A City On The Brink: 1960s New York In 55 Dramatic Photos

Published September 9, 2017
Updated January 17, 2020

From the Mad Men of the ad world to the riots in Harlem to the artists of Greenwich Village, this was New York in the 1960s.

New York's skyline sits in darkness during the 1965 blackout.Orville AndrewsFPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Boy On Street
The streets of Harlem. Circa 1960.Susan Schiff Faludi/Getty Images

Girl Walking Down Street
A woman walks down the street, sporting the styles of the era. 1969.Vernon Merritt III/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Scared Kids Running Brooklyn
Two terrified African-American girls flee police officers during a race riot in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, itself sparked by the rioting over police brutality in Harlem. 1964.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Man Leaning On Chrysler
On East 2nd Street, a man shows off his car. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Andy Warhol Bananas
Andy Warhol at work in his studio. 1966.Herve GLOAGUEN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Stonewall Cop
Demonstrators clash with cops during the Stonewall Riots for gay rights. 1969.Joseph Ambrosini/New York Daily News via Wikimedia

Chair Bullet Holes
Bullet holes mark the wall at the Washington Heights assassination site of civil rights leader Malcolm X. 1965.Library of Congress

The Beatles Land
The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at Kennedy Airport. 1964.Library of Congress

Children Throwing Bricks
On the West Side, two young boys pass the time by throwing bricks in an abandoned lot. 1962.Library of Congress

Beatnik Party Painted Faces
Famed for his motto of "jazz is my religion, and surrealism is my point of view," poet and trumpeter Ted Joans was a fixture of the Beat scene in New York City. He was similarly famed for holding bohemian parties, like in this photograph taken at a costume party in Greenwich Village in 1960.ICP/Getty Images

Mary Wells Lawrence Sitting
Mary Wells Lawrence, one of the few female ad executives during the 1960s "Mad Men" era, sits in her office. 1966.Susan Wood/Getty Images

Harlem Poverty
A woman walks down the street in a slum area of Harlem. 1965.Central Press/Getty Images

Girl On Scooter Bnw
A young girl on a scooter stops to check her nails. 1965.J R/Flickr

Trash Pile Worker
A sanitation worker attempts to manage a mountain of garbage, which had accumulated during a citywide garbage strike. 1968.Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

Harlem Riots Demonstration
Protesters take to the streets of Harlem, protesting police Lt. Thomas Gilligan, who shot and killed a 15-year-old African-American boy. 1964.Wikimedia Commons

Harlem Riots Police Violence
In Harlem, the protest turns violent. Here, two police men beat a man with their nightsticks. 1964.Wikimedia Commons

Police Pointing Guns
Police in Harlem watch the action atop a building with their guns drawn. 1964.Library of Congress

Harlem Taunting Police
Demonstrators taunt the police during the Harlem riot of 1964.Library of Congress

Mulberry St Jukebox 1969
A young man chats with a girl in a bar. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Hat Display Woman 1969
A fashionable young woman checks out a hat display in a store. 1969.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Draft Card Burners Sign
Demonstrators from both sides stand on the sidelines of an anti-Vietnam War march. 1968.Harvey L. Silver/Corbis via Getty Images

Street Night
A homeless man sits in front of a flop house on the Bowery. 1967.Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Nyc West 3rd St
On West 3rd Street, a young man smokes a cigarette while he leans against his car. 1968.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Listening To Kings Funeral
Garment workers at the Abe Schrader Shop stop their work to listen to Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral on the radio. 1968.Wikimedia Commons

American Born Chinese Girls
Four girls in Chinatown who have, as the photographer notes in the original caption, heavily assimilated into American culture. 1965.Library of Congress

Mother Holding Baby 1967
A mother holds her baby tightly. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Dilapidated Car In Bronx
In the Bronx, a broken-down car lays forgotten on the streets. 1964.Wikimedia Commons

Women With Graffiti
Two women hang out in the East Village, a hub for artists in New York. 1967.Wikimedia Commons

Thompson Square Park
Lovers gather at Tompkins Square Park. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Woman On Bench
A woman sits on a bench in Tompkins Square Park. 1967.Wikimedia Commons

Nyc Street Scene 1960s
A crowd of people go about their business on the streets of Manhattan. 1964.Library of Congress

Avenue C Fruit Stand 1965
A fruit stand on Avenue C. 1965.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Old Man Comforting Child
An old man comforts his crying grandchild. 1962.Library of Congress

New York 1960s Baby
On Avenue B, a man proudly holds up his baby. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Girl On Balcony
On the Lower East Side, a little girl peers over the balcony. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Woman On Bleeker St
A young girl in a bohemian part of town. 1968.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Tompkins Square Park Rain
Young people play in the rain in Tompkins Square Park. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Girl Caught In The Rain
In downtown Manhattan, a woman makes her way through the downpour under the cover of her umbrella. 1967.Wikimedia Commons

Tompkins Square Park 1967
Young people hang out in the East Village. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Ny Man By Store
A man leans against a convenience store window. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Woman Standing Outside
A woman stands outside the New York Public Library. 1967.Wikimedia Commons

St Marks Place
A couple sits on the curb. 1968.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Ban The Bomb Sign
In Brooklyn, a group of protesters calls for an end to atomic weapons and the Cold War. 1962.Library of Congress

Hunter College Kids Arrested
Two students who have been arrested on narcotics charges cover their faces with books because they're too embarrassed to have their photos appear in the paper. 1968.Library of Congress

Wall St Ticker Tape
On Wall Street, people celebrate during the ticker tape parade in honor of the New York Mets' World Series victory. 1969.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Nyc Chinatown 1960
The streets of Chinatown. Circa 1965-1970.Devin Hunter/Flickr

Nyc Miller Fish Market
A man steps out of a fish market. 1966.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

New York Produce Stand
In Little Italy, a vendor sells groceries out of a pushcart. 1962.Library of Congress

Coney Island Restaurant
Young people stop for snacks at Coney Island. 1966.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Waverly Place Valentine
A man carries a large valentine to his sweetheart. 1968.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

East River Kiss 1968
A couple shares a kiss under an umbrella. 1964.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Look At Modern Art
A couple takes in a piece of artwork. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Playing Indian Instruments
A young man and a young woman check out the sitars in a music shop. 1968.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

New York 1960s Dance
In the East Village, a young man and an elderly woman share a dance. 1967.James Jowers/George Eastman Museum/Flickr

Before the recession of 1969 helped send New York spiraling into an era of drugs, poverty, and violence, the city had one last decade of mid-century glory, at least on the surface. New York in the 1960s was a city full of life and diversity, from the executives of Madison Avenue to the artists of the East Village – but it was also a time of turmoil.

Throughout the 1960s, a new wave of immigrants was starting to move in. As American immigration laws relaxed and white residents moved out to the suburbs, New York City was turning into a multicultural metropolis unlike the world had ever seen.

Meanwhile, early LGBT communities were starting to form in Greenwich Village and fight, for the first time, for their rights. By the end of the decade, on June 28, 1969, the LGBT demonstrators of the Stonewall Riots stood up against police oppression and launched the modern gay right's movement as we know it today.

Across the decade as a whole, people all over New York — and elsewhere — were fighting for change. New York in the 1960s saw countless strikes and protests. And, sometimes, protest boiled over into violence.

During the Harlem riot of 1964, for example, African-Americans rebelled against police brutality after an officer killed a 15-year-old boy. The ensuing riot roped in some 4,000 New Yorkers, leaving more than 100 injured and 450 arrested.

This was far from New York's only moment of upheaval during this tumultuous decade. As much as the 1960s was a time of vibrancy, culture, and wealth, it was also a time when little cracks started to slip into the background of daily life, usually left unnoticed, warning of the collapse to come.

Next, check out these photographs that show how New York changed even further in the 1970s and the 1980s.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer, teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked, and can be found on his website.