An Old Project and a Missing Neighborhood

by Don Friedman on November 13, 2017

That’s the north ventilation tower of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, located on Battery Place in Manhattan. It’s basically an empty box, steel-framed and with a stone-face curtain wall. (It may or may not be the portal to a secret government agency.) You can’t see from this angle, but the tunnel approach is directly behind the building, well below street level as the cars descend to the tunnel proper.

The three plaques visible at the mid-height of the south facade weren’t originally part of the building. They were, along with a fourth plaque, part of the New York Coliseum, an exhibition and conference hall on Columbus Circle that was demolished after its role was taken by the Javitz Center. The Coliseum itself was ugly and forgettable but the plaques, by the sculptor Paul Manship, were worth salvaging. Eventually the MTA decided to place them on the tunnel’s ventilation tower; I worked on the team that designed new attachments for the several-tons-each art work.

Before the tunnel, the block between Washington and Greenwich Streets and between Battery Place and Morris Street was part of Little Syria. The south half of this mini-neighborhood was wiped out by the tunnel approach construction; the north half and Radio Row were wiped out by the World Trade Center construction. The neighborhood was doomed in the long term by the expansion of the financial district from the area around Wall Street and Broadway to the entire southern tip of Manhattan, but the tunnel killed it fast.

As I’ve mentioned before, the majority of lots in lower Manhattan are carrying their second, third, and sometimes fourth building. You can pick a site at random and the odds are good that there will be a story to tell.

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