John Tauranac

Just Another New York Crazy

Category: Uncategorized

Where Is West End Avenue at 110th Street? Worse, Where is West End Avenue at 116th Street?

The answer to both questions is … well, West End Avenue isn’t. West End Avenue does not exist at either 110th or 116th Streets, unless, that is, you accept at face value various subway maps published by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 1978, some of which went out under my “O.K.  J.T.”

110th Street Broadway - 1978Despite what those years’ worth of MTA maps might say, Broadway does not intersect and subsume West End Avenue at 110th Street, as both the 1978 prototype map and the 1979 system map and consequent maps had it, as you see in the first two snippets from those maps, nor does Broadway intersect and subsume West End Avenue even further north at 116th Street at the Columbia station, as today’s MTA map shows it.

West End Avenue, the gussied-up name for the northern end of Eleventh Avenue, runs from 59th Street to 107th Street, where it encounters and is indeed subsumed by Broadway, which raises its pesky cartographic head on MTA subway maps again.  (The whereabouts of Broadway at 66th and 72nd Streets on MTA system maps has been wrong from the 1978 prototype ‘til today.)

110th Street-Broadway - 1979Broadway runs a straight course between Amsterdam and West End Avenues from about 86th to 102nd Streets. From that point, Broadway follows a northwesterly path to 107th Street, where Broadway does indeed subsume West End Avenue, taking it over and proceeding north. Just as Dorothy knew she wasn’t in Kansas any more, so you know that you are not on West End any more when you are walking north and cross 107th Street. West End Avenue is 100 feet wide, and Broadway is half again as wide. It’s the Boulevard.

The early maps whose accuracy I was responsible for are bad enough, and you would think that I would have known better, since I have lived on the Upper West Side for most of my life. I can find some consolation in knowing that at least those maps showed Broadway where it ought to be at 110th Street. The problem with the original maps is that the bend between 103rd and 110th Streets is angled too gently. It does not show Broadway’s intersection with West End Avenue at 107th Street. Consequently, West End Avenue flows right into Broadway at 110th Street. That’s bad enough.

116th Street-Broadway - 2012Worse is the presentation today, as you see in the third snippet, here on the left. The 2012 MTA subway map has Broadway going straight from 72nd Street to 110th Street, with West End Avenue shown west of Broadway at 110th Street. Broadway is then depicted as turning on a northwesterly angle to 116th Street and merging at that point with West End Avenue, taking West End Avenue nine blocks further north from its terminal point at 107th Street.

It means getting out of the subway on Broadway and 116th Street at Columbia and expecting the intersection of Broadway and West End Avenue. Or getting out of the subway at Broadway and 110th Street and walking west, expecting to find West End Avenue, only to find Riverside Drive and no West End. To find West End Avenue you’d have to walk three blocks south on Broadway, but who would know, based on any of these maps.

It’s a “mea culpa” and an “oy vay” all over again, at least for the original 110th Street SNAFU.

Stay tuned.

N.B. As a true New Yorker, my skewed perception of north is uptown on the numbered avenues. I know that true north is angled about 28.8 degrees to the left of our perception of north, but let’s keep this geography lesson in bounds. North is straight up the numbered avenues, just as these tilted maps depict. Ergo, northwest is at an obtuse angle that leads off to the left.

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Both a “First Street” and a “1 Street” on the Street Commissioners’ Map of 1811? And a “Second Street” and a “2 Street”? … And a “Sixth Street” and a “6 Street”? Yup.

The Street Commissioners’ Map of 1811 as depicted here has north to the right.

 

I gave a tour the other day for the Museum of the City of New York in conjunction with their marvelous show, “The Greatest Grid,” a celebration of the Street Commissioners’ Plan of 1811.

As I was doing my homework and plotting the route on the Street Commissioners’ Map, my eyes wandered to an area south of “North Street,” the aboriginal name for today’s East Houston Street, and east of Bowery Road, “when, what to my wondering eyes should appear” on the map but First Street, and Second, Third and Fourth Streets and, though interrupted by Orchard Street, Sixth Street. All the streets were north-south streets, all were given ordinal numbers, and all were spelled out. This is odd, said I to myself.

One of the basics of the gridiron plan was that “streets” – in opposition to “avenues” – went crosstown, or east and west from river to river, and they were numbered, beginning with “1 Street,” as the commissioners had it on their map. However, here we are presented with numbered streets going north and south, and not just numbered streets, but duplicative numbered streets. There were two First Streets, two Second Streets, and so on.

The street commissioners had abandoned all hope of making sense of the streets south of today’s Houston Street and simply accepted them, and those numbered north-south streets were there first. First, Second and Third Streets were already making their trajectory north from Division Street by 1789, according to a map of that year, and they were still there 22 years later, along with two more streets that had been cut through and accorded numbers (Orchard Street was already “Orchard Street.”). The streets were part of the Delancey Farm, land that was confiscated after the Loyalist Delancey family had fled the scene. Their property was sold off, and I assume the streets were given those simple names to distinguish boundaries for sale purposes.

The street commissioners intentionally choose not to rock the established boat. They simply incorporated the existing street names in the “unimproved” section of their map, despite the obvious confusion over the duplicative nature of the street names. They ignored their proclamation that numbered streets would go east and west, and they accepted the fact of the confusing street names without commenting on their anomalous position. They could have said “Caveat emptor cartae. The following street names are duplicated….” Or, to avoid confusion, they could have begun their numbering at 7 Street instead of 1 Street. Or, perhaps they believed that the average map reader would suffer no confusion because of this subtlety: the numbered streets with ordinal numbers were spelled out (“First,” for instance) in distinction to the numbered streets with cardinal numbers that were presented as numerals (“1”).

Clearly, even the above-average reader was confused. In 1817, the Common Council rode to the rescue and changed the aberrant numbered north-south street names south of Houston Street: First Street to Chrystie, Second to Forsyth, Third to Eldridge, Fourth to Allen, and Sixth to Ludlow (all men distinguished by military service).

And to think that I saw it near Mulberry Street.

An afterthought: I recently bumped into Gil Tauber, who operates the best on-line trove of old street names of New York, called, originally enough, “Old Streets of New York” (www.oldstreets.com). He already knew all about what I had just “discovered.” It’s not easy being a babe in these woods, all apologies to Sarah Palin.

A Very Model of the Model Major Ship Model

The model of the Queen Mary being admired by the South Street Seaport Museum's Collection Manager, MaryElizabeth Nora, and by my wife, Jane Bevans

If you believe that the Queen Mary is moored at Long Beach, California, think again.

She is in dry dock at the South Street Seaport Museum, or at least in as much dry dock as a ship model can be docked in.

I came to learn of this extraordinary ship model because I remembered having been entranced by the models of great Cunard Liners in the Cunard booking hall at 25 Broadway in the mid-1950s, and I recently started making inquiries about the final disposition of the models. I couldn’t imagine that the models had been thrown in the dustbin when Cunard vacated that glorious space. The ship models might have been sold and scattered to the winds, or they might all be safely sitting in storage somewhere.

I have not yet ascertained where the majority of the models are – even if they are – but models of the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth have survived, and when I learned that the model of the Queen Mary was in storage at the South Street Seaport Museum and I was offered the opportunity to see it, I jumped at the chance.

The models that I remember were fabulous, but I must confess that I don’t remember any as impressive as this one. When Peter Stanford, one of the founders of the Seaport, used to gaze on this model, he said that he would get an “unreasonable but perhaps understandable feeling that she was prepared, all 21 feet of her, to make her own transAtlantic crossing, though not perhaps at the original ship’s dazzling speed.”

According to Dan Finamore, a curator at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, the models of the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were built by the top British ship model firm of Basset Lowke just after World War II, and they were indeed special. The specific goals of the models was to reintroduce the Queen Mary to peacetime service, having been used as a troop ship during the war, with the Queen Elizabeth actually being introduced to passenger service. She had been launched in 1938 but entered service as a troop transport in 1940, never seeing peacetime service until the war was over.

The models happily sat in Cunard’s glorious booking hall near Bowling Green until the company moved its booking office to 555 Fifth Avenue in 1968, and the models of the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth accompanied the move. But then, in 1974, Cunard moved out of that office, and the orphaned models were put up for adoption.

According to Mr. Finamore, Francis Lee (Pen) Higginson, a Peabody Essex Museum trustee who “was the consummate Cunard aficionado, … had told someone in the (Cunard) company that if they ever wanted to get rid of the models he would take one. Well, he got a phone call … notifying him that if he wanted one he could have it, but he had to get it out of the building by the next day because their lease was expiring. He arranged to have the model of the Queen Elizabeth shipped” to the museum, where she is now ensconced in a new wing.

And the other orphan of the storm? So far, I have not been able to get to the bottom of the story, which is becoming lost in an ever-thickening pea souper. Presumably, arrangements had been made for the model to go to the Seaport, and no doubt the same sort of scheduling gauntlet was thrown down to the Seaport Museum as had been thrown down to the Peabody Essex Museum. One fact is certain. With the expiration of Cunard’s lease, the space had to be vacated. It was a now-or-never deal, and it seems that there was a miscommunication over the pick-up time. The model was put out on the curb, and there she sat overnight.

Having spent the night unprotected before being salvaged and “steered” to the Seaport, as Dan Finamore described the scene, the model of the Queen Mary was “not nearly as well preserved as the Queen Elizabeth had been. Missing were many lifeboats, davits and other moveable deck elements.” Considering the facts, it’s a miracle that those were the only problems.

The good news is that this fabulous model has been restored to its former glory by the Seaport Museum. When the museum is stoking those fires and has gotten up full steam under its marvelous new management, with luck it will be full steam ahead to public display for the Queen Mary.

Ave Maria Regina.

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.”

A Little Bit of Movie History – “A Trip to the Moon” and “Hugo” – in Chelsea, New York

One day a fellow New York crazy, Judy Richheimer, asked me if I knew about an iron railing in Chelsea that included a high relief depiction of a rocket landing on the moon. I had to admit that I didn’t, so she took me to 305 West 21st Street, just west of Eighth Avenue, and there it was – a scene that was based on the 1902 silent movie “A Trip to the Moon” (“Un Voyage dans la Lune”).

The movie had been written and directed by Georges Melies, and interest in it was revived in 2011 because both the movie and the movie’s director were featured in “Hugo,” the Martin Scorsese film and winner of five Academy Awards.

The railing had been commissioned by a group of documentary filmmakers who are clearly film buffs and whose offices are at the site, and it was executed by Warren Holtzman, a blacksmith headquartered in Philadelphia.

The irony is that the image is flopped. In the movie, the rocket lands in the right eye of the unfortunate man in the moon, whereas the “Railing” version has the rocket landing in his left eye.

It’s not the only instance in the history of New York graphics where an image has been flopped. Just look at the heavenly sky atop the concourse in Grand Central Terminal. Yes, Paul Helleu’s depiction of the zodiac is, according to the astronomers, flopped.