The Bookshelf

A journey to 1980s New York in old photographs

1970s car on New York street

A recent conversation about famous New York nightclub Studio 54 prompted me to root out my old photos of New York in the 1980s. I spent a summer there on a J1 visa, and brought my first camera – a Nikon FG-20. I roamed around photographing anything that caught my eye. Everything looked as if it belonged in a movie.

View from the top of the World Trades Center in New York in 1984

This is a view no-one can see any more – from the top of the World Trade Center. You can make out the shadows of the Twin Towers on the ground.

Old photographs have a way of seizing the past and keeping it safe.

View to Manhattan from a warehouse in Dumbo district of Brooklyn, 1984

I worked in a furniture warehouse in Brooklyn. The area was gritty and strictly commercial, a land of Mack trucks and freight elevators.

I had taken this from the warehouse window, and now wanted to look up the area online, but couldn’t remember the street address. Amazingly, a high-quality scan of the original photo, which was only a few inches wide, came up with this detail:

Close-up of New York street sign reading Plymouth

Looking up Plymouth Street, I came across an article about lofts for sale in a nearby building, the old Brillo factory (where the famous pad was invented). They’re selling for up to $4 million each. That’s some pad.

Expensive loft in Brooklyn

Before and After

This prompted me to do some Before and After combinations. I took the photo below on my first visit to Times Square, with one lonely lit-up billboard advertising a CNN personality, Jack Cafferty.

Times Square NYC in 1984

In 2019, there is hardly a square inch of space in Times Square that isn’t flashing, moving, and selling you something.

Times Square NYC in 2018

Some things haven’t changed so much – the Broadway Theatre on West 53rd is pretty much the same. The current show, King Kong could even be from the 1930s.

The Broadway Theatre NYC in 1984
The Broadway Theatre NYC in 2018

Down on the Bowery, our local diner Moisha’s Luncheonette is no more. Chinatown has spread Northward and gobbled it up.

Chinese shops on Grand St NYC

When I shot this view of the Manhattan skyline from the Staten Island ferry, the buildings seemed almost impossibly tall. But in the recent picture, they have all inched even further skyward. And the replacement of the Twin Towers by the Freedom Tower proves time does not stand still.

1984 NYC skyline showing Twin Towers
2018 NYC skyline showing Freedom Tower

What stories do your old travel photos tell?

You’d be amazed by the little details that a good scan can uncover. And I can help with picture research like this to turn your pictures into intriguing stories.