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What New York City looked like in the 1950s through these Stunning Vintage Photos

New York City in the 1950s was a bustling metropolis full of life and change. The city was recovering from the aftermath of World War II and experiencing an economic boom. This decade saw significant developments in various aspects of life, from construction and economy to food and entertainment.

Daily Life and Society

Life in New York City during the 1950s was vibrant and dynamic. The city’s population was growing rapidly, with many people moving in from other parts of the United States and from abroad. This influx of people contributed to the city’s diverse culture and lively atmosphere.

The post-war economic boom brought prosperity to many New Yorkers. Families were moving into newly built suburbs, but the city itself remained a hub of activity. The rise of the middle class led to an increase in consumerism, with people buying homes, cars, and household appliances. Television became a central part of family life, with popular shows like “I Love Lucy” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” bringing entertainment into living rooms across the city..

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Famous Places and Landmarks

Times Square, often referred to as “The Crossroads of the World,” was one of the most famous places in New York City during the 1950s. It was a bustling center of entertainment and commerce, known for its bright neon lights, theaters, and billboards. Broadway continued to be a major attraction, with hit musicals like “The King and I” and “West Side Story” captivating audiences.

Central Park remained a beloved retreat for New Yorkers. It was a place where families could enjoy picnics, boat rides, and leisurely walks. The park also hosted various events and concerts, making it a cultural hub within the city.

Another iconic landmark from this era was the United Nations Headquarters, completed in 1952. Located in Turtle Bay, it became a symbol of international diplomacy and peace. Visitors from around the world came to see the impressive building and its surroundings.

Economy and Industry

The economy of New York City in the 1950s was thriving. The city was a major center for finance, commerce, and industry. Wall Street saw significant growth, and the New York Stock Exchange was bustling with activity. The financial district was home to numerous banks and investment firms that drove the city’s economy.

Manufacturing remained an important industry, with factories producing goods ranging from textiles to electronics. The garment industry was particularly strong, with New York City being the fashion capital of the United States. The city’s fashion district was bustling with activity, and designers like Dior and Balenciaga were setting trends.

Advertising also became a major industry in the 1950s. Madison Avenue emerged as the center of the advertising world, with agencies creating iconic campaigns for brands like Coca-Cola and Marlboro. The “Mad Men” era was born, characterized by creativity and innovation in marketing.

Construction and Infrastructure

The 1950s were a period of significant construction and infrastructure development in New York City. The city saw the construction of numerous residential buildings, highways, and bridges. This period was marked by a drive to modernize and expand the city’s infrastructure to accommodate its growing population.

One of the most notable construction projects of the decade was the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway, which began in 1948 and was completed in 1963. Designed by Robert Moses, this major highway connected the Bronx to New Jersey and Long Island, improving transportation and commerce.

Public housing projects also expanded during this time. The New York City Housing Authority built several large housing developments to provide affordable housing for the city’s low-income residents. These projects aimed to address the housing shortage and improve living conditions for many New Yorkers.

The construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge, which began in 1952 and was completed in 1955, was another significant project. This bridge connected Westchester and Rockland counties, facilitating travel and trade in the region.

Restaurants and Food

The culinary scene in New York City during the 1950s was diverse and vibrant. The post-war economic boom led to an increase in dining out, and the city offered a wide range of culinary experiences. From fine dining establishments to casual diners, there was something for everyone.

One of the most iconic restaurants of the era was The Stork Club, a glamorous nightclub and restaurant that attracted celebrities, politicians, and socialites. Known for its upscale atmosphere and excellent cuisine, it was a symbol of New York City’s high society.

For more casual dining, diners and delis were popular choices. Diners offered hearty, affordable meals, and were known for their friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Jewish delis, like Katz’s Delicatessen, continued to thrive, serving up classic dishes like pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball soup.

Ethnic restaurants also flourished, reflecting the city’s diverse population. Italian restaurants in Little Italy, Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, and soul food restaurants in Harlem provided a rich array of culinary experiences. Pizza became a popular food item, with pizzerias opening up across the city.

Street food was another important part of New York City’s food culture. Hot dog vendors, pretzel carts, and ice cream trucks were a common sight, offering quick and affordable snacks to people on the go. Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island continued to be a favorite destination for hot dogs and other treats.

Entertainment and Leisure

Entertainment was a major part of life in New York City during the 1950s. Broadway was at its peak, with musicals and plays drawing large audiences. Shows like “My Fair Lady” and “The Sound of Music” became classics, showcasing the city’s rich theatrical tradition.

Movies were also incredibly popular. The 1950s saw the rise of Hollywood, and New Yorkers flocked to grand movie palaces like Radio City Music Hall to see the latest films. Drive-in theaters became popular in the suburbs, offering a new way to enjoy movies.

Jazz music continued to thrive in the city’s nightclubs and bars. Harlem was a cultural hotspot, with venues like the Apollo Theater showcasing legendary performers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis. Jazz clubs downtown also attracted music lovers, with artists like Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane pioneering new sounds.

Television became a central part of American culture in the 1950s. Families gathered around their TV sets to watch popular shows, and New York City was at the heart of the television industry. Shows like “The Honeymooners” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” were filmed in the city, making it a major center for broadcasting.

Social Issues and Reforms

The civil rights movement began to gain momentum, with African Americans advocating for equal rights and opportunities. The city saw numerous protests and demonstrations, as activists fought against segregation and discrimination.

Labor unions continued to play a crucial role in the city’s social landscape. Workers organized to demand better wages, working conditions, and rights. Strikes and labor actions were common, as workers sought to improve their lives and secure fair treatment.

Housing was a major issue during the 1950s. The city’s growing population led to a housing shortage, prompting the construction of new public housing projects. These projects aimed to provide affordable housing for low-income families and address overcrowding in urban neighborhoods.

Health and Public Services

Public health saw improvements during the 1950s. The city made efforts to combat diseases like tuberculosis and polio, leading to better sanitation and public health measures. Vaccination programs were implemented to protect children from polio, and public awareness campaigns promoted hygiene and preventive care.

The city also expanded its fire and police services. The fire department modernized its equipment and training, making it more effective in responding to emergencies. The police department continued to professionalize, with efforts to reduce corruption and improve public safety.

Education was a priority in New York City during the 1950s. Public schools expanded, providing more children with access to education. Efforts were made to improve school facilities and hire qualified teachers, ensuring that children received a quality education.

Higher education institutions also grew during this period. Columbia University and New York University expanded their campuses and programs, attracting students from around the country and the world. These institutions played a crucial role in the intellectual and cultural life of the city.

Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, 1950sFashion and Lifestyle

Fashion in the 1950s reflected the optimism and prosperity of the post-war era. Women’s fashion featured full skirts, fitted waists, and elegant dresses, influenced by designers like Christian Dior. Men’s fashion included tailored suits, hats, and polished shoes, reflecting a sense of formality and sophistication.

The lifestyle of New Yorkers in the 1950s was characterized by a mix of traditional values and modern innovations. Family life centered around the home, with television and household appliances becoming integral parts of daily life. Social activities, entertainment, and cultural pursuits provided much-needed diversions from the challenges of the era.

#2 The interchange at the east end of the Cross Bronx Expressway and Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx, 1950.

#3 Pounding waves from a storm douse Kaiser’s Boathouse at Classon Point in the Bronx, leading to its evacuation.

#4 At the Whitestone Bridge Drive-in Movie Theater in the Bronx, New York, people watch a movie from their cars, 1951.

#5 Subway workers signal a train by hand at Simpson Street Station in the Bronx after a signal system failure, 1951.

#6 Patricia Murphy from the Bronx tries to join the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York, restrained by a smiling cop, 1952.

#7 The opening of two reconstructed bridges improves traffic flow along Bruckner Blvd. in the Bronx, 1952.

#8 A large group of children and adults gather at the Bronx Traveling Library bookmobile in New York City, 1954.

#9 Detectives and police officials at the scene of a teenage gang shooting in the Bronx, with two wounded and one dead.

#10 A high angle view of apartment buildings along a street in the Bronx, 1950s.

#11 Jerome Avenue, stretching 5.6 miles, is one of the longest thoroughfares in the Bronx, 1955.

#12 Third Avenue, part of The Hub with maximum traffic and architectural density, in the South Bronx, 1955.

#13 Clotheslines behind an apartment building in the Bronx, 1957.

#14 A general view of Yankee Stadium and its full parking lot, circa 1950.

#15 The Hall of Fame for Great Americans, a neo-Classical structure, later part of Bronx Community College, 1950s

#16 The Reverend C. Lloyd Lee holds a drive-in chapel service in the Bronx.

#17 A heating engineer inspects pipes carrying steam to the Parkchester housing development in the Bronx, 1955.

#18 The exterior of Yankee Stadium with a new Coca Cola advertisement,1957.

#20 The Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, a wing of the original Fulton Market established in 1822, circa 1955.

#21 The demolition of New York’s Third Avenue elevated line, yielding about 40,000 tons of scrap steel, marks the end of an era.

#22 Picket Fence with Signs at Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1950.

#23 Dilapidated Exterior of ‘The New Variety Revue’ in Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1950.

#24 Bricklayer Working, with Wonder Wheel in the Background at Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1950.

#25 Brooklyn Heights Promenade Opening, Brooklyn, 1950.

#26 Shooting for MGM Musical ‘I Love Melvin’ on Brooklyn Bridge, 1952.

#27 Lower Manhattan Skyline from Brooklyn Side, Not from Brooklyn.

#28 CBS Models by the Pool at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1953.

#29 High-angle view of the Williamsburg neighborhood, Brooklyn, 1955.

#30 Elevated view of Grand Army Plaza Public Library, Brooklyn, 1950s.

#31 Exterior view of Ebbets Field rotunda before a game against Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn, 1956.

#32 View of Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Heights waterfront, 1958.

#33 Three boys enjoying Boro Pet Center window in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#35 Car park attendant among signs in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#36 Man walking in the rain on Clark Street, Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#37 Young woman with stroller on Brooklyn Heights Promenade, 1958.

#39 Brooklyn Heights with view of Brooklyn Bridge, 1958.

#40 Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#41 Bartenders and customers at Joe’s Restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#42 Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Heights waterfront, 1958.

#43 Hotel Margaret on Columbia Heights and Orange Street, Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#44 Distant view of Hotel Margaret, Columbia Heights and Orange Street, Brooklyn’s first skyscraper, 1958.

#45 One Water Street, formerly FDNY Marine Company 7, now Brooklyn Ice Cream Company in DUMBO, 1958.

#46 Ethnically diverse school children on Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#47 Woman walks dogs with an Eisenhower-Nixon billboard in the background, Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#48 Cobblers at work inside a shoe repair store in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#49 Grocer at J. Ferrara Grocery in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#50 Boys enjoy animals in the window of Boro Pet Center at 78 Henry Street, Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#51 Barber Jerry converses with a delivery man outside his shop at 15 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#52 Men gather on a street corner in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#53 Sanitation worker collects garbage in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#54 Eisenhower-Nixon billboard at Cranberry and Fulton Streets, Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#55 Adults and boy on a stoop beneath a “floor for rent” sign in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#56 Man delivers plants from a horse-drawn carriage in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#57 People sitting on the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#58 Shoe shine and repair sign on Orange and Henry Streets in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#59 Father and daughter walk near Clark Street in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#60 Fulton and Front Streets with Brooklyn Bridge in the background, Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#61 Fulton Ferry Fireboat House, now an ice cream parlor, in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#62 Men make a delivery near a construction site in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#63 Willow Street near Truman Capote’s home in Brooklyn Heights, 1958.

#66 Ebbets Field, home to the Brooklyn Dodgers before being torn down in 1960, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, 1950s.

#67 Aerial map of Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges over the East River, 1954.

#68 Cars and pedestrians on Avenue H, Brooklyn, 1950s.

#69 Vintage grocery store Barron’s in Brooklyn, with subway overpass at night, 1950s.

#70 Brooklyn Public Library seen from Grand Army Plaza looking toward Eastern Parkway, 1950s.

#71 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, street scene at Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1954.

#73 United Nations buildings under construction, 1951.

#85 Children Playing on Seesaws at Central Park, Manhattan, 1952.

#86 Various Advertisements Illuminated at Night in Times Square, Manhattan, 1957.

#87 Madison Avenue Advertising Executive Makes a Client Visit, Manhattan, 1950.

#88 Theater District, Loew’s State Theater and Criterion Theater at Night, Broadway, Manhattan, 1950s.

#89 Various Advertisements and Planters Peanuts Illuminated at Times Square, Manhattan, 1957.

#90 Group of Boys Outside the Lunch Box Diner, Lower Manhattan, 1952.

#91 Owners Groom Their Dogs at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, 1957.

#92 Theatre Director Carmen Capalbo at Theatre de Lys, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, 1957.

#93 View of the Hound Group at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, 1957.

#94 View of United Nations Secretariat Building, FDR East River Drive, Midtown Manhattan, 1955.

#95 View of Skyscraper Office Buildings from Queens, Midtown Manhattan, 1955.

#96 View Towards the United Nations Secretariat Building, FDR East River Drive, Midtown Manhattan, 1955.

#97 Visitors in Rowing Boats on Central Park Boating Lake, Manhattan, 1955.

#98 Paper Clutter Near Roosevelt Hotel Wall, Manhattan, 1950.

#99 Advertisements for Camel Cigarettes and Pepsi-Cola in Times Square, Manhattan, 1957.

#100 Camel Cigarettes Advertisement Illuminated at Night in Times Square, Manhattan, 1957.

#101 Portrait of Helen Hayes in Times Square, Manhattan, June 17, 1959.

#102 People Walking on Third Avenue, Manhattan, 1953.

#103 Portrait of G Keith Funston in Bowling Green Park, Manhattan, May 18, 1959.

#105 Traffic & Pedestrians at Fifth Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, 1950s.

#107 Traffic Jam around Grand Central Station, Manhattan, 1950s.

#108 Heavy Car and Taxi Traffic in Park Avenue, Manhattan, 1950s.

#109 Sunken Plaza, Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, 1950s.

#110 Male Hot Dog Vendor in West Street, Downtown Manhattan, 1950s.

#111 Flatiron Building, One of the First Skyscrapers in Manhattan, 1950s.

#112 Night Times Square, Neon Signs and Ads, Manhattan, 1956.

#113 Wall Street View Towards Statue of George Washington, Manhattan, 1950s.

#114 Model in a Yellow Wool Suit Stands Nearby as a Truck Is Unloaded on a Lower Manhattan Street, Manhattan, 1958.

#115 Woman and Child Posing in Front of St Thomas Church at 5th Avenue and 53rd St, Manhattan, 1955.

#116 Crowds in Rockefeller Center Plaza During NYC Easter Parade, Manhattan, 1955.

#117 Woman Posing with Poodle at NYC Easter Parade, Manhattan, 1955.

#118 Woman and Children in “Mambo Style” Clothing at NYC Easter Parade, Manhattan, 1955.

#119 View of City Hall and the Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, Manhattan, 1955.

#120 Construction Workers Laying Concrete on the Roof of Skirball Center, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, 1958.

#121 Aerial View of Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, Tenement Housing Projects, Empire State Building in Background, Manhattan, 1951.

#122 Main Street in Flushing, Queens with storefronts, buses, and shoppers, 1950s

#124 Pedestrians, cars, buses, and delivery trucks in the 82nd Street shopping district, Jackson Heights, Queens, 1957.

#129 Hillside Avenue and 166th Avenue, Queens, 1950s.

#130 Astoria Boulevard and 37th Street, Queens, 1950s.

#133 Courtney Avenue and Auburndale Lane, Queens, 1950s.

#140 63rd Drive and Woodhaven Boulevard, Queens, 1950s.

#142 Grand Central Parkway and Utopia Parkway, Queens, 1950s.

#145 New York Boulevard and 109th Avenue, Queens, 1950s.

#146 Northern Boulevard and Main Street, Queens, 1950s.

#147 Northern Boulevard and Prince Street, Queens, 1950s.

#148 Northern Boulevard and 37th Street, Queens, 1950s.

#149 Queens Boulevard and 55th Avenue, Queens, 1950s.

#150 Queens Boulevard and 82nd Avenue, Queens, 1950s.

#151 Queens Boulevard and 87th Avenue, Queens, 1950s.

#153 Queens Boulevard and 50th Street, Queens, 1950s.

#155 Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, Queens, 1950s.

#158 Roosevelt Avenue and Bowne Street, Queens, 1950s.

#159 Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street, Queens, 1950s.

#160 Seaside Avenue and Ocean Promenade, Queens, 1950s.

#165 Union Hall Street and Jamaica Avenue, Queens, 1950s.

#168 View from the top of the Queensboro Plaza Station towards Manhattan, 1950s.

#170 Cars drive along the Belt Parkway close to Douglaston in Queens, New York, 1950s.

#171 High angle view of a housing development in Flushing, Queens, New York City, 1950s.

#172 St. George Clipper was located at 40 Bay Street in St. George; it then became Gibb’s Southern Bar-B-Que and Karl’s Clipper, which closed in 2016, 1950s.

#173 Tanks at Staten Island Army Terminal, Stapleton, 1950

#174 House Moved for Construction of the Staten Island Expressway, 1959.

#175 Rexall drugstore soda fountain Fiorelli Pharmacy, Great Kills, 1950s.

#176 Thompson’s Stadium, Home to Staten Island Stapletons and Semi-Pro Baseball, Demolished, 1958.

#178 Staten Island Ferry Terminal Beginning to Take Shape, 1954.

#179 Richmond Avenue and Vreeland Street, Port Richmond, Various Businesses Including Red Cross Shoes and Woolworth’s, 1956.

#180 Bus listings at the St. George Ferry Terminal, 1951.

#181 A 1958 photo shows the former Staten Island Rapid Transit crossing at Lincoln Avenue, Grant City, 1958.

#182 View of Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry on the Hudson River, 1953.

#184 Cable Laid Across the Narrows by Con Edison in Rosebank, 1952.

#187 View east on Forest Avenue near Willowbrook Road in Elm Park, 1954.

#189 The Old Stadium Theater on Main Street, Shown Around 1941, Stayed in Operation until 1957.

#190 Heavy Fog Delays the Staten Island Ferry During the Morning Commute, 1950.

#191 Stapleton once had 3 theaters, showing films like Tarzan and Bowery Boys gems, 1953.

#193 Richmond Terrace deserted during an air raid drill,1952.

#195 The Richmond Clipper in Port Richmond, Staten Island, Advertisement for R&H Beer, Circa 1951.

#196 The Richmond Theatre in Stapleton, German-American gymnasium turned theatre, destroyed by fire in the 1950s.

#197 Nathan Levy Candy Store, Richmond Terrace, Near York Avenue, Circa 1956.

#198 Hylan Blvd. view with mini golf course and gas station, north from New Dorp Lane, 1951.

#199 May’s Hotel in South Beach, a dance hall mecca along the Roosevelt Boardwalk, was demolished in 1956.

#200 Dock Workers on Strike at Pier Number 2, Pouch Terminal gates, 1953.

#201 Birds of St. George and the Staten Island Ferry, 1952.

#202 Hillside Avenue (now Hillside Terrace), Great Kills, 1950s

#204 New Dorp Lane at Hylan Blvd., Looking Towards the Beach, 1952

#205 Dedication of Egbertville War Memorial: Tribute to World War I Fighters, 1954

#206 Eltingville Train Station Overpass; Construction for Public Safety, Circa 1958

#208 Lincoln Avenue SIR Crossing, Grant City, Circa 1950.

#209 The terminal at South Ferry had a different look in 1951

#210 St. George, Bay Street from the Ferry Terminal, Circa 1950s

#211 Construction Work at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal Parking Lot in St. George, 1950s

#212 View of Forest Ave. at Bard Ave. in West Brighton, 1951.

#213 Sandy’s Bait Boat Marina, Prince’s Bay, circa 1955.

#214 Nathan Levy candy store, Richmond Terrace and York Avenue, New Brighton, 1956.

#216 Port Richmond, circa 1950; another from Memoly Motors at 1893 Richmond Terrace, 1950.

#217 A&W Root Beer: A drive-in dining spot in Dongan Hills known for car-hops and a simple menu, closed in 2009, 1957.

#219 Crowd at St. George Library dedication ceremony, Staten Island, 1952.

Written by Makayla White

An amateur content creator and dreamer. I Run, Cycle, Swim, Dance and drink a lot of Coffee.

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