Old New York In Photos #141 – Children’s Recreation On Rooftops

Children On New York’s Rooftops 1909-1910

Children playing on a roof in New York City April 28, 1910 from the series Living On (A) Skyscraper photo George G. Bain Collection Library of Congress (LOC)

In the early twentieth century the roofs of New York would offer a respite from hot days in New York. While roofs could be dangerous, the streets were full of peril with horses, trolleys and filth.

The news organization headed by George G. Bain sent its photographers up to the roofs to see life from this perspective. Bain’s collection of thousands of surviving news photographs are available at the Library of Congress with many available online.

While many of these photographs are dated by the LOC as circa 1919, I believe that date to be off by about 10 years. Based upon the clothing, backgrounds and short descriptions, most of the photos date from around 1909-1910.

The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

A gathering of children getting ready to dance at the pine grove on the roof of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Monday, March 29, 1909. Researching this event I discovered this gathering was a benefit for the Parks and Playground Association.

The children performed folk dances in national costumes.

Here the children do a traditional Swedish dance

This photo was also dated circa 1919. However it appears to be from the same benefit in 1909.

This Parks and Playground Association benefit was the first time the public was admitted for to the pine grove on the Waldorf’s roof.

Regular Rooftops

From the series entitled Living On A Skyscraper, three girls play on the roof with their dolls.

Based on the background this appears to be the same rooftop as the girls with their dolls. Boys are playing the skillful game of marbles.

Family and friends gather on the roof with men playing cards and women relax. A hobby horse is waiting to be used as a child rides a tricycle. Another child lays on the hammock. Just like today, people want music when congregating and a gramophone and pile of records are nearby.

Schools & A Library

With limited outdoor space, many public schools placed rooftop playgrounds atop their buildings. So what are the boys doing on the roof of P.S. 44 at the intersection of Hubert and Collister Street? Though the photo is labeled “a potato race,” it looks more like wooden blocks the boys will be gathering.

The Hebrew Technical Institute for Girls also possessed a rooftop playground. The purpose of the vocational school was to “elevate working-class Jewish immigrant girls.” The school was located at 240 Second Avenue on 15th Street and closed in 1932.

Atop the Rivingston Street Public Library between Allen and Ludlow Street was this delightful rooftop reading room.  Rather than reading in their stuffy tenement homes, many children would take full advantage of the small facility. The 1905 McKim, Mead & White designed library was sold in 1950 and became a restaurant / dance hall. Later the building was sold to The Church of the Nazarene. The former library at 61 Rivington Street has now been converted to The Library apartments by a real estate developer.

A Store

This photo is captioned as “Children’s Playground In Big Store, NY” with the LOC adding a date of circa 1919.

This actually looks like fun compared to being dragged around to shop with your mother. Heck, you can even ride a pony.

Siegel-Cooper Department Store at 18th Street and Sixth Avenue was known as “The Big Store.” A guidebook to Siegel-Cooper describes a place for parents to leave their children with trained attendants while they shopped. So it is very possible this is Siegel-Cooper around 1910.

A similar photograph shows the sandbox at “Children’s Playgrounds in Big Store,” again, most likely Siegel-Cooper.

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