A Long-Overdue Designation

by Don Friedman on December 12, 2017

The IRT Powerhouse has been designated as a New York City landmark. First, as the pictures may make clear, this is a huge building that is quite visible: it fills the block between 58th and 59th Streets, and between 11th and 12th Avenues. In other words, it’s 200 feet wide and about 600 feet long. As striking as it is now, its original appearance, with the cornice intact and six smokestacks (which, as the plant used to burn coal, almost certainly were belching black smoke) was otherworldly. Except…

It’s not every day you see a purely industrial building designed by the likes of McKim, Mead & White. The exterior facades follow the general rules for classical architecture – more specifically, for the American Renaissance style – so that when I look at a single bay I could be looking at a bank or department store. It’s only when I look at the whole building that its size and use are apparent.

Even more remarkable is that a lot of the interior is open space. Since this is an electric generation station, built to supply power to the original subway and now supplying high-pressure steam to midtown buildings, it’s full of boilers. This building could have had the exact same steel frame it has and been sheathed in corrugated iron sheets, but instead it’s stone, brick, and terra cotta. The IRT company went to great lengths to make the first subway in New York attractive, from the stations to the street-level station entrances, to the powerhouse, to the local power substations. I’m not sure if it helped the IRT’s public image any – New Yorkers liked to complain about the subway in 1904 as much as they do today – but it left a good-looking legacy behind.

It’s also nice to have at least one designated landmark of an industrial building that hasn’t been and won’t be converted to condos.

An Illustration of The Effect of Theory

December 11, 2017

Yesterday was my family’s annual pilgrimage to the New York Botanical Garden for the train show. The picture above shows a group of the model buildings that were highlighted by being placed in a fountain near the end of the show. (Click to enlarge.) That’s the Statue of Liberty and the main building at Ellis […]

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December 10, 2017

It wasn’t much, but the first snow of the season is still the first snow of the season.

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How Speciation Starts

December 9, 2017

This article on the rat population of New York is fascinating. There are genetic differences in the rats depending on where they live, with the relatively sparse population in midtown serving to separate the uptown rats from the downtown rats. Now that I have learned this fascinating tidbit, it’s unfortunate that there’s absolutely no place […]

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Rivets in U.S. Structures

December 8, 2017

(Picture: Three workers installing rivets in the construction of the Empire State Building in 1931, from the Lewis Hine collection at the NYPL.) Rivets in the metal structures now seems archaic and from other times. However, rivets were extensively used for metal structure in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th. […]

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Reading New York

December 7, 2017

Curbed has put together a list of books about New York. They limited it to fifth books, but the list could easily be five hundred. There are about 36 non-fiction books on the list (“about” because some of the books are a little fuzzy on fiction versus non) and 14 novels; over the years I’ve read […]

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Changing The Meaning Of A Euphemism

December 6, 2017

Whatever your personal definition of “meadow” is, the New Jersey meadowlands are not it. The area is a vast swamp, barely above sea level. It’s the combined valley of the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers before they empty into Newark Bay, which itself is a branch of New York Bay by way of Kill Van Kull. […]

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Angela Nappi

December 5, 2017

A short note for a big event: Angie has passed her exams and is now a New York State Professional Engineer.

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“The Bridge”

December 5, 2017

Some great construction photographs of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge: here. I’ve worked on a few pedestrian bridges in the last thirty years and one dam, but that’s it: otherwise my projects have all been buildings. But bridges occupy a chunk of my brain and always will because of their nature as expressed engineering. There are a […]

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The Connection

December 4, 2017

Question: What do these blog posts have in common? See the purple numbers on the map above (click on the map to enlarge it) for the location of the pictures for all and the text for most. Blatant and Odd Fakery Then and Now – Pier A Arching Action, Too Brothers Bad Soil An Old […]

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