Always Obscure and Now Long Gone

There are times I feel like Berenice Abbott was trying to make it hard to figure out some of the photos from her “Changing New York” project. The 1936 picture above is titled “Manhattan Skyline: I, South Street and Jones Lane”. There are a number of famous skyscrapers in the photo, including my downtown favorite 70 Pine Street as the tallest thing in the shot. But…Jones Lane? I’ve never hard of it. And combined with that, the angle of this shot is very peculiar. If she was standing on South Street, which is the street that runs along the Manhattan waterfront of the East River, then why does it abruptly end at some old loft buildings and what are the buildings to the left of the street?

The trick is to line up the buildings you know. The spire with the hip roof at the center of the photo is 40 Wall Street, the asymmetrical white wedding cake is 99 (or 101, as its been renamed) Wall Street, and the building on the far right is 120 Wall Street. We’re not looking down South Street: we’re on a pier, out in the river and looking west to South Street. As for Jones Lane, there’s a person on a bicycle in the pier. Just to their right is a dark gap between two of the old buildings. That is Jones Lane. Here’s a 1930 map:

Abbott must have been on pier 11, which is pretty much in line with Jones Lane. The wide street marked “ST.” on the right is Wall. Jones isn’t the only old remnant to make it this far into the twentieth century: note Cuylers Alley on the left. Also, the “tunnel to Clark St. Brooklyn” is the IRT subway – the 2 and 3 trains – turning east after the station at Wall Street and William Street.

Jones Street was wiped out – “demapped” in the official jargon – for the construction of a large building at 111 Wall Street in the mid-1960s. 111 Wall covers the entire area between South Street, Front Street, Wall Street and Gouverneur Lane. Pier 11 was rebuilt a few years ago as the lower Manhattan terminal for the East River ferries.

The businesses Wall Rope Works and McMillan Tackle Blocks were remnants of the then-dying shipping along the South Street docks. The large building at the lower left, with the very large chimney that could be mistaken for an unusually slender and windowless skyscraper, is the United States Assay Office. The Assay Office had been further up Wall for a long time, next door to Federal Hall; the new building was constructed on South Street in 1930. In the map above, the buildings on block 35 that are white rather than pink represent the old loft buildings demolished for the Assay site. The first pink building to the right of that site is Wall Rope; McMillan is the left-most building on the narrow block between Gouverneur Lane and Jones Lane. The US Mint closed the New York Assay Office in 1980, a victim of the lessened importance of gold in international finance; the building was replaced by a high-rise in 1983.

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