Old NYC: New York’s Past via Eighty Thousand Photos

134-136 80th St. btw. Amsterdam and Columbus, circa 1911

At dusk on Memorial Day, Tom and I walked through Riverside Park to the waterfront and looked at all the boats and buildings. We took note of tall shiny buildings and the new(ish) constructions stretching from 80th St. down to the tetrahedron-in-progress that reminds me of the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas.

Tom pointed to the West Side Highway, “I’d really like to see them get rid of that.” “What would they put there instead?”

“A subway underground. Then they could put a long stretch of green and bike paths that connect the city to the waterfront without the highway getting in the way.

I squinted and saw a line of bike riders cruising below the highway. It could definitely have been a prettier ride for them and could imagine what Tom was describing. I agreed it was a good idea, but knew that changes of that scale probably wouldn’t happen in our lifetime.

“Wouldn’t you love to come back in five hundred years to see what New York is going to be like?” I said.

“Yeah that’d be awesome,” Tom said, “Or I’d like to come back in fifty. Because I can actually do that.”

This morning City Room, NYTime’s blog about the five boroughs, introduced me to this awesome little website: OldNyc.org. 

There are more than 80,000 images — all from the New York Public Library’s Milstein Division, and many from the camera of Percy Loomis Sperr, who captured the shifting shape of the city from the late 1920s to the early 1940s.

The photo above shows my street, one avenue east. I walk past those old brownstones every time I visit Central Park, and aside from larger trees on the sidewalk and the different people inside, the houses…haven’t changed at all. And are just as beautiful.

In five hundred years I hope to be Stardust (yes, with a capital ‘S’) but who knows where we’ll be in fifty years. Perhaps still in or returned to New York. But I can always look back in time for as long as I want. Clicking on the orange dots I have a feeling as much as parts of the city are changing or will change, many parts will try to stay more or less the same. That is, unmistakably New York.

++ A fitting Sunday Funny from the New York Times Magazine.

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