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What New York City looked like in the 1990s through Stunning Photos

New York City in the 1990s was a time of remarkable change. From the streets of Manhattan to the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, the city underwent a transformation that touched every aspect of life. This decade saw economic growth, significant events, and cultural shifts that reshaped the urban landscape.

Life in the 1990s

Life in New York City during the 1990s was vibrant and diverse. The city was bustling with activity, with people from all walks of life contributing to its unique character. The crime rate, which had been a major issue in the previous decades, began to decline significantly. This improvement in public safety made the city feel more welcoming and livable.

The subway system, while still a vital mode of transportation, became cleaner and more reliable. The introduction of the MetroCard in 1993 replaced the old token system, making it easier for commuters to travel. Street performers and buskers added a lively touch to the subway stations, providing entertainment for daily commuters..

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Famous Places and Events

Times Square underwent a dramatic transformation in the 1990s. Known for its bright lights and bustling crowds, it became a major tourist attraction. The city’s efforts to clean up the area paid off, as family-friendly entertainment venues and stores replaced the adult theaters and peep shows. The opening of the Disney Store in 1997 symbolized this change, attracting visitors from around the world.

Central Park remained a beloved green space, hosting concerts, festivals, and events throughout the year. The New York City Marathon, held annually since 1970, grew in popularity during the 1990s, drawing thousands of participants and spectators to the park.

The World Trade Center was a prominent part of the city’s skyline. The Twin Towers were not only a business hub but also a symbol of the city’s global significance. Tragically, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was a stark reminder of the threat of terrorism. Despite this, the towers continued to stand tall, embodying the resilience of New Yorkers.

Economy and Industry

The economy of New York City flourished in the 1990s. Wall Street saw significant growth, with the stock market reaching new heights. The financial district buzzed with activity, and investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley expanded their influence. The dot-com boom brought a wave of technology companies to the city, creating new jobs and opportunities.

Real estate saw a boom as well. Manhattan’s skyline continued to evolve with the construction of new skyscrapers and office buildings. The redevelopment of neighborhoods like Chelsea and the Meatpacking District turned former industrial areas into trendy spots for living, shopping, and dining.

However, economic disparities persisted. While some areas thrived, others struggled with poverty and unemployment. The city’s efforts to address these issues included revitalizing public housing and investing in community development programs.

Construction and Infrastructure

The 1990s saw significant construction projects that reshaped New York City. The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which opened in 1986, became a major venue for trade shows and conventions, attracting visitors and boosting the local economy.

The renovation of historic buildings was another key focus. Grand Central Terminal underwent a major restoration, unveiling its beautifully restored celestial ceiling in 1998. The preservation of such landmarks highlighted the city’s commitment to maintaining its architectural heritage.

Infrastructure improvements included the renovation of the subway system, with new trains and upgraded stations. The introduction of the MetroCard made commuting more convenient and efficient. These improvements helped to accommodate the growing number of residents and tourists.

Restaurants and Food

The food scene in New York City during the 1990s was diverse and innovative. Fine dining establishments like Le Bernardin and Daniel set high standards for culinary excellence, attracting food enthusiasts and critics. These restaurants were known for their exquisite menus and impeccable service.

Ethnic cuisine thrived, reflecting the city’s multicultural population. Chinatown, Little Italy, and other ethnic enclaves offered authentic dining experiences. Sushi restaurants gained popularity, introducing New Yorkers to Japanese cuisine. Indian, Thai, and Middle Eastern eateries also became staples in the city’s culinary landscape.

Street food remained a beloved part of the city’s culture. Hot dog stands, pretzel carts, and food trucks served quick, affordable meals. The Halal Guys food cart, which started in the early 1990s, became famous for its delicious gyros and platters, drawing long lines of hungry customers.

Entertainment and Culture

Entertainment was a major part of life in New York City during the 1990s. Broadway thrived, with musicals like “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Rent” becoming huge hits. Off-Broadway theaters offered more experimental and avant-garde productions, catering to diverse tastes.

The music scene was vibrant and varied. Clubs like CBGB and the Limelight were hotspots for nightlife, attracting celebrities and partygoers. Hip-hop culture continued to grow, with artists like Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G. rising to fame. The city’s influence on the music industry was undeniable.

Art flourished in New York City. The Soho neighborhood was a hub for contemporary art galleries, showcasing works by emerging and established artists. Street art and graffiti also became prominent, with artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat gaining recognition. Museums like the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art continued to attract visitors with their impressive collections.

Social Issues

Crime rates began to decline in the 1990s, thanks in part to increased police presence and community policing efforts. The city implemented the “broken windows” theory of policing, focusing on maintaining order and addressing minor offenses to prevent more serious crimes. These efforts led to a safer city, though they were not without controversy.

Homelessness remained a visible problem, as economic disparities left many without stable housing. Shelters and social services struggled to keep up with the growing need. Advocacy groups and charities worked to provide assistance and push for policy changes to address the crisis.

Fashion and Lifestyle

Fashion in the 1990s was bold and diverse. The grunge look, popularized by bands like Nirvana, featured flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and combat boots. Hip-hop fashion included baggy pants, oversized shirts, and sneakers. Designers like Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan made significant impacts on the fashion scene, blending high fashion with streetwear.

Fitness became a major trend, with gyms and fitness centers popping up across the city. Aerobics classes, jogging, and yoga gained popularity. Central Park and other public spaces were filled with joggers and fitness enthusiasts.

Television and movies played a big role in daily life. Shows like “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” and “Law & Order” were hugely popular and often featured New York City as a backdrop. Movies like “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “Men in Black” showcased the city’s iconic landmarks and vibrant street life.

Technology and Innovation

The 1990s saw significant technological advancements that impacted daily life. Personal computers became more common in homes and offices, changing how people worked and communicated. Companies like IBM and Microsoft led the way in making technology more accessible.

The internet began to enter mainstream use, revolutionizing communication, and information access. Email became a common way to stay in touch, and websites started to pop up, offering new ways to shop, learn, and connect. These technological changes laid the groundwork for the digital revolution that would come in the following decades.

#1 Panorama of Lower Manhattan with World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, Manhattan, 1990s

#3 517 Nostrand Ave. by Herkeimer St., Brooklyn, 1996.

#4 A view of the original Yankee Stadium before a World Series game, Bronx, 1996.

#5 Residents cool off with a fire hydrant during a heat wave, Bronx, 1995.

#6 ‘Stan’s the Man Baseball Land’ sports memorabilia shop on River Avenue, Bronx, 1997.

#7 Residents open a fire hydrant to cool off during a heat wave, Bronx, 1995.

#9 View west along E. 149th St. and Third Ave. Bronx, 1992

#10 View north from Third Ave. at E. 149th St., Bronx, 1992

#14 View east along 178th St. toward Vyse Ave., South Bronx, 1993

#15 View NW from Brook Ave. at E. 140th St., Bronx, 1993

#16 View north along Third Ave. toward E. 149th St., Bronx, 1993

#20 Former Bronx Borough Courthouse, E. 161st St. at Third Ave., 1994

#26 View north from E. 143rd St. and Willis Ave., Bronx, 1995

#29 Former Bronx Borough Courthouse, E. 161st St. at Third Ave., 1995

#31 Former Bronx Opera, 442 E. 149th St., Bronx, 1996

#32 New York Public Library, West Farms Branch, Honeywell Ave. between 179th St. and 180th St., Bronx, 1996

#34 View west along E. 149th St. and Third Ave., Bronx, 1996

#37 La Ressurreccion, United Methodist Church, 158th St. at Elton Ave., S. Bronx, 1996

#38 Manhanset Building, 850 Longwood Ave., Bronx, 1996

#39 View SW along Westchester Ave. from Intervale Ave., Bronx, 1997

#40 View NE from Charlotte St. at Boston Rd., Bronx, 1997

#42 View SE along Seabury Pl. from Boston Rd., Bronx, 1997

#43 Former Bronx Borough Courthouse, E. 161st St. at Third Ave., 1998

#45 El Nuevo Keyla, Westchester Ave. north of Union St., Bronx, 1999

#46 Memorial, Southern Blvd. between E. 149th St. and Avenue St. John, South Bronx, 1999

#50 Morrisania Early Childhood Center, Bathgate Ave. at E. 175th St., Bronx, 1990

#53 A Baker in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, Displays Various Types of Bread, 1990

#54 Snowstorm Blankets Coney Island in Brooklyn, 1993

#55 Debris in Steeplechase Park After Riot in Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1993

#56 Man Dressed as Mickey Mouse at Luna Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1997

#57 Biggie Smalls’ Funeral Procession in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, 1997

#58 View of World Trade Center from Gowanus Overpass, Brooklyn, 1998

#60 Facade of Spike Lee’s Retail Store Spike’s Joint, Brooklyn, 1990

#61 View of Manhattan from Under Brooklyn Bridge, 1990

#62 Young Hassidic Boy Goes for Pony Ride, Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1995

#64 E.P. Grocery Store, corner of Mother Gaston Blvd. and Belmont Ave., Brooklyn, 1998.

#65 View from the Tompkins Houses toward Park Ave. at Tompkins Ave., Pfizer Plant on the right, Brooklyn, 1998.

#66 View from the roof of Marcus Garvey Houses at 317 Sutter Ave., toward Rockaway Ave., Brooklyn, 1998.

#67 Methadone Clinic, Powell Ave. at Sutter Ave., Brooklyn, 1997.

#68 Holy House of Prayer for All People, formerly the Parkway Theater, 1768 St. Johns Place, Brooklyn, 1996.

#72 Prayer Palace, Broadway at Greene Ave., Brooklyn, 1996.

#73 View of Lower Manhattan from Crown Heights, showing the 1927 Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, Brooklyn, 1996.

#74 Urban Strategies Inc., Day Care Center No. 2, 452 Pennsylvania Ave., Brooklyn, 1994.

#75 Former Aidlin Automation, 1613 E. New York Ave., Brooklyn, 1994.

#76 View of the J and Z lines along Broadway from Sumpter St., Brooklyn, 1994.

#77 View from Flushing Ave. entrance to the G train toward Union Ave. and Gerry St., Brooklyn, 1994.

#78 J.R. Food Center, corner of Mother Gaston Blvd. and Belmont Ave., Brooklyn, 1993.

#80 Homeless shelter, Chauncey St., view north from Broadway, Brooklyn, 1993.

#81 View from the Tompkins Houses toward Park Ave. at Tompkins Ave., Pfizer Plant on the right, Brooklyn, 1992.

#83 View of the J and Z lines along Broadway from Sumpter St., Brooklyn, 1992.

#84 View toward Bergen St. from the roof of the Howard Houses, Mother Gaston Blvd. at E. New York Ave., Brooklyn, 1992.

#86 Z and L lines, ENY from Liberty St., Brooklyn, 1991.

#88 Corner of Saratoga Ave. at St. Mark’s Ave., Brooklyn, 1991.

#89 View along Broadway from Sumpter St., Brooklyn, 1991.

#90 View from the L line, at Van Sinderen Ave. and E. New York Ave., Brooklyn, 1991.

#92 St. Luke Community Church, 142 Watkins St., Brooklyn, 1990

#93 View north toward Broadway from 8th St., Brooklyn, 1990

#94 View toward Broadway, Subway entering Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1990

#95 View SW along S. 8th St. from Berry Ave., Brooklyn, 1990

#96 L Line, view of E. N.Y. from Junius St. at Livonia Ave., Brooklyn, 1990,

#98 Methadone Clinic, 629 Classon Ave., Brooklyn, 1990

#99 Southwest view towards Manhattan, New York, from Independence Houses, Taylor Street at Whyte Place, Brooklyn, 1990

#100 View west along Broadway from Sumpter St., Brooklyn, 1990

#101 L Line, view of E. N.Y. from Junius St. at Livonia Ave., Brooklyn, 1999.

#102 A Taxi in the Snow During the Blizzard, Manhattan, 1996

#103 Exterior View of the Entrance to Bloomingdale’s Department Store on 59th Street, Manhattan, 1992

#104 Graffiti-Covered Facade of an Empty Building in the Lower East Side with Text ‘Welcome to Our Block, Please Keep It Clean’, Manhattan, 1990

#105 The Science and Business Library at 34th St. and Madison Ave., Manhattan, 1997

#106 Appreciative Crowd at Paul Simon’s Concert in Central Park, Manhattan, 1991

#108 Marquee at Radio City Music Hall Advertising a Live Concert by Aretha Franklin, Manhattan, 1993

#109 New York Stock Exchange with Statue in Foreground, Manhattan, 1990s

#110 Many Pedestrians Passing Man Going Through Garbage on 72nd St. & Broadway, Manhattan, 1990s

#111 Person Lying on Bench Overlooking Lower Manhattan Including World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, Manhattan, 1990s

#112 Tiffany & Co. Store Framed by Looming Fifth Avenue Skyscrapers, Manhattan, 1990s

#113 Daiwa Bank Trust Co. Facade at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, Indicted for Conspiracy & Fraud, Manhattan, 1990s

#114 View of Abandoned Buildings on West 42nd Street Near Times Square, Manhattan, 1996

#116 Marquees and Closed Theaters on West 43rd Street in Times Square, Manhattan, 1994

#117 Crossroads of Wall Street and Nassau Street in the Financial District, Lower Manhattan, 1994

#118 View of the Metro Theater at 2626 Broadway, Manhattan, 1994

#119 Sidewalk Mural on a Bricked-Over Building at 21 and 23 Avenue C, Lower East Side, Manhattan, 1990

#120 Commuters Exiting the Robert Fulton Ferry in Battery Park City, with the Hudson River and Jersey City Skyline Visible, Manhattan, 1997.

#121 Rock Band Papa Vegas Performing at The Bowery Ballroom, Manhattan, 1999.

#122 Outdoor Marketplace in Union Square Park, Manhattan, 1996.

#123 Several People Walking Across a Vacant Lot in Harlem, Manhattan, 1997.

#124 View of the Lower Manhattan Skyline, Including the World Trade Center, Manhattan, Circa 1990.

#125 ACT UP Demonstration in Foley Square, Manhattan, 1990.

#126 Neon Signs on Times Square at Night, Manhattan, 1956.

#127 Pedestrian Waiting to Cross Seventh Avenue in Times Square, News of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s Plane Wreckage, Manhattan, 1999.

#129 Corner of Prince St. and West Broadway, Last Place Where 6-Year-Old Etan Patz Was Seen, Manhattan, 1990s

#130 Boy Riding on Neon “Calypso” Amusement Ride, Manhattan, 1990s

#131 Advertising Poster of the Musical Cats Outside the Winter Garden Theatre, Manhattan, 1990s

#134 Cars Drive Through Flooded Street on FDR Dr. at York Ave. and 68th St., Manhattan, 1995

#135 Interior of the Last Remaining Automat Cafeteria on 42nd Street, Manhattan, 1991

#137 Crossroad Between Park Avenue and the 63rd Street, Manhattan, 1990s

#139 The Taxi Cab Holding Area at LaGuardia Airport, 1996.

#140 Two men walk down National Street near 43rd Avenue in Corona, Queens, 1990.

#141 La Cantina De Don Chicho Pizzeria at the intersection of Junction Boulevard and Corona Avenue in Corona, Queens, 1990.

#142 Residential homes on 97th Place in the Corona neighborhood, Queens, 1990s.

#143 National Street towards the elevated subway line on Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#144 Bisonik Boutique and Tops In Queens Meat Warehouse on 102nd street in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#145 Various businesses along 103rd Street at the Roosevelt Avenue intersection in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#146 Residential buildings at the intersection of 108th Street and 36th Avenue in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#147 View from Pell and 37th avenues towards Shea Stadium in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#148 37 Super Stop Grocery Store on 37th Avenue at 111th Street in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#149 Delgado Travel, Restaurant Casa Caliente, John’s Barber Shop, and a bakery on Roosevelt Avenue near 104th Street in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#150 Residential homes on Roosevelt Avenue near 112th Street in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#151 A vehicle stripped of its tires and other parts on 36th Avenue near 108th Street in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#152 A commuter carries a baby stroller up the staircase to the elevated subway on Roosevelt Avenue at 103rd Street in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#153 Residential buildings on 36th Avenue near 108th Street in Corona, Queens, 1990s.

#154 The interior of the new Pergament Home Center in Long Island City, New York during the grand opening, 1990.

#155 A woman stands on the subway platform at the Roosevelt Avenue station in Jackson Heights, Queens, 1993.

#156 Commuters seated on an R Train at the Woodhaven Boulevard – Slattery Plaza station in Elmhurst, Queens, 1993.

#157 A man stands on the subway platform at the Roosevelt Avenue station in Jackson Heights, Queens, 1993.

#158 Commuters sit on a bench on the subway platform at Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens, 1993.

#159 A couple leans against one another on the subway platform at the Roosevelt Avenue station in Jackson Heights, Queens, 1993.

#160 Commuters sit on steps and stand on the subway platform at the Roosevelt Avenue station in Jackson Heights, Queens, 1993.

#161 Commuters wait on the subway platform at Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens, 1993.

#162 Adolescent girls cool off in Flushing Meadows Park in Corona, Queens, 1994.

#163 Residential homes along 37th Avenue and 112th Street in Queens’ Corona neighborhood with Shea Stadium visible in the center rear, 1994.

#164 Residential buildings along 37th Avenue and 112th Street in Queens’ Corona neighborhood, 1994.

#165 Commercial and residential buildings along Alstyne Avenue and Corona Avenue in Queens’ Corona neighborhood, 1994.

#166 Local and advertised businesses at the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and 104th Street in Queens’ Corona neighborhood, 1994.

#167 Boxes filled with framed portraits of various sports and film celebrities on 63rd Drive during the 63rd Drive Street Fair in the Rego Park neighborhood, Queens, 1995.

#168 Pedestrians visiting vendor stalls on 63rd Drive during the 63rd Drive Street Fair in the Rego Park neighborhood, Queens, 1995.

#169 Members of the New York Correction Department pipe band marching along Metropolitan Avenue during the Memorial Day parade in Queens’ Forest Hills neighborhood, 1997.

#170 Pedestrians walking past an auto repair shop on Metropolitan Avenue in Queens’ Forest Hills neighborhood, 1997.

#171 Volunteers carry a large canopy into place on 63rd Drive during the 63rd Drive Street Fair, Rego Park, Queens, 1997.

#172 Millard Fillmore’s in Travis, Opened in 1986 and Closed in 1999

#173 Mafia Assassination Attempt on ‘Fat Pete’ Chiodo Goes Awry, 1991

#174 Santa and Mrs. Claus Arrive and Greet Fans, 1998.

#175 Back when you could drive a vehicle onto the Staten Island Ferry, 1996.

#176 Car Stuck in Puddle at Intersection of Hylan Blvd. and Jefferson Ave., 1996.

#178 Michael Fox Helps Tommy Costantino Get Traction After Car Slides Down Hill, 1990.

#180 People line up to return or exchange Christmas gifts at Kay Bee Toy and Hobby Shop in the Staten Island Mall, 1994.

#181 Lincoln Avenue and South Railroad, Grant City, 1996.

#182 Musicland, located in the Staten Island Mall, closed in 2003. Circa, 1990s

#183 Frank’s Nursery & Crafts in New Dorp, Staten Island, Previously Called Flower Time, 1990.

#184 “Despite a record high temperature yesterday of 80 degrees, the holiday season was unofficially ushered in,” Nov. 4, 1990.

#185 Looking east from Water Street towards Clifton, Staten Island, Nov. 1992.

#186 Video Stores of the ’90s: Blockbuster, Palmer Video, Hollywood Video, and West Coast Video. Circa 1990s

#188 Gov. Andrew Cuomo Announces Indoor Dining in New York City, the Victory Diner in Dongan Hills Is Seen Packed for a Late Night Meal, 1996.

#190 The Beachcomber’s History, Annadale, Circa 1960, Closed in 1994.

#191 Cartoon Universe, a Cartoon-Themed Restaurant in Dongan Hills, Opened 1999, Closed 2001.

#192 Foot of Victory Boulevard in Tompkinsville, aftermath of a Nor’easter, 1992.

#193 A veteran salutes the passing color guard at the American Legion Veteran’s Day ceremony, 1997.

#194 Monsignor Farrell High School marches down Fifth Avenue in the 1997 Columbus Day Parade.

#195 Streets surround Sacred Heart Church in a sea of blue saluting fallen Police Officer Luis Lopez, 1993.

#196 Traffic on the Staten Island Expressway Was Bumper to Bumper Most of the Day Due to Construction, 1996.

#197 Lucci & Appliances on Forest Avenue at Broadway, West Brighton, a longtime North Shore retailer, 1997.

#198 Student from PS 32 exits school bus on a day with only five kids due to the blizzard of ’96, 1996.

#199 Drivers Ignore Bus Stop, Forcing Traffic to Merge on Clove Road in Sunnyside, 1990.

#200 A Bus Navigates Through a Puddle on Hylan Boulevard and Rose Avenue in New Dorp, 1993.

#201 People Line up at Ralph’s Ices in Port Richmond, 1997.

#202 West Shore Stables in Bloomfield, One of Staten Island’s Premier Horse-Riding and Training Facilities, Closed in 1994.

#203 Blockbuster Video, Hylan Blvd., Grant City, 1999.

#204 Riders rush to the boat at the old Whitehall Ferry Terminal, 1996.

#205 Cars driving along Genessee Avenue in Eltingville avoid hitting a tree, circa 1996.

#206 Jams like this on the Staten Island Expressway have become commonplace over the last decade, 1990.

#207 RedSpot! An art deco nightspot located at 533 Bay Street, Stapleton, famous for live alternative music and visited by various celebrities; closed in 1992.

#208 View of St. George, including the Twin Towers, before the S.I. Yankees and Empire Outlets, 1999.

#211 A peculiar incident of a submerged truck in Great Kills Park after a failed attempt to launch a boat for repairs, capturing an unusual moment, 1994.

#212 Memory of renting movies at Blockbuster locations in Staten Island during the 1990s and 2000s.

#213 A&W was opened in 1956, sold in 1973, operated as A&W until 1994, and is now Za Ra Restaurant, 1994.

#214 Debris from homes on Winfield St. after wind tore off roofs, Staten Island.

#215 Fresh Kills Landfill dwarfs Village Green housing, Staten Island, 1990.

#216 Goethals Bridge from Staten Island side looking southwest, 1991.

#217 Manhattan seen from the Staten Island ferry, 1994.

#218 Staten Island approach to Goethals Bridge over Old Place Creek, 1991.

Written by Wendy Robert

Brand journalist, Ghostwriter and Proud New Yorker. New York is not a city – it’s a world.

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