Historypin.com may just be the web- and smartphone-based feature I’ve been searching my whole life for. (I realize smartphones have not existed for the entirety of my life. Don’t ruin my moment.) A few months ago, I explored the idea of making community history more accessible through QR codes. For website or text information, that could still work. But let’s say you’re walking down the street and you think to yourself, “I wonder what this place looked like fifty years ago?” Imagine being able to hold your phone up like you were taking a picture of a historic building, and then being able to see a decades-old image of that location right next to what it looks like in the present day.
That, in essence, is what Historypin does. You can upload photos to it, and overlay those pictures onto Google Street, and then go to the place where the photos are pinned to. The Historypin application is available for free download on Android phones. I picture this program as an ideal supplement to neighborhood historic walking tours. So naturally I tried this out on some old photos I have of West Broadway Avenue in 1974. The process of adding photos is pretty easy, but pinning them to a certain location is a little cumbersome. The pinning becomes problematic when addresses don’t exactly exist anymore. For instance, along certain stretches of Broadway, we have essentially one or two large parcels of land that stretch for most or all of a city block. Obviously it wasn’t always this way. When multiple stores existed on a site, they each had their own address.
But try connecting six or seven photos to what Google Maps/Street View registers as one address, and getting them in the proper sequence. I haven’t quite figured that out just yet. This became quite evident when I took a stroll down West Broadway, cell phone in hand, pointing it at various spots where I KNEW a photo should come up. Some did, some appeared to be associated with properties that were blocks away, and others just weren’t linked at all, even though they were registered as uploaded. For now, I’m attributing this to my own inexperience, and hoping that as I learn more about the site and program, I’ll iron out these wrinkles.
But when the photos do line up as you’re walking down the street, Historypin really shines. And the beauty of it is that if one person gets the photo right, it’s accessible to anyone with the program on their phone. I went past Friedman’s, and stood on the corner by Taco Bell. Looking across the street, the phone lined up the 1974 photo EXACTLY with the building. There’s a neat fade feature so that the old photo can be semi-transparent. The experience is about as close as you can get to looking through the lens of history.
While I was pointing my camera at the store in fascination, one of the Friedmans came out and talked with me. I showed her the new toy and we were both excited about its possibilities. Apparently they’ve got photos of the store going all the way back to 1889.
For now, I’m encouraging NoMi residents to load photos on the Historypin website. I’ll be tracking down more pictures and tweaking what’s already there. Or if anyone wants to just send me digital copies of pictures. I’ll post them. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Once enough pictures are up, I would love to see some NoMi walking tours built around this feature.