Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner , 1935-1955 is an extensive archive from architectural photographers Samuel H. Gottscho and William H. Schleisner documents building styles and trends throughout the nation. The collection also records interiors of middle- and upper-class society homes. Special features include images of the 1939 New York World's Fair and gardens of prominent property owners.
These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.
These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.
- Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
- The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
- Postwar United States, 1945-early 1970s
Related Collections and Exhibits
- Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964
- Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs for an American Landscape, 1922-1932
- Taking the Long View, 1851-1991
- Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920
- Washington As It Was, 1923-1959
Recommended additional sources of information.
Specific guidance for searching this collection
Because this is a collection of architectural photographs, it might be difficult to find people in them. Search on man, person, or names of groups of people, such as students or workers.
While the emphasis of the collection is on New York City, many other geographic locations are included. Search on specific city or state names, such as Philadelphia or Connecticut to view these photographs.
For help with search words, go to the Architecture and Interior Design for the 20th Century Subject Index.
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America, 1935-1955, documents building styles and trends, particularly in the Eastern United States. The majority of photographs focus on New York City and its environs. The collection also records gardens, exteriors, and interiors of homes of middle and upper class people. These photographs provide a measure of the texture and culture of this segment of mid-century America. An interesting subset of this diverse collection is a large group of images of the 1939 World's Fair.
Students can use the collection to study key elements of New York city life from 1935-1955, and compare them with a modern city today. Students might also compare another city during the same era to the one represented here.
This collection includes photographs of New York City over a 25-year period. Images include the city's unique skyline, neighborhoods, and transportation systems. The photographs show how the city grew "up," rather than "out" as a result of its geographic location.
Several images show the infrastructure of New York City: its bridges, highways, and city streets. Bridges over the East River and the Hudson River link Manhattan to the boroughs (other parts of the city), the suburbs, and to the neighboring state of New Jersey.
Search on Brooklyn Bridge, Queensboro Bridge, and Manhattan Bridge for images of these structures and their surroundings.
Images of New York's streets within the collection capture the hustle and bustle of city life. Search on city traffic, express highways, and elevated highways for photographs of street activity.
New York City is comprised of many different neighborhoods. Search on specific place names, such as Tudor City, Times Square, Columbus Circle, and Lower New York, to find districts within New York.
Images in Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America provide examples of the great variety of economic enterprises that define New York City. Some photographs show office buildings and interiors of individual offices; others, such as New York Stock Exchange, show the type of work that takes place. To find photographs that depict New York as a financial center, search stock exchange, and Wall Street, and banks and corporate headquarters by name, such as Chase Bank or Seaman's Bank for Savings.
To locate images of large retailers, search by store name, such as R.H. Macy or Tiffany's, and by type of business--shoe stores, markets, and vendors. Add 5th Ave. to some terms to narrow the search to the more "fashionable" stores.
3) Leisure and Play
The collection includes photographs which show activities people participated in for pleasure and amusement during this period.
Entertainment is important to people who live in or visit New York. Movie houses, Broadway theaters, and restaurants attract millions of people every year.
Search theaters, Times Square, and Radio City Music Hall for interior and exterior photographs of movie houses and theaters.
Search restaurants by name, such as Schraffts, Stouffer's and Wolf's.
Search Coney Island for photographs of this popular amusement park.
1) Chronological Thinking
The photos in Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America, 1935-1955, emphasize the culture and social patterns of the middle and upper classes in New York City and environs over a 25-year period. Photographs of interiors of homes, such as Living Room in a Long Island Residence, provide visual clues to aspirations and values.
Suggest that students search on Levittown houses and the names of towns such as Dobbs Ferry or Port Chester to discuss what the images of homes, gardens, businesses, and recreational facilities in these places reveal about middle and upper class life. Have students compare their impressions to today's social climate.
2) Historical Comprehension
The theme of the New York World's Fair of 1939 was "The World of Tomorrow," and exhibits were intended to emphasize how technology would make life better for everyone. The enduring images of the Fair were the Trylon and Perisphere.
Students can search World's Fair views, General Electric exhibit, or General Motors building and use the images as a starting point to discuss these questions:
- Why might corporations choose to sponsor major exhibits at the World's Fair?
- What messages do you think the corporations were trying to convey?
- What do these exhibits reveal about American hopes for technology during that time period?
- What was the American view of the future at the World's Fair?
3) Historical Analysis and Interpretation
Students can review the images they have examined to identify the photographer's point of view. To guide their analysis, suggest that they consider the following questions:
- What is meant by point of view?
- What details might help you identify the photographer's point of view?
- What details has the photographer left out of the picture? What does this tell you about the photographer's point of view?
- Why do you think the photographer did not include people in most of the images?
This discussion can lead to an understanding of the value of photographic records as well as the limitations of using them as historical evidence.
4) Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision Making
This period of American history is characterized by the development of suburbs and the expansion of cities. The collection includes photographs of suburbia and suburban homes as well as construction projects in the city.
Images of suburban development can lead to an analysis of such timely issues as the costs and benefits of growth; land use; and the need for city planning and zoning regulations.
Search on housing developments, Sunny Brook houses, and Calvert houses to locate examples of the expanding suburbs.
Students might discuss the following questions:
- Do you think the creation of these suburbs was a good thing? Why or why not?
- How do the photographs in this collection support your point of view? Can you find other sources that support your opinion?
- Does this trend in building continue today?
Arts & Humanities
1) Paragraphs, Postcards, and Plots
Because the content of this collection is so extensive, students can select an image on a topic that interests them and do one or more of the following activities:
- Write a descriptive paragraph about the scene portrayed. The paragraph should include sights, sounds, and other sensory details.
- Use the image as a postcard and write a message on the back to a friend or family member back home.
- Use the image as a setting or plot starter for a short story.
2) Tour Book
Ask students to write a travel article about a sightseeing visit to one of the places in New York City represented in the collection. Students can include the image in their article. Volunteers can compile the articles to create a tour book of the city.
Suggested destinations might include buildings, parks, statues and monuments, theaters, and gardens. The tour book can also include advertisements based on photographs of retail stores or restaurants.
For example, students might search on Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, midtown, 5th Avenue, and Schrafft's.
3) A "Many-Storied" Report
Images of skyscrapers can be used as the basis for preparing oral reports. Invite students to work in small groups to report on the building of skyscrapers in New York City. Suggest that the report have three parts and that members work together to prepare the following:
- history of skyscraper building in New York City
- architectural designs for skyscrapers (images with descriptions of differences and similarities)
- skyscraper records (Which is tallest? Which was the first skyscraper built?)
4) Literature Study
Have students read a book that reflects the culture of the years included in this collection. Students can then report on what they learned from the book about the characteristics of the times, using images from the collection to help convey the information. Some suggested books include:
- World's Fair by E.L. Doctorow
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
- Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell