What Cities Looked Like in the Past
There are many ways to measure a city’s progress, but the city’s skyline may be the most effective way to truly envision the before and after. Today we often think of the skyline as something permanent. But in reality, what we think of as permanent today did not exist in the recent past. Buildings come and go, due to war, the economy, urban planning and for many other reasons. Check out these now-and-then photographs of some of the world’s most famous cities. Their transformation is a sight to behold, and you won’t believe how far some of these cities have come!
Los Angeles Then
Officially founded in 1781, Los Angeles started as a small Mexican town, and the name comes from “The Angels” in Spanish. When California became part of the United States in 1848, little changed, as the humble town continued to have modest purposes. During the Gold Rush, Los Angeles was called “The Queen of the Cow Counties” because it supplied beef to the miners and new residents.
Los Angeles Now
Today, Los Angeles has completely transformed itself from a Cow Town to the center of the arts and entertainment industry with all four major networks with a production studio in the city. Its glittering skyline lives up to its modern slogan as “The City of Angels.” The famous Hollywood sign is an iconic part of the landscape and was erected in 1923 as “Hollywoodland,” but the “land” part was removed in the 1940’s. Los Angeles is now the second-most populous city in the United States. After the discovery of oil in Los Angeles in the 1890’s, the city exploded with growth, and that trend continues today.
Moscow in 1896 was an old imperial city on the cusp of great change. Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra had their coronation in 1896. They had no way of knowing they would be the last Tsar and Tsarina in Russian history. The Russian Revolution and Communist Revolution began in the early 20th century.
Moscow’s skyline now looks the very picture of a modern city. However, the skyscrapers are of relatively recent vintage, only appearing during the presidency of Vladimir Putin. In the 2000’s, the population grew to over 10 million.
In the 1950s, Chinese dictator Mao had a vision for the city that included razing the old and building the new. However, there were height restrictions designed to protect historical buildings. In this photograph, the old outlines of the Forbidden City are still visible.
Many of the buildings in the 3,000 year old city have now been destroyed. In their place are modern and futuristic skyscrapers.
Kenya’s largest and capital city was a British Protectorate until it declared independence in 1963. Nairobi in this photo is filled with industrial parks and residences.
Nairobi today is home to three million people. Its skyline bustles with evidence of modernity, including office complexes and skyscrapers. The city is also known for its Elephant Zoo and Game Preserve, inside the city limits.
Abu Dhabi Then
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates. In 1975, the city was very much under construction, as oil had been discovered about fifteen years earlier. The origin of Abu Dhabi’s name isn’t clear, but it translates to “Father of the Gazelle.”
Abu Dhabi Now
Modern Abu Dhabi has grand ambitions. Its skyline runs along the coast, with beautiful views of the water. The city has brought in renowned architects like Frank Gehry to give it an iconic skyline.
In 1955 Seoul was a newly independent capital of a brand new state: South Korea, which had split from the North. Its skyline featured historical buildings framed by the countryside.
Seoul has been industrialized and growing rapidly since the 1960s. Its skyline is framed by Mt. Bukhan. The city is now booming, with many high-rise offices and residential towers, such as the Gangnam Finance Center, N Seoul Tower, Jongno Tower and Tower Palace.
The Miami, Florida of the 1920s-1930s was building some of the finest art deco buildings of the era. Despite a hurricane in 1926, the city established a strong architectural reputation.
In the modern era, Miami has undergone “Manhattanization” of its skyline and now boasts the third tallest skyline in the U.S., with more than 300 high-rises. You can still see the beautiful art deco architecture though, and the art deco district is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
1950 Sydney is dominated by the gorgeous Sydney Harbour Bridge. In the post-War era, it took Sydney some time to attract international financing for major projects.
The current Sydney skyline is vibrant and colorful. It features many different styles, like Neo-Gothic, Georgian, Italianate, Queen Anne and Modern design. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is still visible in the distance.
Hong Kong Then
The mountains and Victoria Harbour are the dominant features of Hong Kong before the boom years that transformed the city into an international destination.
Hong Kong Now
Due to the lack of available land, most of the old buildings are now gone. They have been replaced by soaring skyscrapers that are icons of modern architecture. It has the largest collection of tall buildings in the world.
Panama City Then
The capital and largest city of Panama was an ancient city that was founded on August 15, 1519, by Spanish conquistador Pedro Arias Dávil. In this photo, residences and businesses surround the hillside overlooking the ocean.
Panama City Now
Panama City is now the most prominent skyline in Central America. Its inviting shoreline is filled with modern condos and hotels along the waterfront. Some have called it the “Abu Dhabi of Central America.
In 1915, Manhattan had a skyline that marked it as one of the great cities in the world. This view is dominated by the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan skyline. The Woolworth Building (visible in center-right), was the tallest in New York at the time.
In New York City today, the Brooklyn Bridge is still standing, but dozens of buildings have eclipsed the Woolworth Building as the tallest in Manhattan, including the Freedom Tower. National Geographic and other publications have written about a coming new “super-tall” breed of skyscraper arriving on the NYC skyline.
Dubai was settled in 1833. These picture from the early 20th century shows modest houses, palm trees and sandy beaches on the natural harbor.
Dubai has now a brand new, modern city that is attracted international designers and architects. Gone are the small brick houses and palm fronds. Dubai has embarked on a skyscraper-building binge that is one part Las Vegas and one part Manhattan. This includes the world’s tallest structure, the Burj Khalifa, an astonishing building that is twice as tall as the Empire State Building.
Tokyo was officially founded in 1899, but it was already the political and cultural center of Japan. The city was built with railways in mind, and this picture shows that public transit took priority. In 1923 the Great Kantō earthquake devastated the city.
Tokyo is now the world’s most populous metropolitan area, with high density living arrangements in residential towers. The city is now building a mile-high tower designed to be the world’s tallest building.
Statue of Liberty Then
The Statue of Liberty when it was under construction in Paris, circa 1884. It was a gift of the people to France to America. The formal name of the landmark is “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.” New York had to launch a fundraising drive in 1884 to be able to erect a pedestal to hold the statue, and the city received more than 120,000 donations, many for less than a $1.00; the goal was to raise $100,000 but they ended up raising $102,000.
Statue of Liberty Now
The neoclassical statue now resides in its own park on Liberty Island, right off New York Harbor. A new Statue of Liberty Museum began construction in 2016 and is projected to open in 2019. The project has a budget of $70 million and will allow more people to enjoy the landmark, as the island currently accommodate only 20% of visitors. Inside the museum will be a movie and exhibits chronicling the history of the statue.
Piccadilly Circus, London Then
Shaftesbury Avenue is a popular street in London’s West End named for the Earl of Shafesbury. This is the view of Shaftesbury Ave. from Piccadilly Circus in 1940.
Piccadilly Circus, London Now
Shaftesbury Avenue is still a popular street which borders Chinatown. The street is now illuminated, and the buses and streetcars include those coming from Chinatown.
Times Square Then
This is an aerial view of Times Square in 1967. During the 60s and 70s, Times Square was a red light district, filled with seedy clubs, peep shows and adult theaters. The area originally got its name from the Times Tower, built by the New York Times in 1904; prior to the construction, the area was known as Longacre Square.
Times Square Now
This aerial view of Times Square now demonstrates how the area has changed into a center of New York Theater and tourism thanks to the a cleanup effort in 1990. Times Square is now a must-see destination and home to many popular Broadway shows like Hamilton, Mary Poppins, Book of Mormon and Chicago.
Golden Gate Bridge Then
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was still under construction in 1933. It opened in 1937 and it’s the most photographed bridge in the world. The bridge gets its name for the Golden Gate Strait, though many think the name is a reference to the Califoria gold rush.
Golden Gate Bridge Now
The Golden Gate Bridge is the symbol of Northern California. The impressive suspension bridge is painted a distinctive color called international orange. Until 1964, the bridge was the longest suspension bridge span in the world.
Flatiron Building, NYC Then
The Flatiron Building is a triangular, 22-story steel building that is shown here in 1916. It is one of New York’s most recognizable buildings.
Flatiron Building, NYC Now
Not many things in New York City stay the same, but this building, located on Fifth Avenue, still reigns supreme among the city’s many notable buildings. The horse-drawn carriages, however, have been replaced by motor vehicles.
San Francisco Then
View from California Street, San Francisco, in 1964. The street is known as one of the steepest in the hilly city.
San Francisco Now
The famous California Street is still incredible steep. In this modern photograph, the Bay Bridge is framed in the background. California Street is one of the longest streets in San Francisco and has appeard in numerous TV and film productions.
Eiffel Tower Then
The Eiffel Tower at twilight, 1932. Completed in 1889, it became the symbol of Paris though it was intended originally to be the entrance to the World’s Fair. The name Eiffel Tower is after the Gustav Eiffel, the designer and builder.
Eiffel Tower Now
The Eiffel Tower today still has the classic glow at night. It takes 20,000 light bulbs for the Tower to shine and is now the most visited paid monument in the world. The Eiffel Tower saw nearly 7 million visitors in 2015 alone, and regularly attracts people who want to stand in awe of its beauty.
Moulin Rouge Then
The original Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris the year before it burned down, in 1915. It was the place where the can-can dance was invented. The Moulin Rouge opened in 1889 during a historical period that bears the name “ Belle Époque.” Historians say that the intent of the building was to let the upper-class “slum it” for a night, as it attracted a wide range of people from all walks of life.
Moulin Rouge Now
After being rebuilt in 1921, The Moulin Rouge celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2014. It is a popular tourist attraction that features many kinds of shows. The attraction has been used in Prince’s concert film Sign O’ the Times and was the inspiration for the Moulin Rouge Hotel in Las Vegas.