A Demonstration of
NEW YORK ON THE EVE OF THE CIVIL WAR EMERGES from the dusty pages of the Tribune a behemoth, protean in form, sometimes ugly and sometimes beautiful, but always endowed with an immense vitality. It was a monster that harbored in its bosom infinite hope and cynical disillusion. Baseness and greatness it knew, and its restless dynamic spewed out both shoddy values and deeply genuine achievements. Superbly wasteful, superbly confident, alike the scorn and wonder of Europeans, the great city stood as a sign and symbol of American civilization.
As New York symbolized the restless striving of the nation's spirit, so Broadway represented the very essence of New York. Charles Dickens had found the street dull. Alexander Mackay had found it fascinating and splendid. Like the city itself, this street, the epitome of magnificence and monstrosity, where vendors offered lace veils and cabbages, diamonds and human flesh, heaven and hell, challenged the admiration and excited the contempt of mankind. Its architecture symbolized its contradictions and incongruities. Here and there a chaste and stately building could be found, but these were far outbalanced by a wild and chaotic elegance of six‐ story marble facades, fantastical gables and cornices, gilded archways and brownstone fronts. Ornate and glittering gambling halls abounded. The merchandising houses of A. T. Stewart, and Lord and Taylor, positively flaunted luxury, and luxury screamed from the marble fronts of the great hotels. Haughwout's crockery establishment with its three hundred cast-iron Corinthian columns was an overpowering, if depressing, sight.
This architecture represented the crass and often brutal spirit of a materialistic civilization. But even so this civilization was not