Wurts Bros. New York City Photography

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Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Rockefeller Center. Ca. 1931. Museum of the City of new York. X2010.7.1.12414

Many photographers have captured New York City architecture over the years, but few have been so prolific, nor have they documented the construction of so many iconic New York City landmarks as the Wurts Brothers.

In 1894 Lionel and Norman Wurts established one of the first architectural photography studios in New York City.  Over the next 85 years the two brothers, and later Lionel’s son, Richard, gained recognition and many prominent clients including Cass Gilbert (The Woolworth Building), Consolidated Gas Company (now known as Con Ed) , and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (the firm now building One World Trade Center).

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Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Wurts Brothers Signs. Ca. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.2507

The Wurts Bros. worked alongside architects, engineers, and rental agents to record major New York City landmarks under construction during some of the city’s most dynamic years of expansion. Their images are widely recognizable and have been reproduced in many architectural and general interest magazines over the years. The Museum of the City of New York retains the firm’s archives of over 45,000 prints and negatives. Over the last four years our Collections team has worked on cataloging, rehousing, and digitizing this collection, supported by two generous grants from the Leon Levy Foundation.

A good example of the historic record contained within the Wurts Bros. photographs is the construction of the Woolworth Building.  On April 24, 1913, nearly 100 years ago, construction was completed on the 792-foot skyscraper. The Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world until 1930, when the Chrysler Building would overtake it.

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Clockwise from upper left hand corner: Wurts Bros. Woolworth Building, exterior from S.E Corner. February 3, 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.3857. Wurts Bros. Woolworth Building, exterior from S.E. April 4, 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.3875. Wurts Bros. Broadway and Barclay Street. Woolworth Building, general view from S.E. April 8, 1913. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4390. Wurts Bros. Woolworth Building, general exterior from S.E. June 7, 1912. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.3886

The Wurts Bros. captured the majority of their beautiful images utilizing a large format view camera and glass plate negatives, which render the images incredibly sharp, striking, and detailed.  They shot with wide angle lenses and bellows that allowed them to twist and turn the camera for spectacular views that are otherwise impossible to see. To a viewer standing at ground level looking up, buildings appear tall and skinny like a needle. To correct for this misleading perspective, Lionel Wurts crafted a technique of shooting from the upper floors of an adjacent building while skillfully working with the camera bellows and lenses to create perfectly even and square portraits of skyscrapers and buildings. The majority of the Wurts Bros. collection was captured on these large, heavily detailed glass plate negatives, but as acetate film became more ubiquitous they began to shoot with smaller format film as well.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Broadway and Exchange Place. Norman Wurts making photos from 4th-story ledge on Exchange Court Building, 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.8427

Wurts Bros. Broadway and Exchange Place. Norman Wurts making photos from 4th-story ledge on Exchange Court Building, 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.8427

Here are some fabulous examples of the type of documentary style the Wurts Bros. are best known for:

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Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 5th Avenue West 58th Street. Central Park South. Plaza Hotel. Ca. 1905 Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.730

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Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Broadway and 34th Street. R.H. Macy Co. Ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.1948

The Wurts Bros. were also contracted to photograph facades and interiors of luxurious New York residences like this one from 40 West 57th Street, giving  viewers a glimpse inside spectacular upper class residences they could only before imagine.

Wurts Bros. 40 West 57th Street. H.B. Gilbert residence, front. Ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.11

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 40 West 57th Street. H.B. Gilbert residence, front. Ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.1185

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 40 West 57th Street. H.B. Gilbert residence, parlor at windows. Ca. 1910. Museum of the City of new York. X2010.7.1.1196

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 40 West 57th Street. H.B. Gilbert residence, parlor at windows. Ca. 1910. Museum of the City of new York. X2010.7.1.1196

The Wurts Bros. name is also synonymous with the New York World’s Fair Exhibition of 1939. Richard Wurts, the son of Lionel, documented the construction and grandeur of the fair grounds. In the winter of 1939 he had a one man show of these photos at the Museum of the City of New York called “Building the 1939 New York World’s Fair.” Here are some photos from the exhibition:

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Richard Wurts. Supreme (Food and Sports Building, dome). 1938. Museum of the City of New York. 39.567.1.31

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Richard Wurts. See My Shadow (Perisphere from top Trylon). 1938. Museum of the City of New York. 39.567.1.11

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Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) ca. 1939. View of World’s Fair from a subdivision. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.15559

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Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) ca. 1939. Richard Wurts with his photograph of World’s Fair. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.15437

Operating as a commercial studio through several generations of New York City history, the Wurts Bros. had a broad spectrum of clientele. They chronicled everything from skyscrapers to houses; office buildings to schools; tools to artwork. They documented so much of New York City that it’s hard to find something they didn’t photograph.

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Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Madison Avenue at the corner of 129th Street. All Saints Roman Catholic Church, interior view looking at organ. Ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.304.

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Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 31st Street and 6th Avenue, N.W. corner. Greeley Square Building, men’s urinal partitions. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.6250

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Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Master plumber with lead windmill model made up of lead wiped joints, lead pipe, 1931. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7577

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Wurts Bros. (New York, NY) 40th Street and 5th Avenue. Murphy Door Bed Co., interior, Ca. 1921. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.5505

For more images click here

2 responses to “Wurts Bros. New York City Photography

  1. Pingback: Vintage Photos: Wurts Brothers in New York City | Untapped Cities

  2. Camille Croce Dee

    I had the privilege to process a large part of the Wurts Collection in the 1970s, thanks to a grant from the New York Community Trust. I can still smell the bubbling nitrate cellulose negatives! So happy to see this amazing collection has been digitized. Congratulations!

    Camille Croce Dee

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