Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Then and Now: 5th Precinct, Manhattan, New York

Then and Now

5th Precinct in Manhattan in 1979 randommusings.filminspector.com
The 5th Precinct, 19 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY, 10013

The above picture was taken in 1979. It shows the 5th Precinct in Manhattan, located 19 Elizabeth Street. It covers Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Bowery. It is not one of the better-known Precincts, such as the 9th Precinct which was used as the setting for "Kojak" in the 1970s. However, the 5th Precinct was the one depicted in the film "Gangs of New York" and later played a key role during the Tong wars of the early 20th Century.

However, low profile or not, the 5th Precinct is historic. The city broke ground for the building in 1879 pursuant to the design of Sergeant Nathaniel Bush, who was the department's architect from 1862 to 1895. The building was completed in 1881, replacing some terrible tenements. That's a pretty long run, and his buildings have stood the test of time. The 5th Precinct, by the way, originally was the 6th Precinct until 1924, when it became part of the 3rd Precinct, and then changed again in 1929, when it was redesignated for good (so far) as the 5th Precinct. It's a good thing that Sgt. Bush put the year of the building above the doorway and not the number of the Precinct!

The police department decided to "upgrade" its stationhouses in the 1960s. However, local community opposition prevented it. You have to admit that keeping the same building was a cost-effective solution considering that it is still in use in 2018. A replacement building itself would be aging by this time.

Incidentally, at the time the above picture was taken in 1979, the 5th Precinct building was still heated by coal as it originally was in 1881. Yes, they would have a truck pull up and load coal into the chute, and someone in the basement would have to stoke coal into the furnace. Since then, however, the station has been modernized and no longer uses coal.

You are perhaps thinking to yourself, well, what is the point of this comparison of the 5th Precinct in Manhattan from 1979 to 2018, nothing at all has changed. Well, that is the point. New York City is often called "the city that never sleeps" and is always changing, but, in fact, many key parts of the city never change at all. The police department stationhouses are one of those unchanging parts. You could have stood in that same spot in 1881 or 1918 or 1979 or 2018 and seen exactly the same thing aside from the vehicles and fashions of the people there.

Anyway, this is part of my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. I hope you like it.

5th Precinct in Manhattan in 1979 randommusings.filminspector.com
The 5th Precinct ca. 2018 (Google Street View).


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