This building, located between Leonard and Franklin Streets, in the Tribeca neighborhood in Manhattan, looks rather typical and is not very noticeable from the outside. More than just a utilitarian structure, 359 Broadway has a history that reveals much about the unknown aspects of life of Matthew Brady, who is arguably the most famous Civil War photographer. From 1853 to 1859, the top three floors of the building were used as Brady’s portrait photography studio. Notice that Brady’s studio was open for only 6 years. Many people may be familiar with the photographs that were once hanging in Brady’s NYC studio, however, not many are aware of what happened after the 6 years he had the studio. Just as other artists, Brady, too, struggled financially.
Brady created over 10,000 plates during the Civil War, expecting the United States government to buy these photos. Despite the historical significance of these photos, the government refused to purchase them. Brady was not only disappointed, but also financially destroyed. He had invested $100,000 to create the plates and thought he would immediately make money from selling the Civil War photos. Without any money, Brady had to sell his NYC studio on 359 Broadway and go into bankruptcy. The unfortunate photographer never overcame the financial crisis and eventually died a penniless man.
Although Brady had to give up his studio, the building was landmarked by Justice Karla Markowitz in 1990 because it once had Matthew Brady as a tenant.
Matthew Brady may not have been financially successful, but he is, to this day, remembered as theCivil War photographer. Many of his photos continue to be used in exhibitions, films, books, and academia. 359 Broadway building remains as a memorial of his great life as a War photographer and a reminder of Brady’s financial misfortune.
– Seung Hee Kim