“Cheerful and filthy and crowded”

Charles Cushman, Broome Street and Baruch Place, 1941


One point about New York City in the 1940s that E. B. White and Jan Morris both emphasize, and that On the Town briefly refers to, is the fact that, although the city was thriving economically, it still had large tenement districts that housed African-Americans (almost entirely in Harlem), Puerto Ricans (especially in East Harlem) , and the descendents of Eastern and Southern European immigration (mainly on the Lower East Side) in often impoverished and frequently crowded and unsanitary conditions.  Many of these neighborhoods, as White points out, would soon by transformed by the construction of large-scale public housing projects.   The tenements were often unsalubrious places, but, by contrast to the projects, they were often praised, at the time and since, for the richness and intensity of their communal life.  “Cheerful and filthy and crowded ” is the way White describes them. 

Below are some images of these neighborhoods made at the time.

Harold Roth, "Boys on the East River Pier" (1947)
Roy DeCarava, "Gittel" (1950)
Helen Levitt, "New York (4 Boys)," c. 1940
Andreas Feininger, "Kosher Butcher"
Andreas Feininger, "Lower East Side Tenements, Looking North"
Gordon Parks (?), Easter Sunday in Harlem, 1940

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