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Extraordinary 1939 color film of New York City compared to present day

Rock Center

We got to see a vivid reminder this week that New York City never stays the same with an extraordinary color film that surfaced thanks to the Romano Archives. The crowning moment of the film is the at-the-time-brand-new Rockefeller Center rising up from Midtown Manhattan.  As depicted in the film, the outdoor plaza is still pretty much the way it is today, but then up to the roof - the Top of the Rock is where things are different.  The view has noticeably changed and so has the air quality.  And because it's still a spectacular place to view the city, we found it's a good place to see how things have changed since 1939 to 2013.

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The film is a tour of New York City during the summer of 1939, just months before World War II broke out and changed everything, the summer Lou Gehrig gave his farewell address and the year The Wizard of Oz premiered.  

In this film, shot by a French tourist, we get a glimpse of what things cost back then.  We go uptown to Harlem and then back downtown to Chinatown.  It's a visual feast for history buffs, from those dreadnought city cabs, to buses with spiral staircases. There are men and women in the film wearing their hats at rakish angles, we see elevated tracks since shut down, windows open on subway car (pre-air-conditioning), and when public fountains were an acceptable way to cool down. 

Watch the full film from the Romano Archives after the jump.


Watch an extraordinary color film showing a tour of New York City in the summer of 1939, courtesy of the Romano Archives. No audio.