Chrysler was the second tallest building in the world, Lincoln was eleventh, and Chanin was thirteenth; in 1930, Chrysler was the tallest, Lincoln was sixth and Chanin was seventh. Add in the buildings that were only tall (and not very tall) like Daily News, and the Grand Central cluster was an amazing event, spurred by the high land values next to the railroad terminal.

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