Death, Destruction, And Debt: 41 Photos Of Life In 1970s New York

Reeling from a decade of social turmoil, in the 1970s New York fell into a deep tailspin provoked by the flight of the middle class to the suburbs and a nationwide economic recession that hit New York’s industrial sector especially hard.

Combined with substantial cuts in law enforcement and citywide unemployment topping ten percent, crime and financial crisis became the dominant themes of the decade. In just five years from 1969 to 1974, the city lost over 500,000 manufacturing jobs, which resulted in over one million households being dependent on welfare by 1975. In almost the same span, rapes and burglaries tripled, car thefts and felony assaults doubled, and murders went from 681 to 1690 a year.

Depopulation and arson also had pronounced effects on the city: Abandoned blocks dotted the landscape, creating vast areas absent of urban cohesion and life itself. Today, we look at 41 poignant photos that capture a New York City on the brink of implosion:

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Ford To City

National Archives and Records AdministrationThroughout the 1970s, the city teetered on bankruptcy, which was avoided primarily by deep reductions in police, firemen, and teachers. In the above photograph, then Mayor Abe Beame holds a newspaper with the headline 'Ford To City: Drop Dead,' following President Ford's refusal to use federal funds to bail out the city.

Oil Slick Statue Liberty 1973

Wikimedia CommonsAn oil slick surrounds the Statue of Liberty in May 1973.

World Trade Center

National Archives and Records AdministrationThe grand feat of the decade was the completion of the World Trade Center complex. At the time of its 1973 completion, the Twin Towers were the tallest buildings in the world.

Rubble East Harlem

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsWhile the towers grew, much of the city burned. Landlords who could no longer afford to maintain their buildings would occasionally burn them down to collect insurance money.

Here, children in East Harlem returning from school traverse rubble to reach their homes.

Arson In New York

The New York TimesArson became a major problem in the 1970s in New York, rising from just 1 percent of fires in the 1960s to over 7 percent of fires in the 1970s.

New York On Fire

National Archives and Records AdministrationTo prevent the city government from going into default, significant city-wide cuts were put into place -- one-fifth of all public workers were laid off in 1975 alone. With substantially fewer firefighters and police, many crimes and fires were simply not responded to.

Playing Cards

National Archives and Records AdministrationA group plays cards in a burnt out cafe in the Bronx.

Trash Can Fire Harlem

National Archives and Records AdministrationA child passes a blazing can in Harlem.

Welcome To Fear City

The GuardianIn the summer of 1975, tourists were greeted with this ominous brochure at the airport. It featured nine survival tips for navigating the city, including not taking the subway and not walking in any part of the city after 6 PM.

Street Walkers

Leland Bobbé / PhotographerProstitution became a city-wide problem in the 1970s, with over 2,400 arrests for the offense in 1976 alone. In the above photograph, negotiations take place on the Bowery.

The Bowery

Leland Bobbé / PhotographerBefore becoming famous for its bars and clubs, the Bowery was known for abandoned buildings and a substantial homeless population.

Adult Store

National Archives and Records AdministrationNew York City became the capital of adult stores with Times Square as its epicenter. As the Guardian wrote, "Times Square’s venerable old theatres and spectacular movie palaces were torn down for office buildings or allowed to slowly rot away, showing scratchy prints of cheesy second-run films or pornography, which any casual visitor might have thought was the city’s leading industry."

Sidestreet

National Archives and Records AdministrationDilapidated side streets like these were common in 1970s New York.

House Of Paradise

Leland Bobbé / PhotographerPeople converse in front of the "House of Paradise" in Times Square.

The Bronx

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsOnce the borough of choice for the middle class, the Bronx bore the full brunt of 1970s white flight. Over the course of the decade, the Bronx lost over 30 percent of its population.

Bronx River 1970

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsThe Bronx River became an open sewer for industry and humans alike. In fact, it wasn't until 2007 that towns in Westchester and the Bronx both agreed to stop dumping raw sewage into the waterway.

Fallen

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsPassersby look on at a gentleman passed out on the corner of 172nd Street in the Bronx.

Muggers Express

Business InsiderTransportation didn't fare much better than waterways. In the 1970s, the New York subway became jokingly referred to as "the muggers express." By 1979, over 250 felonies were committed every week on the transportation system, making it the most dangerous in the world.

Panhandler

Leland Bobbé / PhotographerAn elderly woman plays the accordion for change on the subway.

Subway Car 1973

The AtlanticA man sits among graffiti in a subway car.

Waiting For The Subway

The AtlanticA woman waits for her train.

Subway Cars

National Archives and Records AdministrationThe exteriors of the subway system were covered in as much grime as the interiors.

Avenue C

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsThat's not to say that the entirety of 1970s New York is a portrait of misery. Above, boys enjoy the city's water from a fire hydrant on Avenue C in the Lower East Side.

Watching The Show

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsA group of school boys catches the late afternoon show in the Bronx.

Playing On A Car

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsA group of boys play on the hood of the car in the Bronx in the early 1970s.

Quilting Bee Central Park

The AtlanticA group participates in a Central Park quilting bee during the summer of 1973.

Signs In East Harlem

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsPeople observe a number of signs in East Harlem.

Barbies

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsA group of girls share their Barbie collections on the stoop of a brownstone townhouse in Harlem.

Afros

National Archives and Records AdministrationTwo young women pose in Harlem.

Hanging In Lynch Park

National Archives and Records AdministrationTwo teenage girls pose for a photograph in Lynch Park, South Williamsburg.

Lynch Park

The AtlanticElsewhere, a group of teenagers hang out in the South Williamsburg park in 1974.

July 4th Bed Stuy 1974

The AtlanticPeople celebrate July 4th in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, 1974.

Puerto Rican Wedding

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsA Puerto Rican wedding takes place.

Wedding Day

National Archives and Records AdministrationIn Harlem, a couple gets married.

Big Joe

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsA Bed Stuy resident simply known as "Big Joe" poses for photographer Camilo José Vergara.

East Harlem

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsA woman takes a breather in East Harlem.

Lower East Side

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsLower East Side residents interact near their stoops.

Viva La Revolution Bushwick

Camilo José Vergara PhotographsAn apartment above a pharmacist in Bushwick, Brooklyn, has a revolutionary theme.

Looters 1977 Blackout

National Archives and Records AdministrationIn 1977, New York experienced a 25-hour citywide blackout that led to looting and arson. When all available police were ordered to duty, 40% of the off-duty force refused to show as a result of the escalating animosity between the police union and the city.

Dumbo 1974

The AtlanticNow home to luxury loft apartments and media agencies, the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO was largely uninhabited for most of the 1970s.

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See The Delightful Things One, Then Two, Then Three Glasses Of Wine Does To The Human Face

The conceit for Brazilian photographer Marcos Alberti‘s new series is remarkably simple: “3 Glasses Later.”

Alberti invited dozens of people to his studio, just after the workday ended, and photographed them four times: once when they arrived, and then once after one, two, and three glasses of wine over the course of about two hours.

Such a conceit wouldn’t really work if the photos weren’t so well executed — but they were, which is why the results are almost certainly the most charming drunk photos ever taken:

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“The Bitch of Buchenwald”: The Story Of One Of The Holocaust’s Biggest Monsters

Ilse Koch may not be as famous as the Holocaust’s ringleaders, but she was every bit as evil. This is the life story of the woman who made lampshades from the skin of her prisoners.

Ilse Koch

Ilse Koch. Image Source: Google Cultural Institute

We’ve written twice before about women who not only survived the Holocaust, but saved the lives of fellow prisoners with their superhuman courage and will to survive. The stories of Gisella Perl and Stanislawa Leszczyńska highlight one vital aspect of human nature: Our ability to persevere and care for others in even the most harrowing and cruel of circumstances.

But the Holocaust also presented many opportunities for humanity’s terrible dark side to run wild, as well. While Adolf Hitler, Josef Menegle, and Heinrich Himmler are rightly remembered as its figureheads, there were others just as villainous, but their names didn’t quite make the history books.

One of these individuals was Ilse Koch, whose sadism and barbarism would lead to her to receive the nickname The Bitch of Buchenwald.

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