New York City in the 1950s

- To experience the 1950s or so-called Golden Years, Andy McCarthy of the New York Public Library laid out the evidence for us -- materials in their vast collection, the fibers to understanding that era in our city which begins with the end of a war, a parade celebrating General MacArthur, a sense of jubilance.

Many of the images from the 1950s signify a golden age for entertainment. 52nd Street was a jazz mecca. Maps from that time show the garden was already an attraction and perhaps a bittersweet reminder here of the Dodgers still calling Brooklyn home, and the baseball Giants still nestled uptown. Times Square filled with movie theatres was already considered its own city -- and you'd actually find New Yorkers there!

Embedded in hope and idealism, the style was sleek. A cover from the New York Sunday times, a page straight out of Mad Men it seems, with the war over, the building began. Progress went vertical. Even the Slaughterhouse District would give way to become the United Nations.

But the undercurrent to that era is relatively forgotten. Andy's treasure map showed signs of struggle. Charity and benevolent groups were busy trying to help those in need. Poverty was sinking a large diverse population in deplorable conditions. A section of guidebooks Andy pulled were mostly guides to surviving in an expensive city. Yeah, even in the 1950s. Roosevelt Island even had a different name back then: Welfare Island.

In the Census book, the government was tracking how many households had gotten refrigerators. What would we measure today? How many people still use cable? And the rents then, graphed out with $20 the low-end yellow boxes. The high end blue chip rents were over $70 a month -- considered expensive at the time.

That was life then, maybe not too different than today.

NOTE: PHOTOS IN THIS REPORT ARE COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY.

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