1970s New York was far removed from the city that struggled through the Great Depression and World War II. Yet by this time, economic growth had stalled nationwide, the effects of which were strongly felt by New Yorkers. The city completely ran out of money in this decade and could not secure much-needed loans to operate.
The central government had to bail out America’s biggest city to help it through a rough financial period.
Demographics also shifted noticeably during this time. Wealthier middle classes relocated to suburban districts while the central parts of town became more ethnically diverse. The loss of middle-class residents meant a loss of tax money to add to New York’s financial troubles.
To save money, the city substantially cut vital public services, including police and firefighters. Many crimes went unpunished as a consequence which in part gave 1970s New York its fearsome reputation.
One other defining low point in this period for New York was the widespread blackout in 1977. For 25 hours, most neighborhoods lost their electricity supply, with many suffering terrible violence and robberies.
It wasn’t all bad, though. The 70s marked the completion of the iconic World Trade Center. The twin towers stood high in the sky as a symbol of hope and future prosperity.
“The Big Apple” would eventually emerge from one of its toughest periods in recent memory as it moved towards a brighter future.
Here are 25 startling images that provide a fascinating glimpse into everyday life for the average 1970s New York population.
An Impressive Skyline
At the time of their completion in 1973, the Twin Towers stood 1,368 feet tall, making them the tallest buildings on the planet. This record was passed later the same year by Chicago’s Sears Tower. Nevertheless, the opening of this architectural wonder was the highlight for 1970s New York.
From above, America’s most prominent city looked magnificent.
Nationwide Financial Problems Hurt New York
To avoid going bankrupt entirely, the city needed loans to cover operating expenses. Once New York failed to obtain financial aid by normal means, the local authorities had to rely on a government bailout.
The president at the time refused. New York’s Mayor Abraham Beame is pictured above holding a newspaper that reported the bad news. Luckily for him, President Ford reversed his decision soon after and granted New York $2.3 billion in loans over three years.
Poverty Was Common In 1970s New York
It is estimated that by 1975 around one million New York households were reliant on government benefits to get by. Many longtime residents had left the city center behind.
Although 1970s New York had many empty buildings, it had lots of homeless people too.
You could frequently see dirty and unmaintained streets throughout the city.
Crime & Arson Reached Scary Heights
New York’s plan to avoid bankruptcy meant the authorities had to make cuts to many labor sectors. They did not even have the funds necessary to pay police and fire departments.
The shortage of these workers made parts of the city extremely dangerous. Crimes and incidents often proceeded without any resistance.
Pictured above, abandoned cars sit in the Bronx. This Northern district of New York used to be very middle-class, but that totally changed when it lost 30% of its population in the 1970s.
Some Landlords Burned Their Buildings Down
With so many tenants fleeing, landlords were not earning a good income from their properties. The added costs of running and repairing the buildings made keeping them open unsustainable.
Some opted to burn the buildings to the ground and claim money from insurance instead. In the above picture, students make their way home through the remains of a destroyed building.
Pollution Blighted New York’s Image
With so much rampant crime in 1970s New York, caring for the environment was not high on the agenda. Here is an oil spill surrounding the Statue of Liberty in 1973.
The Bronx river deteriorated as people and companies freely dumped waste into it. It was not until 2007 that corporations would begin to address this environmental issue.
The Subway Was Its Own Dangerous World
A heavily vandalized subway car sits idly on the tracks. While the exterior of the trains was bad, this did not compare to the chaos that went on inside.
Here a man sits aboard a damaged subway train. Commuters had no protection at all in the carriages or stations. It is hardly surprising that in 1979 about 250 crimes occurred on this transport system per week.
People Tried To Live Normally
Not all images of 1970s New York are depressing. Even with the crime, unemployment, and poverty, the general population tried to live life normally. This picture captures a group of friends playing cards in a burnt-out cafe.
People chatting on a sidewalk outside a store in Times Square.
A View Of Manhattan’s Chinatown
The famous Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan continued to attract visitors with its restaurants and stores. Seen above is a bakery from the area, circa 1970.
Children Continued To Play
This lovely image shows two children drinking from a fire hydrant in the summer.
Here some young girls play with barbie dolls on the steps of a building in Harlem.
A Wedding Day
A couple celebrates their marriage in Harlem.
Taking A Break
Children and adults take a break from the stress of busy New York by relaxing in East River Park in Manhattan.
1970s New York In The Snow
Young girls play in the snow in Brooklyn during the winter of 1977.
A Blackout Stopped The City In Its Tracks
On July 13th, 1977, most of the city was affected by a blackout caused by earlier lightning strikes. Much criminality took place in the 25 hours without power. This was a memorable event for 1970s New York. This photo captures the Chrysler building shrouded in darkness.
A Bustling Times Square
Symbols of New York recognized by all. The familiar Times Square and yellow taxis are on display in this picture.
Elderly Residents Greet Each Other
Older New York residents pass the time on the Lower East Side of town.
A Woman Pushes Her Stroller
A woman stops to pose for a photo while walking with her child on the sidewalk. Visible in the background is the imposing Empire State Building.
What Is Your Impression Of 1970s New York?
Did these photographs show what you expected of 1970s New York?
It certainly was not the most glamorous time for the Big Apple, and many New Yorkers surely wanted to forget this harsh decade. Thankfully, the city appointed a new mayor in 1977 who guided New York out of its financial struggle.
Clearly, there were happy moments among the gloom―even for the poorer members of society. The history books can forget the lives of average citizens, so snapshots like these provide a rare but vitally important look into that time.