Old New York Before The Skyscrapers In 39 Vintage Photos

Published August 22, 2016
Updated May 6, 2020

These fascinating photos of old New York reveal what the city looked like before towering buildings dominated the skyline.

These days, one cannot think of New York City without envisioning the steely thicket of soaring buildings whose foundations dig deep into Manhattan soil. While inextricable from the idea and physical reality of New York City today, these skyscrapers compose a relatively meager part of the city’s nearly 400-year history.

Indeed, the New York City most of us recognize vis-a-vis its splintered skyline really began to develop over a short period of time.

From the early 1910s to the 1930s, New York City saw approximately 20 percent of its tallest buildings — including the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the Woolworth Building, among others — enter construction. And with it, endless commentary on the physical appearance and meaning of the city that French architect Le Corbusier famously deemed a “beautiful disaster.”

Below, we look back at a New York City on the cusp of architectural transformation — just as planners and architects began looking high into the sky and saw not clouds but opportunity:

Gotham Fire House And Engine, East 3rd St. (now Ladder 9, Engine 33, 42 Great Jones Street), New York City, 1901
Six Unidentified Little Girls Seated On A Wall Street Stoop, New York City, August 18, 1904.
5th Avenue   33rd Street 1900
Battery Park
Old New York Before The Skyscrapers In 39 Vintage Photos
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And if you enjoy seeing old New York before the age of skyscrapers, check out this restored video tour of New York City in 1911:

Want more old New York? Check out the city when the subway was the most dangerous place in the world, and when punk took over Lower Manhattan.

All That's Interesting
All That's Interesting is a Brooklyn-based digital publisher that seeks out the stories to illuminate the past, present, and future.