Capturing a dog’s life in 1940s New York City

Before his days as a legendary filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick was a talented 17-year-old Bronx teenager who landed a gig as a photographer for Look magazine.

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During his five years at Look, Kubrick captured more than 15,000 poetic and powerful images of men and women, of the rich and the poor, all navigating life amid the beauty and tragedy of postwar New York.

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In the late 1940s, he was put on what probably seemed like a frivolous assignment at the time: a story eventually called “A Dog’s Life in the Big City.”

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The article “remains a surprisingly interesting social study” of what day-to-day life was like mainly for the pooches of the city’s “idle rich,” as one Kubrick biography stated.

Looking at these photos almost 70 years later, it seems that today’s upper-class pet parents spoiled their canines in the more elegant and formal late 1940s the same way they do today.

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The first photo shows a little guy relaxing in front of a bakery while his owner reads the paper. Next, a doorman is tasked with walking a boxer.

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The third image is captioned, “In the checkroom of New York’s smart 21 Club, four poodles, an Afghan and a camera-conscious Bedlington are cared for while their mistresses lunch.” What was this woman paid for that job?

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Pampered Afghans went for a ride in a convertible. Two lucky pooches got treats from the neighborhood butcher.

And homeless dogs ended up at institution-like shelters, seen here. “A lost mutt finds friends who take him to the ASPCA shelter,” the caption reads.

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“If owner does not claim him, he will be offered for adoption on payment of license fee.”

[All photos and others from Kubrick’s incredible body of work: MCNY Collections Portal]

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16 Responses to “Capturing a dog’s life in 1940s New York City”

  1. aspicco Says:

    The doorman is walking a boxer, not a bulldog. Sorry for the nitpicking. I love your blog and look forward to every email…

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thank you! That’s an error that is really embarrassing, appreciate the correction. Dates and name spellings I can deal with but dog breeds, geez.

  2. I Enjoy This Blog Says:

    I love how filthy the sidewalk in the first photo. Nothing has changed.

  3. Tom B Says:

    The fourth photo is looking south on Park Avenue. You can plainly see the twin Waldorf towers, the Chrysler Building and the New York General Building with a different top, why.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, it looks so unremarkable for Park Avenue though!
    The bakery in the top photo, Gatti and Ruggeri, was on Sixth Avenue near Eighth Street, close to Bigelow’s and for real old-timers, the menswear shop Kaiser.

    • Richard Ruggeri Says:

      Thanks for the memories of Gatti Ruggeri Patisserie!
      My grandfather, Fermo Ruggeri, and his brother-in-law, Giacinto Gatti were the owners.
      Mr. Gatti’s daughter who worked there for many years is 99 years young and still resides in New York City.

  5. Tom B Says:

    Thanks for the bakery location, now a DD.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      That little strip has changed a lot, but at least Bigelow is still there, with its terrific sign and chandeliers and old cabinets.

  6. alexei Says:

    In photo 1, the bakery and the menswear store on the right are now both part of Lifethyme, a health food store that’s been there about 15 years now.

    Photo 2 is the front of 299 Park Avenue, showing the awning for the Tapestry Room, of the Park Lane Hotel. It was demolished and in 1965 replaced by a steel and glass office tower currently owned by Fisher Brothers.

    Photo 4 is what parts of Park Avenue still looked like before the 1950s where a building boom replaced much of the smaller and older structures. The location appears to be the lower 60s. The low of townhouses on the left were probably replaced with either luxury apartment building or an office building.

    • Tom B Says:

      Photo1, Google map shows 406 Sixth Ave (bakery) as a Dunkin Doughnuts. It is a completely different building than Lifethyme, which is 410 Sixth Ave. Are you saying Lifethyme gutted these buildings and expanded through the walls recently?
      Photo4, Also probably a view of the future location of the Seagrams Building.

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks Alexei, good detective work! I miss Kaiser, which represents to me an older and gentler Greenwich Village. Mr. Kaiser was active in the business community along Sixth Avenue and lived with his family at One Christopher across the street.

  8. Timothy Grier Says:

    I remember when butcher shops and groceries had sawdust on the floor. Those days are long gone.

  9. KB Says:

    Could the picture of the many dogs on a windowseat with the woman in a maid’s uniform have been taken inside the 21 Club on W.52nd? Look at the jockey statues lined up on the steps outside the window. Certainly a good place to find the “idle rich.”

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      That’s exactly right! The caption to the photo reads: “In the checkroom of New York’s smart 21 Club, four poodles, an Afghan and a camera-conscious Bedlington are cared for while their mistresses lunch.”

  10. Subway riding in the 1940s with Stanley Kubrick | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the time a teenage correspondent for the magazine who sold photo features on everything from city dogs to shoeshine boys to the life of a New York […]

  11. sshirak Says:

    Looks like nothings changed. Heiresses and celebrities still care for their beloved pooches like this haha. Some of these dogs had better lives than a vast amount of people during this time. This is definitely a historical perspective that I had never considered before. Who would have thought that a dog’s life would be so reflective of the different socioeconomic classes?

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