Old New York In Postcards #21 – 1920s & 1930s New York City Aerial Images

New York City In The 1920s & 1930s As Seen By Airplane

A Vanished Skyline

Peenn Station Area from airplane 1920sWhen in lower Brooklyn, Queens or bicycling across the George Washington Bridge, I look at the New York City skyline. It has become something I do not recognize.

New York is a city that architecturally alters itself every year. It comes as no surprise that there are buildings that now obscure the sight of what were once tourist magnets.

The Woolworth, Bankers Trust, Equitable, Municipal, Citicorp and Chrysler Buildings are dwarfed by new neighbors. Fifty Seventh Street is now an ugly amalgamation of needle glass towers selling for $40 million to absentee owners.

I never experienced the grandeur of the classic Manhattan skyline. It had mostly vanished by the 1960s in a spate of modern construction in the financial district and midtown. However, even through the 1980s there was not an infestation of buildings that blocked New York’s most notable structures.

But in the past fifteen years the New York skyline has been overhauled. In the process obliterating the uniqueness of New York. New, mammoth unattractive buildings are now spreading like a fungus in the city. The skyline seen now could be Chicago, Los Angeles or Houston. It has been impossible to stop a bunch of undistinguished architectural monstrosities to destroy the vistas that made New York famous.

Let us return to the 1920s and 30s when New York City looked like NEW YORK CITY. Here are some aerial postcard views showing what was once a picturesque city.

Click on any image to enlarge as all of these postcards are real photo. I scanned many (not all) of them at 300 dpi so the detail is pretty clear when enlarged.

New York from the south aerial view 1930sLooking north we have a fantastic overview of the entire southern portion of the island.

aerial lower manhattan east river 1930s aerialAnother classic view when approaching Manhattan from the south showing the piers and many turn-of-the-century and art deco buildings that proliferate in lower Manhattan.

Aerial view of Lower Manhattan from the Hudson Looking east across the Hudson another at the southern tip of Manhattan. This view captures most of the important buildings in the financial district. 

Moving a little further up the Hudson we see some of the piers that ran up the river continuosly for six miles.

Lower NYC skyline

On the right, the Woolworth, Park Row and St. Paul Buildings (in height order) and Municipal Building (l) are prominently seen. In the background the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges connect lower Manhattan with Brooklyn.

We are cheating with this one as it was not taken from an “aeroplane,” but from the Woolworth Building in the 1920s. Looking towards the harbor Governor’s (l) and Bedloe’s (Statue of Liberty) Island (r) are in the distance. Starting from the left the tall buildings are Bankers Trust (pyramid roof),  Hanover Building directly in front of Bankers Trust, and the white 33 story Liberty Tower Building in the foreground. Across the street on west side of Broadway across from the Liberty Tower is the 34 story The City Investing Building. Directly behind City Investing is the Singer Building, briefly the tallest building in the world from 1908 until 1909. The large building furthest south by the water is the 32 story Whitehall Building Annex.

This is an overhead shot of the the same area shows the cluster of towers in the financial district.

From Chambers Street to 23rd Streets, there were few buildings that you might call visual landmarks of Manhattan. The Con Edison Building on 14th Street would qualify as a building New Yorkers could see from many vantage points.

But above 23rd Street we start getting a swell of famous structures. The Flatiron, Metropolitan Life and New York Life Buildings are all below 34th Street. Afterwards the skies would be touched by many notable structures.  Here is a clear view looking northwest towards the many buildings that comprised midtown Manhattan.  Seen here are: the Chanin, Lincoln, Graybar, and New York Central Buildings and the Rockefeller Center complex.

If the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings are not the two most iconic buildings in New York, the what are? Looking east at midtown, the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings dominate the area. Other tall buildings pale in comparison.

All the way uptown is Columbia University’s campus and the nearby Riverside Church and Grant’s Tomb.

Concluding our aerial tour of Manhattan in the 1920s and 30s is the graceful George Washington Bridge. Fort Lee, NJ looks relatively barren.

If we look carefully, we might be able to count 40 vehicles on the once single level bridge.

Those days are over.

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