There is a lot to be said about the frenetic speed that New York City’s buildings go up and come down. Often landmarks are destroyed before they even have a chance to make their marks. Neighborhoods change with regularity. I love New York today … but I adore old New York. Despite the grit and decay, NYC has character—or rather characters—all its own. And if you’ve been around for as long as I have, you’ve probably seen many character transformations.
Recently, I found one of my favorite vintage books, Portrait of New York by Felix Riesensberg, with photos by Alexander Alland. A February 1939 New York Times Book Review described it as “A Human Portrait of New York,” and it is—a series of moody, dark and haunting reflections of New York as a multiplicity of everything from buildings to signs, from subways to monuments.
I reproduce a selection of images below, not because I’m nostalgic for that chiaroscuro past but for the fact that everything about NYC comes and goes so quickly there’s hardly a moment for contemplation and joy. Well, I hope you’ll contemplate these relics and take joy in the fact that we can reflect, if only for a moment.