70 Amazing Vintage Photographs That Show New York City in the 1930s

New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State, or NYC for short, is the most populous city in the United States. With a 2020 population of 8,804,190 distributed over 300.46 square miles (778.2 km2), New York City is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the State of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban area. With over 20 million people in its metropolitan statistical area and approximately 23 million in its combined statistical area, it is one of the world’s most populous megacities. New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, significantly influencing commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, dining, art, fashion, and sports, and is the most photographed city in the world. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy, and has sometimes been called the capital of the world.

Situated on one of the world’s largest natural harbors, New York City is composed of five boroughs, each of which is coextensive with a respective county of the State of New York. The five boroughs—Brooklyn (Kings County), Queens (Queens County), Manhattan (New York County), the Bronx (Bronx County), and Staten Island (Richmond County)—were created when local governments were consolidated into a single municipal entity in 1898. The city and its metropolitan area constitute the premier gateway for legal immigration to the United States. As many as 800 languages are spoken in New York, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the world. New York is home to more than 3.2 million residents born outside the United States, the largest foreign-born population of any city in the world as of 2016. As of 2019, the New York metropolitan area is estimated to produce a gross metropolitan product (GMP) of $2.0 trillion. If the New York metropolitan area were a sovereign state, it would have the eighth-largest economy in the world. New York is home to the highest number of billionaires of any city in the world.

New York City traces its origins to a trading post founded on the southern tip of Manhattan Island by Dutch colonists in approximately 1624. The settlement was named New Amsterdam (Dutch: Nieuw Amsterdam) in 1626 and was chartered as a city in 1653. The city came under English control in 1664 and was renamed New York after King Charles II of England granted the lands to his brother, the Duke of York. The city was regained by the Dutch in July 1673 and was renamed New Orange for one year and three months; the city has been continuously named New York since November 1674. New York City was the capital of the United States from 1785 until 1790, and has been the largest U.S. city since 1790. The Statue of Liberty greeted millions of immigrants as they came to the U.S. by ship in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and is a symbol of the U.S. and its ideals of liberty and peace. In the 21st century, New York has emerged as a global node of creativity, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability, and as a symbol of freedom and cultural diversity. In 2019, New York was voted the greatest city in the world per a survey of over 30,000 people from 48 cities worldwide, citing its cultural diversity.

Many districts and monuments in New York City are major landmarks, including three of the world’s ten most visited tourist attractions in 2013. A record 66.6 million tourists visited New York City in 2019. Times Square is the brightly illuminated hub of the Broadway Theater District, one of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections, and a major center of the world’s entertainment industry. Many of the city’s landmarks, skyscrapers, and parks are known around the world, as is the city’s fast pace, spawning the term New York minute. The Empire State Building has become the global standard of reference to describe the height and length of other structures. Manhattan’s real estate market is among the most expensive in the world. Providing continuous 24/7 service and contributing to the nickname The City That Never Sleeps, the New York City Subway is the largest single-operator rapid transit system worldwide, with 472 rail stations. The city has over 120 colleges and universities, including Columbia University, New York University, Rockefeller University, and the City University of New York system, which is the largest urban public university system in the United States. Anchored by Wall Street in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan, New York City has been called both the world’s leading financial center and the most financially powerful city in the world, and is home to the world’s two largest stock exchanges by total market capitalization, the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ. (Wikipedia)

Photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) proposed Changing New York, her grand project to document New York City, to the Federal Art Project (FAP) in 1935. The FAP was a Depression-era government program for unemployed artists and workers in related fields such as advertising, graphic design, illustration, photofinishing, and publishing.

Abbott devoted half of her photographs to lower Manhattan, particularly the financial district, the waterfront, the lower East Side, and Greenwich Village. Abbott also photographed areas of Brooklyn and Astoria, Queens. The collection provides insight into one artist’s vision to depict the changing nature of New York City during the 1930s.

Broome Street, Manhattan.
Broadway near Broome Street, Manhattan.
Broome Street, Manhattan.
First Avenue and East 70th Street, Manhattan.
Ewen Avenue, Bronx.
Gas tank and Queensboro Bridge, East 62nd Street & York Avenue, Manhattan.
Vanderbilt, From E. 46th Street, Manhattan.
Newsstand, 32nd Street and Third Avenue, Manhattan.
Spring and Varick Streets, Manhattan.
Oak and New Chambers Streets, Manhattan.
Grove Street, Manhattan.
Jefferson Market Court, southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and West 10th Street, Manhattan.
Tri-boro Barber School, 264 Bowery, Manhattan.
Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, Manhattan.
Mulberry and Prince Streets, Manhattan.
Waterfront, South Street, Manhattan.
Unemployed and huts, West Houston & Mercer St., Manhattan.
Men share a light in front of hut with open door, milk can and washtub inside, hut to left has pictures in frames adorning the outside of it.
Minetta Street, Manhattan.
Henry Street, Manhattan.
Fish dealers and the Meyers Hotel in row of buildings along South Street.
Fulton Street Dock, Manhattan skyline, Manhattan.
Lackawanna and Hoboken ferries, with clock tower above, C.R.R. of N.J. ferry, left, 14th St. trolley and cars and wagons.
Looking into Thomas Street from a building across Broadway.
Looking down Pike Street toward the Manhattan Bridge.
John Wanamakers’s, Fourth Avenue and 9th Street, Manhattan.
‘El’ Second and Third Avenue Lines, Hanover Square and Pearl Street, Manhattan.
Court of first model tenement house in New York, 72nd Street and First Avenue, Manhattan.
Looking from pier toward Manhattan, tugboats moored left, Downtown Skyport, right, skyscrapers in the background.
Union Square, Manhattan.
MacDougal Alley, between West 8th Street and Washington Square North, Manhattan.
Madison Square, looking northeast, Manhattan.
Rhinelander Row: I. Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets, Manhattan. Row of houses lined with wooden porches, wagon in front, cobblestone street with trolley tracks.
Fifth Ave. and 8th St.
‘El’: 2nd & 3rd Avenue lines, looking W. from Second & Pearl St., Manhattan.
Jay Street, No. 115, Brooklyn.
Looking down Cedar Street, in shadow, rounded corner and entrance of #67-69 at right, police officer just visible, lower right corner.
Tinker looks over his shoulder at camera while he ties box to wagon already loaded with pans, brushes, basins, etc.
Warehouse, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn.
Woman boards 23rd St. trolley outside Erie Railroad Ferry terminal, West 23rd St.
Ann Morgan’s Town House on Corner, northeast corner of East 57th Street, Manhattan.
Long building wtih clock tower at far end housing Dept. of Docks and a Police station; man walks toward camera near newsstand in foreground.
Reade Street, between West and Washington Streets, Manhattan.
West Street, Manhattan.
Billboards top buildings at the corner of Warren and West Sts.
Dey Street between West and Washington Streets, Manhattan.
Radio Row, Cortlandt Street, Manhattan.
West St. and North Moore, Manhattan.
Looking north in Washington Square
‘El’ Second and Third Avenue Lines, looking toward Doyers Street, Manhattan.
Ferry, Chambers Street, Manhattan.
Lackawanna Railroad Freight station, pier 13
Box office and marquee of Lyric theater
Steel frame building going up under the Brooklyn Bridge next to brick warehouse, Manhattan skyline in the distance.
West Street, Manhattan.
Bedford and Grove Streets, Manhattan.
Willow and Poplar Street, Brooklyn.
Willow Place, Brooklyn.
Columbia Heights, Brooklyn.
Talman Street, Brooklyn.
Talman Street, Brooklyn.
Elevated railroad station in Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan,
Trucks, West and Desbrosses Sts., Manhattan.
Washington Square North, Manhattan.
Greyhound Bus Terminal, 33rd and 34th Streets, Manhattan. 1936
Herald Square. Looking down from ‘el’ station at intersection of 34th and Broadway.
Union Square, 14th Street and Broadway, Manhattan.
Looking across City Hall Park at buildings lining Park Row, including the Tribune and Pulitzer buildings.
City Vista, West Street, looking east, Manhattan.
West Washington Market, Washington Street and Loew Avenue, Manhattan.

(Photos: Berenice Abbott, via New York Public Library)

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