Where do I find specific information about New Yorks jazz age?
March 13, 2012 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I’m looking for resources for information about Manhattan, NYC in the 1920s. I would especially love anything that goes by neighborhoods. The information I’m seeking is the detail of every day life- what areas were desirable or dangerous, who lived there, what kind of businesses were common, where people socialized.

There are mountains and mountains of material about every era in New York, but most of what I am finding is limited to general information- like that unemployment hovered at 7 percent- when what I want to know is if you lived in Gramercy Park, did you want to work in midtown and where were the most speakeasies? I’m slowly piecing together a map in my head, but New York’s history is so long and so full, it’s difficult to find the relevant bits for my very specific interest. Links, books, maps, anything would be super awesome.
posted by Blisterlips to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Chad Heap's Slumming is pretty good, but in my own research there has been nothing close to the gorgeous, illuminating prose of Stephen Graham's New York Nights.
posted by Marquis at 9:13 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Luc Sante's Low Life is a brilliant book for this. Also Dry Manhattan, about NYC during Prohibition.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:08 AM on March 13, 2012

Have you tried poking around in the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery? In particular you might want to explore the "Photographic Views of NYC" which indicates that it's browsable by borough and street, with the majority of street/apartment images coming from 1910-1940. There's also the "Picture Collection of the NYPL" which includes primary source material from books, magazines, postcards, etc. from pre-1923.
posted by stellaluna at 10:09 AM on March 13, 2012

Low Life
Dry Manhattan
Now with links!
posted by gingerbeer at 10:10 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are sections of George Chauncey's Gay New York that cover this era.
posted by kuppajava at 10:27 AM on March 13, 2012

Seconding Low Life.
posted by greta simone at 10:32 AM on March 13, 2012

The historical archives of the New York Times--yep, the whole goddamn thing--are available digitally, but you have to pay.

Have you tried the New-York (yes, hyphenated) Historical Society?
posted by scratch at 10:46 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

This might be too general, but The Encyclopedia of New York City also exists.

posted by scratch at 10:50 AM on March 13, 2012

Bookending your 1920s question, here are some interesting maps: 1918 Pocket Map of NYC (zoomable to high resolution).

And from Cab Calloway's book, a 1932 Night-Club Map of Harlem.
posted by fings at 10:54 AM on March 13, 2012

Not so much about speakeasies, but 97 Orchard takes the reader through the stories of the changing residents in one tenement.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:11 PM on March 13, 2012

The best way that I find is to pore over old newspapers of the time instead of reading what someone else heard someone else say. First-hand primary sources are the best and are easily found from that time period. Those sources can more typically be found in library microfilm.

The local newspapers I have found, while not NYC, offer an incredible array of stories, data, and general information. Mining this trove is very fun, especially less well known, dusty films.
posted by JJ86 at 1:54 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can also find newspapers (but only up to 1922, thanks to repeated copyright extensions) at the Library of Congress's Chronicling America website.
posted by fings at 3:01 PM on March 13, 2012

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