This 2.5-hour walking tour meets on the steps of the Public Theater in Astor Place, across from Colonnade Row and what was the highest end residential block in the country in the 1830s, the resides of Astors, Delanos and Roosevelts. We end at the Civic Center, and the old Five Points neighborhood of "Gangs of New York" fame, the most notorious slum in New York City's history.
And going from the upper class residential precinct of today's Astor Place to the miserable wretchedness of the Five Points was a top request of tourists in the 1830s, 40s and 50s. And that walk would take them straight through the city center of that day, when the finest shops, theaters, and hotels were arranged along this part of Broadway when it was a historical tether between these most estranged locales.
Start the tour on the steps of what was in 1848 the Astor Library, directly across from the closest thing we have to ruins in Manhattan: Colonnade Row (aka La Grange), the first homes in the country with indoor plumbing. They were built by John Jacob Astor on the site of an earlier pleasure garden he also owned, with spectacular views of the river. The incredibly rich history of this high ground spot along the Bowery is laid out in detail.
Then head down Broadway. One of the more interesting aspects of this tour is its simplicity--it's a walk with almost no turns.
And the history along Noho and Soho is made crystal clear. This mile-and-a-half stretch of Broadway has buildings from different eras, of different construction and architecture. Fine shops, theaters and museums would move away, and manufacturing and industry would move in. Cast iron would be supplanted with steel frame. The history is standing in the street, and the tour is also a lesson in "decoding" the street walls and making sense of a city the author James Baldwin called "spitefully incoherent".
End in the basin-shaped area of the Civic Center and Foley Square: The tour is a pleasant walk virtually all downhill, which is an insightful' testament to the role geography played in the city's pre-grid history.
The detailed images that accompany this tour bring the history into sharp focus, and especially when it comes to the Five Points and Mulberry Bend brought back to life in all of their' misery and suffering. From sunshine to shadow, recreate the most requested walking tour of 1840's New York City!