What a hot night looked like on an East Side tenement block in 1899

First of all, almost everyone is outside—on the street, the sidewalk, fire escapes. If you’ve ever lived in a tenement apartment without an air conditioner, you know how stifling those rooms can get, and they force you to seek relief outdoors.

The other thing is, people don’t look as miserable as you’d expect for a street scene in the summer heat. Kids are playing; groups of adults are talking. Lone men and women sit on the sidewalk or stoops and watch. Tempers don’t seem to be flaring; no one appears to be looking for a fight.

The moon is bright. What looks like an arc light in the background illuminates the street. People gather at tables by torchlight. As the caption says, it’s one of hundreds of similar scenes enacted at the same time all over the city.


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17 Responses to “What a hot night looked like on an East Side tenement block in 1899”

  1. boxwoodbooks Says:

    Street life was communal and community. I moved from a high rise apartment where we hardly knew our neighbours to Boerum Hill Brooklyn 69 years after this picture and the rampant street and stoop life was an awakening of the Jane Jacobs variety.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I wish I knew what block this illustration is based on, if it was based on one. I’d love to contrast it with a scene from that block today.

      • boxwoodbooks Says:

        Some of your other respondents also remember the pleasures of ‘stoop’ sitting and simply being on a companionable level of neighborliness. While it would be fascinating for you to identify that particular block in the illustration I think the comments show the archetypal nature of living on such blocks.

  2. countrypaul Says:

    “Hot town, summer in the city…walkin’ on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head….” –John Sebastian

    It’s also the kind of street life that gave rise to doo-wop groups harmonizing on the corners, the true “folk music of New York City.”

  3. Summer in the City, NYPL – This isnt happiness Says:

    […] Summer in the City, NYPL […]

  4. Sheryl H Says:

    My street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn looked like that in the 1950s. You can see the girls playing ring-around-the-rosie.

  5. Jennifer Says:

    Imagine all of those neighbors outside talking, laughing, playing, knowing each other’s names! Contrast that with the modern scenario of a lone citizen sitting inside a refrigerated apartment, often spending the whole day – working, eating meals, scrolling, socializing – all in front of the blue-light glow of a screen. Barely knowing any neighbors by name. Ugh, what’s become of us!

  6. Bill Wolfe Says:

    The summer I lived in Brooklyn (1980), it was extremely hot from the Fourth of July through Labor Day. Almost every night, many people on my block, including me, would sit out on the front stoop, where the air had cooled somewhat, until after midnight, when our un-air-conditioned apartments had cooled enough to allow us to sleep. Although the heat and humidity were miserable, I still enjoy the memory of us all hanging out on our front steps at night.

  7. boxwoodbooks Says:

    Look up @stoop.stories on Instagram to see Brooklyn today. Marj Kleinman still lives in the Boerum Hill house she was born in. Her parents were our neighbors.

  8. chas1133 Says:

    who is the artist…

  9. Kevin Says:

    Where are the fire escapes?

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