New York City Buildings: Research Guide



Guides to Building Research

Dolkart, Andrew. Hints on Researching New York City Buildings

An in-depth guide to undertaking research on New York buildings and neighborhoods, specifically step by step procedures to using city agencies.

Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. How to Research a New York City Building.

Gray, Christopher. A Guide to Researching the History of a New York City Building.

Adapted from an article in the New York Times, July 2, 1995 - a more current treatment on the same subject was published in the New York Times on December 5, 2004, and is available through the New York Times website.

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. A Guide to Research Resources in New York City.

List of resources in the five boroughs that help in researching historic buildings. Includes research services, fees for reproductions, research tips, and public transportation directions.

Named Buildings

For citations to journal articles, look up the buildings in the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals.

For books, look up the buildings in CLIO, and the Avery Library card catalog, using one or more of the search strategies below:

  • Search under the full name of the building in direct order.
    Ex: CATHEDRAL OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE (NEW YORK, N.Y.)
  • If not found, look for the name under "New York (N.Y.)" plus name of building.
    Ex: NEW YORK (N.Y.). CHRYSLER BUILDING.
  • If the building has had more than one name, try all possibilities.
    Ex: FLATIRON BUILDING (also known as the FULLER BUILDING)
  • If the building is known only by its address, try the spelled-out form of the address.
    Ex: 154 EAST 89TH STREET (NEW YORK, N.Y.)
    i.e., filed in the card catalog as if spoken aloud and then spelled out as One Fifty-Four East Eighty-Ninth Street.
  • If it is unlikely that the building is the subject of an entire book, try a broader subject category to find books that might have a chapter or section on your building.
    Ex: NEW YORK (N.Y.)--CHURCHES
    or APARTMENT HOUSES--UNITED STATES--NEW YORK (N.Y.)

Ask the Curator of Rare Books for help in locating rare materials, such as view books and publicity brochures, which may or may not appear in CLIO or the card catalog.

Architects & Architectural Firms

If you know the name of the architect or firm, check in CLIO, the Avery card catalog, and the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals under this name. Try biographical dictionaries for further leads.

Contemporary Architects. New York: St. James Press, 1994.
Avery Reference AA 40 C761

Francis, Dennis Steadman. Architects in Practice in New York City, 1840-1900. New York: The Committee, 1979.
Avery Reference AA 735 N4 F844
Ward, James. Architects in Practice, New York City, 1900-1940. Union, N.J.: J & D Associates, 1989.
Avery Reference AA735 N4 W21

Simply a list of every architect active in New York City with their addresses and office numbers. Ward's volume includes the firm's official landmarks in New York, when known.

Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects. New York: Free Press, 1982. 4 vol.

Biographical information on international architects. Includes a chronological list of works and a bibliography.
Avery Reference AA31 M223

Withey, Henry F. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased). Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1994.

For architects active between 1740 and 1952.
Avery Reference AA736 W7711

If the architect or firm is not known, look up the building in the AIA Guide to New York City. Avery Reference and Reserves AA 735 N4 Am35113 or in another guidebook (copies available in multiple locations).

Encyclopedias, Guidebooks & Handbooks

Jackson, Kenneth T. Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 1995.

Entries across the spectrum of New York City history, design, and culture.
Avery Reference AA735 N4 En197 (copies available in multiple locations)

King, Moses. King's Handbook of New York City. Boston, 1893.
Avery Reference AA735 N4 K5811 (copies available in multiple locations)

Silver, Nathan. Lost New York. Boston: Houghton Mifflian, 2000.

Illustrated with photographs, this book provides a look at places in New York City that are no more.
Avery Reference AA735 N4 Si381

Stern, Robert A.M.

  • New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age. New York: Monacelli Press, 1999.
    Avery Reference and Reserves AA735 N4 St449 (copies available in multiple locations);
  • New York 1900: Metropolitan Architecture and Urbanism, 1890-1915. New York: Rizzoli, 1983.
    Avery Reference and Reserves AA735 N4 St45 (copies available in multiple locations);
  • New York 1930: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars. New York: Rizzoli, 1987.
    Avery Reference and Reserves AA735 N4 St453 (copies available in multiple locations);
  • New York 1960: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Second World War and the Bicentennial. New York: Monacelli Press, 1995.
    Avery Reference and Reserves AA735 N4 St4533.
  • New York 2000: Architecture and Urbanism between the Bicentennial and the Millennium. New York: Monacelli Press, 2006.
    Avery Reference and Reserves AA735 N4 St4534 (copies available in multiple locations).

Good source for information on the development and the architecture of the city. Includes entries on many specific buildings and complexes. The endnotes are extensive and detailed.

Stokes, I. N. Phelps Iconography of Manhattan Island,1498-1909. Union, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange, 1998

Six volume history of Manhattan. It has a detailed history of the city and hundreds of early views of New York. It is extensively indexed and an invaluable source for the study of the city's early history, topography, development, and architecture.
Avery Reference AA735 N4 St611 (copies available in multiple locations)

White, Norval. AIA Guide to New York City. New York: Crown Publishers, 2000.

Wide coverage. Particularly helpful for identifying architects for local structures.
Avery Reference and Reserves AA735 N4 Am35113 (copies available in multiple locations)

WPA Guide to New York City. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982.

Originally published in 1939.
Avery Reference AA735 N4 1939 N48 (copies available in multiple locations)

Landmark Buildings & Districts

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has written a designation report on each individual landmark and historic district. The reports prepared after the mid-1970s are valuable sources on information on individual buildings, architects, neighborhoods and building types and include useful bibliographies.

Check the designation reports of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, listed in CLIO under:

  • NEW YORK (N.Y.). LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION
  • keywords: landmarks preservation [building name]

CLIO lists paper and full-text copies. Reports published after the 1990s include images.

Diamonstein, Barbaralee. Landmarks of New York: an illustrated record of the city's historic buildings. New York: Monacelli Press, 2005

Compilation of designated landmarks in New York City, providing brief descriptions and photographs. A section on historic districts offers maps delineating the scope of these areas.
Avery Reference AA735 N4 D5434

Dolkart, Andrew. Guide to New York City landmarks. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.

Information on all individual landmarks, interior landmarks, scenic landmarks and historic districts designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission from 1965 to 2002.
Avery Reference AA735 N4 2009 G94

Goldstone, Harmon H. History preserved: a guide to New York City landmarks and historic districts. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974.

Organized by geographical areas within the city, it discusses the landmarks designated at that time and their historic significance.
Avery Reference AA735 N4 G57 (copies available in multiple locations)

Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER)

Digitized images of measured drawings, black-and-white photographs, color transparencies, photo captions, data pages including written histories, and supplemental materials for buildings in the United States and its territories.

Newspapers & Periodicals

Look for published news reports and articles in contemporary newspapers or journals. If articles can not be founded in any of the indexes such as the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, 19th-Century Masterfile or the American Periodical Series Online, 1740-1900, then look at issues from the year before, during, and after the building had been constructed.

  • Brooklyn Daily Eagle
    Major newspaper for Brooklyn but also includes other parts of New York City. Available full-text online from 1841-1902.
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers
    Full text articles from the New York Times (1851-2003), New York Tribune (1841-1922) and the Wall Street Journal (1889-1989).
  • Real Estate Record and Builders Guide, 1868-1974 (Avery AB R23 and Avery microfilm FN 1861)
        The articles in this important resource are not indexed anywhere. However there is the Index to Pictures: Real Estate Record and Guide, Volumes 35 to 1001, 1885 to 1918 (Avery Reference AZ900 H13) which will lead the researcher to pictures as well as articles. Brooklyn edition, 1905-1909 (Avery microfilm FN 5152); Brooklyn-Long Island edition 1909-1912 (Avery microfilm FN 5152); and Metropolitan edition 1913-1919 (Avery microfilm FN 5152).

Atlases, Landbooks & Zoning

Drawings & Archival Materials

The Avery Drawings and Archives Collection at Avery Library includes materials from New York City architects. Use the Collections of the Drawings and Archives Department list and/or consult the Curator of Drawings or the Assistant to the Curator (212-854-4110) for further information. The materials located in the Drawings and Archives Collection can be seen by appointment only.

New York City Agencies

New York City Department of Buildings (DOB)
Manhattan Office. 280 Broadway, between Reade and Chambers Streets
Phone: (212) 566-5000.
Records are on the Third Floor.

The DOB has kept records since April 1865. To use these records you need the block and lot numbers and the address of the properties in which you have an interest. For a Manhattan building this information can be found in the Sanborn Manhattan Land Book (Avery Reserves). The DOB files contain construction application, building permits and architectural drawings and plans.

Municipal Archives
Surrogate's Court Building at 31 Chambers Street, Room 103
Phone: (212) 788-8580

Important collections include microfilm of the Department of Buildings's docket books, Building Department records, tax records, land books, and the Manhattan Borough President's Photograph Collection. Extremely useful are the tax photographs. Every building in the five boroughs was photographed between 1939 and 1941 as part of a real property appraisal project

City Hall Library (formerly known as the Municipal Reference and Research Center)
Surrogate's Court Building at 31 Chambers Street, Room 103
Phone: (212) NEW-YORK

Official depository for all agency published reports and studies. These reports are often valuable sources for information on civic projects. Includes New York City neighborhood files, New York City history, an annotated New York City street name index, etc.

Libraries & Museums

Check the websites for visitor information.

Museum of the City of New York
Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street
Phone: (212) 534-1672

The main resource here is a superb photo collection.

New York Public Library
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
Phone (212) 930-0830

The New York Public Library has great resources for New York City research. The United States History, Local History and Genealogy Division, the Art and Architecture Division, and the Map Division are particularly useful places to do research.

New York Transit Museum Transit
130 Livingston Street, Room C42, Brooklyn
Phone: (718) 694-1068

The Archive has an extensive photo collection documenting the construction of and alterations to the subway lines. The photos also contain details of the buildings adjacent to the routes including storefront infill and other architectural details.

Staten Island Museum
75 Stuyvesant Place, at Wall Street, Staten Island
Phone: (718) 727-1135

Relevant collections include the Architectural Survey Collection, 1977-1980. This survey documents the architecture, building by building, of most of the north shore and parts of the south shore. A Photograph Collection includes images of individual buildings and streetscapes from the late 1800s to the present. The collection also holds maps, altases, and postcards.

Historical Societies

Check the websites for visitor information.

Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street (at Clinton Street)
Phone: (718) 222-4111

The Library collections include a range of materials for various aspects of house or building research or for the evolution of Brooklyn neighborhoods over time. Of particular significance are the historic maps and atlases collection which include several hundred historic Brookyn atlases dating from the nineteenth-and early twentieth-century and copies of the official block-by-block Brooklyn land conveyance records (dating back to the late 1600s in some cases). A database of 30,000 images is available by appointment.

Bronx County Historical Society
3309 Bainbridge Ave., Bronx
Phone: (718) 881-8900

The Society collects all forms of material relating to the history of The Bronx, including photograhs and slides, postcards, real estate atlases and maps.

New-York Historical Society
Central Park West and West 76th Street
Phone: (212) 873-3400

The New-York Historical Society has an extensive collection of materials relating to New York City. It has architectural drawings and photographs, including the primary collection of McKim, Mead & White materials, maps and atlases, and bound copies of New York City Directories.

Queens Historical Society
Kingland Homestead, Weeping Beech Park
143-35 37th Ave., Flushing
Phone: (718) 937-0647

As a local history research center, the Society maintains and makes accessible to the public, by appointment only, a library and archive of primary and secondary source materials (maps, atlases, manuscripts, photographs, docuemnts, family papers and ephemera) covering every chapter of the over 300 year history of Queens.

Additional Resources for Apartment Houses

Alpern, Andrew. New York's fabulous luxury apartments: with original floor plans from the Dakota, River House, Olympic Tower, and other great buildings. New York: Dover Publications, 1987, c1975.

Exterior views and sample floor plans as well brief historical synopsis, each with architect, builder, date built, and when applicable, date razed.
Avery Reserves and Reference AA7860 AL741

Apartment houses of the metropolis. New York: G.C. Hesselgren Pub. Co., 1908.

Digitized version available at
http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchresult.cfm?parent_id=286807
Avery Classics AA7860 Ap12 F

"Classic 6:" New York City Apartment Building Living, 1880s-1910s

More than 1,300 digital images depict elevation views and floor plans for middle and upper class apartment buildings from New York City's pre World War I residential building boom.

Cromley, Elizabeth C. Alone together: a history of New York's early apartment buildings. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Illustrated with images of many of the noteworthy apartment buildings and accompanying floor plans.
Avery Reserves AA7860 C88 (copies available in multiple locations)

New York Real Estate Brochure Collection

Digitized collection from Avery Library of over 9,200 advertising brochures, floor plans, price lists, and related material that document residential and commercial real estate development in the five boroughs of New York and outlying vicinities from the 1920s to the 1970s.

Norton, Thomas E. Living it up: a guide to the named apartment buildings of New York. New York: Atheneum, 1984.

Small floor plans are included for some structures.
Avery Reference AA7860 N82

Plunz, Richard. A History of Housing in New York City: Dwelling Type and Social Change in the American Metropolis. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.
Avery Reserves and Reference AA7544 N48 P743 (copies available in multiple locations)

Select register of apartment house plans for Manhattan. New York: REDI, 1985-

Real estate directory including floor plans and data such as architect and building date. Updated annually.
Avery AA7860 Se48

Sexton, R. W. American apartment houses of today: illustrating plans, details, exteriors and interiors of modern city and suburban apartment houses throughout the United States. New York: Architectural Book Pub. Co., 1926.

Emphasis on Manhattan and the boroughs. Provides a photograph and floor plan for each building.
Avery Reserves AA7860 Se9 F

World's loose leaf album of apartment houses: containing views and ground plans of the principal high class apartment houses in New York City, together with a map showing the situation of these houses, transportation facilities, etc. N.Y. World, 1910

Plans, views, and descriptions of early apartment buildings. Digitized version available at
http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchresult.cfm?parent_id=24192
Avery microfilm F d4183

Additional Resources for Office Buildings

Ballard, Robert F. R. Directory of Manhattan office buildings. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978. (Avery AA 735 N4 B21)

Includes photographs, typical floor plans, architect and building date.

Directory of Manhattan office buildings. Weehawken, NJ: REDI. (Avery Reserves AA 6230 C954 F) Annual.

Latest edition only in library. Photographs, typical floor plans, and site plans. Includes building date and architect, when available.

Image Databases & Websites


Compiled by Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University Libraries.  Last updated September 2009.