Behind The Scenes

How Bill Cunningham’s New York Has Changed, And Stayed The Same

From 1968 through the mid-70s, photographer Bill Cunningham set out to photograph models in period costumes in front of beautiful historic settings around the city in a project called Facades (an exhibition of which opens at the New-York Historical Society on March 14). A lot can happen in New York in 40 years, but thankfully, many of the backdrops for his photographs are still standing.

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Bill Cunningham, Grove Court (ca. 1840s), Between Bedford and Hudson Streets, 1968-1976

This image was taken at 17 Grove Street in Manhattan, which is in the running for the oldest building in the village. This rare wooden house was built in 1822, with the top floor added in 1870. It has a new paint job now, but almost 200 years later it’s still a beautiful sight.

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Bill Cunningham, Municipal Asphalt Plant (built 1944), East 90th Street at the East River, 1968-1976

When this photograph was taken, the model was standing out side the Municipal Asphalt Plant, built in 1914 to mix asphalt for the city’s roads. It was known to some as a beautiful, modernist “Cathedral of Asphalt,” though city planner Robert Moses called it  “the most hideous waterfront structure ever inflicted on a city by a combination of architectural conceit and official bad taste.”  However, in 1980 this unique building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1984 it was converted into a sports center (take it from me, I took tennis and soccer lessons there!).

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Bill Cunningham, 3-4 Gramercy Park West (built 1850), 1968-1976

This beautiful townhouse on Gramercy Park West was built in the 1840s and designed by Alexander Jackson Davis. Do you have about five million dollars laying around? Because if you do, it’s for sale!

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Bill Cunningham, Stuyvesant Fish House (built 1804), 21 Stuyvesant Street between Second and Third Avenues, 1968-1976

This townhouse at 21 Stuyvesant Street in Manhattan is better known as the “Hamilton Fish House.” It was built in 1804 by Peter Stuyvesant’s grandson (also named Peter Stuyvesant), and given to his daughter and son-in-law. Their child, Hamilton Fish, would go on to be a Governor and Senator of New York, as well as President Grand’s Secretary of State.

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