Some of you may remember my previous posts of photos taken of street scenes in Newark, N.J. and New York City. Well, I have recently discovered a photo source that tops everything else when it comes to photographs of this type. It seems that the City of New York has undertaken a project of tremendous scope, digitizing all the historical photographs and images that have been hiding in their files for so many years, thus making them available to the public.
This is truly Gotham’s attic, with everything from Civil War military parades to personal checks written out and signed by Joe DiMaggio. I put together a collection of screen shots from the collection (focusing on cars), just to give CC readers a taste of what is available. Let’s take a look:
I mostly included pictures from the Department of Public Works. What I like about these is that they are pictures of things that most people would not normally take pictures of. You can find lots of old pictures of the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, but how many people would think of taking pictures of everyday cars parked in a vacant lot in the Bronx?
Of course, the original purpose of these shots was to document sites for possible construction projects, but little did the city-employed photographers suspect that they would be showing us glimpses of authentic history in the process. These pictures also show us the cars as they actually were, which is very different experience from going to a car show to see so many of the surviving examples over-restored, customized, or rodded.
Unfortunately, the City puts this ugly watermark across the online images. But if you go to the NYC photo archive site and see a picture you really like, the City will sell you a high-quality print for $45 to $120 each plus shipping, and then you can have a clean copy of your very own forever.
Thanks for the link! Quickly looking through, there are also a lot of good car pix in the HPD section. Browse all, hit p 7 for a start.
Thanks for pointing out HPD. What’s interesting about these photos is that they show “versions” of car models generally unseen and unknown today. For instance, here’s a ’60 Plymouth which is such a stripper it has no emblems visible (unlike a typical Savoy). It’s probably a “Fleet Special”, not shown in the brochures:
Here’s a ’58 De Soto, minus the lower stainless trim strip which normally frames the two-toned sweep spear. This version doesn’t appear in the brochure either.
Wow, what a cool site! Very nice that these photos are on line now.
A few things that came to mind looking at these photos:
5th down from top: the 59 Pontiac wagon can’t be more than 6 months old and it looks so aged already, at least in the kind of grainy B&W photo.
10th down: Impressive that the city photographed every building in the 5 boroughs! Sometimes one wonders why bureaucracies are so large. Well, that is no small project. It took a team quite a while to complete that job.
11th down: the horse drawn wagon in 1940. Not having been alive then (as most of us weren’t!), I never think of that period as one when horses still plied the streets. Amazing that a horse was still a practical choice over a heavily used truck.
13th down: AMC Pacer, same observation as the 59 Pontiac. A car that is not all that old looks mostly spent. Granted, it would be a 2-5 year old car (depending on model year that I can’t identify) and 5 NY winters are pretty stressful on any vehicle.
I don’t see the link in the thread? I’m using Chrome if that makes a difference.
He didn’t include it. I’ll add it. here it is for you: https://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/
The Coke ad in the last photo may be the first ever documented #MeToo moment. 🙂
You’ve posted some great images of period automobiles but, besides being a car nut, I am also an architect and went ga-ga over the parks and parkways drawings here: https://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/NYCMA~15~15
By coincidence I was in NYC last week and was delighted to see some of the details in Central Park and tile work in some of the older subway stations, not to mention the Chrysler Building, The Empire State Building, and on and on. I didn’t see any real curbside classics in the city – certainly no Checker cabs anymore but there is a great transportation museum in Queens housed in a no-longer-used subway station.
Yes, those plans for details of Central Park–fountains, benches, railings, outbuildings, etc. (some by the great architect Jacob Wrey Mould) are really beautiful and inspired designs. I wonder how much of that original infrastructure remains.
Here’s a photo (not about cars) which I bought from the New-York Historical Society so I could have an actual print:
Top of the Woolworth Building, 1913.
I really like the older buildings with proper “tops,” Philip Johnson’s Chippendale AT&T building excepted. The Chrysler Building is my favorite in Manhattan but the Woolworth Building is also a gem.
The wrecked car in the seventh photo is, I’m pretty sure, a 1938 Buick. Used to have one. The grille was die-cast, not a stamping, which explains why so many of the pieces look snapped off, rather than just bent.
Did a beam fall on it or something?
Great stuff! Cars really aged quickly in NYC.