A Startling Privilege

The title of this Keystone View stereoscopic photo, “A startling privilege of the age-seeing the western world metropolis from the airplane, New York City” requires a moment of explanation. It was published in 1924, and powered flight was already 20 years old and unpowered (balloon) flight more than a century older than that. So the breathless language about an aerial photograph seems a bit much…until you think about the numbers. The first commercial passenger flight in the US was in 1914 and most of the airlines that we’ve heard of were founded after 1924. The percentage of the population that had travelled by plane (or balloon) in 1924 was vanishingly small, so people in general had no first-hand familiarity with that kind of view.

As for the view, looking north from over the harbor, there are a few interesting points. The big bridges – Brooklyn closest to us, Manhattan just to its north, and Queensboro over Roosevelt Island towards the top – appear prominent specifically because tall-building development was still almost entirely in the center of the island rather than along the water. The miles of seemingly-flat low-rise construction up the east side – tenements and rowhouses – would be broken as early as 1950 by the construction of public housing towers, private apartment houses, and the eastward spread of the midtown office district. Battery Park is visible in the lower left corner, and Central Park in the top center, looking like someone has shaved the building stubble off of Manhattan’s skin. An oddity is nicely expressed: First Avenue is the eastmost avenue that is continuous. Avenue A, one block to its east, hits the East River and stops, only to reappear further north as York Avenue.

On a personal note, our office isn’t visible because the building wasn’t constructed until 1932; my home isn’t visible because the landfill where it sits wasn’t placed (near the “c” in “Manufacturers”) until around 1970.

Scroll to Top