Rare Color Footage of Depression-Era New York

In the same year that The Wizard of Oz hurtled Dorothy from a black-and-white Kansas into a Technicolor Oz, Jean Vivier, a French tourist, was filming the streets of New York in all of their own glorious color.

A rare 16-mm Kodachrome film from the summer of 1939 that was recently released by the Italian Romano Archives shows swinging signs advertising 5¢ piña coladas, elevated trains whizzing overhead, and boys playing in the fountain of a public park. Archivist Vincente Romano says the clips of Rockefeller Center, Chinatown, and other areas are only a portion of the film Vivier took over the course of his trip from Marseilles to the Big Apple at the close of the Great Depression.

Due to its excellent longevity in dark storage, Kodachrome is a favorite of archivists, and much of even the old stuff survives today in everything from home movies to award-winning National Geographic photos. The film emerged in 1935 as the first successful mass-market color film and outlasted predecessors such as Afgachrome and Dufraychrome to become the oldest brand sold until its demise in 2009, when Kodak announced that it would stop manufacturing Kodachrome after nearly 75 years of exposure.

A lot has changed in New York since Jean Vivier first stepped off the S.S. Normandie in ’39: buildings are taller, Model-A Fords and Packards have been replaced by diminutive smart cars, and ears of corn are no longer sold off of carts in lower Manhattan for two cents apiece. But the cityscape of blaring color that he recorded—the hordes of people, the cars, the bright signs on businesses and buildings—is as brilliant as ever, and ready for some new enterprising tourist to record it for vibrant posterity. 

Via the Huffington Post.

June 4, 2013 - 4:15pm
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