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The corner of Broadway and Ann Street, circa 1865.

"The corner of Broadway and Ann Street, circa 1865, looking north from a window in P.T. Barnum's American Museum. The park in view is the tip of City Hall Park." Photo courtesy New York Public Library.


Sharon Paz examining materials.

"Sharon Paz examining materials at the AIM 22 Exhibition at the Bronx Museum of the Arts," 2002.


A Case Study of the
Exchange of Real Property at the
Intersection of Broadway and Ann Street,
New York City


Peter Walsh (USA)

The Bronx Museum of the Arts
AIM 22 Exhibition
(Artist-in-the-Marketplace Program)
July 3, 2002 – October 13, 2002
Bronx, New York, USA

    Case Study is an accounting. Art is often described as an intangible asset, its value subjective, so it seems reasonable to take a closer look at some tangible assets in order to understand this process of valuation. Real estate, for example, as opposed to art’s land of the unreal.

    In May of 2001artist Peter Walsh recreated P.T. Barnum’s 1860s era Brick Man advertising stunt by circulating a set of bricks around a city intersection. Performing at the original site of the event, what was once Barnum's American Museum at Broadway and Ann Street in Lower Manhattan, Walsh worked to concretely demonstrate the economic principles of exchange and circulation.

    Then, in Case Study, Walsh grounded his temporary performance by doing detailed deed research on the exchange of real estate at each of the four corners of the intersection, tracing these exchanges back to the 1600s. Complete documentation is available below.

(Two Photo Galleries are Located at the Bottom of this Page)

Related Project:

Brick Man

The Case Study project grew out of the Brick Man performance, a recreation of an 1860s era P.T.Barnum advertising stunt.

Goto the Brick Man Project Page >>

Documentation of the Exchanges of Real Property at
the Four Corners of Broadway and Ann Street

    Looking at the materials collected inCase Study, the most notable missing document is still the "$24 bill of sale for the island of Manhattan" from the 1620s. What is available, however, is evidence of multiple conflicting ideas about the nature of property, documentation of military conquest, the economic power of Trinity Church and its trustees, the seizure of royalist property by the newly-founded American revolutionary government, mogul John Jacob Astor’s deed, Barnum’s lease, dowry releases, the transfer of property to insurance companies after a fire and the growing expansion of the value of each of the properties.

(click each photo below for details)

Go to Corner One Go to Corner Two Go to Corner Three Go to Corner Four

Corner One:

Block 89
Lot 12

222 Broadway,

37 Exchanges

Corner Two:

Block 122
Lot 1

City Hall Park, Manhattan

8 Exchanges

Corner Three:

Block 88
Lot 1

Astor House Building
217 Broadway

16 Exchanges

Corner Four:

Block 87
Lot 1

Saint Paul’s Chapel, Manhattan

5 Exchanges

Some Thoughts about Case Study

"[D]uring the last fifty years of the life of John Jacob Astor, his property had been augmented and increased in value by the aggregate intelligence, industry, enterprise, and commerce of New York, fully to the amount of one-half its value. The farms and lots of ground which he bought forty, twenty, and ten and five years ago, have all increased in value entirely by the industry of the citizens of New York. Of course, it is plain as that two and two make four, that the half of his immense estate, in its actual value, has accrued to him by the industry of the community."

New York Herald, 1849
Quoted from John Jacob Astor: Landlord of New York, Smith, Arthur D. Howden (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1929) pp.90-91.

    What is remarkable about the details unearthed in Case Study is that it appears that the objective cash value of property is the product of the labor of entire communities over time, mixed with the contributions of individuals, measured subjectively and then transformed by a wholly social process. The very nature of this process makes it impossible to tease out, in a single art project like this one, the exact contributions of different sources to the valuation of a particular property. However, Case Study hints at a number of propositions, the first of which is the following: real estate is, in part, community created value, owned privately.

Go to Tax Assessments at 217 Broadway

    Take for example, the northwest corner of Broadway and Ann Street, 217 Broadway. Conservatively speaking, the value of this piece of land is, in part, the size and quality of the land itself (a rather small lot of dry hill located near a deep harbor in a temperate zone) plus the investment in improvements on the part of the property’s owner (for example, the building of the Astor House luxury hotel in the early 1830s on that lot). Yet clearly part of its value also comes from the labor of individuals who built the roads, the subways, the sewers and other infrastructure (for example, the government-funded Croton Aqueduct that provided safe drinking water to New York City starting in 1842). Arguably, part of the value of the property also comes from the investments and hard work of neighboring individuals and businesses that bring services and quality of life to the neighborhood. During the time that real estate mogul John Jacob Astor and his family owned the lot, it was surrounded by not only a variety of small businesses and shops, but also a park, a church, the city hall, information

        "Tax Assessments at 217 Broadway," 2002.
            Goto a pdf enlargement of the chart >>
            Goto a pdf spreadsheet of the data >>


businesses (Park Row was once known as Newspaper Row), theaters, museums (such as Barnum’s across the Street), art galleries (showing the work of artists such as Thomas Cole and Samuel Morse), photo studios (Matthew Brady’s daguerreotype studio was one block away) and historical, science and lecture societies (the New York Institution of Learned and Scientific Establishments on Chambers Street, located on the far side of the park). The value of a luxury hotel as property, and the rates it could charge for rooms, would be enhanced by proximity to such services - and vice versa. Having the Astor Hotel across the street would increase the value of a business such as Barnum’s.

    Tax assessments going back two hundred years show that owner-funded improvements were clearly part of the property’s value. The building of Astor House shows up as a dramatic increase in tax valuation. Yet the value of the property continues to rise, faster than inflation, through decades when no improvements were made. [See the "Chart of Tax Assessments for 217 Broadway" above.] Some of Astor’s contemporaries clearly felt that he was nothing but a squatter capitalizing on community value and then shirking his community responsibilities. This is the argument put in 1849 by the New York Herald at the top of this section of this webpage. Labor organizer Mike Walsh put it this way around the same time:

"[I]t would take thirty-five hundred men, working twenty years . . . three hundred days in each year, without being sick or out of employment an hour during the whole time, and getting a dollar a day without spending a cent, but living with their families on air like chameleons, sleeping in the parks and going naked: yes! 3,500 men working that length of time, living in that manner and receiving that much wages, it would take to earn what Mr. John Jacob Astor has saved from what the world calls 'his industry.'"

Quoted from Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850, Wilentz, Sean (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 233.

    Clearly sentiments similar to these led later to movements for both progressive taxation on the part of government and philanthropy on the part of the very wealthy. For further reading on the Broadway and Ann Street neighborhood in the early nineteenth century, and some refutations of this and other arguments, see pages 452-472 in Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    Art is often described as an intangible asset. Yet the historical and legal records pertaining to property ownership at a single city intersection, Broadway and Ann Street in Lower Manhattan, appear to show that real estate captures a tangible cash value from a community’s productivity – including, in part, its cultural productivity. Anecdotally speaking, if artists transform a neighborhood – such as Soho or Williamsburg in New York City – and property values go up as they frequently do, that value created by community members (property owners and non-owners alike) is shifted into private hands. This is a clear argument for taxing real estate to fund community endeavors, including the arts. Rather than being a handout, the documents of Case Study suggest this is good business. The only real questions are what level is the optimum tax and how to best divide the receipts. On a broader philosophical level, these documents also suggest that at least part of art’s value in not intangible at all.

Some Discussions of Various Property Rights Structures in
What is Currently Known as New York City
Case Study Photo Galleries
Go to Images from AIM 22 Exhibtion

Gallery of Images from AIM 22 Exhibition at the Bronx Museum

Go to Historical Images
  Gallery of Images of the Broadway and Ann Street Intersection


     A Case Study of the Exchange of Real Property at the Intersection of Broadway and Ann Street, New York City is the product of years’ worth of work and research and would not have been possible with out the help of many different individuals and institutions. My warmest regards go out to Jackie Battenfield, director of the Artist-in-the-Marketplace program, and to all the participants in this year’s AIM program. It has been a pleasure to work and learn with you all. Thanks also go to Lydia Yee and Edwin Ramoran, curators at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, for creating such a coherent exhibition. Sue McGuire, Noah Loesberg and Rochard Fleming were instrumental during installation as was Hope Ginsburg. Christopher Quirk has been a friend, advocate and frequent advisor in this and other projects and I warmly acknowledge his help and look forward to future discussions on a multitude of unexpected topics.

     In addition I would like to acknowledge all those individuals and institutions who helped me with my research including the staffs at the New York City Registrar of Deeds Office, the New York City Municipal Archives and the New York Public Library - especially the folks at the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy and Matthew Allen Knutzen in the Map Division.

     The original May 31, 2001 Brick Man performance was funded in part by an Independent Project Grant from Artists Space. Photographer Nick Katz took wonderful large format photos, photographer Joe Tabacca took a great set of slides and Roberto Guerra shot fantastic video footage of which I have yet to make appropriate use. Their help was immense.

     Most special thanks of course goes to Deidre Hoguet to whom I am deeply and persistently indebted and without whom this project could not have come into being. Crucial and final thanks go out to my daughter Emily Walsh for bringing meaning and understanding into my life.

All Content Peter Walsh 2006
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