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July 24, 2019

History Lesson: Newspaper Row

Today, NYC’s Financial District serves as the epicenter of the city’s financial culture. The area is home to the headquarters of major institutions such as the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as well some of Manhattan’s finest museums, monuments, parks, galleries, restaurants and shops.

However, the vibrant neighborhood of Lower Manhattan wasn’t always exclusively rooted in financial prowess. In fact, during the late 19th century it was known as the heart of the city’s bustling newspaper business. A handful of the world’s most prestigious and popular publications worked and operated in the neighborhood, many on the same street. This “Newspaper Row” was the epitome of the lively and competitive culture of New York publishing.


Becoming Newspaper Row

The neighborhood of Lower Manhattan in New York experienced several transformations in the years leading up to the turn of the 20th century. At the start of the 19th century, the area was known for entertainment, attracting visitors with its taverns, theaters, music halls and small hotels. Vaudeville and variety shows were popular in the area through the mid-1800s. By that time, many European immigrants in the area had opened clothing and pawn shops to serve the clientele brought in by the successful neighboring entertainment and hotel businesses. Increased immigrant presence gave rise to anti-semitic sentiments, helping to create a culturally and politically charged environment. With its rich diversity of cultures, businesses and political sentiments, Lower Manhattan soon became the perfect grounds for growing publishing powerhouses.

By 1890, Newspaper Row was established as the forefront of Manhattan’s publishing world, with towering skyscrapers serving as the headquarters of The New York Times, The New York Tribune, The New York World and others. The construction of The New York World building was especially groundbreaking as it became the world’s tallest-building at the time of its opening in 1890 and for four-years following through 1894. The culture on Newspaper Row was highly competitive, as each organization aimed to outdo one another with headlines, newspaper sales and architecture. The New York World building, designed by George B. Post, included ceiling frescoes, embossed leather lining on the walls and a grand copper dome. Across Printing House Square stood The New York Tribune building, which was one of the first buildings in New York to have elevator service and housed a popular saloon on the ground floor.

Out on the streets, Newspaper Row was a never-ending hustle and bustle of newspaper boys and girls, journalists, businessmen and enthusiastic bystanders. The high-energy was infectious, permeating every inch of the neighborhood’s culture.


Today’s Tribute at Printing House Square

Soon after the turn of the 20th century, the big newspaper houses all moved uptown. The New York Times set-up shop in Times Square by 1903, with the rest of the newspapers following suit shortly after. The days of Newspaper Row quickly came to an end.

While there aren’t a ton of remnants left from those days, visitors can pay homage to the area’s newspaper legacy at the historical landmark, Printing House Square, located just a twenty-minute walk from The Wagner’s front steps. A statue of Benjamin Franklin holding a copy of the Pennsylvania Gazette by Ernst Plassman stands proudly in the square, a strong reminder of the neighborhood’s storied past.