Park Place: Where the Daily News Grew Up

The city room of the Daily News when the paper was housed on Park Place. The paper’s editorial staff grew from just nine in 1919 to 190 in 1930.

Jun. 03, 2013

There is no way anyone could know from looking now at 23 and 25 Park Place (just east of  Church Street) that these unassuming  buildings once housed one of the most successful newspapers of our time, the New York Daily News.

But for nine years during the 1920s, not only were the editorial and publishing offices of the fledgling News located in the buildings’ cramped quarters but the production facilities were there, too, with the tabloid’s printing presses pounding away in the basement.

Joseph Medill Patterson and Robert R. McCormick were cousins who jointly controlled the Chicago Tribune. While in the service during World War I, they de­cided that as soon as the war was over  they would start an illustrated mass-market daily paper in New York.

Their first issue, published on June 26, 1919, was called the Illustrated Daily News, but Patterson, who directed it for the rest of his life, soon dropped the word “Illustrated.”

From the outset, the paper was copiously illustrated with photos and was de­terminedly sensationalist. After a rough start, it caught on. Readers liked its breez­iness and appreciated its compactness, which made it easy to read on the subway during rush hour.

For its first two years, the offices were in a building on City Hall Place, a street that was removed in the late 1920s to make way for the Federal Courthouse. As these digs were inadequate, the paper moved in 1921 to Park Place.

Although the Park Place buildings ran through the block all the way to Murray Street, the News at first occupied only part of the space and conditions were far from ideal. No one had enough room. The floors were splintery and the elevator was agonizingly slow.

As other tenants’ leases expired, the paper took over their spaces, and so departments were constantly being shifted around. At one point, the advertising staff was lodged in the middle of the newsroom, and the newsroom itself migrated from the third floor to the fifth before finally coming to rest on the second floor.

Yet amid all this confusion, the distinctive Daily News personality soon took shape. The writing was tight and punchy and the headlines snappy. Sex and violence were hardly ever absent from its pages, but the paper also managed to always pay close attention to its readers’ personal interests and concerns. The “Inquiring Photographer” was an early and highly popular feature, as were the comics like “Gasoline Alley” and “Little Orphan Annie.”

And News photographers were nothing if not inventive. In 1925, one of them caught sight of a cat carrying its kitten across a busy street as a cop held up traffic; not quite quick enough to snap the picture, the photographer calmly picked up the kitten and placed it back on the street, whereupon the cat retrieved it again and the photographer got the shot that has become a classic.

In 1928, another photographer made journalistic history by illegally photographing the Sing Sing electrocution of convicted murderess Ruth Snyder using a tiny camera strapped to his ankle.

Readers were delighted and the paper grew rapidly. In 1922, circulation reached 400,000 and the News introduced a Sunday edition; by the end of 1924 circulation soared to 750,000 and the paper could boast that it was the most widely read newspaper in the country. In 1926, circulation passed the one-million mark (and 1.25 million on Sundays).

By this time, everyone agreed that the Park Place buildings would no longer do. The paper’s printing presses had already been moved to a plant in Brooklyn, but far more space was needed for the rest of its operations. In 1919,  the editorial department had consisted of just nine persons; in 1930, it had 190. So the paper at the end of the decade put up a huge new building on East 42nd Street, designed by the architect Raymond Hood, that today is a landmark.

The paper’s employees moved into their new quarters in 1930, leaving behind on Park Place not a single trace of their days of glory there.