A New Interactive Map Shows All Four Million Buildings That Existed in New York City from 1939 to 1941

New York­ers have borne wit­ness to a notice­able uptick in the num­ber of shiny, new build­ings going up in the city over the last few years, crowd­ing the water­front, ris­ing from the ash­es of com­mu­ni­ty gar­dens and old­er, infi­nite­ly more mod­est struc­tures.

Their devel­op­ers have tak­en care to top load them with luxu­ry ameni­ties—rooftop cabanas, 24-hour fit­ness clubs, mar­ble coun­ter­tops, screen­ing rooms.

But one thing they can’t pro­vide is the sense of lived his­to­ry that imbues every old build­ing with a true sense of char­ac­ter, mys­tique, and oft-grub­by charm.

I fear that the occu­pants of these new­er build­ings won’t have near­ly as much fun as the rest of us search­ing for our cur­rent address­es on the NYC Munic­i­pal Archives’ inter­ac­tive map, above.

Every dot rep­re­sents a Works Progress Admin­is­tra­tion pho­to­graph of a New York City build­ing, snapped between 1939 and 1941 as a means of stan­dard­iz­ing the way in which prop­er­ty val­ues were assessed and record­ed.

There are 4,282,000 dots, spread out between five bor­oughs.

Does that sound dense­ly packed?

You should see it today… there’s been a lot of ver­ti­cal build.

This unas­sum­ing fuel oil plant near Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal has giv­en way to a 430-unit build­ing boast­ing a yoga room, spin stu­dios, and valet ser­vices for those in need of dry-clean­ing, laun­dry, apart­ment clean­ing, or dog walking…though sad­ly, no on-premis­es motor oil. We find that omis­sion some­what sur­pris­ing for such a full-ser­vice res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment on the banks of a Super­fund site, whose clean up is esti­mat­ed to tip the scales at $500 mil­lion.

We also won­der what the occu­pants of the above build­ings would have made of the glassy 25-sto­ry com­plex that opened on their coor­di­nates ear­li­er this year. Is it just us, or does it seem a bit disin­gen­u­ous of its devel­op­ers to trum­pet that its loca­tion is “the epit­o­me of New York City’s authen­tic­i­ty, with over a cen­tu­ry of rich his­to­ry, where the world’s sar­to­r­i­al and culi­nary trends are born”?

(You can find us a few blocks away mut­ter­ing into our chopped liv­er at Russ and Daugh­ters, a ven­er­a­ble food shop that looks much the same today as it did in 1940, though you’ll have to con­firm with a bit of research on your own if you don’t want to take our word for it, the WPA “dot” reveal­ing lit­tle more than a man with a stick and sev­er­al mov­ing vehi­cles.)

Our final stop is one of many archi­tec­tur­al ghosts to haunt the Hud­son Yards colos­sus, the self-described “epi­cen­ter of Manhattan’s New West Side… a bea­con for cre­ative pro­fes­sion­als, a hub for fash­ion, design, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and art.” In addi­tion to a much reviled $200 mil­lion shawar­ma-shaped “3‑dimensional pub­lic space” and state of the art wine fridges, ameni­ties now include diag­nos­tic and anti­body test­ing “per­formed by top med­ical pro­fes­sion­als.”

It’s telling that in the sum­mer of 2020, prospec­tive ten­ants were offered incen­tives includ­ing two months’ free rent and a $2,000 gift card.

Proof, per­haps, that New York will con­tin­ue as it always has—a city in con­stant flux. The preva­lence of mod­ern high rise build­ings in dystopi­an fic­tion gives us pause.…

Explore the Street View of 1940s New York here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Behold the New York City Street Tree Map: An Inter­ac­tive Map That Cat­a­logues the 700,000 Trees Shad­ing the Streets of New York City

New York Pub­lic Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Down­load and Use

The New York Pub­lic Library Lets You Down­load 180,000 Images in High Res­o­lu­tion: His­toric Pho­tographs, Maps, Let­ters & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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