The Destruction of Lower Manhattan by Danny Lyon

In 1966 and 1967, Danny Lyon documented the demolition of hundreds of buildings to make way for the construction of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. In addition to photographing the buildings and their interiors, Lyon also made portraits of the housewreckers and the sanitation workers of the New York City Department of Urban Renewal.

Beekman Street and the Brooklyn Bridge Southwest Project Demolition Site

The passing of the buildings was for me a great event. It didn’t matter so much whether they were of architectural importance. What mattered to me was that they were about to be destroyed. Whole blocks would disappear. An entire neighborhood. Its few last lost occupying tenants were being evicted, and no place like it would ever be built again. The streets involved were among the oldest in New York and when sections of some were closed by the barriers of the demolition men, it meant they would never be opened again. Sections of William Street and Beekman Street were removed which were laid out before the 19th century. In 1967 over sixty acres of buildings of Lower Manhattan were demolished.

–Danny Lyon, The Destruction of Lower Manhattan (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1969)

Danny Lyon, 100 Gold Street seen from the remains of the Tribune Building. Built as an experiment in 1926, 100 Gold has provided offices for both the FBI and New York Traffic Commissioner Barnes. It was the first reinforced concrete structure of its height built and demolished in New York, 1967 (2012.89.4)

Danny Lyon, View through the rear wall, 89 Beekman Street (2010.116.33)

Danny Lyon, Children’s room with broken balloons, 18 Spruce Street, 1967 (2010.116.24)

The West Side: Washington Market and West Street

The Washington Street Urban Renewal Project brought down twenty-four and a half blocks of mostly 19th-century buildings on the west side of Lower Manhattan. Many of the buildings had been in continuous commercial use since before the Civil War as part of the Washington Street produce market. The market, located in the area since the War of 1812, was moved one day to new quarters in Hunts Point, the Bronx. The silence left in the streets was startling. As one wandered put it, everyone left one night, even the dogs and the rats.

–Danny Lyon, The Destruction of Lower Manhattan (Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1969)

Danny Lyon, 258 Washington Street at the northwest corner of Murray Street. Built by James Bogardus in 1848, this was the first cast-iron building erected in New York, and was possibly the oldest cast-iron building in the world. Plans have been made to preserve the cast-iron panels that made up the facade of the building, 1967 (2012.89.6)

Danny Lyon, 327, 329 and 331 Washington Street, between Jay and Harrison Streets. Demolition of these buildings was delayed as efforts were made to preserve them and the corner they stood adjacent to, 1967 (2012.89.8)

View the entire series here.


About erinbarnett

Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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