bootblacks, Brooklyn Bridge, colored film, early films, el station, el train, everybody jaywalks, ferry boat, Flat Iron Building, motion pictures, New York Herald Building, newsboys, Statue of Liberty, street scenes, Svenska Biografteatern
Black and white images show a lot about people and places in the past, but there’s something about seeing old black & white images that have been colorized to make the image seem even more real. Thanks to Denis Shiryaev, we can do that with a film compilation about New York City.
In 1911, cameramen from a Swedish company, Svenska Biografteatern (which existed from 1907 to 1919), made travelogues of places of interest around the world, including New York City. (Other locations included Niagara Falls, Paris, and Venice.) One of the nitrate prints survived and was restored by the Museum of Modern Art. Guy Jones slowed down the frame rate to match a natural speed of movement, and added background sounds for realism. It’s this version of the film that Shiryaev colorized.
- 0:08—The Statue of Liberty.
- 0:17—View from the front of a ferry, showing the Williamsburg Bridge.
- 0:25—The Manhattan Bridge, and river traffic.
- 0:34—Pulling up to the dock.
- 0:43—People on the pier, watching a steamer.
- 0:59—Disembarking the ferry, people first then wagons.
- 1:27—You can see several newsies, one on crutches, and a row of umbrella-shaded bootblack stands.
- 1:49—A street view. I’m amused at the men who suddenly start straightening their clothes when they realize they’re being captured on film.
- 2:05—264 Fifth Avenue had Harold & Co. (a jewelry store) on the first floor with apartments above, the Knickerbocker Flats (not to be confused with the Knickerbocker Apartments). Also in view is the sign for a Cook Tours office. The SO on the awning could be for the Southern Railroad office, which took over the jeweler’s space. The building no longer exists.
- 2:16—We’re in a Chinese neighborhood. I love the kid who notices the camera and stays in frame as long as he can. (Not much has changed in one hundred plus years!) The man on crutches is not our newsie friend from earlier; he’s missing the other leg.
- 2:38—Another street view. I think the kid in knickerbockers who runs across the street might be the same one from the previous shot.
- 2:50—At the Flat Iron Building. Do people not care about the possibility of getting run over? Everybody jaywalks.
- 3:09—A delivery wagon for Ward’s Tip Top Bread enters the intersection and moves south on Broadway. Ward’s claimed that its Tip Top bread was never touched by a human hand during the whole process, since everything was automated; they had a modern new factory in Prospect Park. You can read more about the bakery here.
- 3:19—A more residential street view.
- 3:36—The church is Grace Church, in the bend of Broadway at Broadway & East 10th Street.
- 3:59—I love the chauffeur and the boy sitting on the floor of the backseat; they seem to be enjoying the drive far more than the other passengers, especially the little girl in the front seat! Apparently, the license plate is registered to Mrs. Florian Lochwicz (the car is a 1911 E-M-F Touring). You can read more about the family here.
- 4:41—They’re only on screen for a moment, but there’s one man sitting in the back window of a trolley, and another who looks like he hopped a ride by the way he’s hanging on to the outside.
- 4:42—A view of the New York Herald Building, showing the facade with the Minerva statue that faces Herald Square.
- 4:46—The film cuts to the John Ericsson statue in Battery Park.
- 4:59—A row of bootblack stands outside of an “el” station entrance.
- 5:15—Another shot of the Herald Building, from the same perspective.
- 5:23—A street-level view of one of the elevated trains. The MOMA identifies the corner as the one at the Bowery and Worth (aka Chatham Square).
- 5:50—An eye-level view of (probably) the same “el” train.
- 6:03—A view of the Manhattan skyline through the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge. One man stares at the view, and several people pass in front of the camera. The ones that have received the most attention on the internet are the three young men who are last shown, because two are holding hands.
- 6:21—The view switches to the pedestrian approach for the Brooklyn Bridge, showing the suspension tower. Cable cars (the NY and Brooklyn Bridge Railway) run on either side of the walkway heading underneath, and trolleys & horse-drawn vehicles travel on the outer lanes. One of the ads on the building to the right is for Calox, “The OXYGEN Tooth Powder,” sold by McKesson & Robbins, whose offices were located at 91 Fulton Street. (Calcium dioxide was the active ingredient.)
- 6:37—A very brief view of the bridge looking at one of the suspension towers, between the cables along the pedestrian promenade and the outer edge of the bridge, overlooking the cable car tracks.
- 6:43—Quick panorama of the city.
- 6:49—A different panoramic view.
- 7:03—A view taken from the Flatiron Building (Broadway is to the left; Fifth Avenue to the right). The flag on top of the building in the bottom left corner says “5th Ave Bldg.” Washington Crisps were a brand of corn flakes. Mark Cross is a luxury goods brand, primarily leather goods, that began in Boston in 1845.
- 7:15—The Rosedale was an excursion steamer. Interesting note: in 1896 it sank in the East River at the foot of Broome Street after a collision with a ferry boat, and was raised again.
- From 7:43 onwards, Shiryaez shows side-by-side comparisons of scenes that have been colorized and the original black & white.
Here is Guy Jones’ black & white version for comparison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aohXOpKtns0