Written By: Ben Cosgrove

The monuments and the museums, the pulsing crowds on Fifth Avenue, opera at the Met and stickball in Spanish Harlem, sardines on the subway and the romantic urban vistas of Central Park: Over the years, LIFE’s photographers explored every corner of New York, the city the magazine always called its home.

From the countless images of the Big Apple stored away in the late, great magazine’s archives, LIFE.com presents a selection of black-and-white photos that show off the the spirit, the architecture, the culture (the high and the decidedly, thrillingly low) of Gotham visual testaments to a city that, in darkness and in light, remains one of a kind.


The silhouette of the Statue of Liberty in January 1943.

The silhouette of the Statue of Liberty in January 1943.

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Pre-Christmas holiday traffic teaming with double-decker buses, trucks and cars, crawling along two-way-laned, 5th avenue near 34th street in November 1948.

Fifth Avenue teems with pre-Christmas holiday traffic near 34th street in November 1948.

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Stormy sky hovers over the Brooklyn Bridge and the ghostly skyscrapers of Manhattan's financial district in March 1946.

The Brooklyn Bridge, 1946.

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Model Carol Lorell walks down the street in the east '60s of Manhattan in January 1940.

Model Carol Lorell walks down 3rd avenue in the east ’60s of Manhattan in January 1940.

Alfred Eisenstaedt Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A view from New Jersey of the moon shining over Manhattan's RCA and Chrysler buildings as its light shimmers on the waters of the Hudson River in September 1946.

A view from New Jersey of the moon shining over Manhattan’s RCA and Chrysler buildings as its light shimmers on the waters of the Hudson River in September 1946.

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A strolling blind musician plays guitar and harmonica along Broadway at night in the Times Square Area in 1944. "Mr. Skeffington" is playing at the Selwyn Theater across the street.

A strolling blind musician plays guitar and harmonica along Broadway at night in Times Square in 1944.

Peter Stackpole Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Aerial view of the crowded beach and pier at Coney Island, including the Parachute Jump amusement park ride (the tall structure at left) in Brooklyn, New York, 1951.

Aerial view of the crowded beach and pier at Coney Island, including the Parachute Jump amusement park ride (the tall structure at left), Brooklyn, 1951.

Margaret Bourke-White Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Young boys with sticks run around while playing a street game in Spanish Harlem in January 1947.

Young boys in Spanish Harlem in January 1947.

Ralph Morse Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A woman walks her poodles along the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue in October 1942.

A woman walks her poodles along the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue in October 1942.

Alfred Eisenstaedt Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A view from the balcony at the opening of new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in January 1966.

A view from the balcony at the opening of new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in January 1966.

John Dominis Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Off-loaded freight front box cars are hoisted up to jutting loading platforms at Brooklyn Army Terminal in October 1949.

Off-loaded freight boxes are hoisted up to loading platforms at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in October 1949.

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Men leave the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during an air raid drill in November 1951.

People race from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during an air raid drill in November 1951.

Yale Joel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A soldier saying farewell at Penn Station in December 1943.

A soldier says farewell at (the old, classic) Penn Station in December 1943.

Alfred Eisenstaedt Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Central Park, 1951.

Alfred Eisenstaedt Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New Yorkers crowd Broadway below a large billboard depicting actress Marlene Dietrich in October 1944.

New Yorkers crowd Broadway below a large billboard depicting actress Marlene Dietrich in October 1944.

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A plane flys above New York, NY before landing in October 1949.

Sightseeing above New York, October 1949.

Bernard Hoffman Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Crowed commuters on a train during rush hour on Manhattan's IRT subway in January 1970.

Commuters crowd a train during rush hour on Manhattan’s IRT subway in January 1970.

Ralph Crane Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Beautiful, ornate clock at Pennsylvania Station, December 1942

Beautiful, ornate clock at Pennsylvania Station, December 1942

Alfred Eisenstaedt Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

The new Metropolitan Life Insurance Company North Building, left, and the 1909 Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower at night, Madison Square, New York City, May 1947.

The new Metropolitan Life Insurance Company North Building, left, and the 1909 Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower at night, Madison Square, New York City, May 1947.

Herbert Gehr Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A trio of sailors walk arm in arm down a dimly lit street near Times Square, searching vainly for fun in the curfew-quiet city, February 1945.

A trio of sailors walk arm in arm down a dimly lit street near Times Square, searching vainly for fun in the curfew-quiet city, February 1945.

Herbert Gehr Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

An aerial view of the entrance ramp leading to the top of the Port Authority Bus Terminal against the skyline of New York City in 1950.

An aerial view of the entrance ramp leading to the top of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, New York City, 1950.

Margaret Bourke-White Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Children participate in a bicycle safety program run by the New York City police in June 1954.

Children participate in a bicycle safety program run by the New York City police in June 1954.

Yale Joel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Nikita S. Khrushchev and his wife, center, meet the press at the top of the Empire State building in September 1959.

Russian head Nikita S. Khrushchev and his wife, center, meet the press at the top of the Empire State building in September 1959.

Al Fenn Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Boys climb on rocks in Central Park, November 1972.

Boys climb on rocks in Central Park, November 1972.

Bill Ray Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A view of a big snowstorm in New York City in February 1960.

A snowstorm hits New York City in February 1960.

Al Fenn Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Columbus Circle during a heat wave in August 1944. A large Coca Cola sign and thermometer registers 100 degrees on top of building next to the Mayflower Hotel, New York.

Columbus Circle During a Heatwave, 1944

Marie Hansen Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Fire boats greet the SS France as it enters New York Harbor on its maiden voyage in February 1962.

Fire boats greet the SS France as it enters New York Harbor on its maiden voyage in February 1962.

Ralph Morse Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A father and son walk past the Globe Theater in 1971.

A father and son walk past the Globe Theater in 1971.

Bill Ray Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A view of bustling, raucous New York City, looking straight down 42nd Street, January 1946.

A view of bustling, raucous New York City, looking straight down 42nd Street, January 1946.

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

More Like This

Route 30 Nebraska, USA, 1948. destinations

This Land is Your Land: LIFE Photos From All 50 States

destinations

When Miami Beach Went to War

Haglia Sophia destinations

Uncovering Ancient Christian Mosaics

Florence, Italy destinations

Florence, A Marvel Of Enduring Power

Rocky Mountain Road Trip destinations

The Highs of a Rocky Mountain Road Trip, 1959

A Tahitian woman walking her horse through the jungle. destinations

Stunning Photographs of Islands That Inspired Great Works of Art