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New York City’s 1940 Tax Photos — Now Online!

New York history buffs have been waiting a long time for this — the New York City Municipal Archives has digitized all 720,000 of its tax photos of every building in New York City, taken 1939-1941, and placed them all on their website.  The city agency had already posted digitized versions of its ca. 1980 tax photos, but until now, ca. 1940 photos remained tantalizingly out of reach, at least via the internet. This collection is a dream come true for researchers, historians, and all New York lovers, as it provides a thorough visual documentation of the city at a critical moment in time, allowing us to see what has changed, and what has stayed the same.

The Rectory of St. Mark’s Church (now the home of the Neighborhood Preservation Center and the offices of GVSHP) at 232 East 11th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Photo via Municipal Archives. Click here for present-day image.

Between 1939 and 1941, the New York City Department of Taxation and the federal Works Progress Administration collaborated to put teams of photographers to work taking pictures of each and every structure in the five boroughs. The original purpose was to aid the Department of Taxation in determining property value assessments (hence they are referred to as “tax photos”).  But for historians and researchers, this collection has provided invaluable visual information about building histories ever since.

NYC Municipal Archives website for the Manhattan c. 1940s website.

Until now, the only way for the public to access these photos was through microfilm at the Municipal Archives.  Anyone who has used microfilm knows what a time consuming and a tedious chore doing so can be. However, now a simple search using a property’s block and lot number on the Municipal Archives website yields instant gratification and a glimpse into the pre-World War II appearance of the property (click HERE for the NYC map to determine a property’s block and lot numbers).

Here are just some interesting images from our area:

357, 359 and 361 Bleecker Street, between Charles and West 10th Streets, showing the old shops. Photo via Municipal Archives. Click here for present-day image.


23 West 3rd Street, between Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place (demolished), now the site of NYU’s Warren Weaver Hall. Photo via Municipal Archives. Click here for present-day image.


Southeast corner of East 9th Street and Second Avenue, now the site of Veselka and the Ukrainian National Home. Photo via Municipal Archives. Click here for present-day image.

Prints of the photos are also available for purchase through the Municipal Archives HERE.  A word of warning: browsing through these photos can be quite addictive. In writing this post I found myself at times wandering aimlessly through this sea of images of yesteryear. Enjoy!


4 responses to “New York City’s 1940 Tax Photos — Now Online!

  1. Did the rectory originally have stucco (or other facade material) that was removed and then replaced when it was renovated?

  2. According to the Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street has been clad in stucco back to the 1940s, but they are not sure if that treatment is original to the construction of the building.

  3. Are the tax photos strictly from the street level view or are there any from the rooftop view? I am looking for old photos of a certain obscure building in NYC that was reportedly built in the 1920s and renovated sometime in the 1990s approximately, but as vast as the internet is, there are overwhelmingly only photos of landmark buildings and old tenament buildings that used to exist in Lower Manhattan.

    1. I have only seen 1940s tax photos from street level. We have a number of historic photos in our historic image archive that you could look at: http://www.archive.gvshp.org/. Other sources include the digital collections of the New York Public Library, the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Historical Society. Please feel free to contact me at info@gvshp.org if you need further assistance.

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