Another picture from the state archives: an aerial view of Manhattan, looking south, from July 6, 1951. The 50s were arguably the peak of air pollution in New York, as environmental controls hadn’t been established yet and coal was still being used rather than oil for building boilers.
The big building-free area is, of course, Central Park. The baseball fields on the North Meadow (the bottom of the photo) look like impact craters. The first three big streets to the west (right) of the park are Central Park West, Columbus Avenue, and Amsterdam Avenue, and the blocks between those streets show how much of the apartment development on the Upper West Side is a recent phenomenon. Many of those blocks were still entirely rows of brownstones. The cross streets that have rows of apartment houses are mostly the wider major streets – 72nd, 79th, 86th, and 96th. The avenues further west – Broadway and West End Avenue – have more big buildings.
The Upper East Side, to the left, is more mixed. The big white multi-winged building that, from this angle, is just to the right of the end of the Queensboro Bridge, is Manhattan House, just completed before this photo was taken. It was the first big and modern apartment house in Manhattan post-WWII and it set the trend for white or light-gray brick and a lot of balconies. Directly “above” it is the UN Secretariat building on the East River.
The Empire State Building, looking curiously dark, dominates midtown past the end of the park, with the RCA Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in front of it. Way in off the distance you can make out the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan. The big flat area on the left is the Lower East Side.