A Long, Guided Tour of New York City Captured in Original Color Film (1937)

So much clas­sic black and white footage has been dig­i­tal­ly col­orized recent­ly, it’s hard to remem­ber that the East­man Kodak Com­pa­ny’s Kodachrome film debuted way back in 1935.

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 Arttrussed 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.

Oys­ters were still food for the mass­es, though records show that local­ly har­vest­ed ones had been deemed too pol­lut­ed for human con­sump­tion for at least a decade.

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 ®

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

06:35 See 07:19, Black car?

06:45 Cities Ser­vice Build­ing at 70 Pine St. right. Left: see 07:12

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

09:25 See 09:48

09:27 Bal­ti­more and Ohio (B&O) Rail­road

09:29 Clyde Mal­lo­ry Lines

09:48  South end of West Side High­way

09:4910:0810:1110:45 Loca­tion?

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

13:14 dit­to

13:35 dit­to

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

35:59 Inte­ri­or

37:06 From Pier 88

37:23 North­ern, East­ern, South­ern or West­ern Prince, built 1929

37:32 Tug, William C. Gaynor

38:20 Depar­ture

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

A Trip Through New York City in 1911: Vin­tage Video of NYC Gets Col­orized & Revived with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

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

The Lost Neigh­bor­hood Buried Under New York City’s Cen­tral Park

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

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