Let’s take a tour of New York City. But this is a different kind of tour. We will not only move from place to place, but back in time as well. Through the magic of vintage photography, we will drive through Manhattan in the Spring of 1962. What will we see?
The beautiful color photographs above are here to set the stage for the main subject of this post, namely the black and white pictures that follow. They come from a very unlikely source, a research report prepared by the General Outdoor Advertising Company. It shows a typical billboard advertising campaign and its various sign locations throughout Manhattan. In this case, the client is the Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors, and the product is the new Chevy II station wagon. Someone from GOA was assigned to photograph all the Chevy II billboards, and highlight them in yellow. That sounds like an interesting job to have: “Here, take this camera, drive around the city and take pictures of our billboards!”
The resulting collection is a unique time capsule showing what cars were typically on the road at that time, along with NYC architecture, signs, storefronts, and other details. These are not the kind of photos you’re going to find in a typical book about New York City. Very few people went around with a camera, photographing various intersections and everyday traffic. And even if someone did, who would publish such photos?
One thing I noticed was that so many makes of cars were being used as taxis: Fords, Chevrolets, Dodges, Checkers . . . and even Studebakers! Some of these shots were taken “through the windshield”, so you’ll notice some glass reflections and a lack of sharpness on some of these. But that’s price of true authenticity. So let’s experience what a driver would actually see as he drove through Manhattan in May of 1962. Luckily I have the address locations so if some of you explorers want to look these places up on Google street views (or go there in person), you can see what has changed and what hasn’t changed:
A little side note here–I happen to own the two cars seen at left: a 1958 Ford Custom 300 4-door (two tone), and a 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne sedan (solid color). I also once owned a cream-colored Comet, like the one barely visible behind the Chevy.
This is the stretch of Lenox Avenue that Fred Astaire sang about in 1930, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”.
This concludes your tour of New York City. Thank you, and come again!