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A Book Recommendation

MTR Admiralty

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I recommend this book: The WPA Guide to New York City to the NYCTF community. The book is originally written in 1939 for the World's Fair then. It is an interesting read, with 81 prints from the thirties and even earlier. There are also 89 photographs of NYC seventy or more years ago.

As we are modernising and progressing, it is fun to look at what life was like in the past. How did we get here? How did the people live then? What made New York so special? How different were the neighbourhoods back then? How did New York look like before Robert Moses's work? How did the expansion of the subway system change the face of the city? All of these questions can be answered through reading this book.


The book gives the reader insight on every major district and neighbourhood, from the nooks and crannies of the Lower East Side to the suburban-like Queens.

The projects that dominant the Lower East Side now stood over the foundations of a slum that was home to thousands of struggling immigrants. The Bronx was a borough very unlike today's Bronx.

The els were running over Manhattan avenues, with trolleys and buses tracing under then, and with the freshly built subway system under them.


The book is available at Barnes and Nobles for $19.95 (this price may go up, since I got this a year ago)

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  • 6 months later...

The W.P.A. Guide To New York City is a wonderful book. I have a hardcover edition by Pantheon Press (1982).


The Manhattan street maps are wonderful - they show block by block up to West 110th Street and East 96th Street and line maps above that. The borough section maps show the subway and el lines and stations in The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens and SIR (including the North Shore line) in Staten Island.


Great collection of photographs and prints illustate the book.


I also have a hardcover edition of the W.P.A. Guide To New Jersey (Rutgers University Press 1986). Includes tours on highways from a time before The New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Interstates and has chapters featuring major New Jersey cities in 1939 such as Jersey City, Elizabeth, Newark, Paterson, Camden, Trenton, New Brunswick, Atlantic City, Burlington, Perth Amboy.


These make for interesting reading.

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The WPA NYC guide is a reading marvel and those prints are really fascinating. It's really good to get in touch with a primary source of history. Unfortunately I don't have the transit maps from back then that were supposedly promised in the book.


I'll get my history teacher a copy of this book

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  • 7 months later...

A slight disappointment - The reprint edition published by Pantheon Press and the current reprint edition by New Press, while nice (New Press restored the 1939 World's Fair chapter), actually are a reprint of a revised edition (probably a 1945 edition) that did hit and miss revisions.


There is a free readable complete copy of an original 1939 edition online: Google The New York City Guide A Comprehensive Guide To The Five Boroughs Of The Metropolis. Click play and the pages are turned automatically. Pause to read and a zoom button.


Reading it online, you will see the Manhattan and Brooklyn Els listed as they actually were in 1939 (reprint copy says only the Third Avenue El was running in Manhattan and The Bronx); The transit directions to the old New York Aquarium in Battery Park (none listed); and the World's Fair Supplemental Index not included in either the earlier Pantheon reprint or current New Press reprint).


Not saying the current reprint edition is not bad, just that for $24.95, you'll get a copy of a reprint of a later edition.

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