More NYT Stalkerage; Croton Gates

Once again, the New York Times eats my dust.

Unsurprisingly, they have prettier pictures:

Note the stoop in the foreground right. Fifth Avenue in midtown was still residential when this was taken in 1894.

The 42nd Street reservoir wasn’t the only Croton water system structure in Manhattan. There’s High Bridge,

and the gatehouses on Convent Avenue,

on Amsterdam Avenue,

and in Central Park.

Long Gone Long

For no particular reason, I want to discuss the martyr whose death triggered the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Shortly after the new Pennsylvania Station fully opened, roughly four years the old was demolished, the architectural critic Vincent Scully said, “One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.” Maybe there’s nothing more to discuss.


The W Hotel on Union Square in New York is still thought of by most New Yorkers as the Guardian Life Building. It’s a decent 1911 skyscraper with a damned big mansard roof. One of its more visually distinctive features is the big sign on the roof, something that is rare in New York outside of Times Square.

From 1918 until 2000, the sign at the top advertised the then-owner, the Guardian Life Insurance Company:

The insurance company, which had constructed the building as its headquarters in 1911, was originally named the Germania Life Insurance Company, after the nationality of its immigrant founders. Anti-German sentiment during World War I led to the name change; the urban myth is that the name was changed to Guardian to allow reuse of as many of the letter from the old sign as was possible.

When the building was designated as a landmark in 1988, the sign was included as a distinctive feature of the building. The exact words are considered less important than the font style and size, so the change to the W sign was approved by the Landmarks Commission.

Hat-tip to the zombie for reminding me of the topic.


This past Sunday, the Times had, in a Q&A section, a nice list of the post-revolution removal of royalty-related names from streets in Manhattan.

Crown Street is now Liberty Street, and Maiden Lane between Liberty and Pearl Streets.

Duke Street is now Stone Street between Broad Street and Hanover Square.

George Street: A number of streets were once named George, but the main one is now Spruce Street.

King George Street is now part of William Street between Frankfort and Pearl Streets.

King Street, the pre-Revolutionary one, is now Pine Street. The present King Street in the West Village was named after Rufus King, New York’s first United States senator, according to “The Street Book” by Henry Moscow.

Little Queen Street is now Cedar Street.

Princess Street is now Beaver Street between Broad and William Streets.

Queen Street is now the south side of Hanover Square, from Old Slip to Wall Street, and Pearl Street from Wall Street to Park Row.

Putting aside the questionable propriety of changing Princess Street to Beaver Street, the list has one glaring flaw: the major physical act of deroyalization that took place at Bowling Green. This little oval is New York’s first park and the iron fence that surrounds it predates the revolution by several years. During the festivities (and before the years of occupation by the British army after Washington blew, successively, the battles of Brooklyn and New York), some patriots carefully sawed the little crowns off of the fence post tops.

The Times is Following Me

I’ve previously mentioned the ridiculousness of the Polo Grounds and now the New York Times has weighed in on it. The Times is nice enough to point out that the Polo Grounds was “the site of the Merkle’s Boner game between the Giants and the Chicago Cubs,” a statement to which I can add nothing.

We become attached to places we spend a lot of time. My father was upset and outraged when the Giants left New York – as a boy he had suffered the torments of a Giants fan in the Bronx to demonstrate the depth of his team commitment – but he has strange memories of the Polo Grounds. He hated Shea Stadium – as did anyone who needed to use their eyes, ears, or bowels while there – but his seeming low-key indifference to the Polo Grounds is heavily tinged with nostalgia.

Displaying the Corpse

A few months ago I described the slow and agonizing death of the RKO Keith’s theater in Flushing. The plans for the last step – embalming and displaying the corpse – are now public.

Good: The lobby interior will be saved.

Indifferent: Another glass tower. Cue the fucking balloons, we have another glass tower. Market-rate apartments and retail, overwhelming in them being exactly the same as every other half-assed development of the last fifty years.

Bad: The lobby interior will be saved…as the punchline to a joke. “The pointy-heads at the LPC wanted to save the lobby? See: it’s saved. Of course, the theater that it was the entry to is gone.” Before architectural design settled on glass curtain walls as the epitome of all civilization, there was a concept called the hierarchy of spaces. In short, not all rooms are equally important. The lobby was – and may be again – a beautiful space, but it was the antechamber to the theater. The more important space is permanently gone, likely to be replaced by a CVS, and the intended traffic flow through the lobby (from the street to the orchestra-level entrance ahead and the grand stairs to the sides) is gone. A meaningful step in a hierarchy from public and ugly to private and beautiful is now floating in chaos.

The lobby will be wallpaper on a crowded street:


Lindenthal Revisited

Gustave Lindenthal worked on a lot of bridges as both a consultant and as New York City’s Commissioner of Bridges. His most famous bridge in engineering circles is the Hell Gate Bridge – the rail bridge that connects Queens to Randall’s Island and is the centerpiece of the New York Connecting Railroad that connects New England to Penn Station.

Lindenthal, Hell Gate, completed 1916:

Not Lindenthal, Sydney Harbor Bridge, completed 1932:

Sydney Harbor has a main span of 503 m, Hell Gate’s is 310 m. Even though Hell Gate is designed for much heavier loads (four fully-loaded freight trains on its four tracks, simultaneously), a 2/3 increase in span is damned impressive. On the other hand, Sydney Harbor’s basic design is a bit less than unique.

What Never Was

This description is good as far as it goes, which isn’t very far. Gustav Lindenthal, despite being a successful bridge designer, spent decades redesigning a railroad suspension bridge for the Hudson River. His version was never built, but his promotion of a Hudson River bridge is one of the origins of the George Washington Bridge, which unfortunately does not carry rail.

“Architect’s drawing”…harumph.

North Brother Island

Incredible pictures at the link. The short version: it’s an island in the East River, isolated by fast and swirling currents, formerly used as an isolation hospital (it’s where Typhoid Mary was imprisoned) and now a wildlife refuge. Ruins galore.

One example:

Decaying terra-cotta tile-arch floor above, check. Spiral steel stair, check. Plaster collapsed off the ceilings and walls, check.