Google Earth shot in 1924: the Manhattan you never knew

Want to get lost in the past for an afternoon? You want to go to this link:

It’s just like Google Earth: a flyover of New York City, showing all the rooftops, streets, rail lines and street life.

Except it was shot in 1924. Yes, 1924!

This incredible time machine is on New York City’s official civic site. Once you call it up, use the camera icon to change the year, and then use the slider to go back from today’s view to 1924. The magnifying glass gets you closer to the area you choose, and the arrow keys move you around.

Then jump forward a quarter century to 1951. Then compare to recent images.

It was only six years since World War One, when Germans managed to actually infiltrate New York Harbor and blow up the Black Tom munitions depot, and aerial images like these were almost certainly a crucial part of the future American defense strategy.

Penn Station, 1924

Pennsylvania Station, back from the dead

The changes from 1924 are extreme.

  • No Empire State Building.
  • Elevated railways on Ninth, Sixth, and Third Avenues.
  • Sixth Avenue halts at Minetta Lane — within a year, it would begin to be sliced through to Canal Street to ease traffic to the Holland Tunnel and facilitate subway construction. By counting houses, I can find an apartment building I lived in in grad school on King Street and Sixth Avenue. It was sliced in half by The Cut, and Hancock Street and Congress Street were erased forever. My old apartment was shaped like a trapezoid because of it,and overlooked Sixth Avenue, but in this photo, it’s an intact, mid-block building.
  • Wharves along the Hudson where Battery Park City was later erected on landfill.
  • Sara Roosevelt Park between Chrystie and Forsyth Streets hadn’t yet been bulldozed: The Lower East Side was still relentlessly crammed with buildings.
  • Look how few trees are in the parks!

    Times Square, 1924

    Times Square without shadows -- but near the El (and there's another just west, on Ninth)

  • London Terrace on 23rd Street is still a row of townhouses with front yards.
  • Chelsea (north of 23rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenuea) is still a real neighborhood comprised of tenements. So is Stuyvesant Town and much of the Lowest East Side and the Bronx. You can really witness the destruction caused by Robert Moses as it develops over the decades.
  • Pennsylvania Station is still there. So is the old Metropolitan Opera House and the original Madison Square Garden at Madison and 26th Street. Move the slider to 1951, and you can see the second Madison Square Garden at Eighth and 50th Street.
  • Central Park’s Great Lawn doesn’t exist. It’s a reservoir.
Greenwich Village, 1924

The Sixth Avenue El doglegs at W. 3rd Street, the obliteration of Houston Street is decades away, and my old apartment (the top left corner of the "12A" points to it; it's on the south side of King Street just west of where the image darkens) remains in its pre-amputated state.

Seriously, I have been plumbing this link for months and I am still crazy excited about it. It’s the coolest link in my universe this year. I just had to share it with you.

2 Responses to “Google Earth shot in 1924: the Manhattan you never knew”

  1. Gro Vasbotten

    My grandmother sent a letter back to Norway in early 1925 telling about her visit to Times Square on New Years Eve 1924, we still have the letter and read it every christmas. Thats why a googled and found this site. Nice. Gro