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Automobile Row: Columbus Circle and Central Park West – New York City

While viewing early images in the Library of Congress Archives this view of Columbus Circle and Central Park West was found which is a section of a larger picture. After enlarging a part of the photo above, it was found that the building in the background either appears to be a part of an “Automobile Row” or it contains at least three Automobile sales agencies.

On the far-left of the building is a Mitchell Showroom, and to the right of it the first pair of awnings do contain “Motor Car” as part of the signage. The third awning on the right is clearly above an H.C.S. Agency handling the car Harry Stutz constructed between 1920 to ’25 after selling the Stutz Motor Company in 1919 after a disagreement with stockholders.

Vehicles of interest in the street scene are, a large r.h.d. sports car behind the double-decker bus near the center of the image, this automobile has early style flat fenders and is finished off in the manor of the Simplex car. Also waiting in traffic are two horse-drawn carts, four or five black and white taxis, a number of trucks and one electric car. Automotive billboards in the background include one for “Firestone Tires” and another for the “Smith Form-a-Truck” conversion offered for the Ford Model “T.”

Just to the right of the view below in this 1921 full-sized photo of Columbus Circle is the monument for the USS Maine battleship that sank in the harbor at Havana, Cuba while protecting US interests during a Cuban revolt against Spain in 1898. The photograph by Irving Underbill is courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Tell us what you find of interest in this photo taken in New York City 95-years ago.

16 responses to “Automobile Row: Columbus Circle and Central Park West – New York City

  1. In all three pictures, parked on the left, is what looks like an electric car.

    In the 3rd photograph, in the foreground, is a motorcycle, with two riders, and with a side car carrying a third passenger.

    Irving Underhill was a well known commercial photographer.

    • Also in the 3rdpicture, center top of the photograph, is a large advertisement for “SELZNICK PICTURES” with four of its stars listed: ELAINE HAMMERSTEIN, EUGENE O’BRIEN, OWEN MOORE, and CONWAY TEARLE. Selznick Pictures was headed by Lewis J. Selznick [father of David O. Selznick].

  2. I think of those poor horses in all that traffic. It’s surprising they were still in use in 1921. I read that in 1900 before autos, at any one time, there were 1000 dead horses on NY streets, having died from over work. Horse carcass rendering was a big business in those days.

  3. I believe the site of the building with the car agencies is now one of the Trump branded properties. The buildings with the Firestone and Smith billboards on top are on Broadway. Left out of the picture today is the massive Time Warner building. Everything has changed except for the traffic levels!

  4. Estimating based upon the cars and signage in the photo, this would of course have to have been taken fairly early in the 1920s.
    Now, I don’t know New York very well at all, and I could be wrong, but I believe that the early automobile race won by Andrew L Riker in his special-built electric racer in one of the first AAA (if I recall correctly?) sanctioned races (1900 or 1901, I tried to confirm the year through google, but they seem to work at not finding what I ask for!), took place on Long Island, and including the area around Central Park. I look at all the automobiles in this photo, and think that barely more than twenty years earlier, was this historic event signalling the coming of the automobile. And in the same area. And there, almost in homage to the winning Riker Electric, is one lone electric Brougham.
    (I can’t see enough detail for me to identify the electric car, likely a Detroit Electric, but there are several others that it could be,)
    The mid 1890s into the mid 1920s were three incredible decades!

  5. I wonder what the peddlers are peddling? Do you think they needed a license to sell in 1920? Or just a payoff? (Maybe I watch too much TV.)

  6. Right had drive sports car maybe a Stutz??

    The only car I recognise is the roadster parked in front of the electric coupe – it could be a circa 1919 Buick.

  7. The window awnings are a reminder of how hot those big buildings were. Driving through traffic not much better than today, wearing a suit, smelling coal smoke and horse manure to work in a stifling hot office! Those were the days.

  8. The taxi with the oval rear window is a Ford. Ahead of that is a Ford truck. The taxi in the process of passing the horse drawn van is a Dodge Brothers. Another Ford truck is at the curb. In the next row in back of the electric car is a truck with a large rack body (AB Mack?) Note the licence plate location on the cab header.

  9. Hi-I’m looking for someone to give an informal talk on the Upper West Side on Automobile Row and the early history of NYC autos. Please get in touch if you know someone who loves NYC auto history!! Thank you!

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