Office for Metropolitan History

Specialists in the Architectural History of New York City

Founded in 1975 by Christopher Gray, the Office for Metropolitan History provides research on New York City buildings, and embraces a synthetic approach to historical data, bringing together disparate sources in individual collections. Typical projects involve document recovery and reports with a wide variety of purposes, for engineers, architects, lawyers and anyone interested in the evolution of New York's built environment.

Document Recovery

The Office for Metropolitan History locates historic photographs, original architectural, structural and mechanical drawings, and data on use and occupancy.

Detail, 1924 floor plan of Park Avenue apartment house, showing piping, chases, partitions and other details.

Detail, 1899 photograph of lost iron and glass marquee on east side townhouse, to permit restoration.

Detail, 1921 elevation drawing of midtown office building, showing missing weather vane.

Detail, 1941 photograph of commercial building documenting disputed signage.

The Office for Metropolitan History maintains a collection of 40,000 4x5 film negatives, 18,000 photographs, and 8,000 architectural drawings, many of which date back to the late 19th century. In the normal course of business, we have independently humidified, conserved, repaired and protected about 9,000 vintage blueprints, renderings and other architectural drawings.

In September 2001, the Office for Metropolitan History was the firm called by the New York City Department of Design and Construction to locate architectural records for the nine buildings damaged in the World Trade Center collapse that were considered in danger of falling or where people were thought to be trapped. We located original drawings for seven buildings within 36 hours.

Reports

The Office for Metropolitan History prepares a variety of reports on New York City buildings for a wide variety of purposes, from simple narratives to pinpoint determinations of occupancy, usage, alterations and other specific issues.

A Tiffany & Co. Silver Workshop in Noho

The Dow-Jones Townhouse on the Upper West Side

Christopher Gray's article, "How to Research a Building in New York City" provides an overview of typical research techniques for New York City buildings

Writing

Christopher Gray wrote extensively on the architecture, history, and preservation policies of New York City. His award-winning columns - from 1987 to 2014 the weekly "Streetscapes" in The New York Times and from 1980 to 1992 the monthly "Neighborhood" in Avenue magazine - form the most comprehensive look at New York City buildings yet published. He also wrote "All the Best Places," a column on American Streets, for House & Garden from 1982 to 1985.

Click here to download a high-resolution TIFF

Christopher Gray's Books Include:

His writing and research have earned awards from Classical America, the American Institute of Architects, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, the Preservation League of New York State, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the New York Society Library.

Building Permit Search

SEARCH
The Building Permits Database, 1900-1986

With gratitude to and respect for all those who are interested in the history of New York City, we have digitized all the new building (NB) applications filed in Manhattan for each year, from 1900 to 1986, and turned it into a database searchable by a number of variables, like address, architect, owner and type of building.

Portion of New Building application for the Dakota, 1880

BASIC SEARCH TIPS:

ADVANCED SEARCH TIPS: Use additional search parameters to--

CAVEATS:

CREDITS

Project Team: Christopher Gray, Manager and Suzanne Braley, Researcher

Data Entry: G. E. Satheesh, head of Mudra Typesetters

Data conversion: , Beverly B. de Monterice of Methods Plus

Website: Davida Scharf, of NKR Associates Inc