John Tauranac

Just Another New York Crazy

Month: March, 2012

Where is Broadway at 66th Street and at 72nd Street?

If you believe the official MTA subway map, Broadway at 66th Street – that’s the Lincoln Center station – is west of Amsterdam Avenue, between Amsterdam and West End Avenues, while Broadway at 72nd Street is also found between Amsterdam and West End Avenues, only even further west.

That is where Broadway has been on the subway map since the prototype you see on the left was printed in a limited test run in 1978, where Broadway was in the first printing of the map in 1979, which you see in the middle, and where Broadway has remained in every iteration since. The map on the right is today’s map, 2012.

Yes, it’s wrong. Broadway is nowhere near where the maps depict it.

Broadway at 66th Street is not west of Amsterdam Avenue, it is just west – less than 100 feet west – of Columbus Avenue. Its junction with Columbus Avenue is a block south, at 65th Street, and Broadway is so close to Columbus Avenue that because of its angle, the southernmost exit of the downtown platform of the 66th Street station comes out on Columbus Avenue itself.

And Broadway at 72nd Street is not between West End Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue, it is smack at the junction of Amsterdam Avenue, a problem that has been exacerbated in the 2012 printing, which shows Broadway even closer to West End than to Amsterdam. The venerable control house south of 72nd Street straddles Broadway and Amsterdam, with Broadway on its east side; the new control house north of 72nd Street likewise straddles Broadway and Amsterdam, this time with Broadway on its west.

In some of my holier than-thou-moments, I have been known to assail Massimo Vignelli, the designer of the diagrammatic 1972 subway map, for such egregious geographical mistakes as having Bowling Green north of Rector Street, and with having Broadway west of Eighth Avenue at Fiftieth Street.

The mistakes on the quasi-geographic map are every bit as egregious and every bit as misleading as the two cited above. The particular irony is that unlike the diagrammatic map, the quasi-geographic map was specifically designed to show the operation of the subway in relation to the city it serves. The goal was to put things in perspective.

I chaired the subway map committee for the bulk of its existence in the late 1970s, I was the design chief of the 1979 subway map and the one who signed off on the map, and I readily and embarrassedly admit to having missed these mistakes.

I have never heard a peep about these errors, and I have to assume that nobody else has ever noticed them.  At least I assume that nobody has pointed out the problem to anyone in authority at the MTA, because the problem not only lives on, it is becoming worse.

I noticed the problem myself only the other day while embarked on another venture.

This is my “mea culpa.” Oy vay. Stay tuned.



For a Good Cause

The Ansonia Hotel, The West Side of Broadway between 73rd and 74th Streets

I have always wondered what happened to the roofline on the Ansonia Hotel. As Andrew Alpern wrote in Luxury Apartment Houses in Manhattan (Dover, 1992), one of his many wonderful books on the design of apartment houses, when the Ansonia opened in 1904, its façade, was “aggressively French…. Especially French-looking were the three-story crested mansard roof and the rounded towers framing the Broadway façade. These corner sentinels were topped with high domes, capped by corbelled circular platforms and surmounted with turreted openwork-iron pavilions,” as you see from this Wurts Brothers photograph.

However, as you see from this photograph, which Christopher Little shot for our book, Elegant New York, by 1985 much of the elaborate detailing from the 73rd Street roofline was gone, as were the pavilions. I knew that much of the trim had been gone a long time, and I had always assumed that the cause had been structural flaws. Far more sensible to remove an “appurtenance,” as the Buildings Department would describe it, than have it fall and injure someone.

Just think of Local Law 10, which was passed in 1980 after a Barnard student had been killed by a piece of falling masonry on Broadway and 115th Street. The law said that an architect or engineer had to inspect buildings taller than six stories every five years to ensure that “a building’s exterior walls and appurtenances thereof (were maintained) in a safe condition.” A report was to be written, and if there were dangerous conditions, they had to be repaired. It’s a perfectly reasonable law, but there was an unanticipated downside. The landlords were obliged to pay for the inspections and the reports, and, of course, for any repairs. The result was that many landlords figured it would be cheaper in the short run to strip off any potentially hazardous ornamentation, so they had the “appurtenances” ripped untimely from their mothers’ breasts. It explains why so many cornices landed in the junk heap, and why we have been left with so many mutilated buildings.

But that wasn’t the case with the Ansonia, and I have just now discovered why. Lorraine B. Diehl explains in her marvelous book, Over Here! New York City During World War II (Smithsonian Press, 2010), that “nothing was overlooked during the city’s scrap metal drive.” She goes on to say in her caption to the photograph below that “here, workers remove one of four 100-pound cornices on the roof of the Ansonia Hotel at Broadway and 73rd Street. Thousands of pounds of metal would be gathered from the hotel roof’s ornamentation.”