Friday, 2 October 2009

Musing in Manhattan

Image © Time-Life & courtesy of Gallery M
Chrysler Building, New York City, 1931
Platinum print by Margaret Bourke-White
Image © Time-Life & courtesy of Gallery M

Motivated - perhaps inspired would be a better word - by Colleen Fitzpatrick's Forensic Genealogy mystery photo contest this week (Contest #226), I've been thinking art deco (or should that be Art Deco). I hope I'm not giving too much of the game away to say that I've always thought of New York's Chrysler Building as one of the more breathtakingly spectacular and visually effective examples, perhaps even the epitome, of this style of architecture. Although I've never visited New York, if I do one day, this will be one of the places that I'll be sure to visit, and not merely for the earthy marble walls and fittingly decorated lift doors on the ground floor.

Image © & courtesy of Time-Life Pictures
Margaret Bourke-White, Chrysler Building, New York City, 1931
Unidentified photographer
Image © & courtesy of Time-Life Pictures

The photographer of the well known Chrysler Building image was photo-journalist extraordinaire Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971), whose autobiography (Portrait of Myself, published in 1963) featured a photograph (above) on its front cover showing her with camera in action astride one of the huge metallic gargoyle-like protruberances from the Chrysler Building. This photo, in turn, neatly echoes that which forms the subject of Colleen's photo contest.

Image © & courtesy of Deena Mitsin
Unidentified young woman, c. late 1910s to early 1920s
Mounted portrait by Sol. Young Studio
Image © & courtesy of Deena Mitsin

Quite by coincidence, this week I received an email from someone who had found my brief profile of photographer Sol. Young of New York, compiled some four years ago while researching a collection of photographs sent to me by Irene Savory. My correspondent wondered whether I might be able to tell her more about a mounted portrait photograph, illustrated above, of a young woman that she had discovered while cleaning out her attic. It's difficult for me to tell from her email whether the photograph has any family connection, so I can't really comment on the provenance. Merely from the hairstyle and clothing - and I'm not claiming any great expertise in dating fashions from this era - I estimate a rough date of perhaps the early 1920s. The young woman looks to me to be in her mid- to late twenties, which gives a birth date of around or just before the turn of the century.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
Unidentified young man, c.1920s
Photo (107 x 151.5 mm) in embossed and printed pale brown card frame (153 x 229.5 mm) with oval aperture (92 x 133.5 mm), in embossed brown "leather-look" card folder (160 x 236 mm)
Image © & collection of Brett Payne, Courtesy of Irene Savory

Solomon Young was born in Kraków, Poland - then part of Galizien Kroenlande (Galicia Crownland), Austrian Bohemia - on 7 April 1865, son of Isaac L. Young and Lena Wachsmann. He emigrated to the United States in June 1882 (or 1883) at the age of 17, where he settled in New York and became a naturalised citizen some five years later on 1 August 1888. By this time several other members of his family, including his widowed mother and married sister, had also arrived in New York. He appears to have set up as a publisher and book seller from premises in Norfolk Street, in what is now the Lower East Side, until about 1891-1892.

Image © and courtesy of Etsy
Unidentified teenage girl, c.1905-1910
Mounted print (trimmed) by Sol. Young Studios, N.Y. Brooklyn, N.J.
Image © and courtesy of Etsy

Sol married Minnie Marx on Boxing Day 1892 in Manhattan, New York, and opened his first photographic premises near Union Square the following year. He continued to operate a studio at 17 Union Square West, with a home at 152 East 116th Street (East Harlem) until at least 1899. The trade directories list only his name, but since Sol and Minnie never had any children I presume that she too worked in the studio. One could easily imagine Minnie tending to customers at the front desk in the shop, while Sol. took portraits in the studio.

Image © and courtesy of ArtFire
Unidentified young woman, Dated 1916
Mounted print (4" x 6") on matt (6¾" x 9¾") by Sol. Young
Image © and courtesy of ArtFire

The decade from 1900 until 1910 is something of a mystery, as no records have been found, although it is clear that Sol must have thrived and operated a successful photographic business partnership with his wife during this period. The 1910 Census shows him and Minnie living with his mother at Number 210, 107th Street (Riverside Park).

Image © and courtesy of Rick Raven
Augusta, c.1910-1915
Mounted print by Sol. Young, New York
Image © and courtesy of Rick Raven

Five years later, 1915 New York city directory listings show him with seven branches in New York, and a further studio in Bridgeport (Connecticut) which had been opened two years earlier.
Young Sol photo 40 W34th, 1807 Amsdm av, 1204 Bway 985 Lex av 142 W23d 109 W125th & 474 E Tremont av h600 W 116th
Young Sol, photographer, 129 Wall (Bridgeport, Conn.)
Image © and courtesy of Rick Raven
List of branch studios, c.1910-1915
Reverse of mounted print by Sol. Young, New York
Image © and courtesy of Rick Raven

However, a listing of branches on the reverse of a card mount from around 1910-1915 (shown above) suggests an even greater early expansion of the business, with at least twelve branches in existence across New York, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Jersey City and Newark by the time this portrait was taken. The device of a lion brandishing a sword was already well established as the studio's "mark" by this time.

Image © and courtesy of Vintage Ball
George "Highpockets" Kelly, baseball player, c.1915-1920
Mounted print by Sol. Young Studios
Image © and courtesy of Vintage Ball

At about this time he and Minnie also moved their home to 600 West 116th Street, between Columbia University and the Hudson River. Sol and Minnie had been industrious, and it was obviously paying off. Between July and September 1914 they were able to take a long holiday with a trip to Europe, travelling to Germany, Austria and Holland, and presumably leaving their studios in the capable hands of their managers and employees.

Image © The Archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research & courtesy of Google Books
Unidentified religious Jew, Brooklyn, c.1915-1920
Photograph by Sol. Young Studios
in Jews of Brooklyn by Ilana Abramovitch & Seán Galvin
Image © The Archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
& courtesy of Google Books

It seems likely that they had intended to visit family in Krakow but their timing was not the best. The outbreak of war throughout Europe in late July was perhaps unexpected, in spite of the build up in tensions between the Eurpean nations for some years. News of the Russian attacks on East Prussia in late August (Battle of Tannenberg), although well to the north of Sol's homeland in Bohemia, seems likely to have rapidly precipitated an early homeward departure.

Image © & courtesy of Michael-Ann Belin
Maria Charlotta Svahn Belin (1872-1927)
Photograph by Sol. Young Studios, taken c. late 1910s
Image © Michael-Ann Belin & courtesy of Flickr

The swift German invasion through Belgium and into north-western France in late August and early September, culminating in the First Battle of the Marne, may have disrupted the plans for their journey home considerably. In the event, they must have travelled with some trepidation across the German state which was now at war on several fronts, vying for space on trains full of Imperial troops mobilising for the front. They departed from the neutral Dutch port of Rotterdam on 12 September 1914 aboard the S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam, and arrived back home in New York nine days later, somewhat relieved, I feel sure.

Image © & courtesy of

Some time between 1910 and 1915, they had moved their primary premises from Union Square to 40 West 34th Street and it appears to have remained the main branch for many years. On Friday 23 September 1921, however, Solomon Young died, aged only 56.
New York Times, 24 Sep 1921
Sol Young, founder of a chain of eighteen photographic studios, died yesterday at his home, 600 West 116th Street, at the age of 56. He was one of the pioneers in the pastel and crayon industry, opening his first studio in Union Square in 1893.
The brief newspaper obituary states that eighteen branches were operating at that time. Minnie Young was clearly quite capable because she continued to operate many of these branches for some years with a posse of managers and assistants. They must have earned her a decent income, as she employed a chauffeur in 1922 and made an extensive trip to mainland Europe in the summer of 1923, visiting Germany, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Switzerland and France. In March 1931 Minnie travelled abroad again, paying a brief visit to London, England.

Image © & courtesy of Michael-Ann Belin
Unidentified young girl
Photograph by Sol. Young Studios, taken c.1920s
Image © Michael-Ann Belin & courtesy of Flickr

The charming portrait of an - as yet - unidentified young girl (shown above) is, sadly, undated, although Michael-Ann Belin is currently investigating who it might be. I suspect that it was taken in the early to mid-1920s.

Image © & courtesy of Michael-Ann Belin
Design on card folder from Sol. Young Studios, taken c.1920s
Image © Michael-Ann Belin & courtesy of Flickr

The portrait was sold in an elaborately decorated printed and embossed card folder, of a type which became very popular in the United States during the post-Great War years, particularly the 1920s and early 1930s. The front of the folder has a new emblem, somewhat more stylish than Sol's original lion & sword logo. The reverse of the folder has a large number of studio premises listed. They were situated throughout New York (Bronx, Brooklyn, Rochester), New Jersey (Jersey City, Newark, Trenton, Paterson, Union City), Connecticut (Bridgeport) and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).

Image © & courtesy of Michael-Ann Belin
Unidentified mother and daughter
Photograph by Sol. Young Studios, taken c.1920s
Image © Michael-Ann Belin & courtesy of Flickr

The business flourished throughout the 1920s and into the early 1930s. By 1933 Minnie Young appeared to be in the process of handing over the reins of the business to her husband's nephew, Arthur Lewis Pawliger (1891-1970), who is shown as president and treasurer of Sol. Young Photographer Inc. in a directory of that year. Two years later, at the age of 63, Minnie Young died.

During the years of the Depression, the firm came up with a marketing plan to keep the once successful business afloat. They reputedly sent photographers out on the streets of large cities with ponies, hoping to entice customers with children to have "studio quality" portraits taken with the animals.

I haven't yet been able to determine how long it remained in business, but it seems unlikely to have survived much beyond the onset of the Second World War. In their time, however, they operated from a huge number of different addresses. I have attempted to provide an interim list of these, together with some dates of known operation.
35 University Place - 1893
840 Broadway - 1894
1204 Broadway - c.1900s, 1915
850-852 Broadway, Brooklyn - c.1910s, c.1920s
5606-5th Avenue, Brooklyn - c.1920s
17 Union Square West - 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, c1910s
40 West 34th Street, N.Y. - 1915, 1916, 1917, 1920, 1922, 1925
38 West 34th Street (3d fl) - 1933
1807 Amsterdam Avenue - 1915, 1916, 1917, 1920
985 Lexington Avenue - c.1910s, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1920, 1922, 1925
970 Lexington Avenue, N.Y. - 1922, 1933
142 West 23rd Street - c.1910s, 1915
107-109 West 125th Street, N.Y. - 1915, 1916, 1920, 1922, 1925
111-113 West 125th Street, N.Y. - c.1910s
112 West 125th Street - 1933
474 East Tremont Avenue, Bronx - c1910s, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1920, 1922
414 East Tremont Avenue - 1933
298 Willis Avenue - 1916
23 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn - c.1910s, c.1920s
24 Arlington Place, Brooklyn - c.1910s
129 Wall Street, Bridgeport, Conn. - 1913
129 Wall rms, Bridgeport, Conn. - 1918, 1923
207 Golden Hill, Bridgeport, Conn. - 1918
803 (6) Chapel Street, New Haven, Conn. - 1918, 1921, 1922, 1927, 1928
157 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, N.J. - c.1910s, c.1920s
923 Broad Street, Newark, N.J. - c.1910s, c.1920s
116 Springfield Avenue, Newark,N.J. - c.1910s
1622 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Penn. - c.1920s
31 Elm Street, Rochester, New York - c.1920s
2 North Broad Street, Trenton, N.J. - c.1920s
197 Market Street, Peterson, N.J. - c.1920s
700 Bergenline Avenue, Union City, N.J. - c.1920s
I welcome any additions to this list, in the form of new addresses or dates. If any readers are able to provide further information, please email me.

Image © & courtesy of GoogleMaps
Site of Sol. Young's flagship studio, c.1915-1933
38-40 West 34th Street, Manhattan, New York
Image © & courtesy of GoogleMaps

Finally, I would like to focus on the premises from which Sol. and Minnie Young ran their chain of photographic studios: 38-40 West 34th Street, Manhattan, New York. At the time that Google Maps' StreetView camera car drove past a few years ago, this address was occupied by Porta Bella Fine Menswear & Shoes [although a June 2008 report suggests the store has since been remodelled.] To conclude this article, click on the image above to open the GoogleMaps Street View for this address, then pan upwards and to the left to see the building from which Colleen Fitzpatrick's Quiz #266 photo was taken, and which started this journey of discovery for me.


Abramovitch, Ilana & Galvin, Seán (2001) Jews of Brooklyn. Brandeis series in American Jewish history, culture, and life. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England. 355p. ISBN 1584650036.

Email Correspondence with Michael-Anne Belin, October 2009, and Maria Belin's Autograph Album 1893 on Flickr

Undated Photograph of Young Woman, c.1910-1915, by Sol Young Studios, 543 S. Salina St., Syracuse, New York, on Onondaga County Pictures

Photograph of young woman, 1916, by Sol Young, on Artfire

Photograph of young girl, by Sol.Young Studios, N.Y. Brooklyn, N.J., on Etsy

Photograph of George "Highpockets" Kelly by Sol Young, c.1910s, on Vintage Ball Photogallery

Message from Rob Stieglitz on Rootsweb GENMSC-L Mailing List Archives, 8 Jul 2000, re. portraits from Sol. Young Studios, dated c.1900 & c.1925

Message from "scardiel" on Ancestry WORTH Surname Message Board, 23 Jul 2004, re. 3 portraits from Sol. Young Studio, dated c.1925 & c.1930

Message from Randall McDaniel on Ancestry SANG Surname Message Board, 15 Apr 2007, re. portrait from Solomon Young Studio dated 28 Aug 1914

Message from Judy Cronan on Ancestry McCONVILLE Surname Message Board, 16 Sep 2005, re. portrait from Sol. Young Studio

Message from Shelley Cardiel on Winham Family Genealogy Forum, 4 Jul 2004, re. portrait by Sol. Young Studio, dated c.1914

Sol. Young - NY Photographer, Message thread by various authors (Sep 2002-Dec 2003) on Ancestry Message Board

Notes about photograph dated July 1913 by Sol Young, The Genealogy site of Zigelboim, Krotman and Kamm families

World War I from Wikipedia
- Battle of Tannenberg
- First Battle of the Marne

Keeping the Tradition Alive by Giddy Up Ponies Photo Services

Storecasting: Fossil Discovered in Midtown, by Cynthia Drescher, 27 June 2008, on Racked New York

International Genealogical Index (IGI) from the LDS Church & FamilySearch

US Federal Census Collection 1790-1930 Indexed images from

Naturalization Index Card - Solomon Young, 1 Aug 1888, New York Petitions for Naturalization from

Passport Application - Minnie Young, 28 June 1923, U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 from

New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 from
Passenger List: S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam, sailing from Rotterdam, 12 Sep 1914, arr. New York, 21 Sep 1914
Passenger List: S.S. Olympic, sailing from Cherbourg, 19 Sep 1923, arr. New York 26 Sep 1923
Passenger List: S.S. Statendam, sailing from ?New York, 29 Jan 1930, arr. New York, 23 Feb 1930
Passenger List: S.S. Majestic, sailing from Southampton, 18 Mar 1931, arr. New York 24 Mar 1931

UK Incoming Passenger Lists from
Passenger List: S.S. Homeric, sailing from New York, Arr. Southampton, 10 Mar 1931

New York Directories from
Trow's New York City Directory 1888, 1891, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898
New York City Directories 1891-92, 1893, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1920, 1922, 1925, 1933
New Haven City Directories 1921, 1922, 1927, 1928
Connecticut City Directories - Bridgeport 1913, 1918, 1923
Connecticut City Directories - New Haven 1918
Connecticut City Directories - Bridgeport 1918

New York Times Article Archive
New York Times, 24 September 1921.
New York Times, 19 June 1922, p. 11.
New York Times, 26 October 1935.


  1. What amazing research!! Great post!

  2. Thank you, Doreen. I'm gladyou enjoyed the article. Regards, Brett

  3. Ah, you got me hooked with that picture of the Chrysler Building. It's one of my favorite buildings. I hope you are able to go to New York some day to see it; it's definitely worth a trip all by itself!

  4. One day, Greta, when free from familial responsibilities and financially flush, perhaps ...

  5. What a wonderful story! You did a fantastic job of putting all the facts you found together, and wrote it in such a way to make it quite easy to visualize Solomon and Minnie running their shop. Delightful, and you have a marvelous gift of the written word.

    It has been a pleasure corresponding with you, I wish all the best to you and your family. I hope you get the opportunity to visit the Chrysler Building (as well as any other place you put your sights on) very soon.

  6. I'm very grateful to you, Michael-Ann, for the opportunity to use your wonderful family portraits. Given enough time, I'd be raiding your Flickr photostream on a regular basis for the wealth of fascinating and inspiring material it contains. I can see how it stimulates your artistic passions. Thanks, too, for your kind words. Best regards, Brett

  7. Brett,
    I voted for your blog in the Family Tree Magazine Contest!'


  8. Thanks Dorene (sorry, got the spelling wrong the first time) I appreciate that. Regards and best wishes, Brett

  9. Congratulations on your nomination!Your blog is amazing - I love reading it!

  10. Thank you Terri. It's your feedback that makes it all worthwhile. Regards, Brett

  11. Very interesting. Now I shall have to look through my great-grandparents' photos and see if they were taken at Sol Young's. They too were from Galicia and the logo on the front of one of the pictures definitely rings a bell. Beautiful job by you.

  12. Thanks - I would be keen to hear from you if you do have any Soil Young photos. Regards, Brett

  13. I have a photograph of my Grandmother that was taken at the Sol Young Studios when she was a young child...I think sometime in the 30's. I decided to Google Sol Young and found this blog. Nice article. I enjoyed it very much.

  14. Thanks, Ben. I'm collecting together a series of further portraits from the Sol Young studio for a follow up article if you'd like to share yours.

    Regards and best wishes, Brett

  15. Thanks Brett for the great wealth of info. I was just given a family photo from my in laws. We're trying to figure out who it is in the family as it's two small children which we believe to be some relative. I think you may have helped. With the list of stores on the back (3 from NY and 1 from Newark) I think we can date it to the 1910s. Thanks so much! The picture is in good shape but the mounted board is so so. Thanks for your great info. Only wish that the studios were still around so I could find out who purchased this. The mystery continues but your article has helped a ton.

  16. Hi lauren. I appreciate your comments, and if you'd like to send me a scan of the front and reverse, perhaps I can help by attempting to narrow down the dates a little? Regards, Brett

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Hi Brett I have a Photo of my Grandmother that is mounted and stamped Sol Young. This lady returned to Ireland in 1889/1890 from that I assume that Sol Young was taking photos before he opened his Studio.

    Regards Michael

  19. Thanks for your comment Michael and apologies for the delay in my response. That's very interesting. Although I was aware of his working prior to the turn of the century, I haven't seen any examples of his work from that period. I would be very interested in a scan, please, if you wouldn't mind. You can email me here.

  20. I have 7 Sol Young photos but some duplicates. So I have 4 different photos. They all look to be done around the same time. They all have the same addresses on the back. I picked them up in a thrift store in Northern NJ. i did not see 19 East Ave. Rochester NY. As well as 20 Third st. Troy NY on your list which are on the back of my prints. The photo subject of each are similar I have 2 different photos with babies and 2 different one of a young women around the Late 20's mid 30's for each. One is oval shaped the others are rectangular. Unfortunately there are no dates written. This has helped me a lot in finding out what I may have. Also are these rare or are collectors looking for things like these because I have just been collecting old photos mainly as a hobby?

  21. Hi Kevin.
    A nice find for a collector, but I doubt that they are particularly rare. I would appreciate scans of your photos if you'd care to share them, as it will add to the information about the studios, and I'm building up images and data for a follow-up post on this studio. Please email me
    Regards, Brett

  22. Wow, thank you for sharing this with us! You really are an inspiration, and you sharing this information with is is just awesome. Thank you!
    Photography studios in New york

  23. That really is excellent research and a well composed article. Good show!

  24. Great Article! I found this because I was researching a childhood photograph of my grandmother and her brother which I think was taken about 1910 by Sol Young. It is in pristine condition. What happened to the negative plates for the studios?

    1. The business is long gone and I don't think any of the negatives would have survived, or they would already have surfaced in a museum somewhere.

  25. Thanks so much for the information about Sol Young. I wanted you to know that I pointed to your article from my blog today, as background for some family photos taken in a Sol Young studio.

  26. Hi! I have just come across a bunch of photographs of my family taken by Sol. Young studios. I thank you for the information you have on this studio, as I was unsure of when these photos were taken. I have many pictures of my great great grandmother and grandfather from there!

    1. Hi Jessica - Thanks for droppong by. I'd love to see scans of these portraits of your family.

  27. Just found a Sol Young Studios picture of my great-aunt as a bridesmaid (~1920). I wondered whether the studio was still in existence and I was so happy find your website and be able to learn the history of the studio. The Google maps picture of the building makes me think the original facade is probably hidden behind all the modernizations.

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment, Jake. You may well be right about the original facade being still in existence somewhere behind all that modern stuff.

  28. I have a S Young photograph from about 1905, the year my great aunt was born in Manhattan. It has the logo of an S superimposed over a Y and the address of 17 Union Square, New York. My grandparents lived in NYC from about 1904 to 1911. Pleased to have found your blog and great info on the photographer!

    1. Sorry I didn't see this earlier, Diane. I'd be keen to see scans of your image, since it's from period of Sol Young's career about which I know very little. My email address is

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  30. hi, my great aunt Grace had this photo of a young woman named can I send you the image??

  31. hi, my great aunt Grace had this photo of a young woman named can I send you the image??

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  33. Have photo of my great grandmother taken By Sol Young. Thank you so much for the information in your article.

  34. Thank you very much for writing such an interesting article on this topic. This has really made me think and I hope to read more. studio photo

  35. Hello,
    My name is Julia and my husband bought a photo of an unidentified young girl, perhaps 4-6 years old, from a thrift shop in Florida as a gift to me. The photographer is Sol Young or (his studio). I would like to share this photo with you. Perhaps her family is looking for her.

    1. The unidentified young girl is my grandmother! I'm amazed to see this on this site! please email me at I will send you other photographs to show that it is her. I'm amazed!

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