Join us on a journey through the history of New York’s skyline.
From the first skyscrapers, through the accelerating ‘race for the sky’ of the 1920s and 30s and right up to the present day.
The Early Skyscrapers: 1915 – 1924
Brooklyn Bridge, East River and Lower Manhattan skyline (c 1915). The Woolworth Building (center-right), constructed in 1913 and standing at a height of 241m is the tallest building both in shot and in New York at the time.
Lower Manhattan Skyline (1915). Again the Woolworth building is prominent and it remained New York’s tallest skyscraper until 1930.
Here it is profile in a Library of Congress shot dated between 1910 and 1920.
In 1916 the Zoning Resolution was passed to stop buildings such as the Equitable Building (below, behind Trinity church) from preventing light and air reaching the streets below. While the resolution did not restrict height, it established limits in building massing at certain heights and restricted towers to a percentage of lot size. The wedding cake, tiered art Deco skyscrapers of the 1920s and 1930s are a direct result of this resolution.
The 24-story Neogothic style Bush Tower,built on 42nd Street between 1916 and 1918.
View of the Lower Manhattan skyline looking South West across the Brooklyn Bridge (1924).
Aerial view of lower Manhattan (1924). The construction of the 30-story Standard Oil Building (a wedding cake style skyscraper) can be seen at center.
The Race For The Sky: 1925 – 1934
The race for the sky is well underway and with the zoning law in effect, the massive tiered skyscrapers start to dominate the skyline. This view of midtown Manhattan looking southeast from Central Park was taken in May 1925.
Park Avenue’s first large skyscrapers, such as the 45 story Ritz tower (below) were completed in 1925.
1926 sees the completion of New York’s first Art Deco buildings. Art Deco is based on mathematical geometric shapes and is influenced by the “primitive” arts of Africa, Ancient Egypt, and Aztec Mexico. The New York telephone building (below) was one of the first Art Deco buildings to be opened.
Another Art Deco building, The Paramount Building, also opened in 1926 and boasted an observation tower where observers could look out across the evolving New York skyline.
Lower Manhattan looking northeast from the Bay. July 1927. The construction of the Morgan building can be seen in the centre, alongside the new Standard Oil building.
View across the East River, taking in Manhattan and Brooklyn bridge (1928).
With the race for the sky quickening pace in 1928, the 680ft tall Chanin building opens on the soutwestern corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street. While it is lower than the Woolworth building, it is the tallest building in midtown Manhattan and stands at 56 stories.
Construction of the 40 story New York Central building in May 1928.
Here it is on its completion in June 1929.
In 1928, two architects William Van Allen and H. Craig Severances, who had previously been partners, dissolved their partnership and resolved to build New York’s highest skyscraper. Craig Severances announced the construction of the 67 story Bank Of Manhattan building at 40 Wall Street, while Allen announced he would be designing a 65 story building on the northeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street for Chrysler Motor Company.
Construction begins on the Chrysler Building (1928).
The Chrysler Building nears completion (September 1930).
The Bank Of Manhattan building on its completion in Autumn of 1929 (below). The building stood at 71 floors and 927ft and was briefly the world’s tallest building, however…
… the Chrysler Building had an ace up it’s sleeve and with the installation of its famous needle took the crown as king of skyscrapers.
The Chrysler Building was completed in 1930 and at 1,046 feet (319 m) was both New York and the world’s tallest building at the time. Seen in the background above, it would soon be overtaken by the Empire State Building (foreground), which was nearing completion.
Probably the most famous skyscraper in the world, The Empire State Building was built during the hardest times of the Great Depression and became a symbol of optimism, hope and faith in the future. The construction of the Empire State Building employed more than 5000 workers providing a much needed boost to the local economy. The first stone of the Empire State Building was placed on March 17, 1930, and by April 7, the first steel columns of the main section had been installed.
Fearless workers resting on a beam during the construction of the Empire State Building (1930).
The Empire State Building was officially opened on the 1st May 1931, containing 102 stories and standing at 1,250ft making it the world’s tallest building.
The completed Empire State Building standing at 1,250 feet (380 m) and Chrysler building loom large over Manhattan (1932). The Empire State Building remained as the world’s tallest building until the topping out of the original World Trade Centre in 1970.
Midtown Manhattan looking southwest from River House. December 1931.
Aerial view of Lower Manhattan and the Hudson (1932).
The 72-story Cities Service Building (now AIG Building or 60 Wall Tower) in February 1932. In the background on the left is the Bank Of Manhattan building.
Construction of the Rockefeller Center. March, 1932.
Midtown Manhattan’s Grand Central District skyscrapers looking northwest from First Avenue and 34th Street. April 1932.
Construction of the Rockerfeller Center’s RCA Building, September 1932.
The completed RCA Building towering over midtown Manhattan in September 1933.
Aerial view of Midtown Manhattan looking south, showing Rockefeller Center’s impact. July 1933.
A Daily News’ plane flies over Midtown Manhattan in June 1934.
War Time New York: 1935 – 1944
Midtown Manhattan looking north from Empire State Building in July 1935 with the Rockefeller Center’s newly completed 41-story International Building.
Lower Manhattan, looking North from Governors Island (1936)
Another view from Governors Island, taken in the same year.
Lower Manhattan skyline at night, taken from underneath the Brooklyn Bridge in 1938.
The Statue Of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline (1939).
The S.S. America (built in 1940, the same year this photo was taken) makes its way up the busy Hudson River.
Wide shot of the Manhattan skyline viewed from New Jersey in 1943.
Midtown Manhattan looking northeast from Empire State Building at night. June 1944.
Construction Of The UN Building: 1945 – 1954
In the early morning of Saturday, July 28th 1945 a B-52 Mitchell Bomber with two passengers was flying above New York City on course to New Jersey. Tragically the plane, which was surrounded by thick fog crashed into the Empire State Building on the 79th floor, killing the pilot of the plane and 13 others. Below, construction workers work to repair the damage.
Manhattan skyline at night, 1947.
The new 32-story Esso Building in the Rockefeller Center. July 1947.
Construction of the 100 Park Avenue Building begins in September 1948.
The completed building in 1949.
A Boeing Stratocruiser flies low over Manhattan, 1949.
The site for the new United Nations headquarters, 1947.
Construction of the UN’s Secretariat Building in June 1949.
The completed UN Secretariat Building and the Empire State Building. 1951.
Aerial view of United Nations headquarters with Secretariat building.
Manhattan from the air, 1949.
Lower Manhattan Skyline, September 1953.
The 99 Park Avenue Building, opened in 1954 was New York’s first aluminium skyscraper.
Chase Manhattan & The Rockefeller Center: 1955 – 1964
Lower Manhattan skyline, 1955.
Aerial view of Midtown Manhattan looking northwest showing Central Park. August 1955.
Construction work on the Socony-Mobil Building, March 1955.
The completed Socony-Mobil Building in July 1956. The Socony-Mobil building was the first time that stainless steel had been used at scale in the facade of a large skyscraper. Located at 150 East Forty-second Street the building was 45 stories tall.
Night view of Rockefeller Center looking southeast. June 1956.
Midtown Manhattan looking southeast from RCA Building. October 1956. (key: 1. United Nations Secretariat Building (1950), 2. New York Cental (Hemsley) Building (1929), 3. Long Island, 4. Daily News Building (1930), 5. Chrysler Building (1930), 6. Socony-Mobil Building (1956), 7. Chanin Building (1928), 8. Lincoln Building (1930))
Construction work on the Seagram Building. March, 1957.
Night view of the completed Seagram building, June 1958. With its curtain wall facade, the Seagram building, constructed between 1956 and 1958 marked the end of Wedding-cake skyscraper age (the zoning law was reviewed) and heralded the age of the tall monolithic skyscrapers of today.
A helicopter flies over Midtown Manhattan in May 1958. The Empire State and Crysler Buildings are seen at the right of the background.
Construction of the 64-story Chase Manhattan Building, July 1959 (Woolworth Building on right).
Midtown Manhattan looking southeast from RCA Building showing the steel skeleton of the Union Carbide Building under construction in foreground. July 1959.
The enormous steel structure of the Chase Manhattan building is 813ft (243m) high and contains 1,800,000 square feet above ground level, with a further 600,00 square feet below ground. On its completion in 1961, the building dominated the financial district. The photo below was taken in May 1961 with the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground.
Night view of Lower Manhattan skyline with the Chase tower full illuminated. 1962.
Also completed in 1961 was the Equitable Life Assurance Building, a 42 story aluminium and glass curtain wall skyscraper that looms over Sixth Avenue and West 51st/52nd streets.
Aerial view of Lower Manhattan looking northeast from Hudson River. February 1961.
The Empire State Building looking northwest from New York Life Building. May 1961.
Aerial view of new face of Midtown Manhattan skyline looking southwest from East River showing United Nations. May 1961
Construction of the Pan Am Building in March 1962 with the Union Carbide Building on the left and the Chrysler building on the right.
Aerial view of Lower Manhattan Financial District looking southeast showing the definitive site for the new World Trade Center. October 1962.
View from 52nd Street looking south with the 59-story Pan Am Building near completion. October 1962.
The completed Pan Am Building from Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. January 1963 (before the corporations logos were added).
Night view of Midtown Manhattan looking southeast from RCA Building with Pan Am Building on left. Christmas 1963.
The New York Hilton nears completion in March 1963.
Night view of Midtown Manhattan looking southwest from Queensboro Bridge. June 1963.
Lower Manhattan from Governors Island. July 1963.
Midtown Manhattan looking south from RCA Building. June 1964.
Construction of The World Trade Center: 1965 – 1974
The CBS Building, opened in 1965 and drew criticism from the public for its ‘funeral look’. The 490 foot building was nicnamed ‘Black Rock’ because of its granite facade.
This view of Midtown Manhattan from June 1965 looking northwest from the United Nations shows the juxtaposition of new and old style skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan.
Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges viewed from East River looking southwest in July 1965.
Aerial view of Midtown Manhattan looking east from Hudson River. October 1965.
Aerial view of Manhattan Island from the south. August 1966.
Lower Manhattan’s Financial District skyline in June 1967 with the newly constructed Marine Midland Building on the left (black building).
Demolition works begin on the Singer Building (center). July 1967.
The General Motors building, nearing completion in April 1968 is viewed from Central Park.
Night view of the completed General Motors Building from RCA Building. January 1970.
Lower Manhattan’s new skyline looking north from Staten Island Ferry. The building under construction on the right of the picture is the One New York Plaza. September 1968.
Night view of the evolving Midtown Manhattan skyline looking east from Hudson River. January 1969.
Aerial view of Midtown Manhattan looking east. February 1969.
Construction begins on the World Trade Center site. April 1969.
Lower Manhattan new skyline looking north from Staten Island ferry. On the right of the picture is the One New York Plaza under construction. May 1969.
The North Tower of the World Trade under construction. May 1969.
Aerial view of the North Tower of the World Trade Center Twin Towers (rising to 26 stories) under construction looking northwest. September 1969.
Aerial view of the Statue of Liberty with the new Twin Towers of the World Trade Center beginning to dominate the skyline. May 1970.
Aerial view of Manhattan Island looking north. May 1970. Construction of the World Trade Center is at an advanced stage.
Aerial view of the Twin Towers on the day after the North Tower’s topping-out ceremony. Christmas 1970.
Lower Manhattan skyline looking north from Staten Island ferry, with the 110-story Twin Towers of the World Trade Center nearing completion. March 1972.
The completed Twin Towers of World Trade Center viewed from the Hudson River. July 1974.
Aerial view of New York’s new skyline. September 1974.
Modern NY Skyline: 1975 – 1984
Aerial view of Manhattan Island looking north. August 1975.
The 40-story One United Nations Plaza Building, viewed from the United Nations Secretariat Building in July 1976.
Construction of the Citicorp Tower. March, 1976.
View across Lower Manhattan from the Observation Roof on the 110th floor of the South Tower of The World Trade Center. May 1976.
Illuminated view of the Empire State Building during Columbus Day. October 12, 1977.
The 59 story Citicorp Tower is completed in the summer of 1977. The photo below taken in June 1977 shows the new building now dominating the skyline from the East River.
Aerial view of Midtown Manhattan looking southeast from New Jersey. March 1977.
The Twin Towers viewed from The Hudson during the blackout of July 13/14 1977.
Night view of Midtown Manhattan looking southwest from the East River showing the One United Nations Plaza (center, left to Chrysler Building) completely illuminated. 1979.
Lower Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn Bridge. January 1981.
Night view Midtown Manhattan looking south from RCA Building in April 1981.
Night view Midtown Manhattan looking south from RCA Building in April 1981.
Construction of the AT&T Building. January 1982.
The IBM Building, opened in 1983 viewed from the northeast corner of Madison and 57th Street.
Evening panorama of the Lower Manhattan Skyline. March 1983.
The 664ft, 58 story Trump Tower constructed in 1983, viewed looking northeast from Gotman Hotel in March 1984.
The 684ft, 38 story AT&T Building, opened in 1984 in Madison Avenue between East 55 and 56th Street.
Looking South across midtown and lower Manhattan. 1984.
High Finance: 1985 – 1994
Lower Manhattan Financial District looking north in September 1985.
Manhattan skyline from the observation deck of the statue of liberty. August 1986.
In 1987 construction of the Cityspire Center (below, center) was completed in Midtown Manhattan. Standing at 814ft (248m) the building and located on the south side of West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, the building is the tallest mixed use skyscraper in New York City.
Manhattan skyline with the Statue Of Liberty. 1989.
Lower Manhattan skyline. 1990.
Lower Manhattan skyline with World Trade Center. 1994.
The Skyline Changes Forever: 1995 – 2004
Night view of the illuminated lower Manhattan skyline. 1995.
Construction work on the Condé Nast Building at 4 Times Square in 1999.
The construction of the Condé Nast Building was completed in 2000 and the finished structure stands at 809ft (247m). Below the antenna of the building towers over the afternoon Manhattan skyline.
Night view of Twin Towers from Empire State Building. May 2001.
Lower Manhattan. August 2001.
We all know of the tragic events of September 11th 2001, so no need to mention them here. Of course the lower Manhattan skyline was drastically altered thereafter for the most awful reasons imaginable. We will skip a few years to this photo of the lower Manhattan skyline taken from the Staten Island Ferry in 2004.
Going back to 2001, we can see the Trump World Tower under construction. Located at 845 United Nations Plaza (First Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets), the building briefly held the record for tallest all-residential building in the world, before it was overtaken by the 21st Century Tower in Dubai in 2003.
The completed building (center) stands at 861ft and contains 72 floors.
In 2003 the twin towers of the Time Warner Center were added to New York’s skyline. The complex at Columbus Circle consists of two 750ft (229m) towers connected by a multi-story atrium. This night shot shows the Time Warner towers in full illumination (center, rear).
2004 saw the opening of the ‘Bloomberg Tower’ at 731 Lexington Avenue. This 806ft tall building contains 55 stories and is currently the 15th tallest in New York City. Below shows the tower and midtown Manhattan at sunset.
The New York Skyline Today: 2005 – 2015
Night view of an illuminated Manhattan skyline from 6th August 2005.
Aerial view of lower Manhattan skyline. 2005.
The New York Times building on Eighth Avenue under construction in September 2006.
Construction of the new One World Trade Center begins in 2006.
Completed in 2007, the New York Times Building stands at 1,046ft (319m) and looms large over the skyline of midtown Manhattan.
In 2009 construction of the Bank Of America Tower at One Bryant Park was completed. At 1,200ft (366m) it is currently the sixth tallest building in the United States. It can be seen below on the right of the photo with the Condé Nast Building to its right. The Empire State Building is central.
Manhattan skyline viewed from the Staten Island Ferry. 21st April 2010.
Construction of the new One World Trade Center continues. November 15th 2011.
The new One World Trade Center is topped out on August 30th 2012 and stands as a beacon of hope in New York. The new tower reaches a height of 1,176ft (541m) including spire – a deliberate reference to 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Manhattan skyline viewed from Jersey City in 2013 with the new One World Trade Center dominating the view.
One World Trade Center and Manhattan skyline. November 2013.
In 2014 the One57 Building is completed and stands at 1005ft (306m).
The new One World Trade Center opened on the 3rd November 2014.
The final addition to the New York skyline is the building at 432 Park Avenue, which was completed in 2015. At a whopping height of 1,396ft (426m) it is currently the second tallest building in New York (behind the One World Trade Center) and the third tallest in the United States. It is also one of the tallest residential buildings in the world.
Night view of the 432 Park Avenue building.
A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on the 4th of January 2015.
The lower Manhattan skyline 2015.
Manhattan skyline from helicopter. January 17th 2015.
Manhattan skyline and One World Trade Center from Miss New York ferry. January 21st 2015.
We hope you enjoyed our journey through the history of the New York skyline. We spent a lot of time putting it all together, so if you can help us out by sharing it, it would be much appreciated.
If you are interested in finding out more about the history of New York you will find lots of useful links on the history page of newyork.com.