JUMP TO PAGE   100  >  200  >  300  >  400  >  500  >  600

Gotham: 1931

Gotham: 1931

New York. December 15, 1931. "River House, 52nd Street and East River. Cloud study, noon, looking south from 27th floor." 5x7 safety negative by the prolific architectural photographer Samuel H. Gottscho. View full size.



Even though the original caption says noon, I believe those shadows are way too long for that time of day.........maybe he got his notes mixed up.

[He's not the one who's mixed up. Winter solstice, Northern Hemisphere -- hello? - Dave]

December sunlight

>> The sunrise pretty perfectly illuminates the buildings. At a different time of day, the effect would not have been half so good.

It's closer to midday -- I'd say 11:30, maybe noon.

[And I'd say it's noon because the caption under the photo says "noon, looking south." - Dave]

No people

Where are all the people? It's as if they have been magically removed. We only see remnants of their existence. A bit of laundry. A few parked cars. Penthouse terrace furniture. But no humans. Weird.


One of the neatest things from the aerial photos is seeing all the structures, plants, odds and ends on the roofs of the buildings. We never know about that from ground level!


I lived on East 54th between First and Second Avenues from 1961 through 1963, just a few blocks from this area.

I enjoyed drinks at the top of the Beekman Tower between First and Beekman Place. What a great and elegant neighborhood that was, even better in my opinion than Sutton Place, two blocks north.

Thanks Shorpy

Thanks to Shorpy we enjoy great pictures like these,

thanks again and greetings to all.


I love the laundry hanging on the line in the lower right of this picture -- so many details, so much time and movement.

Superman's Metropolis

There's a saying amongst comic book fans that Metropolis is New York in daytime, while Gotham City is New York at night. My personal opinion is that Metropolis is New York from the air, where you can't see the garbage on the street, while Gotham City is New York at ground level where all the faults and flaws are all too visible.


I walk through the area in the middle of this photo every day. I'm amazed by the number of still-familiar buildings in this photo, I didn't realize so many were so old.

Notable changes: the FDR Drive now takes up the area along the East River. Most of the area along the river between the Beekman Hotel (tall building in mid-foreground) and the first set of tall smokestacks seen on the left side of the photograph is inhabited by the United Nations. Those smokestacks are now gone, too - demolished about 5 years ago in anticipation of a long-delayed residential development.

Dead End

Coal barges, slaughterhouses and luxury highrises: the location for the 1937 movie "Dead End"; a neighborhood in transition. How one man's slum is another's prime real estate.

Railroad Float

Just behind the coal wharf you can see two or three railroad car floats. Once a common sight in New York and other cities, they've become largely obsolete with decreasing freight traffic and improved river crossings.

School, work and home

I attended secretarial school in the Chrysler Building, lived a couple blocks away at the Barbizon Hotel when it was a residence for single women, and my first job was in the Empire State Building. Breathtaking photo.

More than a bit of luck

Gottscho had a great understanding of light. The sunrise pretty perfectly illuminates the buildings. At a different time of day, the effect would not have been half so good.

Empire still dominates

My fist trip ever to NYC was in 2004. While approaching the city on Amtrak, I was amazed that how, after 70 years, the Empire State Building dominated the skyline.


Somebody cue Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue!

1 Beekman Place

Bottom left is 1 Beekman Place. Sixteen floors, built as a cooperative, 42 apartments now selling at over $1M each. The coal pier next door is gone.

View from Queens

Awesome picture

Incidentally, 1931 was the year the Empire State Building was completed. I agree that the real star of the picture is the Chrysler Building, which was the world's tallest for 11 months before the Empire State took that title away.


Cities were so much more attractive before the glass boxes started to take over in the '50s. San Francisco is another city that looks fantastic up until the late '40s.


I've seen this exact picture before, reproduced as a giant framed poster. I didn't realize it was Gottscho.

High Irony

The star of this photo is the Chrysler Building. How the mighty have fallen.


These are without a doubt my FAVORITE shorpy pics. I really hope someone somewhere has more of these grand views of the city. SO MUCH GOING ON IN ONE PICTURE!!!


Proof, as if needed, that New York will always be the most American of cities! This photo demonstrates the excitement and the beauty of this one of a kind place where expansion "up" was exploited to the max!

Syndicate content is a vintage photography site featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago. Contact us | Privacy policy | Site © 2023 Shorpy Inc.