Empire State Building (2)

A worker atop the Empire State Building in 1931. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.

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The same view in 2011:

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These historic photos, which capture the human element of the construction of the Empire State Building, also show how much midtown New York has changed in the past 80 years.  One prominent landmark that didn’t even exist in 1931 was the Rockefeller Center, whose construction was just beginning when the first photo was taken.  It is now easily visible in the upper center of the 2011 photo.

Empire State Building (1)

A worker atop the Empire State Building in 1931. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.

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The same view in 2011:

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The view from atop the Empire State Building, looking north toward the Upper West Side and the Hudson River.  Central Park is seen prominently in the 1931 photo, but it is barely visible 80 years later, as the increasing height of the skyscrapers has all but blocked it from view.

Ellis Island, New York

Ellis Island, as it appeared around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2012:

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Opened in 1892, Ellis Island served as an immigration center until 1954, and during that time about 12 immigrants were processed there. The first building burned in a 1897 fire, and the present building was opened in 1900. The island itself was significantly expanded both before and after the 1905 photo, which was the subject of a border dispute between New York and New Jersey. The Supreme Court ruled that only the original part of the island is New York, and the artificial fill is New Jersey, meaning that the New York section is completely surrounded by New Jersey.

Times Square Building, New York

The Times Square Building, as it appeared in 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same view in October, 2010:

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When the building was first built, it was the headquarters for the New York Times, hence the name Times Square. Prior to then, it was known as Longacre Square. The Times only kept their headquarters there until 1913 though, and used the building as a branch office until they sold it in 1961. In 1963, Allied Chemical bought the building and extensively modified its exterior. They sold it in 1996, at which point it was decided it would not be economically feasible to upgrade the interior, since the narrow building had such small floors. So, instead of renting the interior, the owners decided to rent the exterior, by adding 26 billboards that cover almost the entire building and bring in more money than renting the office space inside would.

Today, the building, which was once the second tallest in the city, and once towered over Times Square, is now dwarfed by taller buildings on virtually every side, including the 47-story Times Square Tower directly behind it, and the Condé Nast Building, visible on the left-hand side of the picture. However, it retains its place as a central part of Times Square, even if it is literally just a shell of its former self.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York

The Brooklyn Bridge from the south, as it appeared around 1904. The towers of the Williamsburg Bridge are barely visible in the distance. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same view in February, 2012:

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The Brooklyn Bridge hasn’t changed much in the past 108 years, but its surroundings have.  In addition to the Manhattan Bridge behind it, the skyline of the Lower East Side has also substantially changed, with high-rises covering much of the shoreline in this area.

Lower Manhattan

The view of Lower Manhattan in 1900, as seen from the water looking towards the Staten Island ferry terminal. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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A very similar view, taken in 2012:

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The angles here aren’t perfect: the first photo was taken a little closer to Manhattan and a little further to the east of where this one was taken – the ferry terminals on the right hand side of the 2012 photo are (as far as I can tell) in the same spot as the foreground of the 1900 photo. Still, the two photos capture the same general idea – that Lower Manhattan has changed a lot in the past 100+ years.  One of the challenges in identifying exactly what view the 1900 picture shows is that I cannot identify a single building that still exists today.  Several notable buildings are visible, such as the Manhattan Life Insurance Building (the tall tower in the distance, almost in the exact center of the photo), which is roughly in the same spot as 1 Wall Street, a rather unassuming light brown tower visible on the left-hand side of the 2012 photo.