19 December 2009

New York: Treasure trove of WPA photos

Tracing the Tribe apologizes for not posting this much earlier. It has been languishing in the drafts folder and deserves to be made public.

This resource will help you locate photos and details for your own addresses of interest, as it did Tracing the Tribe's Bronx apartment building and Brooklyn house.

From 1938 to 1943, 700,000 photos were taken of real estate in every borough of New York. In the 1980s, a second set of 800,000 photos were taken.

Read the story in the New York Times with details about ordering prints. Here's a general shot of the Brooklyn Bridge (1934).

Known as tax photographs. The first set was taken for the city to make property assessments and as a federal employment program for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The second set was for another round of assessments.

The earlier set has been available to researchers for two decades, and the second set is now also available. Photos from both sets can now be purchased from the city.

Each photo carries the property's block and lot number. Find the block and lot number by entering the address at webapps.nyc.gov:8084/cics/fin2/find001i.

I easily found the BBL (block number) for both our Bronx apartment building and our Brooklyn house.

The 1940 shots are black-and-white: $35 for an 8x10; $50 for an 11x14. The 1980 shots are color: $45 for an 8x10; $60 for an 11x14. For up to six prints the shipping and handling is $5, and prices go up by another $5 per address if block and lot number is not included. Payment is refunded if a photo is not found.

According to Brian G. Andersson, city commissioner of records and information services, many of the earlier batch of photos may be the only extant shots of some properties. Some buildings are not there anymore, some have been extensively renovated and some have changed little.

More photographs and the history of specific properties are available at nytimes.com/nyregion.

Have fun finding the shots of your own properties of interest.

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