panorama columbus circle
Columbus Circle, circa 1907. Via Library of Congress.

In the early 19th century, Columbus Circle was farmland, like much of the Upper West Side. AFter 1868, when the 9th avenue elevated train first began operation, the neighborhood began to grow. Untapped Cities, in a post looking at the area, says that the neighborhood around West 59th was filled with warehouses instead of residential buildings.

Central Park, whose Southwest corner touches Columbus Circle, was completed in the 1870’s. In 1892, as part of a 400-year Columbus celebration, Gaetano Russo built the Columbus statue, although Columbus Circle itself wasn’t created until 1905.

The drawing below from the Museum of the City of New York was made in 1895:
[Traffic around Central Park]

Trollies, as you can see below, accounted for most of the traffic in the early 20th century.
1905 columbus circle

The area became known for entertainment — the Majestic Theater was one of the most famous entertainment spots in the city. This shot is from 1903, and the play at the theater was “The Wizard of Oz.”
Theatre, Majestic, Columbus Circle, 59th Street.

Check out the theater’s interior:
Theatre, Majestic, Columbus Circle, 59th Street.

About 100 years before Masa opened in the Time Warner Center to sell $300 sushi dinners, people ate beefsteak suppers at The Rathskeller. This shot is from 1905.
Restaurants, Columbus Circle, Beefsteak Supper in Rathskeller.

Others ate at Faust Restaurant. This postcard is from 1915.
Faust Restaurant Annex

This dramatic shot is from 1915.
[Columbus Circle.]

In 1930, the General Motors building loomed over the circle.
Columbus Circle from Roof of Century Apartments, A.M.

This photo, by Berenice Abbott, is from the 9th floor of the GM building.
Columbus Circle

The cool art deco building below, which once held the Gotham Bank and Manufacturers Trust, has since been demolished.
Columbus Circle.

This gorgeous building, in a shot taken in 1915, was also demolished (Correction: it still stands, but is simply hidden behind a more modern building now. Phew! Thanks to an alert reader who pointed this out).
[Columbus Circle.]

This is the area in 1931.
[Columbus Circle.]

The New York Coliseum stood from 1956 to 2000, when it made way for the Time Warner Center. This shot, from the Library of Congress, is from 1956.

HISTORY | 12 comments | permalink
    1. JD says:

      A friend points out to me that the building pointed out in the photo from 1915 still stands as he showed me courtesy of google earth.

    2. Karen Rosin says:

      The last photo in this series, from 1956 with the NY Coliseum shown, is what I remember as a little girl growing up in the Alwyn Court, a landmark building located at 180 W. 58th St, on the southeast corner of 58th and 7th Avenue. I used to come home from my school, which was located in a brownstone on 71st and Park, via a station wagon that came west on 59th Street. As we headed to 7th Avenue, the view ahead was of the large front wall-like facade of the Coliseum. I thought that was where the world, or at least the city, ended…!

    3. Columbus circle is such an iconic area and an energized place in NYC.
      It has changed so much over the years and still fascinating as can be.
      In 1967 as a young ambitious actor I came in from Long Island for an audition. Not really clear on Subways I took the wrong one and passed the midtown stop and got off by accident in Columbus Circle. as an Italian lad I thought it perfect..”I DISCOVERED COLUMBUS in America” instead of the other way around. I think they did a great job of making it appealing and with the fountains and seating and plantings a much needed gathering place of rest in our sometimes frantic NY.

    4. webot says:

      great stuff !

      thanks for the memories.

    5. webot says:

      what is that gorgeous building behind the Mayfair hotel on side street (61st?).

      I really only remember the vacant lot on broadway and the stripped of ornament Mayfair, and I really like 15 CPW , but it looks like some nice lost buildings there ….

    6. Liz says:

      I remember the old Coliseum. It’s was a shame to see that building go down hill. By the time it was demolished it was really a shell of its former glory.

      I truly was sad when they changed the building that had no windows; but which had a unique design to make that museum that now stands in Columbus Circle. That design was one of a kind; but, when has that ever stopped developers in NYC — after all, they destroyed the old Penn station and Grand Central was only saved because of a massive campaign by Jackie Kennedy.

      I also wish Bloomberg, Janet Sadik-Khan and the other haters of iconic NYC would stop already with trying to make NYC look like Paris. Please, Mayor de Blasio get rid of those wretched bike lanes and the crazy parks outside of parks. We don’t need lawn furniture in the middle of Columbus Circle, Time Square or Herald Square. What these crazy people have done down at the Flatiron Bldg. is a disgrace. That building is an icon; it doesn’t need embellishment with street furniture and outdoor cafes.

      These so called improvements to the quality of life have destroyed what made NYC such a tourist mecca. These changes also have done nothing but impede the flow of traffic. I took the M5 limited one weekday morning at around 9:30 a.m. It took 25 minutes to travel from 59th and Broadway to 59th Street and 5th Avenue. Bring back to old NYC. Please!!!

      • westSideRRRR says:

        Ummm you like cars better then people Liz?

        sorry you feel that way.

        I like many others think the street furniture and giving back some of the streets to pedestrians is a good thing.

        difference of opinions…

    7. Flo Morvillo says:

      I worked in that building when it first opened in 1956-it was so beautiful. I was out of the country till around 1973 – my first trip into the city I was amazed to see it gone. Why did they take it down and when exactly ?. What a shame.

    8. historylady says:

      The drawing from the Museum of the City of New York made in 1895 actually shows 59th Street at Fifth Avenue. The Pond visible in the drawing is in the southeast corner of the park.

    9. sheila white says:

      I have an old picture of 2 men standing on what looks to be the end of a train. There’s a sign saying Columbus Limited. The year could be from the 30’s or 40’s. If i send you a copy file could you look at it and tell me what I am looking at?

    10. Philip says:

      One of the saddest days was when I happened to pass thru Columbus Circle on the day the destruction balls were crashing into and taking down the magnificent International Theatre. At the top were two massive beautiful (about 10ft) sculptures, that were also being demolished. Why did the city planner approve that is beyond me. Just opposite the theatre is Central Park. They very well could have lifted them off and transferred to the park as an historical reference to that famous theatre. All who were part of that blatant destruction of an icon were shortminded, without a whisk of the value of contributing to artistic architectural history.

    11. donald podolsky says:

      my grandfather owned a hotel and boarding house where the coliseum was erected. my father owned columbus circle pharmacy across the street, at 1841 broadway on 60th street. dates being in the1930’s thru the 1950’s….lotsof memories for me in my early years at columbus circle…..unrecognizable now.