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Tax Photos give Insight in Architectural Development

By: Henson Architecture

For the historic building enthusiast, New York City offers timeless architecture and a sense of nostalgia. The preservation of these historical buildings provides a small glimpse of what New York City looked like in the early 20th century using tax photos.

Starting in 1939, a group of photographers spread themselves throughout all five boroughs to undertake a project organized by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the New York City Department of Taxation. The original goal was to utilize these photos to appraise property value. These organizations had no idea just how valuable these photos would become in development today.

Until recently, the ability to view these 1940s tax photos was an expensive and lengthy process.  In order to remedy this issue, the New York City Department of Records & Information Services has released a compilation of historic photos of the city to the public, available for online use. There are now 720,000 digitized images of every existing building in New York City between 1939 and 1941 for any user to view online. To peruse the photo gallery, click here.

While these photos give us a snapshot of what city life looked like back in the day, they prove most useful in preserving historic architectural details. Even in the subsequent tax photos taken in the 1980s, we start to see alterations in the building fabric as many historic details are removed and replaced with cheaper interventions. Before completing any renovation, we must consider the historic details that make a building special.

Scott Henson Architect prides itself in the preservation of historic New York City buildings. Our design aesthetic focuses on innovation combined with the preservation of historic detail and the SHA team values our clients’ goals and visions. Please set up a consultation and contact us today.

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