New York City in Black & White

34th Street. Note the building with the billboards who wouldn't sell to Macy's so they built around it.

There’s something about these old photos of New York that continually draws me back. I actually posted some other images from this collection by Berenice Abbott back in 2009 during the thick of the economic meltdown, which sadly many people are still dealing with. Abbott’s photos – which were commissioned by the WPA and are part of the New York Public Library’s collection – cover a large swath of New York life during the mid-1930s, another very difficult period in our country’s history.

Even though you may have seen these before, these photos are never a let down. To me it is interesting to see how much the city has changed and of course, how it hasn’t. You can see the complete set here and can own the book too, should you desire.

Under the elevated train. Beautiful.
The bread was warm. Note the fog on the glass.

Brooklyn to Manhattan.
Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, Manhattan.
Penn Station.
What a damn shame they destroyed the old Penn Station.
Likely not easy to get to then either.

This could be my favorite image from the lot. Fulton Fish Market.
Downtown Skyport. That's the Woolworth Tower in the background.
Union Square.

The tin man.

Comments on “New York City in Black & White

    Michael M on May 21, 2011 10:57 PM:

    Mr. Williams,

    Have you by chance read “Up in the Old Hotel?” If you like these pictures, you’ll love the book. I picked it up after a trip to Manhattan and it has become my favorite book:

    manabu on May 21, 2011 11:15 PM:

    thanks for this post.
    i just finished to read Joseph Mitchell’s “Old Mr. Flood”.
    very interesting photos.

    Tami G. on May 22, 2011 2:56 AM:

    Thanks! These are just AMAZING!!!

    Salvatore on May 22, 2011 8:20 AM:

    i always enjoy looking at your blog because your posts never fail to appeal to my interests. thanks for what you do! these pictures are great! i commute in and out of Penn Station every day and every day I ask myself the same question: why the hell would they have destroyed the old station to make that ugly cave???

    Luis Godinez on May 22, 2011 10:55 AM:

    Great post. Have you seen the work of Vivian Maier? Some of the best street photography I have ever seen. All her work was discovered posthumously.

    chris on May 22, 2011 11:00 AM:

    I think ny has changed more in the last 40 yrs than in the previous 100

    Michael Williams on May 22, 2011 11:54 AM:

    Thanks to everyone for the comments and suggestions. —ACL

    Kerri on May 22, 2011 2:18 PM:

    Beautiful work. No matter where I travel NY is always my favorite place to be, and to photograph. Your pictures are getting the wheels spinning of when I can take my next photographic journey.

    david wright on May 22, 2011 4:04 PM:

    great pictures,thanks.Also reminiscent of Danny Lyons’ ‘The Destruction of Lower Manhattan’.

    TMH on May 22, 2011 4:16 PM:

    I love these photographs. It used to be easier for me to pine
    over that New York than to look at the City today.
    Whenever I fear that New York has changed for the worst,
    I have to remember that both Union Square and Bryant
    Park have come 180 degrees in the past 20 years. I love
    the Hi-line and the improvements at Grand Central Terminal,
    all good stuff. I’m cautiously optimistic to see what becomes of
    the Financial district. Thanks MW.

    Smith&Ratliff on May 22, 2011 6:48 PM:

    These pictures are stunning! I love the Greyhound terminal. How many different Dean Moriarty’s stepped off a bus there…

    andy on May 22, 2011 8:01 PM:

    I’ve had Bernice Abbott’s books on NYC in the 1930s and 40s for 20 years. They are a beautiful and elegiac reminder of what we have lost.

    Lost New York, New York 1930, WPA Guide to NY, and a 1955 book called “Empire City” have formed the backbone of my education about the best city in the world.

    The great news about Manhattan is that it is safer, cleaner and nicer than it was in 1990 or 1980.

    But nothing can bring back such architectural greats as Grand Central Station or the old Savoy-Plaza, which stood where the General Motors Building is at 59th and 5th.

    And if men and women started dressing properly as well… that is a whole other story.

    JFPisa on May 23, 2011 12:11 AM:

    Second your sentiments on Penn Station…travesty.

    Sam on May 23, 2011 8:58 AM:

    Great photos, Michael. Thanks for posting!

    Michael on May 23, 2011 12:25 PM:

    FYI — many of the images are available for purchase from the Museum of the City of New York quite reasonably. I bought a vintage photo of Coney Island for my wife as a gift a while back. The staff was very helpful and the print was lovely (and on archival paper).

    jbjones on May 23, 2011 12:26 PM:

    i really like the hustling, bustling art deco bus station blasting forth from the neo-classical backdrop of an nyc past

    Mariah on May 23, 2011 1:42 PM:

    Ah, I’m in love with all of these…

    Bogdan on May 24, 2011 1:54 AM:

    Oh man the “5th Ave El” in that first one…what a shame that now the fare is rising and service only gets worse.

    Good old days….

    You can never go wrong with these. Now we can`t smoke in the park. I`m thinking of starting a pro open can petition…whose with me?

    Russ Sargeant on May 24, 2011 9:09 AM:

    Such atmosphere! I love old images of New York. The shot ‘Brooklyn to Manhattan’ – is that shot from near Water Street?

    Amber @FromTheHeartsOf on May 24, 2011 2:22 PM:

    I love this! I have framed pictures like this in my house. It reminds me of the movie An Affair to Remember.

    Justin on May 25, 2011 2:11 PM:

    Took me a sec to put it all together, but the caption for the Starrett-Lehigh building photo is terrific

Comments are closed.