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Dirty and Polluted New York City in the 1970s: Vintage Photos Show the Another Side of NYC Before the Great Clean-up Began

There was a time in New York’s history when people could touch the air and nobody would want to put their feet in most of the waterways. Before the great clean-up began, New York had abandoned blocks dotted the landscape, creating vast areas absent of urban cohesion and life itself during the 1970s. The fastest-growing cause of death in New York during the 1960s was pulmonary emphysema. There were ashes and tiny particles of scraps and garbage from incinerated garbage. Many power plants in the city were fueled with coal and heavy grades of oil, which led to noxious emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency was created to clean the environment, before the clean-up the agency hired freelancer photographs to document the dirty and polluted city streets. This project was named “Documerica project”.

Here below are some photos from the Documerica project that show how dirty and polluted New York City was in the 1970s.

#2 Construction of Independence Plaza North, cobblestoned West Street and Lower Manhattan from under the elevated West Side Highway, New York, June 1973

#4 Battery Park City being built using land excavated from the World Trade Center construction site across West Street,April 1974

#5 Battery Park City landfill, NY Telephone Company, abandoned West Side Highway and the World Trade Center, 1974

#6 Boxes of Adam and Eve products on Reade Street looking east from West Broadway, New York, July 1974

#8 View from the 58th floor of the World Trade Center to the Battery Park City landfill, Pier A, end of the West Side Highway and New York Harbor on a foggy afternoon, March 1975

#9 July 4th Holiday at the Kosciusko Swimming Pool in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant District, July 1974.

#10 People looking at boat traffic on the East River with the Manhattan Bridge and NYC in the background, July 1974.

#12 A 1960s Ford Galaxie and a battered early 1960s Plymouth Valiant cruise along Canal Street with peeling pavement, 1973

#15 Ellis Island and industrial Jersey City shoreline across the Hudson with abandoned CRRNJ railroad terminal, June 1973

#16 Half buried early 1960s Dodge Polara station wagon on the beach at the ocean side of Breezy Point in Queens, an abandoned apartment building at left distance, 1973

#18 Pier ruins across West Street from the World Trade Center, Battery Park City and the World Financial Center would be built here in later years, March 1973

#19 Ruins of old piers across West Street from the World Trade Center where is exactly the World Financial Center is now, March 1973

#20 Skeleton of apartment building never completed, abandoned refrigerators and a burned out 1965 Ford Mustang, Breezy Point, Queens looking toward Brooklyn, 1973

#21 Battery Park City being created from soil dug out to build the World Trade Center, Statue of Liberty in the distance,March 1974

#24 Theatre Alley downtown off Ann Street, the narrowest street in Manhattan, filled with the litter and trash, March 1974

#25 World Trade Center (the dark building at Vesey and West St) from Battery Park City landfill, the West Side Highway crosses the whole view, April 1974

#26 Abandoned piers at Exchange Place in Jersey City and the World Trade Center across the Hudson in Lower Manhattan, April 1975

#27 Battery Park City was just a lot of mud with a great view to the industrial skyline of Jersey City and the Colgate Clock, right across West Street from the World Trade Center, April 1975

#28 View from Pier A’s fire escape, Battery Park City landfill, West Side Highway, World Trade Center and lots of colorful 1970s cars on a rainy, foggy day, 1975

#31 The swampy fields of future Battery Park City, The World Trade Center hovers, New York, August 1976

#32 The abandoned West Side Highway looking out at the completed Battery Park City landfill, New York, April 1978

#33 Welcome to Marlboro Country’ sign under the West Side Highway by 150th Street, New York, September 1979

#48 A lot of abandoned car chunks of a Triumph Spitfire at Plum Beach near Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, May 1973

#49 An abandoned 1960s Ford Thunderbird with broken-out windows and a torn vinyl roof, an abandoned apartment building completes the scene, Breezy Point, Queens, June 1973

#50 Breezy Point in Queens, New York near the Atlantic Ocean with the abandoned skeleton of an apartment building that was never finished, June 1973

#62 Boy scout leader recruiting among Latin Youths Bedford Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn, June 1974.

#64 23rd St and abandoned West Side Highway, a battered Ford Galaxy 500 drives by on cobblestones, April 1975

Written by Benjamin Grayson

Former Bouquet seller now making a go with blogging and graphic designing. I love creating & composing history articles and lists.

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