New York, it seems, is always under construction. As the industrial revolution enabled engineers to build taller buildings, longer bridges and expansive subway systems, New York had to have it all. The Empire State Building, which began construction in 1930 and took a little over a year to build, is still considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. It remained the tallest structure in the world until 1967. The Brooklyn Bridge, is not just an icon of the New York skyline, it’s also one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Our collection of vintage photos document world’s most famous constructions.
A barefoot boy stands on the cobblestones of South Street, in Lower Manhattan, looking northeast past the horsecarts and the ships in the harbor, toward the most astounding piece of construction he's seen in his lifetime, the Manhattan Bridge. From the looks of things, this bridge has probably been under construction during the entirety of his lifetime, the construction having started in 1901, and not due to be complete until 1910.
On March 24, 1900, in front of City Hall, Mayor Robert A. Van Wyck broke ground with a silver spade for the Underground Rapid Transit Road. Two days later, the first actual work on the subway was begun at the intersection of Bleecker and Greene Streets, by William Barclay Parsons, the Chief Engineer, and James Pilkington, the contractor who would reroute the sewers. Here we see Parsons take a pickax to the pavement, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers.
Ravenswood, Queens, started as a tony hamlet in the middle of the 19th Century, but by the time of this photograph it had been absorbed into Long Island City. In this photograph, looking west, one can see the ongoing construction of the Queensboro Bridge. It looks as if the Blackwell's Island span was complete and what remains is to connect to the spans on Manhattan and Long Island. The bridge, originally named the Blackwell's Island Bridge, would open to the public on June 12, 1909, not too long after this photo was taken.
This black and white photograph, taken in early 1947, shows the early stages of the construction of Stuyvesant Town. The photographer shoots east along 14th Street from an elevated position on First Avenue. In the distance, to the south and east one can see the Williamsburg Bridge. A few years before this photo was taken this area was known as the Gas House District because of the large Gas Tanks in the area.
In this black and white photograph, taken in 1907, an unknown photographer has captured the intrepid Horace Ashton, sitting on a girder above the East River, capturing the view from his own unique perspective. At this time, Ashton was probably working for the Underwood & Underwood studio.
The Empire State Building may no longer be the tallest building in the world, but it is easily one of the most recognizable. It holds a place in pop culture that few man-made structures ever attain, most probably thanks to a giant fictional gorilla. In this black and white photograph, King Kong's exploits are still a couple of years off. The building is incomplete, its dirigible dock is still under construction.
Was there ever a time when New York City was not under construction? Here, at the corner of Thompson and Grand in November, 1927, construction is business as usual. The photographer looks east, past construction on either side of the street, toward the West Broadway and the Grand Street Station of the Sixth Avenue Elevated Train, which ceased running in 1938. It was replaced by the IND line, which is probably what is being built in this photograph.
This black and white photograph, taken in 1902, captured a busy day on Broadway. Looking south from West 104th Street, we see a number of streetcars rumbling through the construction of the subway, past the construction of a high rise.
In 1901, the great crossroads of 23rd Street, Fifth Avenue, and Broadway had not yet taken its final form. The Flatiron Building, also known as the Fuller Building, was just beginning construction. In this black and white turn of the century image, the only sign of the iconic skyscraper is the fence around the construction site. The Heinz 57 ad on the side of the Cumberland Hotel was about to be hidden forever.