Thursday, July 29, 2010

New York Then and Now

The book New York Then and Now has pictures of the same locations early in the twentieth century and in the 1970. This pair of pictures is one of my favorites: the buildings have hardly changed, so it shows very clearly how the automobile has transformed the city.

The first picture shows East 116th St. west of Lexington Ave in 1915. It is striking how spacious and calm it seems. This was a middle-class neighborhood - all the men are wearing suits - but it was a time when the middle class did not own vehicles. In pictures of wealthy neighborhoods from the same period, you see horses and carriages parked at the curb, but here there are no vehicles at all except for one horse-drawn wagon doing road maintenance work and one streetcar. Notice the sign on the left that says "All cars transfer to Bloomingdales"; of course, when they say "cars," they are talking about streetcars.

The second picture shows the same location in 1975. Density is slightly lower than it was in 1915, because a three-story apartment building with stores on the right has been replaced by a one-story grocery store. Yet the neighborhood looks congested rather than spacious. The street has been widened and the sidewalks narrowed. A tree has been removed to allow the street widening. The streets are filled with cars, and there is a conflict between pedestrians crossing and a truck turning. The Bloomingdales sign is still there, but so faded that you cannot read it.

There are many similar pairs of pictures in this book: Edward Watson, New York Then And Now (Dover, 1976).


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