The above footage of New York City was shot by an unknown enthusiast in and around 1937.
Dick Hoefsloot, the Netherlands-based videographer who posted it to YouTube after tweaking it a bit for motion stabilization and speed-correction, is not averse to artificially coloring historic footage using modern software, but in this case, there was no need.
It was shot in color.
If things have a greenish cast, that’s owing to the film on which it was shot. Three-color film, which added blue to the red-green mix, was more expensive and more commonly used later on.
Hoefsloot’s best guess is that this film was shot by a member of a wealthy family. It’s confidently made, but also seems to be a home movie of sorts, given the presence of an older woman who appears a half dozen times on this self-guided tour of New York sites.
There’s plenty here that remains familiar: the Woolworth Building and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, trussed up Christmas trees propped against makeshift sidewalk stands, the New York Public Library’s lions, Patience and Fortitude.
Other aspects are more a matter of nostalgia.
Over in Times Square, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back starring John Barrymore was playing at the Criterion (now the site of a Gap store), while the Paramount Theater, now a Hard Rock Cafe, played host to True Confession with Barrymore and Carol Lombard.
A bag of peanuts cost 15¢. A new Oldsmobile went for about $914 plus city tax.
Laundry could be seen strung between buildings (still can be on occasion), but people dressed up carefully for shopping trips and other excursions around town. Heaven forbid they step outside without a hat.
Though the Statue of Liberty makes an appearance, the film doesn’t depict the neighborhoods where new and established immigrants were known to congregate. Had the camera traveled uptown to the Apollo—by 1937, the largest employer of black theatrical workers in the country and the sole venue in the city in which they were hired for backstage positions—the overall composition would have proved less white.
The film, which was uploaded a little over a year ago, has recently attracted a fresh volley of attention, leading Hoefsloot to reissue his request for viewers to “refrain from (posting) political, religious or racist-related comments.”
In this fraught election year, we hope you will pardon a New Yorker for pointing out the legion of commenters flouting this polite request, so eager are they to fan the fires of intolerance by expressing a preference for the “way things used to be.”
With all due respect, there aren’t many people left who were present at the time, who can accurately recall and describe New York City in 1937. Our hunch is that those who can are not spending such time as remains rabble-rousing on YouTube.
So enjoy this historic window on the past, then take a deep breath and confront the present that’s revealing itself in the YouTube comments.
A chronological list of New York City sites and citizens appearing in this film circa 1937:
00:00 Lower Manhattan skyline seen from Brooklyn Heights Promenade
00:45 Staten Island steam ferry
01:05 RMS Carinthia
01:10 Old three-stack pass.ship, maybe USS Leviathan
01:28 One-stack pass.ship, name?
01:50 HAL SS Volendam or SS Veendam II
02:18 Westfield II steam ferry to Staten Island, built 1862?
02:30 Floyd Bennett Airfield, North Beach Air Service inc. hangar
02:43 Hoey Air Services hangar at F.B. Airfield
02:55 Ladies board monoplane, Stinson S Junior, NC10883, built 1931
03:15 Flying over New York: Central Park & Rockefeller Center
03:19 Empire State Building (ESB)
03:22 Chrysler building in the distance
03:26 Statue of Liberty island
03:30 Aircraft, Waco ZQC-6, built 1936
03:47 Reg.no. NC16234 becomes readable
04:00 Arrival of the “Fly Eddie Lyons” aircraft
04:18 Dutch made Fokker 1, packed
04:23 Douglas DC3 “Dakota”, also packed, new
04:28 Green mono- or tri-engine aircraft, type?
04:40 DC3 again. DC3’s flew first on 17 Dec.1935
04:44 Back side of Woolworth Building
05:42 Broadway at Bowling Green
05:12 Brooklyn across East River, view from Pier 11
05:13 Water plane, Grumman G-21A Goose
05:38 Street with bus, Standard Oil Building (R)
05:40 Truck, model?
05:42 Broadway at Bowling Green
05:46 Old truck, “Engels”, model?
05:48 Flag USA with 48 stars!
05:50 Broadway at Bowling Green, DeStoto Sunshine cab 1936
05:52 Truck, “Bier Mard Bros”, model?
05:56 Ford Model AA truck 1930
05:58 Open truck, model?
06:05 Standard Oil Building
06:25 Bus 366 & Ford Model A 1930
06:33 South Street & Coenties Slip
06:48 Small vessels in the East River
06:50 Owned by Harry F. Reardon
07:05 Shack on Coenties Slip, Pier 5
07:12 City Bank-Farmers Trust Building, 20 Exchange Place
07:15 Oyster bar, near Coenties Slip
07:19 South Street, looking North towards the old Seaman’s Church Institute
07:31 Holland America Line, Volendam-I, built 1922
07:32 Chrysler Plymouth P2 De Luxe
07:34 Oyster vendor
08:05 Vendor shows oyster in pot
08:16 Wall st.; Many cars, models?
08:30 Looking down Wall st.
08:52 More cars, models?
09:00 Near the Erie Ferry, 1934/35 Ford s.48 De Luxe
09:02 Rows of Christmas tree sales, location?
09:15 Erie Railroad building, location? Quay 21? Taxi, model?
09:23 1934 Dodge DS
09:27 Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad
09:29 Clyde Mallory Lines
09:48 South end of West Side Highway
10:25 Henry Hudson Parkway
11:30 George Washington Bridge without the Lower Level
12:07 Presbyterian Hospital, Washington Heights
12:15 Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research
12:49 New York Hospital at 68th St. & East River
13:42 Metropolitan Museum of Art
14:51 Rockefella Plaza & RCA building
16:33 Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
16:50 Public Library
17:24 Panoramic view, from ESB
17:45 RCA Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza
18:16 Original Penn Station
19:27 Movie True Confession, rel. 24 Dec.1937
19:30 Sloppy Joes
20:12 Neon lights & Xmas
26:34 Herald Square
29:48 Police Emergency Service (B&W)
31:00 SS Normandie, French Line, Pier 88
32:06 RMS Queen Mary, White Star Line, Pier 92
32:43 Departure Queen Mary
33:45 Italian Line, Pier 84, Terminal, dd.1935
34:00 SS Conte Di Savoia, Italian Line, Pier 84
34:25 Peanut seller, near the piers
34:35 Feeding the pidgeons
34:52 SS Normandie, exterior & on deck
35:30 View from Pier 88
37:06 From Pier 88
37:23 Northern, Eastern, Southern or Western Prince, built 1929
37:32 Tug, William C. Gaynor
38:38 Blue Riband!
39:15 Tugs push Normandie into fairway
39:50 Under own steam.
40:00 Statue of Liberty
40:15 SS Normandie leaves NYC
View more of Dick Hoefsloot’s historic uploads on his YouTube channel.