Chasing History

New York Times brings back its Streetscapes column

Looking north from lower Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. (Jonathan Hilburg/AN)

Fans of the late Christopher Gray’s Streetscapes column had much to cheer about last weekend when The New York Times relaunched the feature with a new author.

Historian and novelist John Freeman Gill, a friend and admirer of Gray and “avid Mystery Photo solver,” will now write the column, which will run every other week both online and in print.

“Those of you who know Streetscapes will understand what a humbling turn of events this is,” Gill wrote in a message on Facebook.

“To NYC geeks like me, the column is an institution, the creation of the brilliant, inimitable, and wickedly funny Christopher Gray,” Gill said. “I was lucky enough to call Christopher my friend in his latter years, so being able to carry on his legacy in even a small way is especially meaningful to me.”

Photo of a man slumped against a window bay

John Freeman Gill (Courtesy John Freeman Gill)

Streetscapes, which ran between 1987 and 2014 in the newspaper’s Sunday Real Estate section, was a favorite with architects, historians, and all-around New York City lovers. Its goal was to explore New York City’s real estate through its architecture.

Gray, described as an “architectural detective and social historian”  in Sunday’s reboot, wrote more than 1,300 columns before he died in 2017 at the age of 66. His columns touched on the city’s architecture, history and preservation policies. He self-described his goal as “to write about the everyday buildings, to investigate even the most trivial, incidental, oddball structures.”

Gray also contributed to a Streetscapes page on Facebook, for which he chose a Mystery Photo of a building every Tuesday and invited readers to identify it.

Gill is the author of The Gargoyle Hunters, a historical novel set in New York City. His first Streetscapes column was about a series of Clinton Hill carriage houses that have had many different uses, including a stable, garage, photography studio, restaurant, and possibly a speakeasy.

The new author has asked readers to send him story ideas at streetscapes@nytimes.com.

“Ours is a vibrant, textured city, and many of you know pockets of it in ways that I don’t,” wrote Gill. “I hope we can all do this column together.”

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