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Peek into the City's Past at the Archives' Visitor Center

Monday, May 07, 2012

Brooklyn Bridge showing painters on suspenders, taken October 7, 1914. (Eugene de Salignac/Department of Bridges/Plant & Structures Collection. Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives.)

A huge trove of New York City's archival photos is now available online.

The city has digitized 870,000 of them dating back to the mid-1800s. They capture everything from 1950s crime scenes to striking images of skyscrapers being built in the 1910s. 

When the collection first went online in April, it got so much traffic that the New York City Municipal Archives' web site crashed.

"There is so much world-wide interest," said Eileen Flannelly, deputy commissioner for the city's Department of Records. "We knew it would be huge in the city and for New Yorkers, but the actual interest coming in from Germany and Spain and Brazil and the Czech Republic, all of these places, they can't get enough of it. Like 12,000 hits every few minutes in the middle of the night."

The site is back up now and people can order prints of the photos online.

The digital collection represents about a third of all the city's photos, and the Municipal Archives hopes to get the rest digitized soon. In the meantime, the entire collection can be accessed in person -- at a new archives visitor center opening to the public this week.

Besides offering a first-hand look at this enormous group of photos, the visitor center will allow access to other pieces of the city's history -- including legal documents, the city's TV and radio recordings, and gifts given to mayors over the years, like a Waterford crystal baseball bat given to Mayor Giuliani by the Yankees.

Over the years, the city's Municipal Archives has been a regular stop for researchers, historians, journalists and genealogists. Flannelly hopes the new center will attract anyone who would like a peek at the city's past.

"This has been a project of love from beginning to end," she said. "There's just a lot of excitement here and we're thrilled and anxious to welcome everybody."

The Brian Lehrer Show team is in love with these archival pictures from the New York City Municipal Archives. The show is posting a few for the next few weeks on its Facebook page and is asking listeners to share the photos and answer: What do you notice, and what do you know about these pictures? Share your thoughts here.

Department of Docks & Ferries Collection. Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives.
West Street congestion, circa 1903.
Eugene de Salignac/Department of Bridges/Plant & Structures Collection. Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives.
Brooklyn Bridge showing painters on suspenders, taken October 7, 1914.
Det. Charles A. Carlstrom/NYPD Evidence Collection. Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives.
Homicide, body in barrel in field, circa 1918.
Eugene de Salignac. Courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives.
Municipal Building – July 18, 1924 – 10 Days after WNYC went on the air.
Eugene de Salignac. Courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives.

Grover A. Whalen (wearing tuxedo), commissioner for Bridges Plant and Structures at WNYC on first day of broadcast, with engineers as they prepare for going on the air in that evening for the first time. Whalen was WNYC’s founder.

Eugene de Salignac/Courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives

WNYC transmitter tower at Greenpoint, Brooklyn – October 29, 1936 – a full year before it went into operation.

Borough President Manhattan Collection. Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives.
28th Street, looking east from Sixth Avenue to Broadway (from El station) of men laying blocks down street, taken on October 2, 1930.
Borough President Brooklyn Collection. Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives.
Warehouse fire, sign "No Smoking Allowed," from the 1950s.
WPA Federal Writers' Project Collection. Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives.
White Lights of Broadway at Times Square, circa December 1937.
Eugene de Salignac/Courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives

Martin Luther King Jr. with Mrs. King and Mayor Robert Wagner December 17, 1964 upon King's return from Oslo, Norway, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize.  He was awarded a medal by Mayor Wagner.

Mayor Ed Koch Collection. Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives.
Mayor Koch gives City Key to Dolly Parton on the steps of City Hall, August 21, 1978.
Department of Finance 1980s Tax Photos. Courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives.
672 8th Avenue, Manhattan, now a Westin Hotel, circa 1983-1988

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Comments [2]

Connie from Waccabuc, NY

Who are the photographers? Eugene de Salignac's photographs are terrific!

May. 07 2012 07:54 AM
Connie from Waccabuc, NY

Having been born in NYC and grown up there, I really am pleased to look forward to these archival photos.

May. 07 2012 07:33 AM

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