Fascinating book reveals New York 'then and now'

Incredible ‘then and now’ images uncover New York in its infancy – before the World Trade Center replaced ‘bustling immigrant enclave’ of Little Syria and Times Square was overrun with LED ads and tourists

  • New York City Yesterday and Today contains images taken between 1930 and 1940 for the tax department 
  • The tax office set out to document every piece of real estate in the city’s five boroughs
  • Author Jamie McDonald went about matching the photos with the locations, showing how they look today 

A fascinating new book reveals how little or how much change New York has endured over the past century, with black and white images juxtaposed with snaps from today.  

Jamie McDonald, the author of New York City Yesterday and Today, sifted through hundreds of images taken mostly between 1930 and 1940 for the tax department in a bid to document virtually every piece of real estate in the city’s five boroughs; Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.

He notes in the introduction that at one point, ‘close to 1,000 employees worked on the project, mostly auditors and bookkeepers… [but] only 32 photographers shot the photographs.’

One area that has evolved somewhat thanks to the invention of LED screens, is the northern triangle of Times Square known as Duffy Square. Touching on how the signage has changed in the area, McDonald writes: ‘Neon and light bulbs were replaced with video screens and fiber optics. Incidentally, Coca-Cola still holds a spot here, having done so for decades.’

Another startling contrast can be seen when comparing an image of the World Trade Center Complex with the ‘Little Syria’ neighborhood which existed there before. McDonald says it now has ‘almost nothing to show from its bustling days as an immigrant enclave.’

Take a stroll down to see how the Big Apple has changed over time, with many remnants of the past still intact, and others long lost due to architectural and technological innovation… 

224-228 WEST 47TH STREET, HOTEL EDISON, MANHATTAN: The uptown Hotel Edison remains open to this day and McDonald reveals that when it opened in 1931 ‘its namesake, inventor Thomas Edison, was there to ceremoniously turn on the lights on’

200 WEST 47TH STREET, PATRICK DUFFY SQUARE, MANHATTAN: One set of photos capture the northern triangle of Times Square known as Duffy Square. The previous building, McDonald says, ‘housed various offices, many catering to the entertainment business’ while a new office building was constructed in 2008. With the new building, ‘neon and light bulbs were replaced with video screens and fiber optics’ but Coca-Cola still retains a spot here, ‘having done so for decades’ 

228 WEST 52ND STREET, GALLAGHER’S STEAKHOUSE, MANHATTAN: Gallagher’s, which opened in 1927, is deemed a ‘quintessential New York City steakhouse’ by McDonald. He reveals that it originally served as a speakeasy, masterminded by vaudeville performer Ed Gallagher and his wife, Ziegfeld girl Helen Gallagher, along with gambler Jack Solomon. The venue can also ‘lay claim to being the first place to serve a New York strip – a premium cut of beef located on the loin’

193 GREENWICH STREET, WORLD TRADE CENTER DISTRICT, MANHATTAN: The neighborhood known as Little Syria, which is where the World Trade Center complex now sits, ‘has almost nothing to show from its bustling days as an immigrant enclave’ McDonald says. The photos above provide a different angle of the same area near 191 Greenwich Street

146-150 ORCHARD STREET, MANHATTAN: This black and white photo of Orchard Street, McDonald says, ‘shows just how much of a melting pot the Lower East Side was, not just in ethnicity but also in goods and services’

19 PELL STREET, MON HING CO., MANHATTAN: At the time this tax photo was taken, McDonald reveals that 19 Pell was a local restaurant supply company. However, in the early 20th century, the apartments above housed ‘quite a few unsavory characters’ including ‘suspected Chinese gang members,’ and ‘at least one’ murder occurred outside. Thankfully, ‘the only clipping going on here’ today is in the first-floor barber shop

2 WHITE STREET, THE GIDEON TUCKER HOUSE, MANHATTAN: This scene in Tribeca remains pretty much unchanged. McDonald reveals that the protected ‘Federal Style house’ was built by Gideon Tucker – a city alderman and owner of a plaster factory on the same spot – for his family in 1809. He adds that over the centuries, ‘a multitude of shops and businesses have been here… including a barber shop, restaurant, and cigar store’

1216 SURF AVENUE, WORLD CIRCUS SIDE SHOW, BROOKLYN: This establishment, McDonald writes, ‘gave Coney Island its own quintessential sideshow in the vein of traveling country carnivals and P. T. Barnum.’ He continues: ‘Created by “Professor” Samuel Wagner, the World Circus Side Show had a long life, operating from 1922 to 1941. Many of the stars at World Circus Side Show are known even today, including Pip and Zip (the Pinheads), Prince Randian (the Human Torso), and Lady Olga (the Bearded Lady)’

1005, 999, 997 CASTLETON AVENUE, STATEN ISLAND: This row of buildings in West Brighton, Staten Island, ‘appears to have once been a bustling shopping spot,’ McDonald notes, but not today with the stores long closed

42 REID AVENUE, G. CAIOZZO CANDY STORE, STATEN ISLAND: This building in South Beach, Staten Island, has been modified several times over the decades, the current owners say. McDonald tells readers to look at the more recent photo and ‘notice the center roof line above the Royal Deli & Grill sign to see the original building.’ He adds: ‘Also, note that the front wooden porch and gravel road have been replaced by a concrete sidewalk and street’

2007 CORNELL AVENUE, CLASON POINT, THE BRONX: McDonald says of this unusual structure in the Bronx: ‘After its use as a barge, this ship was made land-worthy and became a home. Thanks to more lax city and building regulations back then, structures like this could be more makeshift. For instance, tar paper shacks and even tents were still being used as homes and shops well into the mid-20th century’

203 EAST 29TH STREET, WOODEN HOUSE AND BRICK CARRIAGE, MANHATTAN: This wooden house is one of the last remaining structures of its kind in the city, McDonald reveals. He says little is known about its history or why it was built, and ‘one guess is it was a small farmhouse to an orchard.’ Even its age is cause for debate, with guesses ranging from 1747 to 1845

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