Crystal Palace at Reservoir Square

By Matt Knutzen, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Map Division
January 3, 2009
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

On today's map you wouldn't have a clue as to where the Crystal Palace at Reservoir Square was located. Looking at a William Perris' fire insurance map from 1853 however reveals that, where now stands our magnificent central library on the corner of 5th Avenue & 42nd Street, once stood the huge Croton distributing reservoir, gravity feeding the thirsty city from near the top of Murray Hill and a spectacular Crystal Palace, seen here as the large purple shape on the top left.

Map bounded by West 42nd Street, East 42nd Street, Fourth Avenue, East 37th Street, West 37th Street, Sixth Avenue.], Digital ID 1615985, New York Public Library

You can see both the reservoir and the Crystal Palace here.

An even closer look reveals a handwritten note reading "50,000". This is a fire insurance map which probably means that the fire insurance policy taken out for the Crystal Palace was $50,000 or about $1.5 million in today's dollars.

That seems like a shockingly low price for such a spectacular building.

New York Crystal Palace for the exhibition of the industry of all nations., Digital ID 54948, New York Public Library
801379. New York Public Library

Especially considering the fact that in 1858 it burned to the ground.

801378. New York Public Library

The story goes that the morning after the fire, in typical New York City fashion, street hawkers were selling still warm pieces of the melted Crystal Palace.