New York is a city that's obsessed with tomorrow. Newer, bigger, shinier. So much so that the past often gets forgotten, with little to remind us what the city used to look like. Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to pick a spot on the map and see what it look like 70 or 80 years ago?
Enter OldNYC, a new website that lets users see thousands of historical photos, arranged via their locations on the NYC street grid. Find a neighborhood, click a red dot and see what that exact spot looked like decades ago. Some areas don't look all that different, while others are totally unrecognizable.
The Art of Brooklyn asked OldNYC architect/Brooklyn-based Time Lord Dan Vanderkam a few questions about his incredible achievement.
New York City has a tendency to "erase" its own history, especially the more obscure/non-famous variety. Was this something you were thinking about when you started this project?
There are many areas that have changed dramatically (e.g. streets that used to have elevated trains/trolleys or areas in eastern Queens that used to be rural). But there are many places that look remarkably similar, too. My office building in Union Square is perfectly recognizable in photos from the 1930s.
You started Old NYC when you lived in San Francisco. Now that you're in Brooklyn, do you walk down a street and suddenly realize "Oh, this is the corner where that old mansion used to be!" Or do you use your own map to guide you around?
I finished working on OldSF when I'd already moved to NYC, so the idea of doing OldNYC as a follow-up was pretty clear. I've learned that there used to be trolley tracks on my street in Williamsburg, and that there are far more trees on the street and in parks than there used to be.
Are you working on anything new that will amaze and delight us?
I've got my hands full with OldNYC and my day job for now! I'm hoping to add more photos to the project. For example, there are photos from what's now Stuytown, but they don't show up on the map because their cross-streets (e.g. 18th and A) no longer exist. So there's more work to be done!
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