Everything In A City Is Manmade – Even The Water

by Don Friedman on November 30, 2017

Continuing with yesterday’s theme…

New York is located on two medium-sized islands (Manhattan and Staten Island), a portion of a large island (Brooklyn and Queens are the west end of Long Island), a piece of mainland (the Bronx) and a whole bunch of small islands in the surrounding waterways. Those waterways include small streams (e.g., the Bronx River) but also the East River (a tidal strait connecting the harbor and the Long Island Sound) and the Hudson River estuary. The East River is rather violent as rivers in the middle of cities go: because it’s actually not a river, its direction changes with each  the turn of the tide and the current speed regularly exceeds five miles per hour. The right-angle bend in the River near 125th Street in Manhattan, which is also the location of Ward’s Island, Randall’s Island, and the connection to the Harlem River (another tidal strait) is particularly dangerous and earned the name Hell Gate through numerous shipwrecks.

This has all been changed in different ways. The banks of the rivers have been straightened and moved with landfill, as well as being converted from sloping banks to hard bulkhead walls. Portions of the rivers have been considerably narrowed, which of course changes their flow. Piers create stagnant pockets along their edges. The dumping of raw sewage and other garbage changed their ecosystems; cleaning up the sewage has changed it again. The salt marsh south of Flushing Bay was changed to a garbage dump and then Flushing Meadows Park. Landfill turned a sand bar in the East River into Orchard Beach. Landfill turned Coney Island and Barren Island into peninsulas.

The pictures above (click to expand) show one of the more spectacular moments in this process. Flood Rock was one of the small semi-submerged islands and reefs that made Hell Gate so difficult for sailing shops to navigate. On October 10, 1885, it was dynamited to clear that portion of the channel. Each individual change to the East River was relatively small, but the overall effect has left in a state as artificial as Prospect Park: the water flowing through is from the Atlantic Ocean and the currents flow with the tides, but the channel containing the water has been modified by people for some 400 years.

Road Trip: An Orphaned Wall

October 16, 2017

Seen on the street in Ottawa… I’ve mentioned orphans walls once before. They are what’s left when old walls are incorporated into new buildings in a manner that makes it difficult or impossible to demolish the wall when the original building is demolished. In this case, the light-red wall with white trim obviously belonged to […]

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Better Than The Alternative, If You Squint

September 21, 2017

Richard and Anne Dickey, a wealthy couple of the era, had a house constructed for them in 1809-1810 on then-fashionable Greenwich Street. This was before rowhouses were being built in New York and long before the craze among the wealthy for ridiculously large mansions. Their house was about 40 feet by 60 feet and there […]

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All Gone But Remembered

September 5, 2017

A good and needed piece at The Conversation on demolished buildings. The amount I know about the buildings mentioned varies; I’m by far the most familiar with the old Waldorf Astoria, even though it was torn down before my mother was born. My research into the structure of early tall buildings led me to that […]

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Incredibly Neat

July 9, 2017

That picture is from a site where one panel of the slab has been removed. The right-to-left brown strip is a steel beam exposed by the slab removal; the gray above the brown is the next panel of slab over, intact; and the gray below is a dirty piece of plywood that kept the demo […]

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May 15, 2017

These photographs of the demolition of the Orange County Government Center designed by Paul Rudolph are heartbreaking even if brutalism isn’t your favorite style. It was an uncompromising expression of a never-popular style and, because it required non-standard detailing and repairs, it was not well maintained and had severe problems with leaks. Ultimately, there was a […]

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Unused But Fascinating

April 18, 2017

The abandoned Worth Street Station on the Lexington Avenue subway, from 3am.nightly: There are a surprising number of web pages devoted to abandoned subway stations in New York. The stations are mostly visible if you know where to look as your train runs by them without stopping. Most are on the IRT subway lines (the […]

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They Are Long Gone And I Hate Them Anyway

March 24, 2017

That is a picture of a condition exposed during demolition. If the people responsible for that condition were in the room when i first saw it, I’d be gulping down ice cream to sooth a throat made raw by screaming at the top of my lungs “What is wrong with you people?” In short, this […]

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Lost Twice

March 9, 2017

Here’s a good article on last fall’s demolition of Admiral’s Row in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As it happens, I looked at a few of the houses about ten years ago, for a preservation plan that (obviously) never got off the ground. At that time the houses were damaged but potentially salvageable; I suspect that the additional […]

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A Bit Bloated

November 7, 2016

That picture was taken during interior-finish demolition in the penthouse of an old skeleton-frame building. Like many buildings of this type, the only setbacks are at the penthouse level, so the penthouse columns are only one-story high and are quite small. In this case, the column section consists of two angles kitty-corner to one another. […]

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