Monday, November 8, 2010

Bible House and Book Row

The 1853 Bible House was the headquarters of the American Bible Society.  It occupied the full block where the Cooper Union engineering building now stands (between Astor Place and 9th Street, Third and Fourth Avenues).  It has the distinction of being the city's first cast iron-framed building, and in its day was quite the tourist attraction.

1904 view of Bible House with 4th Avenue (uptown) to the left, Astor Place (east) to the right.
During [1853] the ABS relocated from its modest Nassau Street headquarters to a grand and fashionable uptown location on Astor Place. The new five-story ‘‘Bible House’’ constituted an architectural, technological, and administrative marvel. Occupying a full city block, the cast-iron structure included a salesroom, modern printing facility, and extensive bindery. Financed by contributions from the wealthiest and most prominent Christians in New York, its completion announced the American Bible Society’s arrival as one of the most powerful and significant reform organizations in the nation. Thousands of Christian tourists annually visited the ABS, and even Mark Twain observed after an exploration of the Bible House "that I enjoyed the time more than I could possibly have done in any circus."
A ‘‘Special Collection’’ in Nineteenth-Century New York: The American Bible Society and Its Library, Peter J. Wosh and Lorraine A. Coons

A view of the Cooper Union Foundation Building, with the striking red brick of Bible House in the background (looking uptown along Cooper Square/4th Avenue)

The Bible House was primarily a publishing facility, producing tens of millions of bibles in many languages during its lifetime.  According to Christopher Gray, it was one of the magnets that brought publishers, libraries, and bookstores to the Cooper Square/4th Avenue corridor, and according to Mondlin and Meador, its pending demolition marked the beginning of the end of the "book row":
A short distance south of the Strand, the Bible House on Fourth Avenue, which over the years had been so friendly to bookshops, was scheduled for demolition, which compelled four book businesses -- Astor Place Magazine and Bookshop, Colonial Book Service, Eureka Bookshop and Leon Kramer -- to find accommodations elsewhere.

Up the street from the Bible House, the Strand and four other bookstores -- Arcadia Bookshop, Friendly Book and Music Shop, Louis Schucman, Wex's Book Shop -- confronted the same fate when the buildings on the east side of Fourth Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets were sold.

Bible House street-level scene, c. 1935, along 4th Avenue (uptown to the left)

A view from 9th Street, looking west across Third Avenue, mid-1950's.  If you look closely you can see a "Sale" sign in one of the ground floor retailers along Third Avenue--This photo was probably taken mere months before demolition of the Bible House began.
By the El, by Lawrence Stelter

From the NY Times (April 2, 1956)

The engineering building on the site of the Bible House is scheduled to be demolished and replaced by a mixed-use office and retail building.

An Interesting Artifact, the Stuyvesant Street Roadbed

The construction of the Cooper Union engineering building in the late 1950's caused a change in the route of Astor Place/Stuyvesant Street, which were once connected across Third Avenue.  As shown in the first map, c. 1911, the Bible House (in the center of the map), has minimal frontage on Third Avenue, and the line of Stuyvesant Street continues across Third Avenue to Astor Place:

Today, as we know (and according to the current NYC tax map below), Astor Place feeds into St. Marks Place and Stuyvesant Street is disconnected.  The lot populated by the engineering building (and the attached cafe) is more squared than that of the Bible House.

The extra land was acquired by Cooper Union for "academic purposes," although a look from Google shows that the main building does not sit on the land (only the cafe nee Starbucks).  The developers of the new building, Minskoff Equities, are required (so they say) to return this reclaimed roadbed in the form of a public plaza so that the line of Stuyvesant Street will be restored into Astor Place:
[The agreement with Cooper Union] called for 3,950 square feet of space roughly along the lines of the true east-west Stuyvesant St. roadbed to be a public plaza, the design of which is to be approved by City Planning.


~evilsugar25 said...

nice job! keep up the good work. i look forward to reading this blog regularly.

EV Grieve said...

I second that! Fascinating... Love it!

Jeremiah Moss said...

great stuff! i'll enjoy this blog--hope you keep it up.

Anonymous said...

The second photo is so amazing, I want to marry it. :)

Ken Mac said...

absolutely love your blog, though find the font a little hard to read! Please post often!

Anonymous said...

Great stuff. The American Bible Society relocated in 1936 to Park Avenue and is now located at 61 St and Broadway. I believe a fragment from the demolition made its way into the back room of McSorely's. It's a slab of stone, possibly a lintel with BIBLE HOUSE carved into it.

Anonymous said...

All you need to know about the neighborhood: LOWER EAST SIDE HISTORY PROJECT --