WEEKEND HISTORY: A FIELD GUIDE TO RESEARCHING THE HISTORY OF NYC BUILDINGS

South side of 106th St at Riverside -Historic District, S De Vries, 2015 low res
The South side of 106th street near Riverside Drive. Photo courtesy of Susan De Vries.

By Marjorie Cohen

Are you curious about the history of your building, your church, your synagogue, your kids’ school? Or maybe that interesting-­looking building down the block? When was it built, who lived there, who was the architect? And what did your block look like in the 20’s, the 30’s, even earlier? The Upper West Side is full of buildings with interesting stories to tell and now, with the emergence of so many high tech tools for historians, researching a building’s history is easier than ever before.

At a recent program put together by the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group (website: http://upperwestsidehistory.weebly.com/ and blog: http://bloomingdalehistory.com/) the audience got a terrific short course in how to conduct building research. The program was arranged especially for the BNHG by the staff of the Neighborhood Preservation Center, a partnership of three organizations: the Historic Districts Council, a city­wide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods; the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, a leader in the preservation and protection of the architectural heritage and cultural history of the Village; and the St. Mark’s Historic Landmark Fund, a group dedicated to the preservation of the St. Mark’s Church campus where the Center is located.

The evening’s featured speakers were Anthony W. Robins, well­ known NYC architectural historian who has written, taught, lectured and led walking tours on that subject for decades; and Susan De Vries, a New York city history consultant. Robins, the researcher for the current exhibit on NY Transportation Landmarks at the NY Transit Museum Annex at Grand Central Station, gave a thorough power point talk that highlighted links to dozens of specific research tools both on and off the internet and DeVries presented an interesting survey of the typology of west side buildings. Following the two talks, audience members were given the rare opportunity to consult one-­on-­one with volunteers­­­ Sana Afsar, Elizabeth Meshel, Katharine Fields and Hannah Gall­­ who helped them get started on their own research.

Audience members received a take­away compiled by the NPC, with links to online research sources for maps, building documentation, landmark designation reports; a bibliography; a description of the BNHG collection housed at the Bloomingdale Branch of the NYPL; and more. Click here for your very own copy of this incredibly informative document in pdf form.

And, now that you have all of this invaluable information at your fingertips, there are no more excuses for putting off the start of your building history search project. Happy hunting!

HISTORY | 5 comments | permalink
    1. thanks, WSR, NPC, and BNHG for these great resources.

    2. madelleine says:

      Years ago, Peter Salwen, an old-time Upper West sider wrote a book with photos about the history of the UWS. Well done!

    3. Daniel says:

      Thanks for the document. Ive been curious for a long time how to find out about buildings.

    4. meech says:

      This was an excellent and well-attended program. I’ve been researching my building’s history for a few years in preparation of our 100th this year (I have a degree in genealogical research which goes hand in hand with house-histories) and I thought his overview was wonderful.

      I have been through all the major records depots (Municipal Archives, NYPL, City Hall Library, Columbia, NYC Deeds and Mortgages, NYHS) but did not know about the NYPL Bloomingdale Branch collections.

      Take advantage of downloading the PDF while you can.

      Also, Phillip Sutton of the NYPL is doing a talk coming up on 20 May — don’t miss it. Great resource and talk. http://www.nypl.org/events/programs/2015/05/20/who-lived-house-how-research-history-your-new-york-city-home

    5. Laura Delano says:

      Excellent work!