Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present

By Bayrd Still | Go to book overview

10. THE MATURING METROPOLIS: WORLD CAPITAL

THERE IS AN ELEMENT of anticlimax in contemporary descriptions of New York City in the sober and unsettling years between 1930 and 1950. The effects of depression and war reduced both the physical glamor and the prestige and self-confidence of the glittering giant of the twenties. Only at the mid-century, when an economic upswing prompted large-scale new construction, and the location of the United Nations in the metropolis underlined New York's position as a world capital, did the city's dynamism exert again its customary spell. 1

The impact of the depression engrossed the attention of commentators of the thirties, especially between 1931 and 1935. Queues of unemployed; men, obviously of good background, selling apples at the street corners; the destitute sleeping in Central Park--sights such as these convinced European visitors that reputedly invincible New York had been harder hit by the crisis than many parts of Europe. They noted the seeming paralysis at the wharves, the stores for rent and sales at broad reductions, the half-empty skyscrapers-- "tombstones of capitalism . . . with windows," as one observer wrote, referring to the R.C.A. Building which was rising skyward in the thirties. On a Saturday night in 1931, a French visitor counted less than 300 spectators at the Roxy theatre, where "a year ago . . . it was necessary to stand in line an hour" for one of its 3,000 seats. 2

New York's reaction to the depression, as observed by contemporaries, revealed the city, as always, to be a "sounding board for extremes." In some quarters optimism died hard; for many New Yorkers could not believe that "the age of gold" was past. On the other hand, numerous young intellectuals were "going over to Communism," responsible English observers reported. Books on radical subjects were prominently displayed, "even on Fifth Avenue"; and visitors listened to talk of proletarian revolution at Union Square. In Ivan Kashkin's New York, an anthology of vignettes depicting the sordid side of Manhattan published in Moscow in 1933, the

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Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Illustrations xiii
  • Excerpts from Contemporary Descriptions xv
  • 1. When New York Was New Amsterdam 3
  • 2. New W York Under British Rule 15
  • 3. Resistance, Revolution, and Reconstruction (1765-1789) 37
  • 4. New York in the Early National Period 54
  • 6. a Bustling City (1845-1860) 125
  • 7. New York in the Sixties 167
  • 8. the Emergence of the Modern City (1870-1900) 205
  • 9. the Golden Generation (1900-1930) 257
  • 10. the Maturing Metropolis: World Capital 300
  • Notes 341
  • Bibliography 373
  • Index 401
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