Screenshot/OldNYC

Take a self-guided historic tour with a new app that pulls up old photos taken right where you’re standing.

It’s one thing to look up an old photo of New York City on your computer. It’s another to stand at a corner, tap your phone, and learn that you’re standing just a few feet from where horse-drawn carriages once shuttled New Yorkers past a demolition site in 1900, or where the old Waldorf Astoria Hotel was knocked down to make way for the Empire State Building.

This is now possible through a new app called OldNYC, which will pull up historic photos taken near the user’s current location. The app’s creators described it as akin to taking a self-guided historical tour.

A photo of the old Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which was demolished to make way for the Empire State building. (Screenshot/OldNYC)

The photos are from New York Public Library’s repertoire of 40,000 images spanning the last 150 years. And the app itself builds on an older project of the same name, in which software engineer Dan Vanderkam geotagged the photos and placed them onto an interactive map.

But the new app is about more than just taking Vanderkam’s project on the go, Orian Breaux, a product manager and one of the app’s creators, told the NYPL in an interview:

Beyond making information accessible and searchable, I think the next problem is discovery. With so much of the world’s information available online, it’s easy to find something when you generally know what you’re looking for. But how do you find information that you would love when you don’t know it exists?

For example, it was only through playing with the app that I tapped on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and came across photos from the 1930s of “Thanksgiving ragamuffins”: Children adorned with face paint and dressed up as beggars asking adults in the neighborhood for money, candy, and other treats. (This, apparently, preceded trick-or-treating on Halloween.)

Screenshot/OldNYC

For tourists, the app is a whole new way to discover a historically rich city. And for locals, it’s a way to visualize the old stories that they heard growing up. “Can you imagine, hearing stories from your grandmother who lived in New York City in the 1930s and being able to find the intersection she lived at and explore that photo in detail?” Christina Leuci, a software developer and the co-creator of the OldNYC app, asked the NYPL.

The duo also said that this is just the beginning, and that there are many more features they want to add in the future, including a “timeline sifter” to comb through different periods.

App, free on iTunes.

About the Author

Linda Poon
Linda Poon

Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab.

Most Popular

  1. Members of a tenants' organization in East Harlem gather outside the office of landlord developer Dawnay, Day Group, as lawyers attempt to serve the company with court papers on behalf of tenants, during a press conference in New York. The tenant's group, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, filed suit against Dawnay, Day Group, the London-based investment corporation "for harassing tenants by falsely and illegally charging fees in attempts to push immigrant families from their homes and gentrify the neighborhood," said Chaumtoli Huq, an attorney for the tenants.
    Equity

    Toward Being a Better Gentrifier

    There’s a right way and a wrong way to be a neighbor during a time of rapid community change.

  2. Homeless individuals inside a shelter in Vienna in 2010
    Equity

    How Vienna Solved Homelessness

    What lessons could Seattle draw from their success?

  3. Postcards showing the Woodner when it used to be a luxury apartment-hotel in the '50s and '60s, from the collection of John DeFerrari
    Equity

    The Neighborhood Inside a Building

    D.C.’s massive Woodner apartment building has lived many lives—from fancy hotel to one of the last bastions of affordable housing in a gentrifying neighborhood. Now, it’s on the brink of another change.

  4. Mack Donohue, who has been homeless since 2008, carries his belongings into a shelter in Boston, Massachusetts February 27, 2015.
    Equity

    Rethinking Homeless Shelters From the Ground Up

    One nonprofit wants to reward results, and change the funding model in the process.

  5. Design

    The Military Declares War on Sprawl

    The Pentagon thinks better designed, more walkable bases can help curb obesity and improve troops’ fitness.