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Met Light: 1910

New York City circa 1910. "Metropolitan Life Insurance Company building at night." Note the 10-minute exposure time as recorded by the clock. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

New York City circa 1910. "Metropolitan Life Insurance Company building at night." Note the 10-minute exposure time as recorded by the clock. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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My workplace

What a great shot. In the mid 1980s I worked in the tapered part at the top, on the floor with the arched windows, but on the opposite side from this picture. We had fantastic views!


Is that a person lurking at the very top?

[The dark shape in the cupola is a bell -- three tons, bronze. - Dave]

Sunset Tower

tterace's comment about how it must have been a warm night got me thinking about what time of year this might have been - for the sky to be dark by 7:20-7:30, it must not have been in the summer. But in order to pinpoint further the time of year, I looked at the lighting conditions in the photo - I believe that the MetLife tower itself is illuminated by the setting sun. There does not appear to be any other light source that would illuminate the building so far up the tower. And the direction is right, as the photographer is situated across the park to the west of the building. According to, sunset was around this time in early April and early September, 1910.

2nd Look

Our Madison Square Park Tipster is correct the domed structure in this photo is not the Appellate Courthouse. The courthouse is indeed on 25th St and not in this picture. After a more careful look, the domed building is a church. It was the Madison Square Presbyterian Church, a short lived structure built in 1906 and demolished in 1915. I imagine somebody made the Congregation an offer they couldn't refuse.

[The church was razed in 1919; Met Life paid $500,000 for the property. Interesting side note: Its predecessor was torn down in 1905 to make way for the main Met Life tower. - Dave]


My first thought was also; "Oh, a ten minute exposure, how neat." But now I'm wondering why the hour hand isn't also swept a sixth of the way between 7 and 8? And how on earth do you get five people in NYC to sit still for that long?

[We see something similar in this 1943 time exposure. The hour hand might have moved in 15- or 30-minute increments. As for the sitters, they have to remain relatively still only long enough to register on the emulsion, not necessarily the entire length of the exposure. - Dave]

Refined dating

I agree that the photo is beautiful and evocative. The church certainly lasted more than ten years, and it was only built to replace the church that had been on the site of the Tower. The tall building behind the church is the "north annex" of MetLife, which opened in 1919. The lights indicate that it is already in use, so I would date the photo no earlier than 1919.

[Thankew! - Dave]

[I think you're mistaken. The Annex replaced the domed church seen in our photo. Demolition of the church commenced in 1919; below is a New York Times article from that year with an artist's sketch showing the finished annex. Which was an extension of the "old annex" -- the mid-rise structure seen in our photo behind the church. So we're going back to 1910. - Dave]

Bat signal

Those circle effects almost make it look as if the Police Chief is signaling for help.

That domed building

The domed building at 24th & Madison was architect Stanford White's 1906 Madison Square Presbyterian Church, a widely-admired masterpiece that stood less than 10 years before being demolished to make way for the full-block Metropolitan Life North Building, the "strange art deco stump" referenced below. At 100 stories, it was planned as the tallest skyscraper in the world, but was cut off, rather literally, at 32 stories by the stock market crash in 1929.

[Not quite. The "stump" replaced the annex that replaced the church, which stood for 13 years. The church was demolished in 1919 to make room for an extension of the "old annex" seen behind it in our photo. The resulting structure, known simply as "the annex," was completed around 1921. The North Building (the "Art Deco stump"), which replaced the annex, was completed in 1932. - Dave]

Little-known fact

The Met Life tower was built to withstand aerial attack by giant parameciums.


I share the thought of photoscream -- how could those people sitting at the park believe that things could get more modern?

Greetings from Argentina, this blog is fantastic!

Don't Jump!

I can't tell for sure, but is that a man standing in the belvedere at the very top of the building? What a view HE must have had!

[That's a bell in the cupola. - Dave]

Gloriously Beautiful

That is the only way I can describe this shot. It makes me think of the book "Time After time".

The clarity is STUNNING and the subject top notch. Anyone know who the photographer was?

My favorite park

I spent this sunny afternoon in Madison Square Park, embroidering and watching the installation of the latest MAD. SQ. ART exhibition. It's my favorite NYC park, hands down, any time of year. I must beg to differ with Mr. Mel, though. The domed building with pediment that fronts Madison between 24th and 25th Streets is gone, replaced by a strange art deco stump. The courthouse is on the north side of 25th Street, and its pediment faces 25th Street, not Madison.


Positively ethereal ... that's the best word for it. Thanks for sharing this. Another instant classic -- these black and white nighttime photos are so beautiful.

Back to the Future

I love photos like this that make a 100-year-old scene look current. I can imagine the thoughts going through the heads of those sitting on the park benches: Lighted skyscrapers, motor cars, telephones -- we've reached the apex, things can't get any more modern ... can they"? If only they knew.

New York State of Mind

The low domed structure with the columns is the Manhattan Appellate Courthouse, there since 1900 and one of the busiest in the State to this day. If they turn you down, next stop is the NY State Supreme Court. The property that it was built on was owned by a NY Congressman who sold it to the city for $370,000, a phenomenal sum in those days.

Whatever happened to

"Success Magazine"?


Just plain old, wow.

I like the people on the park benches who sat there, unmoving, for a goodly portion of those ten minutes. Must have been a warm night.

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