049A.jpg (81831 bytes) New York Architecture Images- Lower Manhattan



Francis Kimball of Kimball & Thompson.


71 Broadway at Rector Avenue




Neo-Classicism 2




Office Building, now apartments.




71 Broadway the Empire Building 049A.jpg (81831 bytes)




Empire Apartments/originally Empire Building.

"The entrance is a triumphant Roman ensemble."

Once the home to U.S. Steel (1901-1976), this "ornate wall… forms a backdrop to Trinity Churchyard to the north."

Broadway and Rector Street
c. 1850
John William Hill (1812 -1879)
Watercolor on paper mounted on cardboard, 14 1/2 X 20 3/4
Signed lower right: J. W. Hill, New York
Gift of Forsyth Wickes, 38.19

In the middle of the nineteenth century, New York City's residential and commercial districts were pressing ever northward along Broadway. This acutely observed mid-century watercolor captures some of the unusual juxtapositions engendered by this movement. The massive new Empire Building opened in the early 1850s to house both offices and stores (it replaced the earlier Grace Church, which by 1843 had voted to follow its parishioners who were building fine homes in the Union Square neighborhood).1 The Empire Building stood in sharp contrast to the tranquil cemetery of Trinity Church. Former New York mayor Philip Hone, an avid diarist, recorded that Grace Church had sold in 1845 for $65,000, "to be converted into stores below and the upper part into a splendid museum of Chinese curiosities." The lack of any known record substantiating these plans for the deconsecrated Grace Church suggests that they never progressed.

Located at 71 and 73 Broadway, at the corner of Rector Street (named for the succession of eighteenth-century rectors of Trinity Church who lived on the site before Grace Church was built there in 1807), the Empire Building housed several dry-goods merchants at street level and various business offices in its upper stories.2 In 1896 -1897 a newer, taller Empire Building replaced the commercial structure depicted in this view, which then received the appellation "Old Empire Building."

From the early eighteenth century forward, Trinity Church cemetery, on the corner opposite the Empire Building, had served as the final resting place of many notable Americans, including Francis Lewis, signer of the Declaration of Independence; inventor Robert Fulton; financier-statesman Alexander Hamilton; and William Bradford, founder of New York's first newspaper, The New-York Gazette.3

While the painting's composition allots equal space to the Empire Building and the graveyard, the sheer size of the new structure gives it prominence, suggesting the significance attached to a modern edifice of commerce in a city that was rapidly evolving into the center of American business enterprise. The pedestrians and vehicles along Broadway show the variety of traffic. Many elegantly attired men, women, and children saunter along the sidewalks; a more modestly dressed family (possibly visitors from the country) can be discerned at the extreme right; and two boys are seen going about their business, one (near the corner of the Trinity graveyard fence) bearing a package he may be delivering, and the other (at bottom center) apparently approaching people with something to sell. The artist may have intended to compare the old cemetery's appearance of repose with the dynamic street scene and the commercial energy typifying the modern New York Cityscape.

John William Hill, son of the engraver John Hill, was born in London and immigrated with his family to the United States at the age of seven, initially residing in Philadelphia and then moving to New York City in 1822, where he served a seven-year apprenticeship to his father. In 1828 Hill began to exhibit work at the National Academy of Design. Five years later he was elected an associate member, and he continued to exhibit fairly regularly there until 1873. He was employed as a topographical artist for the New York State Geological Survey from 1836 to 1841, after which he worked for Smith Brothers, a publishing firm, where he was employed to sketch North America's developing cities. From the mid-1850s on, Hill was greatly influenced by the tenets of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and devoted himself largely to painting from nature.4 This work, with its strong attention to tonal values and contrasts of light and dark and its acutely observed architectural detail, demonstrates the influence of his earlier experience in the employ of printmakers. To a slightly lesser extent, the same qualities inform Hill's landscape paintings.


  1  There is no known record of the Old Empire Building's designer or builder. It has little stylistic distinction, being typical of massive commercial buildings of the period.

  2  Among the office tenants in the Empire Building was financier Russell Sage (1816 -1906), who was elected to Congress in 1852 and who, with Jay Gould, later made a fortune amounting to $70 million in railroads and on Wall Street. When he died, his wife, Olivia Sage, proceeded to give most of it to various charities, including a foundation bearing his name.

   Following the 1830 ordinance prohibiting burials below Canal Street, Trinity Church opened a new cemetery at 155th Street and Riverside Drive. Among the wealthy and socially prominent church members interred there are John Jacob Astor, Clement Clark Moore, and Alfred Tennyson Dickens, son of Charles Dickens.

  4  Richard J. Koke, American Landscape and Genre Paintings in the New-York Historical Society (New York: New-York Historical Society, 1982), vol. 2, pp. 134 -135.