THROWBACK THURSDAY: THE NYPL HAS MORE AMAZING NEW TOOLS TO EXPLORE NEIGHBORHOOD HISTORY


Looking North on Broadway from 86th Street to 88th in 1935. Photo by P.L. Sperr via NYPL. See the bottom of this post for what that same stretch looks like today.

The New York Public Library has been creating some amazing digital tools in the past couple of years. The library wants more of its collection to be available to anyone with a computer or hand-held device, so it’s been digitizing its old maps and photos and presenting them in ways that make it easy for people accustomed to Google Maps and Streetview. In fact, its eventual goal is to allow people to travel back in time as if Google Maps had existed since the 19th century.

The library created a site called OldNYC that compiled and mapped historical photos of the whole city. That’s available here and we wrote about it in 2015.

Last month, the library unveiled a Maps By Decade tool that lets people place old maps over the current street grid, and search by decade and neighborhood. They had made similar tools available before but never with this kind of handy decade-by-decade design.

It’s useful for anyone researching a neighborhood, or for anyone who is simply interested in what things once looked like.

Take the map below showing Broadway and West End in the West 90’s circa 1916. Here’s a closeup:

Ah, theaters, summer gardens and roof gardens! That was the life.

And because it’s part of a larger street grid, you can put the map in context and find other maps that show how the block changed throughout the years.

Try it now! And for people who are a little more tech-savvy, the NYPL has also released data sets that you can explore yourself.

And here’s what that block in the photo at the top of this post looks like now:

HISTORY, NEWS | 19 comments | permalink
    1. Mary Jones says:

      The newer building went up in the mid 1980s, I remember when it was built. I have lived in the neighborhood for 50 years, was thinking recently of the New Yorker Theater 2 blocks north where we used to watch Rocky Horror Show late at night. Anyone else remember?

      • lynn says:

        I haven’t been here that long but I was always curious about the RHS phenomenon and for some reason I thought it took place downtown. Or was it something that took place at various venues throughout the city? Judging by comments in a number of threads here, it sounds like the UWS was a fun place to grow up.

        • B.B. says:

          RHS “phenomenon” took place pretty much everywhere the film was shown back then.

          Saw it countless times on 8th Street in the Village (back before the place became a campus extension of NYU), and the audience each time never failed to “deliver”.

          To this day when listening to soundtrack can remember “rain” =’s water pistols, “cards for pain” =’s people throwing decks of playing cards…..

      • Rebecca E says:

        Wow Mary Jones, bet you have seen so many changes in this area and you’re a wealth of knowledge on local history!!

      • AC says:

        Yes, I too remember. I’ve been living in the hood for 50 years as well.

        There are some really nice pics of that particular street and of the UWS on FB Page “Growing Up on the Old Upper West Side.”

      • Phoebe says:

        Mary, I too remember going almost every weekend to the New Yorker Theater to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and once in awhile, to the 8th Street Playhouse… Those were the days, my friend…

      • Judith Davidsen says:

        You’re a good bit younger than I. The NYer was where I first saw foreign films, vintage American films and vintage foreign films. Also saw “Operation Abolition” here and “Point of Order,” which the NYer owner played a part in getting made.

        I remember walking from the Thalia to the TipToe Inn, under a Key Food marquee advertising Chuck Steak and Peach Melba and assuming for a few seconds that that was a movie house too.

        Does anyone know why Key Food had a marquee?
        Had it been a movie house? The neighborhood was crawling with them.

        My RHS experience was refusing to let my daughter attend unless she was with me, and I was horrified.

    2. Carol Schwartz says:

      Know where Tip Top Bakery was? My grandparents lived 585 WEA and always had their delicious round cinnamon bread in the bakery’s distinctive white bag on the kitchen counter. .

    3. GG says:

      Wow, God bless you Mary Jones!! I’ve only been here on the UWS for 35 yrs or so and I thought I had seen a lot.:)

      If memory serves, and it does less and less these days, I remember going to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show downtown at the Bleecker Street Playhouse around the mid-80’s when I just started high school.

      What a madhouse, people all dressed up in crazy outfits, elaborate props, lots of funny smelling smoke in the air and me, a very confused teenager wondering what the hell was going on. Hahaha those were the days.

      Thanks for reminding me of that. Great times!!

      p.s. this is soooo much more fun than bickering about politics….right?

      • GG says:

        Now that Phoebe mentions it…it was the 8th Street Playhouse not Bleecker St.

        Like I said, the memories are starting to fade.:)

    4. Catherine says:

      I have only been here 43 years and remember Sloan’s supermarket as the anchor corner store. I remember some of the smaller shops heading towards 87th street, particularly a ladies lingerie store on the S/W corner – maybe Barbara Jean’s or something. Then they moved down Broadway and stayed for a very long time on the east side of Broadway, but are gone for good now. When the Boulevard went up, Gristede’s took over the current basement space. Glad to see those older beautiful buildings on 87 & 90th are still there.

    5. Jean says:

      I saw many changes on the UWS as I grew up on 88th & Broadway. I lived there from 1955 until 1978. I still live in NYC on Staten Island and rarely come into the city for anything. It’s no longer the UWS I once knew, hardly recognizing anything I once knew. One can barely cross the street now without bumping into someone. One has to walk practically to the other side of the sidewalk to avoid vendors. Nope. Not the same.

      PS, I worked at the New Yorker as a concessionair as well as in the box office.

    6. manhattan mark says:

      I’ve only lived on the Upper Westside for 80 years and it’s still the most desirable neighborhood in Manhattan to live. Things changed, but the culture stayed the same. We lost a lot of mom & pop stores, but you can walk into the Cafe 82 for a meal or just a cup of coffee and see how many of the customers walk in and say hello to half a dozen other customers…that’s what it was like in the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s
      and onward …a real community.

    7. d. gillespie says:

      I remember the New Yorker well. In the 1960’s and early-70’s I lived on 89th at CPW. I frequented that theatre, as well as the Beacon, the Thalia and other UWS houses. In those days I worked as a theatre manager for the Cinema 5 circuit. The closest (to the UWS) house I worked was the ‘new’ Paramount -the underground nightmare below Columbus Circle.

    8. swtcurran says:

      Thank you WSR for the posting and the web links. The OldNYC app is great!

    9. manhattan mark says:

      My previous comment was about the spirit of the UWS. The
      Rocky Horror Show which was always shown at midnight reminded me of all the theaters when I was growing up. Here are the ones I remember north to south: The Nemo @109th,
      The Olympia @ 107th,The Edison @103rd, The Carlton @100th, The Midtown (later the Metro) @ 99th, The symphony @95th, The Thalia on 95th, the new Yorker @89th, The RKO @84th, The Beacon@ 74th, and one at Columbus Circle whose name I cannot remember, sorry! All but the Thalia wee on Broadway.

      • Manhattan mark says:

        correction, the RKO was on 81st St. and Broadway, The marquee is still there as the entrance to the building…which now houses Starbucks and Staples.

    10. Jimbo says:

      Hey Mark–may I add THE ALDEN(67 & B’way)==I used to sneak in the side door 55 yrs ago.

      • manhattan mark says:

        Jimbo…Thanks for the addition of the the Alden, it shocked my brain into remembering the Riverside and the Riviera on
        Broadway between 96th & 97th street on the west side of B’way. I side door’d into the Riviera to see “Giant”.