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Rare Color Footage of Depression-Era New York

In the same year that The Wizard of Oz hurtled Dorothy from a black-and-white Kansas into a Technicolor Oz, Jean Vivier, a French tourist, was filming the streets of New York in all of their own glorious color.

A rare 16-mm Kodachrome film from the summer of 1939 that was recently released by the Italian Romano Archives shows swinging signs advertising 5¢ piña coladas, elevated trains whizzing overhead, and boys playing in the fountain of a public park. Archivist Vincente Romano says the clips of Rockefeller Center, Chinatown, and other areas are only a portion of the film Vivier took over the course of his trip from Marseilles to the Big Apple at the close of the Great Depression.

Due to its excellent longevity in dark storage, Kodachrome is a favorite of archivists, and much of even the old stuff survives today in everything from home movies to award-winning National Geographic photos. The film emerged in 1935 as the first successful mass-market color film and outlasted predecessors such as Afgachrome and Dufraychrome to become the oldest brand sold until its demise in 2009, when Kodak announced that it would stop manufacturing Kodachrome after nearly 75 years of exposure.

A lot has changed in New York since Jean Vivier first stepped off the S.S. Normandie in ’39: buildings are taller, Model-A Fords and Packards have been replaced by diminutive smart cars, and ears of corn are no longer sold off of carts in lower Manhattan for two cents apiece. But the cityscape of blaring color that he recorded—the hordes of people, the cars, the bright signs on businesses and buildings—is as brilliant as ever, and ready for some new enterprising tourist to record it for vibrant posterity. 

Via the Huffington Post.

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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