Brooklyn’s Old Tax Photos are Now Available on the ‘1940s Street View’ Website

If you had ancestors from Brooklyn or if you lived there yourself or if you have any other interest in the city, you might want to check out an article by Kevin Duggan in the BrooklynPaper.com web site. Depression-era tax photos of every building in the city are included, making it easier for researchers and history buffs to navigate several hundred thousand snapshots of buildings from 1940s New York City.

Left: The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower at Hanson Place seen from Fourth and Atlantic avenues. Right: The former elevated train above Myrtle Avenue near Navy Street.
Municipal Archives, City of New York

According to the article:

“It seemed so obvious. It’s such a great collection of photos, and I know a ton of work went into digitizing and tagging them, but the way they were presented was less than ideal,” said Park Sloper Julian Boilen.

The software engineer launched the historic page 1940s.nyc on Aug. 11 — dubbing it “Street View of 1940s New York” — where he charted photos taken between 1939-1951 by the city Tax Department and the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration.

Also:

“The 1940s New York City images stem from the initiative which sent photographers around the Five Boroughs to photograph every single building, which officials hoped would improve property tax assessments. The photos exhibit a city at the tail-end of the Great Depression, before the great urban renewal programs and the dawn of the automobile era that would come to reshape the urban landscape.”

One warning: These pictures were taken for tax assessment purposes. There are some private homes  and apartment buildings included in the collection but those are outnumbered by pictures of commercial real estate, such as storefronts, parking lots, (sometimes old and decaying) warehouses, and more. You may or may not find something in the collection that interests you. As stated in the article:

“Some pictures include appearances by anonymous government workers holding up markers denoting the building’s tax block and lot numbers, along with curious residents and other onlookers frequently gracing the shots. The collection also includes some 10,000 outtakes, such as photos at the beginning of a new reel or pictures where the building was blocked by a person.”

It reminds me of the saying, “It is what it is.” Even so, you may find a gem in this collection.

You can access the pictures at: https://www.brooklynpaper.com/1940s-new-york-city-picures-history.

2 Comments

Thanks. This is really neat.

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You wrote: “One warning: These pictures were taken for tax assessment purposes. There are some private homes and apartment buildings included in the collection but those are outnumbered by pictures of commercial real estate, such as storefronts, parking lots, (sometimes old and decaying) warehouses, and more.” The tax photos document EVERY taxable lot containing a structure in New York City. The collection does not lean more towards commercial real estate than private homes. It includes countless images of houses and apartment buildings.

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