Rediscovering New York's Vanished Landmarks: Reflecting on the City's Lost Treasures


New York City is a living tapestry woven with threads of the past, present, and future.  While iconic skyscrapers and bustling avenues define the modern cityscape, there’s another layer to the Big Apple – a layer of forgotten landmarks, remnants of a bygone era.  The New York Historical Society’s “Lost New York” exhibit takes us on a poignant journey through these vanished treasures. Take a trip down memory lane with these 10 glimpses into the city's past.

1. The Original Penn Station (1903-1963): 

Nicknamed the “Cathedral of Commerce,” this Beaux-Arts masterpiece boasted soaring ceilings, intricate mosaics, and a majestic waiting room.  Hailed as a “temple to transportation,” it was tragically demolished in the 1960s to make way for Madison Square Garden, a decision many New Yorkers still lament.

2. The Singer Building (1908-1968): 

Once the city’s tallest skyscraper, dwarfing even the Flatiron Building, the Singer Building stood proudly at the tip of Manhattan. Its architectural marvel was the ornate 60-story tower, topped by a clock face that could be seen for miles. Sadly, the building’s grandeur wasn’t enough to save it from the wrecking ball in 1968, when it was replaced by the more modern One Liberty Plaza.

3. The Croton Reservoir (1842-1954):  

This massive reservoir, spanning from 42nd to 56th Streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, wasn’t just a source of the city’s drinking water.  It was also a popular recreational spot, with New Yorkers enjoying ice skating in the winter and boat rides in the summer.  Today, the reservoir is buried beneath the verdant expanse of Bryant Park, a testament to the city’s ever-changing landscape.

4. The New York Crystal Palace (1853-1858):  

This extravagant exhibition hall in what is now Midtown Manhattan rivaled London’s Crystal Palace.  A marvel of iron and glass, it showcased the wonders of the Industrial Age, from the latest inventions to exotic plants and animals.  Sadly, a disastrous fire in 1858 ended its short but dazzling life.

5. The Polo Grounds (1880-1964):  

This legendary baseball stadium in Upper Manhattan was home to the New York Giants and Yankees and witnessed countless historic moments. Babe Ruth’s “called shot” during the 1927 World Series occurred here. Despite its rich history, the Polo Grounds fell victim to urban renewal in the 1960s and was demolished to make way for housing projects.

6. The High Line (1934-1980):  

Imagine a freight train snaking its way through the heart of Manhattan, 30 feet above the bustling streets below.  That was the High Line, a vital part of the city’s industrial network for nearly a century.  After its abandonment in the 1980s, the elevated tracks were slated for demolition.  Thankfully, a visionary group saw its potential and spearheaded a transformation project.  Today, the High Line is a beloved public park, a lush green oasis offering stunning views and a unique city perspective.

7. The RKO Roxy Theatre (1927-1960):  

Picture a lavish movie palace on 5th Avenue, a beacon of art deco glamour.  The RKO Roxy Theatre was precisely that, a place where New Yorkers could immerse themselves in the magic of Hollywood premieres and live stage shows.  The Roxy boasted a luxurious interior with a starry night sky ceiling and a massive Wurlitzer organ.  The rise of television and changing entertainment tastes led to the theater’s decline, which was demolished in 1960.  Today, a bronze Atlas statue, salvaged from the theater, stands sentinel outside Rockefeller Center, a silent reminder of the Roxy’s grandeur.

8. The Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal (1903-1981):  

For generations, the Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal served as the grand gateway to Staten Island.  This Beaux-Arts ferry terminal, with its grand waiting room and clock tower, offered a dramatic departure point for New Yorkers heading to the borough across the harbor.  However, by the late 20th century, the terminal was deemed outdated.  The more useful St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island eventually replaced it.

9. The Third Avenue El (1877-1955):  

The “El,” as New Yorkers affectionately called it, was a noisy, rattling elevated train line that rumbled along Third Avenue for nearly eight decades.  While it provided a convenient mode of transportation, the El also cast long shadows, blocking sunlight and creating a gloomy atmosphere for street life below.  Community complaints and the rise of the subway ultimately led to the El’s demise.  Today, only remnants of the iron structure remain, scattered throughout the city as a reminder of this unique form of urban transportation.

10. The Dakota Stables (1885-2006):  

Central Park South wasn’t always lined with luxury high-rises.  For over a century, the Dakota Stables stood proudly on the corner of West 72nd Street, a grand brick structure housing the carriages of the city’s wealthy elite.  The stables were a testament to the era of horse-drawn transportation and the opulent lifestyles of New York’s upper class.  However, as automobiles became more prevalent, the need for the stables dwindled.  The building was eventually demolished in 2006 to create a new residential development.


These are just a glimpse of the many fascinating lost landmarks that have shaped New York City’s history.  Their stories offer a window into the city’s evolution, from its industrial past to its cultural vibrancy.  The next time you’re exploring the city’s bustling streets or serene parks, take a moment to imagine these forgotten giants and the vibrant lives they once witnessed.  While they may be gone, their legacy lives on, reminding us of the impermanence and constant transformation that is a hallmark of New York City.  So, watch for hidden details, architectural remnants, or historical markers – they might be whispers from the city’s fascinating past.


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