FLASHBACK ’71: As part of J&R’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, we are looking back at the history of Downtown NYC and J&R’s place in it.
This block is popularly referred to as J&R Row by many New Yorkers. A popular tourist destination, J&R Music and Computer World has made its headquarters on the block of 1 to 34 Park Row since 1971. J&R has its presence here for 40 years. It’s a milestone. Its historic predecessor was Newspaper Row. That endured from 1875 to 1908, about 33 years. J&R now holds the record for being the longest business ever on Park row.
Park Row was once called Chatham Street, from the name of the neighborhood (Chatham Gardens) but changed to Park Row in the early 19th Century, after City Hall was moved from Wall Street to its current location. City Hall Park was originally the Commons, a public space used during British rule in the 18th Century.
For a while, during the late 19th Century, Park Row became known as Newspaper Row. New York Telegraph, New York Times, Herald Tribune, and The New York World had buildings from 36 Park Row up to 65 Park Row
15 Park Row is the tall building at the center. It was built in 1899 as the Stevins Building. When completed, it was the tallest building in the world. The side of the building all the way to the right is from the Saint Paul’s Building. Also built in 1899, it held title of world’s tallest building for only a few months. When 15 Park Row decided to build the turreted towers, it reigned as the tallest building. While the Saint Paul was demolished around 1950, 15 Park Row still stands as a residential building and headquarters of J&R Computer World. In 1912, a company called Haan’s was the main leasee. One store was a cafe and another sold cigars..
The two buildings at right of 15 Park Row were office buildings. One, at the far right, was occupied by Drummond’s Detective Agency and a sewer pipe supplier. These were demolished and replaced by the J&R Computer World Building in 2001.
To the left of 15 Park Row were 17, 19, and 21 Park Row. One was a hardware store and 19 Park Row sold bicycles. These old buildings were demolished and replaced by a multi-use building called 23 Park Row. In the 1950’s the building was used as a board of city records. It became J&R Music World corporate headquarters and record and audio electronics store around 1980..
The rather large, forboding building at the left was the Grand Post Office, built in 1875. This is how it looked in 1892 (yes, that’s Broadway at left):
This truly grand building was demolished in 1939 to make room for a special 1939 World’s Fair exhibition.
The reputation of Park Row was spotty during the 20th century. The streets were close to the infamous Five-Points district. They were dotted by saloons, smoke shops, hardware stores, and men’s clothing stores. There were so many saloons in the early 1900’s that the Volstead Act of 1919, the 18th Amendment, declaring national prohibition of alcohol destroyed the area’s businesses.
Court buildings were rising near the former site of the Five-Points. By the 1930’s, most of the offices were occupied by lawyers.
At the north end of Park Row was the terminus of the BMT Chatham elevated railroad line. The diesel powered (eventually electrified) train ran over the Brooklyn Bridge to Park Row. It was a vital line that offered a connection between Brooklyn and Manhattan, before cars became popular. It supplied labor and commerce to the downtown Manhattan area. The eastern end of Park Row (now beneath the Park Row entrance to Brooklyn Bridge) was one of the busiest shopping sections of the city. By the 1940’s the line was discontinued. Until the terminal was destroyed by the late 1940’s, it was a sore criminal hangout.
By the late 1950’s, the decaying remnants of what was once Newspaper Row were demolished to make way for the new (and current) entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. By the 1960’s, Park row was bustling.
Threats of business loss occurred when the original Twin Towers, the Hudson Terminal went bankrupt. The Hudson Terminal was the original home of the H&M railroad company. They were known for creating the first tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan. It was around these buildings that the businesses of Radio Row flourished from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.