This wonderful and richly-detailed photo depicts Mulberry Street, one of the great arteries of ethnic and cultural life in Manhattan at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. This picture was taken in 1900. As you can see, there was a tremendous amount going on here. The street is full of market stands, most selling fresh produce, but if you look closely you can also see cobblers selling what look like button-top shoes, furniture movers, a sidewalk café, and a sign for something called “Banco Malzone,” which was probably a small local bank that specialized in making short-term loans to Italian-Americans in the neighborhood. This neighborhood of this era has been depicted in countless movies taking place in New York City, including The Godfather, Part II, Once Upon A Time in America and Avalon.
The geography of Little Italy is interesting. Mulberry Street was one of the five streets that came together at an unusual intersection in Lower Manhattan–the other streets were Orange, Cross, Worth and Little Water–that became known as the Five Points. Located only a few blocks south of the location shown here, the Five Points was the most notorious slum in New York, and possibly the entire world, from the early 19th to early 20th centuries. This period (1900) would have been toward the end of the Five Points’s notoriety, and it’s doubtful that many of the generally honest and law-abiding citizens of Little Italy would ever have ventured down there. But Manhattan was less a city in 1900 than an uneasy confederation of independent neighborhoods; many worlds were contained on these streets.
This was not taken as a color photo, but was a chromolithograph (or “Photocrom”), which was a high-resolution black and white picture artifically colorized. I’ve done some other examples of those photos here. The most famous dealer in these pictures, at least in the United States, was the Detroit Photographic Company, which sold them as postcards. It went defunct in the 1920s.