The Last Nostrand Streetcar: Max Hubacher's New York Photography
Max Hubacher (1900-1989) took a more or less straightforward, no-frills approach to photographing his surroundings. A prolific amateur photographer and local historian, Hubacher documented New York City and its environs with a seemingly objective eye, the typed or handwritten captions on the verso of each photograph often markedly specific in terms of date and location. (Thursday, April 3, 1952, noon. View from a dirt hill at foot of Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y., reads the back of one image.)
The result is a strikingly candid record of the city during the 1940s–1960s, particularly Hubacher’s photographs of and around the neighborhoods of Downtown and South Brooklyn. His photos of the Brooklyn skyline and Williamsburgh Bank Building—taken from the roof of the Ex-Lax factory in Boerum Hill where he worked as a research chemist—are notable standouts, visual time capsules of an area that has undergone considerable development and transformation in recent years.
Hubacher captured the borough’s ever-changing nature on camera, photographing the demolition of houses near Borough Hall, new construction on Atlantic Avenue, the expansion of Abraham & Straus on Livingston Street, and conversely, nearby Loeser's "Going out of Business" sale. He also photographed the old LIRR terminal on Flatbush Avenue as well as the city’s elevated subway trains and now defunct streetcars, often taking pictures of the same lines and routes over and over again. (As even a cursory glance at Hubacher’s work makes clear, the man really dug trolleys.)
While occasionally Hubacher could be rather playful—his compositions at times idiosyncratic (spectators in Long Island seen from beneath the bleachers), his titles uncharacteristically whimsical (Nostrand Avenue streetcar on the last day of its life)—for the most part he photographed the city as he found it, letting his subject matter speak for itself.
Hundreds of Hubacher's New York images—just a fraction of the thousands of photographs belonging to the Milstein Division’s Max Hubacher photographic archive—have recently been digitized and are now available online at NYPL’s Digital Collections site. Below are some highlights: