It’s a common trait among New Yorkers, both native-born and émigrés of long-standing: We’re all convinced that city’s glory days are now behind it, that the latest arrivals from such outposts asa Waukegan, Wewoka, and Walla Walla are clueless as to what they’ve missed as the city continues to renovate, refurbish and remake itself and beloved retail establishments, eateries, nightspots, and culture centers close their doors for good.
Mind you, this attitude has not become prevalent in just the past couple of years or even the past couple of decades. It’s been this way for at least a century and probably longer. All it takes the closing of a favorite dumpling house, dive bar, or quirky boutique, and we quickly jump to the conclusion that the city just ain’t what it used to be.
Well, what the city used to be is easier to ascertain now, with the opening of the New York City Municipal Archives Online Gallery. This collection of more than 870,000 images lets New Yorkers (and those who wish they were) browse the city’s past with ease, whether one prefers to browse a particular collection of images or use key words to search the entire gallery.
We naturally searched for sepia images of our neighborhood, Chelsea, and we learned that the city is much better off today than it was in the 1930s in at least one key category: In looking at several 1931 shots of our very own block, we were struck by the utter lack of foliage.
Say what you will about the good old days in NYC, the city had a distinct shortage of trees back then, as the photos below demonstrate. As quickly as we’d jump at the chance to time travel back to 1931, we think our block looks significantly more appealing today than it did then (the cool old cars aside), and if you’ll click on the images, you can get an even better look.