De Leeuw, Rudolph M. Both Sides of Broadway, from Bowling Green to Central Park, New York City. New York City (The De Leeuw Riehl Pub. Co.) 1910. 
In 1910, author-publisher-photographer Rudolph M. De Leeuw realized his entrepreneurial ambition of publishing a building-by-building sequential photographic survey of the most famous street in America. Both Sides of Broadway presented viewers near and far with a novel opportunity to stroll along the great New York City thoroughfare without so much as leaving their armchairs.
De Leeuw’s project married a time-honored concept to burgeoning commercial technologies. City guides with etched views of monuments and landmarks along the path a tourist might travel have been common since the end of the 16th century, when well-heeled young men began to embark on grand tours of the European capitols. But with cheap print and portable photographic imaging technology, De Leeuw was spared the expense of having to pay a Piranesi or Barbault to illustrate his tome. He simply walked his camera and tripod “from Bowling Green to Central Park,” per the work’s subtitle, pausing to record scenes of Broadway’s most prominent (and lesser known) addresses, much as the Google Maps Street View car might drive it today. He was not shy of boasting about the brilliance of the idea and expected to turn a hefty profit by selling advertisements to the businesses along his path.
The resulting collection of images is a testament to the ageless hustle of Manhattan’s main street and an extraordinary record of early 20th-century New York architecture, street signage and commercial zoning. Who knew, for example, that Broadway between Times Square and Central Park used to house the city’s largest concentration of automotive parts suppliers and car dealerships? A selection of plates appears below, in sequence, beginning with the old Produce Exchange at 2 Broadway and terminating at Columbus Circle. For the sake of comparison, I’ve included links to Street View images of the same locations as they look today, a little more than 100 years later. And in many ways, De Leeuw’s ad-laden view book does bear an eerie similarity to Google’s Street Views business model, with its AdSense promotional opportunities for companies in the user’s search area.
(Street view links beneath captions, please be patient– load times vary considerably.)
Before the internet, good signage was still the retail businessman’s most important marketing endeavor.
One wonders if The Breslin Hotel once housed a restaurant called The Ace?
De Leeuw’s dreams of striking it rich depended less on massive retail sales (which he clearly expected, boldly claiming to have published 30,000 copies) than it did on the ad revenues he expected to reap. In his mind, if not in reality, Both Sides of Broadway was meant to function as the first in a series of visual guides to the other great commercial thoroughfares of New York and cities across the nation, each one a goldmine of promotional opportunities. Only one thing was needed to make the scheme work: The Co-operation of the Public.
Sadly for De Leeuw and today’s architectural historians, John Q. Public wasn’t having it. Given the volume’s relative scarcity in the marketplace and the fact that WorldCat shows institutional holdings in fewer that 20 libraries, his reported print number seems optimistic rather than factual. Whatever the case, Both Sides of Broadway is the apparently only volume in the series to have been realized.
Certainly, however, De Leeuw’s publishing enterprise isn’t the only big-shot venture to have been crushed by the city’s craven indifference to the aspirations of Broadway dreamers. You could even write a song about. In the meantime, his book remains a much cited resource for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. For more information about Both Sides of Broadway, please contact us.
FAB Item I.D. # 46491