This period is captured fittingly in black and white images at a new photographic exhibit at the Hoboken Historical Museum titled "Hoboken 1974-76: The Photographs of John F. Conn." The photographs show a seminal period in the city's history. The invention of containerized shipping prompted the shipping industry to move from Hoboken for bigger port areas, leaving a great deal of poverty and unemployment in the 1960s and 1970s.
Conn's photographs were taken in the mid-1970s when Hoboken was still very much a depressed city but steadily approaching reinvention in the early 1980s. At that time, artists and Manhattan workers discovered the city's cheap rents.
Conn's photographs document a Hoboken that was experiencing a difficult transition from its formerly industrial past into its residential present.
Conn, a lifelong Bronx resident, would visit Hoboken while traveling to Summit to visit his then-girlfriend.
"I missed my train a couple times and would walk around the town, and each time I became more and more curious," Conn said. He said that Hoboken at the time reminded him of his home neighborhood, the South Bronx, a gritty urban landscape that was largely Hispanic.
"It reminded me of home," Conn said. "I felt comfortable there."
When the photographs were taken, Hoboken and the country was preparing for the nation's bicentennial celebration. Hoboken was also selected for Lyndon B. Johnson's "Model Cities" program, which gave federal grant money to communities attempting to pull themselves out of post-industrial depression.
For the first time, new construction was taking place, and Conn said that he found Hoboken an interesting subject because it was a city that was about to undergo a transformation.
"The country was celebrating its 200 years since it was born, and, in Hoboken, you were able to see the rebirth of a city," said Conn.
The photographs, shot in a granular dark tones, juxtapose the incongruity of a town beginning change. There are cheerleaders in the vacant lot of an abandoned warehouse, a man standing near the waterfront with a shirt that reads "Hobo-ken!," a ramshackle wooden fence painted with Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls and the words "Welcome to the rebirth of Hoboken."
Conn added that it wasn't known if Hoboken was going to successful in its attempt to pull itself out of the doldrums.
"For all anyone knew, it could have been a rebirth or a stillbirth," Conn said. "But as everyone knows, Hoboken now is a far cry from being a failure."
But he added that even with the new development, much of the foundation that was built decades ago still makes Hoboken diverse and unique.
"I love Hoboken," Conn added. "Sure, there might be more real estate, but for me, it still has the neighborhood feeling."
Now Conn is about to start a new project where he will photograph modern Hoboken.
"I would like to see some of these same people and re-photograph them," Conn said, "But this time, I would probably shoot them in color."
The exhibit will remain on view at the Hoboken Historical Museum at 1301 Hudson St. through Sunday, Sept. 11. In September, John F. Conn will return to the museum to discuss his pictures dating from the 1970s, and show slides from a new series of Hoboken photographs. For more information, call (201) 656-2240.