Streetview of 1940s NYC
August 15, 2020 3:43 AM   Subscribe

Streetview of New York ca 1940: Between 1939 and 1941, the Works Progress Administration collaborated with the New York City Tax Department to collect photographs of every building in the five boroughs of New York City. In 2018, the NYC Municipal Archives completed the digitization and tagging of these photos, and Julian Boilen created a website to place them on a map -- every dot is a photo.

This goes well with the 1943 NYC neighborhood market analysis, previously on MetaFilter. (Sadly, its "previouslies" have suffered linkrot.)
posted by Westringia F. (34 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic, thank you. TIL the funeral home next door to me in Sunset Park served “STEAKS AND CHOPS”.
posted by monster free city at 4:44 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]

And if you zoom in you get Bromley land book maps! That alone is super handy.
posted by gubo at 5:23 AM on August 15

TIL the funeral home next door to me in Sunset Park served “STEAKS AND CHOPS”.

A very 2020 pivot.
posted by mhoye at 6:14 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]

This is astonishing. Truly Best Of The Web. An amazing implementation and a beautiful presentation. I love historical photos of cities. The only thing that would be better if there were a wipe bar on each photo so you could see the same location in 2020.

Thank you so much for posting!
posted by hippybear at 6:41 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]

The outtakes are great. So much care went into this project.
posted by q*ben at 6:52 AM on August 15 [7 favorites]

My father's New York City, or within about 5 years of it. Incredible.
posted by thelonius at 6:53 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]

This is great, but it feels so... empty. You'd think they would've captured more street life. I wonder if these were taken on Sunday mornings or something, or am I looking in the wrong places? Maybe it all just seems empty to jaded 21st century eyes. The outtakes are the best. My favorite.
posted by Tom-B at 7:43 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]

I like that Times Square has several massive signs for Gone With The Wind painted directly on the brick of building walls. It bespeaks a degree of care and permanence, when you knew a product (in this case, a movie) would be available to the public long enough to make a durable sigh worthwhile.

Seventy years later, I saw a movie being named on an LED board above the entrance to the auditorium: HP & DH PT 2. No posters, no external marquees.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:46 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]

What a find!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:59 AM on August 15

This is fantastic, though I wish I understood the placement of the dots vs. what I'm actually looking at a bit better. Sometimes the dot seems to indicate the actual building you see, sometimes it's...where the camera is? Where the center of the photo is, though the camera is a block away and the dot isn't the focus of the shot?

Anyway, pretty amazing.
posted by maxwelton at 8:10 AM on August 15

For some reason, the sheer number of dots gives me a really immediate feeling for how big the place is... much more so than street view. You could spend years exploring a single city, and know only a tiny fraction of it! It's crazy.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 8:50 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]

This is really fantastic!

Just yesterday I was using google streetview to find pictures of old family addresses, and was disappointed to find that the address where my grandfather was born in Brooklyn is now the site of the Farragut towers (just West of the Navy Yard). I was literally thinking "if only there was some kind of streetview for historic photos of Brooklyn" and... here it is.
posted by niicholas at 9:01 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]

My apartment building is there! And in better repair...
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 9:05 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]

Oh this is so cool. Here's my great-grandparents' house on Sedgewick Avenue.
posted by octothorpe at 9:29 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]

I could see my house from there! :)
posted by alchemist at 9:33 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]

85-15 Wareham Place, boyhood home of one Donald J. Trump
posted by emelenjr at 11:00 AM on August 15

They really got their money's worth out of that folding music stand.
posted by jabah at 11:11 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]

This is amazing.

The outtakes are fascinating in their own right too.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:58 AM on August 15

Oh, this is just WONDERFUL.

I seem to have discovered a section where they're in the middle of digging up the streets:

I love the restaurants and the social clubs and just the brickwork on the everyday apartment buildings.

I could look at this all day.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Westringia F.!
posted by kristi at 12:32 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

The building I grew up in was a Mitchell Lama coop build on a site cleared by the city. There are only two pictures of the street side of the whole street from Columbus to Amsterdam. Our apartment overlooked a whole street of brownstones facing the next street over, (we were at the back,) and when I was growing up all of them were abandoned and in various stages of decomposition, (roofs falling in etc.) Over the years they were all renovated and I am sure are now quite pricey. All of them seem to have a picture.

This makes me think about all of the thriftstore/estate sale/landfill photographs. Quotidian images that have no value on their own but if assembled and organized would be a treasure trove of historical exploration.
posted by Pembquist at 12:57 PM on August 15

Oh this is so cool. Here's my great-grandparents' house on Sedgewick Avenue.

My mom could have easily been in that house when that picture was taken; she would have been six or seven and I remember that she said she visited her grandparents very often.
posted by octothorpe at 1:11 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

Sent this to my mother and she’s looking up all the old addresses where her family lived in Brooklyn.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:34 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

I am so delighted by this that I honestly don't know what else to say except !!!!!
posted by Kitchen Witch at 7:45 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

Grew up in NYC and have been tripping out on the collection w/ family most of the afternoon. The only frustration is that the scans are all so low-res. No way to zoom in to get details on signs and addresses.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 8:00 PM on August 15

For some reason everybody’s links just take me to the front page.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:22 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

It seems just to be a splash screen (at least on iPad) -- if you then tap the "start exploring" box, it disappears and you're left with photo/location that was linked.
posted by Westringia F. at 8:55 PM on August 15 [3 favorites]

this is so awesome.

Agree with ICNH that i wanted to zoom in - I presume it would be a monumental task to get higher quality images.

Back to exploring.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:15 AM on August 16

80 years apart:
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:59 AM on August 16

My current building in the NW Bronx was 10 years old when these pictures were taken (built in 1929), and it still looks the same from the outside except the extended awning from the entrance to the curb has been removed. I'm sad that the house on the corner across the street from me is such a wreck. It's literally a shell and needs to be demolished. Right now, it's surrounded by high fencing, but in its day, it was a dignified 3-story Queen Anne with stained glass windows at the top. The blackberry trees on its front lawn still thrive, however, and are well over 40 ft. tall now.

Almost everywhere I've lived in NYC over the last 3 decades still exists, save two: The Brooklyn Heights high-rise co-op I lived in before my current place didn't exist in 1940 (it was a restaurant and several brownstones), and the building before that in Yorkville has most of the same exterior, except what was once an Oldsmobile dealership on the ground floor is now a bodega.
posted by droplet at 10:32 AM on August 16 [1 favorite]

Why has no one run this through photosynth (or whatever the modern version is) and overlaid it on Google Streetview?
posted by blue_beetle at 2:12 PM on August 17

I am amused at how surprised I was that my grandparents aren't standing there, right out front waiting for me, in the photo of their building in Brooklyn.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:30 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]

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