The blue glow of the Flatiron Building at twilight

Ephemeral New York

When the Flatiron Building opened in 1902, this graceful steel-frame skyscraper was a symbol of 20th century urban power and progress.

Two years later, pioneering photographer Edward Steichen created this photo of the Flatiron. He gave the image a blue glow during printing to make it evocative of twilight. And with the tree branches and puddles of rain in the foreground, he juxtaposed the made-made tower with powerful elements of the natural world.

“Steichen may have been drawing on his knowledge of Japanese prints, in which similar natural and built features exist harmoniously,” states this Middlebury College Museum of Art page. Japanese woodblock prints were all the rage at the time.

[Photo: Metmuseum]

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A New York public restroom out of the Gilded Age

Ephemeral New York

With its granite walls, long oval window, and decorative touches like wreaths and rosettes carved into the facade, it looks more like a temple (or a mausoleum) that a restroom.

But this Beaux-Arts little building on the north side of Bryant Park is a comfort station, as it was originally called when it was constructed along with the main New York Public Library building in 1911.

In 1922, the comfort station was moved from closer to the library (see above in a Daily News photo, when it was near Fifth Avenue) to a section of Bryant Park on the 42nd Street side.

At this location now for 96 years, it fits right in with nearby stairs, statues, and lampposts that are also straight out of the turn of the last century. And to the relief of passersby and park goers, it’s open to the public.

Even though the restroom looks…

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A Gilded Age painter’s springtime New York

Ephemeral New York

I used to think that Frederick Childe Hassam’s most evocative paintings were his moody, poetic winter scenes of turn of the century New York.

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But his Impressionist renderings of Manhattan in springtime—lush parks, rainy blue twilight, and exaggerated pastel skies—are just as striking.

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“Lower Fifth Avenue,” at top, depicts the lights and shadows of what appears to be an early spring day in 1890, warm enough to do without overcoats and for leaves to appear on fledgling trees.

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“New York is the most beautiful city in the world,” Hassam reportedly said, citing Fifth Avenue as the city’s loveliest street. “Fifth Avenue Nocturne,” from 1895, gives us sidewalks slicked with rain and illuminated by electric lights.

Union Square is an oasis of lush greenery amid the backdrop of a gray city in 1896’s “Union Square in Spring.”

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The stretch of Fifth Avenue from Madison Square to Washington Square was Hassam’s milieu…

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