Over the past 200 years, Broadway was the center stage for many that came to make their fortunes in the big city. Foundations for the world’s second Virgin Hotel, part of billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, are underway at 1205, 1225, and 1227 Broadway, between West 29th and West 30th streets. The site’s relevance in the city’s history is rooted deeper than the new skyscraper’s supports. Before it housed the three 1920s office and retail buildings that graced the site until 2015, the block was home to a prominent theater row, a theater-museum built by John Banvard, once the world’s richest and most famous artist, and a number of other ventures worthy of remembrance and commemoration, undertaken by the gritty and relentlessly driven people that give New York its signature flair and energy.
As befitting one of the planet’s key engines of economic and cultural motion, New York City exists in a state of constant change. This is particularly true for the city’s older, centrally located neighborhoods, such as TriBeCa. Over the past two centuries, its western portion along West Street has been repeatedly transformed beyond recognition, particularly by the 1960s urban renewal program that completely cleared dozens of formerly-vibrant blocks. But even there, a 32-year building life span is short by any measure.
Not everything happening on or near Billionaires’ Row is supertall. Some of it is supersmall, relatively speaking. Two months ago, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the restoration and renovation of an individual landmark in the midst of the coming towers. That gives us the perfect opportunity to tell you a little bit about Engine Company No. 23.
The year 2015 marked the near-complete demolition of Times Square’s second oldest structure. The Columbia Amusement Co. Building, which opened at Times Square’s northeast corner on West 47th Street in January 1910. 701 7th Avenue was known by a variety of names during its century-long life span. Like the slightly older yet much more famous One Times Square at the opposite end of the square, the building engaged in the neighborhood’s classic disappearing act, where giant billboards seen by millions made their renovation-scarred hosts all but invisible. But behind the ads, standing on a 16,000-square-foot lot, was a building with a history as dramatic and diverse as that of the famous square on which it stood.
The single-purpose commercial district is a staple of the city’s urban patchwork, whether it is the Diamond District at 47th Street and Fifth Avenue in Midtown, the Lighting District along the Bowery, or the former Radio Row in Lower Manhattan. Among these spaces, the Flower District in Midtown South is among the most unique. The concrete jungle meets the green jungle on sidewalks lined with rows of flowers and shrubbery. Yet while the District has been around for over a century, ongoing transformations are shaking its identity to the core.