Photos hidden for 40 years reveal life in NYC's parks

The parks department discovered a box of slides that were never developed.

bronx neighborhood park

Pelham Bay Park is the largest public park in New York City. (Photo: Joyce Dopkeen, Park Revelers, Orchard Beach?, Pelham Bay Park, the Bronx, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

The year was 1978, and many employees at several New York City newspapers were on strike. With no end to the strike in sight, several newspaper photographers approached the city's park commissioner Gordon Davis with an idea — photographing the hustle and bustle of the city's parks that summer.

"I was skeptical," Davis told The New York Times. "but what they came back with made my cry."

new york city barbeque 1970s

A man roasting a whole pig over coals possibly in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. (Photo: Neal Boenzi, Pig Roast, Prospect Park?, Brooklyn, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

Photographers took more than 2,900 images that summer at parks throughout the city's boroughs. However, the photos were never developed. They were placed in a box that wouldn't be opened again for nearly 40 years.

In October 2017, the New York City Parks Director of Arts & Antiquities Jonathan Kuhn was notified that a Central Park Conservancy photographer discovered the box.

"I knew instantly that it was a rich and important body of work, based on its documentary value, and on the high artistic quality of the photographic compositions," Kuhn tells On Events. "It is rare to find such an extensive group of images owned by the city that captures park use so spontaneously."

NYC public park

Flushing Meadows Corona Park is located in Queens and was created in 1939. (Photo: Gary Settle, Kids on Jungle Gym, Flushing Meadows Corona Park?, Queens, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

Although the images were taken during a difficult time in the city's history when crime was prevalent and the economy was suffering, these images of people embracing the parks reflect a different narrative for this time period.

"People engage in their parks even in times of financial hardship and cannot be taken for granted," Kuhn says. "Our parks are a constant in the ever-changing quality of life in the city, and they reflect our society at large."

ferris wheel NYC

Coney Island is a Brooklyn neighborhood famous for its amusement parks. (Photo: Paul Hosefros, Group of Boys, Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

As much as New York City has evolved throughout the decades, the amazing thing is that all the parks featured in these photos still exist today. Most of them opened in the early 20th century and remain as popular now as they were in the '70s.

"The photos revel in the essential nature of our parks for the citizens," says Kuhn. "They demonstrate the city's diversity, and to some extent, its changing demographics."

NYC boy plays with cats

Sometimes people would bring their pets along for the ride. (Photo: D. Gorton, Tender Vittles, Cats on Parade, Central Park Mall, Manhattan, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

These photos and many more are currently on display until June 14 at the Arsenal Gallery located in Central Park.

central park stairs fountain

Bethesda Terrace was one of the first structures built in Central Park and was completed in 1863. (Photo: Unidentified Photographer, Fiesta Folklorica, Bethesda Terrace, Central Park, Manhattan, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

NYC play area for kids

Seven Gables Playground was named after Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel 'The House of Seven Gables.' (Photo: Paul Hosefros, Handball, Seven Gables Playground, Queens, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

outdoor public pool NYC

The Red Hook Recreation Area opened in 1936. (Photo: Paul Hosefros, Boy at Abandoned Diving Area, Red Hook Pool, Brooklyn, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

NYC park table

Many families would spend their weekends at the park. (Photo: Ed Hausner, Family Salvages Picnic Table, Unidentified Park, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

NYC recreation pool

The Red Hook Pool still exists today and is free to the public. (Photo: Paul Hosefros, Resting Girl, Red Hook Pool, Brooklyn, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

New York City island

Staten Island was and still is a popular weekend beach destination for New Yorkers. (Photo: Neal Boenzi, Girls on Splintered Boardwalk, South Beach, Staten Island, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

nyc globe installation park

The Unisphere was commissioned for the New York World's Fair of 1964-65. (Photo: Gary Settle, Woman at Unisphere, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, 1978, NYC Parks Photo Archive)

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