Travel Timeline: New York City Through the Years
New York City is the most-visited city in the United States, welcoming a record 65 million tourists in 2018.
For generations, New York has lured visitors with its exciting mix of expansive parks, towering skyscrapers, bustling streets, luxurious hotels, world-class museums, fast-speed sporting events, world-class entertainment and melt-in-your-mouth cuisine.
Here, we look back at New York's most famous attractions through the years. See how much New York has changed — and how much it hasn't — through these historic images.
1891: Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge connecting the island of Manhattan to today's hipster borough originally opened in 1883. Spanning 1,595.5 feet, the suspension and cable-stayed bridge debuted with a pedestrian area that continues to serve as an ideal spot to take in New York City's views.
Renovations to the bridge will begin this fall, ensuring this icon of the city remains its beautiful self. Just be aware that this could cause some traffic delays for cars, bikes and walkers.
1891: Carnegie Hall
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, as the old joke goes. Opening in April 1891, the Midtown concert hall near Central Park can be found on 7th Avenue, between West 56th and 57th Streets.
Named for Andrew Carnegie, who funded the building's construction, it featured an opening-night performance conducted by Walter Damrosch and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Today, it remains a popular venue for some of the world's biggest musicians, orchestras, bands and singers.
The iconic performing-arts venue fell into disrepair in the mid-20th century but was thankfully saved from demolition in the 1960s and rebuilt to its former glory.
1893: Central Park
One of New York City's most impressive feats has been its ability to maintain its 840-acre Central Park even as towering skyscrapers take over the urban landscape. Extending from 59th Street to 110th Streets, the park was designed as a bulwark against encroaching urbanization, and has served its purpose well.
Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux worked on the park's winning design, and Central Park officially opened to the public in 1876.
The first ice skating in the park was located on its 20-acre lake. People loved ice skating so much in the 19th century that Brooklyn streetcars would "raise the red ball" — a symbol to get a move on — to let everyone know conditions were ripe for lacing up skates.
1898: Fifth Avenue
Famed Fifth Avenue, aka Millionaire's Row, extends from Greenwich Village to Harlem. In 1896, Benjamin Altman brought the B. Altman and Company department store to the corner of 34th Street, resulting in the street's first — and definitely not last — commercial building.
Remaining a high-end shopping street to this day, Fifth Avenue did not incorporate New York streetcars. Instead, it provided the Fifth Avenue Coach, a more fashionable form of transportation for the millionaires who resided on the street. Fifth Avenue's signs of wealth included Mrs. William B. Astor's mansion, constructed in 1893 as the largest manse on the street.
1905: Waldorf Hotel
Before there was the Waldorf Astoria, the five-star, luxury hotel in the heart of Midtown, there has the Waldorf Hotel. Located on Fifth Avenue, the Waldorf opened in 1893 on Astor family property. Alas, it was destroyed in 1929 to make way for the Empire State Building.
The Waldorf Astoria building we know today is located on Park Avenue. When it opened in 1931, it was the world's tallest hotel, at 47 stories. (Today, the world's tallest hotel is Dubai's Gevora, at 76 stories.)
The hotel is currently closed for renovations, with many of the former rooms being transformed into condos. But don't worry: Hotel rooms will still be available, as well.
One of New York's oldest restaurants is the Financial District's Delmonico's, which opened in 1827 as a French pastry cafe. By 1831, the Delmonico brothers of Switzerland had expanded their establishment into a full French restaurant, ideal for celebrations and fine dining.
The original location, at 23 William Street, burned to the ground in 1835. The brothers then opened a new location at 2 William, aka the Citadel, covering three floors and offering private dining rooms. The best of the best dined at Delmonico's, including the likes of celebrated authors Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.
Numerous Delmonico's outposts were added to the city, with the last opening in 1899 on Fifth Avenue. Alas, by 1923, all of the restaurants had officially closed. Copycats popped up, including Oscar's Delmonico's, which served the same dishes as the original for a time.
In 1999, Delmonico's itself was reborn under new management, and to this day it still serves those famous dishes from 1831.
1907: New York City Library
The Central Branch of the New York City Library often gets mistaken for a museum. The grandiose library opened at its 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue location in 1911 as a free library and reading room to match the stunning libraries of London, Paris and Boston.
Fifty thousand people attended the May 23 grand opening.
From its very first day, the library's standout feature was its pair of marble lions, Patience and Fortitude. Interestingly, though, the lions were not always called by these names, going originally by Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after the library's founders. The new names were bestowed by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia as inspiration for the city to make it through the Great Depression.
1909: Grand Central Terminal
Before Grand Central railway tracks moved underground, trains passed through a congested area above ground. The original complex was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt, a railroad magnate. After a deadly crash involving a commuter train, the city decided the mess needed to clear.
The new, 70-acre Grand Central Station began construction in 1903, opening in 1913 as one of the world's first all-electric buildings. The chandeliers and lighting fixtures that remain beloved by passerby today feature more than 4,000 lightbulbs.
Look up and take in the celestial ceiling mural that has been here since Grand Central opened. (It's backwards!)
Circa 1920s: Times Square
How things change! Times Square, originally called Longacre Square, was once an open space with horses and apartments.
Located in not exactly the best neighborhood — far from Fifth Avenue — the area was transformed thanks to electricity. Adding streetlights and advertisements to entice people to the area, Times Square began on its path toward becoming the beacon of light it is today.
In 1905, The New York Times purchased its new headquarters at Broadway and Seventh Avenue, and Mayor George B. McClellan christened the intersection with the name it goes by today.
1926: Plaza Hotel
Opening across the street from Central Park on Fifth Avenue in 1907, The Plaza quickly established itself as the hotel among New York's many famed properties — visitors recognize this building from more than its appearance in "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York."
The 19-story hotel was built at a then-gigantic sum of $12 million and included crystal chandeliers and gold-encrusted china.
In 2008, the hotel received a facelift to the tune of $450 million, keeping its glamour alive. (Tip: The rooms are bigger and have higher ceilings on the lower floors.)
1927: Yankee Stadium
The first Yankee Stadium opened in the Bronx in 1923 — earning the team the nickname, "The Bronx Bombers." The very first game was between the Yankees and their forever-rivals, the Boston Red Sox, on April 18.
By 1946, lights were added to the stadium, and the team hosted its first night game on May 28.
The stadium was demolished after the opening of the new and much larger Yankee Stadium in 2009.
1930: Empire State Building
It seems impossible to imagine New York City without the Empire State Building. But the skyline lived without it for more than 400 years.
In 1931, the building opened to much fanfare, quickly staking its claim as New York City's dominant skyscraper. Legend had it that President Herbert Hoover dedicated the building by turning on the lights from the White House in Washington, D.C. (He didn't, actually.)
With its lightning-rod tip topping it off at 1,454 feet, the building was at the time the world's tallest skyscraper. It is said up to 34,000 workers were on site daily — all earning a nice living during the Great Depression.
1931: Rockefeller Center
Also making its first appearance on the skyline in 1931, during the throes of the Great Depression, was Rockefeller Center. John D. Rockefeller Jr. wanted the building to be a city within a city, with shopping, entertainment, office space and residences all in one.
Rockefeller Center is so massive, it is said it would be America's 51st largest city if it were its own metropolis — and it even has its own zip code!
During construction, workers erected a Christmas tree in the winter of 1931, accidentally starting the tradition that draws thousands to the building every holiday season.
1937: 42nd Street
In this photograph from 1937, you can see the bustling crowds of 42nd Street, which to this day remains one of the busiest streets in New York. Along this route, Times Square, Bryant Park, Grand Central and the Chrysler Building can be found, making it the main artery of the city.
Before Mayor Rudy Giuliani began a cleanup effort, the stretch of the street between 6th and 8th Avenues was known as "The Speakeasy Belt" and eventually "The Deuce." Here was the seedy underbelly of Manhattan, filled with peep shows and XXX movie theaters.
Now, the convergence has become a pedestrian area filled with theaters, shops and, yes, lots of tourists.
1943: New York Stock Exchange
When New York was beginning its life as a colony of Dutch people known as New Amsterdam, a wall was built to separate the colonials from Native Americans. The 10-foot wall became a place for traders to meet and sell their goods. It was also the home to the then-sanctioned slave market.
The wall eventually was removed, and the area where it was housed became Wall Street. Home to numerous federal buildings during New York City's tenure as the United States' first capital, this stretch of the city would, of course, go on to become the financial capital of the country.
In 1817, the New York Stock Exchange began trading stocks, and by 1903, the official home to the NYSE opened — with air conditioning!
1949: Forest Hills Tennis
In Forest Hills, among the farmland of Queens, the West Side Tennis Club debuted in 1911 as the city's original home for tennis, situated among the farmland of Queens in the Forest Hills neighborhood. The club welcomed international tennis play, including the International Lawn Tennis Challenge, which drew thousands. Quickly, the tennis community realized it needed more space, so it purchased more land and eventually opened the Forest Hills Stadium in 1923.
The stadium was the original home of the Davis Cup and the U.S. Open, played at the end of summer annually.
1952: Park Avenue
Originally called Fourth Avenue, Park Avenue was first used as a train route between Midtown and Harlem in the 1830s. By the late 1800s, however, the trains were no longer in use, and the tracks were covered in grass and trees. The three miles of greenspace became known as Park Avenue.
The 71st Regiment Armory, located on Park Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets, was built in the early 1900s, replacing the original 1874 building, which had been destroyed by fire.
The regiment ended its use of the building in 1971, and it was eventually razed.
1957: Guggenheim Museum
Originally a museum of "Non-Objective Painting," the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was founded in 1937 and displayed works in its first building in 1939. When it became clear that a bigger and more permanent museum was needed, the Foundation turned to renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Opened on October 21, 1959, the new museum's unique design, and the collection of work inside it, wowed from day 1.
1961: Coney Island
The early Dutch settlers of New York also discovered Coney Island in 1609, but it wasn't until the late 19th century that the island became a place for amusements. Luxury resorts opened along the beaches, along with Sea Lion Park, the first enclosed amusement park. This concept allowed people to lease space for attractions, and soon Coney Island was nicknamed "Poor Man's Paradise."
But of course visitors to Coney Island could also just bask on the beach, and they did so in spades, as this crowded photo from 1961 reveals.
1963: Shea Stadium
In Queens, not far from the West Side Tennis Club, Flushing Meadows Park became the perfect place to pitch (pun intended) a new home for an expansion baseball team coming to New York after the city lost the Brooklyn Dodgers to California.
William A. Shea was appointed to lure a team to New York, and when it failed, he formed the Continental League and The Mets became one of baseball's first expansion teams.
The Mets played their opening game at the stadium named for Shea on April 17, 1964. It was the first stadium to use escalators, utilized to get its 55,000-plus fans into the five-tiered building. A dome was eventually added in 1964.
The stadium was demolished in 2009 to become parking for the new home of the Mets, Citi Field.
1968: Madison Square Garden
The first Madison Square Garden was opened in 1879 as "the center of New York life," closing in 1890. Decades later, in 1968, the circular arena we know and love debuted as an engineering marvel. Using cables to support its ceiling, the Garden's first event was a U.S.O. show hosted by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby on February 11.
Completely renovated in 2013, Madison Square Garden is today home to sporting events, concerts, circuses, visits from popes and political conventions.
You don't have to see a show to take in the world's most famous arena; enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour to learn about the architecture, and look through memorabilia to learn about the famous people who have performed here.
1971: World Trade Center
When the twin towers of the World Trade Center opened in 1973, they were considered an engineering feat. Within 10 million square feet of space and 110 stories apiece, the towers held 50,000 workers, as well as 200,000 curious visitors per day.
The buildings were fixtures of the lower Manhattan skyline until September 11, 2011. On that day, a terrorist attack on America caused the buildings to collapse, claiming the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
1978: Radio City Music Hall
The aforementioned Speakeasy Belt of Midtown, around 6th Avenue and 42nd Street, was in need of its first clean up. Enter John D. Rockefeller Jr., who wanted to build a new Metropolitan Opera House in the wake of the Great Depression. Partnering with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), they created Radio City Music Hall as a "palace for the people."
The palace opened to said people in 1933 and initially served as a movie house, screening "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" as its first film.
Now home to the Radio City Rockettes, the theater was built without any obstruction of views, claiming "every seat is a good seat." Of course, the marquee steals a lot of the entertainment spotlight, stretching an entire block in length.
Nowadays, you can catch concerts, dance productions, special events, stage shows, and yes, even a movie at the venue.
1986: Ellis Island
Of America's immigration stations, Ellis Island in New York is the most famous. From 1892 to 1954, 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island to gain entry into the United States in hopes of a new life. It is estimated 40 percent of current Americans have at least one ancestor who was processed here!
After closing in 1954, the buildings were abandoned and left to rot. In 1976, the island opened to the public. It was not until 1990, however, that the island restored its buildings and opened its powerful Immigration Museum.
1990: USS Intrepid
On December 1, 1941 — just six days before the attack of Pearl Harbor — construction began on the USS Intrepid. By 1943, the ship was off to do battle in World War II, and it would later serve during the Cold War and Vietnam as well.
The ship saw the loss of 69 lives during an attack in the Philippines in 1944, but made a comeback during the Battle of Okinawa. The Intrepid even rescued the pilots of the Gemini and Mercury space missions.
Decommissioned in 1974, the ship landed in a shipyard graveyard in Rhode Island. There she lay in wait until a New York City developer came to the rescue, bringing her to the harbor and opening her as a museum in 1982.
The museum now also encompasses the submarine Growler, 28 aircraft restored to their period glory, and the Enterprise space shuttle, hence its updated name: the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
2000: NYC Marathon
These days, athletes run over the bridges of New York's boroughs the first Sunday of every November, but marathoning wasn't always a popular sport. In 1970, the very first New York City Marathon took place with just 127 racers running around Central Park. Nearly the same number of people watched.
By 1976, the marathon was moving through all five boroughs and crossing five bridges. By 2018, the marathon celebrated more than 52,000 finishers.
2011: Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
The very first Thanksgiving parade wasn't hosted by Macy's, nor was it in New York City. The very first parade was held in 1920 in Philadelphia by Gimbels department store.
In 1924, however, Macy's employees decided to throw their own parade that Christmas, replete with floats, bands and Santa Claus awaiting in the Macy's 34th Street store window. More than 250,000 people watched this first parade, which was meant to lure people to the store to shop for Christmas gifts.
By 1927, giant helium balloons joined the fray. Last Thanksgiving, more than 50 million people tuned in to watch the television event, while 3.5 million braved frigid temperatures to see the parade in person.
2013: September 11 Memorial
Ten years after the World Trade Center fell, the official Ground Zero Memorial was completed, introducing a somber pair of infinity fountains spilling into the footprints of the fallen towers. The names of those who died are inscribed into the black granite around the edges of the fountains.
By May 2014, the adjoining and official 9/11 Memorial Museum opened to the public, bringing together more than 500 hours of video, 40,000 images, 3,500 oral recounts and recordings, and 14,000 artifacts of the fateful day that touched the world.
2015: Arthur Ashe Stadium
Over the years, tennis has become one of the city's biggest draws, welcoming ever-bigger venues to accommodate the throngs. Most impressive of all is the 22,547-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, named for the first winner of the U.S. Open, which debuted in 1997.
At a cost of $254 million, the stadium remains the world's largest outdoor tennis venue. And it got even better in 2016, when it added its retractable roof, at the hefty price of $100 million.
Tennis is so big in New York, the 2019 U.S. Open set all-time attendance records with 737,872 fans, including 23 or 24 sessions of Arthur Ashe Stadium selling out.
2019: Bryant Park
Dating back to 1686, Bryant Park was the city's very first public space. It was christened with its name in 1884, in honor of New York Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant.
By the 1980s, the park, along with much of Midtown's west side, became a place for "unsavory elements." Falling into disrepair, the non-profit Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, a group of businessmen, worked to transform the park so it could once again serve as a welcoming, safe place for the city's residents and visitors.
These days, 12 million people annually visit the park. One of the world's busiest public spaces, it offers an oasis in the heart of a skyscraper-filled city, and is well worth checking out.