New Exhibit: Lost In Old New York

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Pennsylvania Station, Wurtz BrosThe Museum of the City of New York is offering museumgoers a chance to travel back to the 19th and 20th centuries with Lost In Old New York, an interactive installation of eight classic images of to the city’s most iconic locations. From the beaches of Staten and Coney Islands and the old Penn Station to the 1939 World’s Fair, Lost In Old New York celebrates the places that, for well over a century, helped New York become a world-class city. Each month until the exhibition closes October 1, the Museum will award a free, one-year membership to a randomly selected participant.

The show, located throughout the Museum’s first floor, serves as a precursor to New York at Its Core, the three-gallery exhibition of the city’s 400-year history that opens November 18, 2016. The first-ever Museum presentation of this story and the Museum’s first permanent exhibition, New York at Its Core charts New York City’s rise from a striving Dutch village to the “Capital of the World,” a preeminent global city that’s facing a future in a world that differs drastically from the one in which it started.

Drawn from the Museum’s robust collection, Lost In Old New York includes images of the below locations, taken by the noted photographers Samuel Gottscho, Wurtz Bros, and Byron Company, among others.

Images on Display:

[Broadway and 42nd Street, Times Square], c. 1947
Photograph by Wide World Photos, Inc.
Museum of the City of New York, Photo Archives, X2010.11.936

Longacre Square, the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, got a new name in 1903 when The New York Times moved its headquarters to a new skyscraper erected there. The Times relocated again in 1913, but the name “Times Square” stuck, and by 1925, the “Crossroads of the World” had become a destination for locals and tourists alike, with fine dining establishments and numerous theaters. In this image from the late 1940s, the Times building is seen at center, with the Hotel Astor and Loew’s Theater on the right.

Bathing, Midland Beach, 1898
Photograph by the Byron Company
Museum of the City of New York, Byron Collection,

By the turn of the 20th century, Staten Island’s beaches had become a site for “cheap amusements,” much like Brooklyn’s Coney Island, with a boardwalk, rides, and concessions. Catering to the growing working class, Midland and South Beach featured an electric light show, a carousel, and a Ferris wheel, which is seen in the background of this 1898 photograph. The era of the seaside amusement park on Staten Island lasted until the 1930s, when the City Parks Department, headed by Robert Moses transformed them into public parks, with larger public swimming areas and increased automobile access.

[Woman walking by Bergdorf Goodman], 1952
Photograph by Arthur Rothstein or John Vachon for LOOK magazine
Museum of the City of New York, LOOK Collection, Gift of Cowles Magazines, Inc., X2011.4.11919.103

Today a legendary midtown shopping destination, Bergdorf Goodman began as a humble tailor’s shop near Union Square, founded in 1899 by Herman Bergdorf and soon run by his apprentice-turned-partner Edwin Goodman. Goodman moved the department store to its current location at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street in 1928, constructing the Beaux-Arts building on the former site of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s mansion. Bergdorf Goodman—the only luxury goods store that exists solely in New York—joined other high-end Fifth Avenue retailers, like Saks, Lord & Taylor, and Macy’s, in creating eye-catching window displays to lure shoppers.

Brooklyn Bridge Promenade, 1903
Photograph by the Byron Company
Museum of the City of New York, Byron Collection,

Opened on May 24, 1883, connecting what were then the separate cities of Brooklyn and Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world (1,595 feet from tower to tower), and the first built using steel-wire cable. Within 24 hours of the inaugural festivities, 1,800 horse-drawn carriages traversed the bridge and more than 150,000 people crossed on foot via the elevated pedestrian promenade. In 1903, the year this photograph was taken, more than 350,000 people moved daily across the bridge, by carriage, automobile, streetcar, train, or on foot. By comparison, in 2011, only about 130,000 crossed the bridge on an average day—and 96% were in automobiles.

Pennsylvania Station, c. 1935
Photograph by Wurtz Bros.
Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.16805

The original Pennsylvania Station, located between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and 31st and 33rd Streets, opened in 1910. The building was designed by McKim, Mead & White and was considered a masterpiece of Beaux-Arts architecture. As railway ridership declined in the 1950s, Pennsylvania Railroad optioned the property’s air rights, which allowed for demolition of the passenger concourse (seen in this photograph) and train shed to make way for office towers and a sports complex. In October 1963, despite outrage from architects and preservationists, all aboveground areas of the station were demolished; construction of the new Madison Square Garden and Penn Plaza were completed in 1968. Many cite the failed battle to save Penn Station as a catalyst for the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee and the passing of the Landmarks Preservation Law in 1965.

Schaefer Center at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, 1939
Photograph by Samuel H. Gottscho
Museum of the City of New York, Gottscho-Schleisner Collection, 50.137.2

The 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, located in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, was an international exposition centered around the theme “Building the World of Tomorrow.” One of the pavilions was the Schaefer Center, which included a circular restaurant that seated 1,600, as well as a 160-foot, open-air bar with a mural depicting the history of brewing. Schaefer Beer was first produced in Manhattan in 1842 and relocated to Brooklyn in the early 20th century. The brewery operated in New York City until 1975.

Coney Island, The Algerian Theatre, 1896
Photograph by the Byron Company
Museum of the City of New York, Byron Collection,

Brooklyn’s famous seaside entertainment zone first began marketing itself to vacationing New Yorkers in the 1850s, with just a few hotels and restaurants along the beach. By the 1890s, when this photograph was taken, Coney Island was attracting millions of visitors annually; the area’s offerings had expanded to include bathhouses, saloons, a hotel shaped like an elephant, a Ferris wheel with incandescent lights, and rides and games at Steeplechase Park. Appealing to a Victorian interest in exoticism was the “The Streets of Cairo” sideshow, where gentlemen could visit the Algerian Theatre to watch scantily clad women dance the “hootchy kootchy.”

[Harlem], 1949
Photograph John Vachon for LOOK magazine
Museum of the City of New York, LOOK Collection, Gift of Cowles Magazines, Inc.

This photograph, taken around 125th Street in Harlem, highlights New York’s place in the fight for racial and religious equality in the 1940s and ‘50s. The large billboard was created by the Institute for American Democracy, an offshoot of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, which had mobilized against intolerance since 1913. The fight for racial justice gained additional energy in Harlem and beyond in the aftermath of World War II, as the war against fascism and the Cold War abroad fueled arguments for desegregation, equality, and freedom at home.

Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. The Museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City, and serves the people of the city as well as visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections. For more information, visit their website.

Photo of Pennsylvania Station by the Wurtz Bros.

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