There is little debate among intelligent people of culture over the simple fact that Brooklyn is the greatest borough in New York City, and that NYC is the greatest city in the United States. That’s just the way it is. From Prospect Park (a superior park from the same people that brought you Central Park in Manhattan), to the amusements, sideshow, and whitefish of Coney Island, to the rows of wonderful brownstone dwellings, to yours truly, Brooklyn has it all. It’s a beautiful place, despite its increasingly obnoxious gentrification, dodgy subway service, and plague of hipsters. It even has a canal with gonorrhea!
A rich city with a rich history of its own, Brooklyn decided to allow itself to be subsumed by New York City on 1 January 1898, becoming the flagship borough of the metropolis. But don’t take my word for it:
In 1931, during the height of the Great Depression, Rock Island Bridge and Iron Works decided to create a subsidiary called Tru Vue. To this day, I have found no satisfactory explanation as to why a Bridge and Iron Works company would want to move into… 3D photography; I’ve talked to experts, read everything I can get my hands on, and there’s no satisfactory explanation. They just sort of… did that. They experimented with a number of formats, and finally launched their flagship viewers and rolls in 1933 – just in time for the Century of Progress International Exposition, during which (and because of which) sales of their film strips soared.
By the end of 1933, there were over a hundred rolls in Tru Vue’s catalogue – they wanted to get a lot out there quickly, to capitalize on their fame before the 1934 continuation of Century of Progress. They continued to rapidly expand their catalogue for years, followed by a period of stagnation during which they generally just rehashed existing material. During the early years, however, photographers were sent out to capture a wide range of subjects, from circuses to cityscapes, burlesque performances to exotic lands, and just about anything else a consumer (or company who wanted some 3D PR) might want.
In 1933, they created a two-roll series on a subject that was sure to astound – Brooklyn – and promptly stopped producing them, rendering it very difficult for collectors such as myself to obtain. (Manhattan-focused images, of course, were still in full production, for touristy-minded folk.) Finally, yesterday, I obtained the rolls – and boy are they great! Since, during the Depression, Holmes-style manufacturers were mostly defunct or bought out by Keystone View Company (itself on the decline), these two rolls likely constitute the largest collection of commercially available Brooklyn stereography from the early 30s. And they’re pretty great, in terms of subject selection!
So without too much further ado, here’s Brooklyn in 1933. A few notes about the roll – it’s longer than a standard Tru Vue roll, which tended to have 14 stereo pairs until the late 1940s, and 10 per roll thereafter. This strip was in pretty rough condition, and a bit of Photoshop was used just to remove the worst of the defects. But otherwise, this is a great glimpse into the best borough of NYC over 85 years ago – enjoy!
And one final shoutout to one of the locations pictured – still as wonderful 85 years later – the Brooklyn Academy of Music, of which myself and my wife are members, and if you live in the region, you ought to be as well. Membership is cheap, supports the art, and saves you a boatload on tickets – there’s seriously no down side! And now, for…