The New York That Was Never Built
New York City: plans are made, plans are scrapped. We’ve dug up postcards of unbuilt projects, variations of existing structures or other anomalies such as a lawn in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library.
The postcard seen here is the West Jersey Bridge which predates the George Washington Bridge by a few years. In the 1880’s Gustav Lindenthal came up with a design for a large train bridge for the Pennsylvania Railroad that would have connected Manhattan at 23rd Street with New Jersey. The railroad opted for tunnels instead of a bridge. Lindenthal had a long career in bridge engineering supervising the building of the Queensboro and Hell Gate Bridges.
Over thirty years later, in 1920 Lindenthal drew up plans for the West Jersey Bridge. The West Jersey Bridge would have 20 lanes of traffic on its upper deck and a dozen on the lower level. Pedestrian walkways were to be part of the gargantuan bridge stretching from Weehawken, NJ to 57th Street in Manhattan. The master plan included cutting a highway completely across Manhattan connecting to the Queensboro Bridge. The West Jersey Bridge was never built. Instead, Lindenthal’s protege Othmar Ammann designed the George Washington Bridge which was constructed further north at 177th Street.
Which brings us to something we covered previously: that the George Washington Bridge was originally supposed to have its towers sheathed in stone. Architect Cass Gilbert’s stone arches were depicted in various early drawings and plans for the Hudson River Bridge. The stone plan was ditched. The arches retain the graceful steel skeleton and the bridge was formally renamed the George Washington Bridge.
With this illustration of the Williamsburg Bridge completed in 1903, the artist took some liberties in showing the completed towers. On the top of each of the towers we see what appear to be windowed rooms, possibly for observation or just decoration. They were never built.
The Manhattan Bridge completed in 1909 is accurately seen here. But the entrance is certainly not something that came to fruition. The bridge approach imagined is a veritable garden in a park-like atmosphere with neatly pruned trees, shaped into squares surrounding the entrance way.
For the Hudson-Fulton celebration of 1909 there were various proposals to build a bridge connecting upper Manhattan with the Bronx. Known as The Hendrick Hudson Memorial Bridge or Hudson-Fulton Memorial Bridge, both designs featured elegant approaches for an arch bridge over Spuyten Duyvil. Two issues preventing either design being built were opposition from community leaders and funding. The current Henry Hudson Bridge, an arch bridge, was completed in 1936. It lacks all the ornamentation of either of the two proposed bridges.
Grand Building Schemes
Getting away from bridges we did an entire story on the Hotel Commonwealth which was first proposed in the late teens. To reiterate, it was never built, despite the promised glory of the building from its promotional material:
Hotel Commonwealth “GREATEST THING OF ITS KIND ON EARTH.”
The Commonwealth will be the first important building to be erected in conformance with the new building law to conserve light and sunshine for the general public. Through its 28 stories which will contain 2,500 rooms, it will rise 400 feet in the air in graceful terraces, or “set-backs” as the zoning law calls them, the flowering plants and shrubs upon each terrace giving the monster hostelry an unusual beauty of architecture, rivaled only by the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The Rev. Dr. Christian F. Reisner believed in the power of advertising to attract people to Christ. Reisner’s congregation, the Chelsea Methodist Church at 178th Street and Fort Washington Avenue wanted a grand space to preach the gospel. In June 1922 Reisner purchased the entire block on Broadway between 173rd and 174th Streets. His intention was to build a 40 story church complex with a huge lighted cross on its roof that could be seen by 8,000,000 people – how’s that for advertising? The Broadway Temple as it was called, was to have an auditorium with a seating capacity for over 2,000 people. The structures comprising the Broadway Temple would contain two apartment buildings, a bowling alley, a swimming pool and other amenities to generate income. Escalating building costs, money woes and eventually the Great Depression left the church with a partially completed complex of buildings. Two twelve story apartment buildings flanking the temple’s central tower were completed, but the 40 story skyscraper was never built. The Broadway Temple ended up being three stories tall and is still there today as the Broadway Temple United Methodist Church.
The court house at Foley Square does not look anything like this, which appears to resemble the Roman Coliseum. Maybe the thought was to have spectators watch condemned prisoners fight each other to the death. Anyhow the “New Court House” was built but thankfully did not end up looking like a gladiator arena.
Rockefeller Center has clusters of buildings surrounding the slender skyscraper, 30 Rockefeller Plaza which is considered the featured building of the complex. In this postcard, “Rockefeller Radio City,” the illustration was an early attempt to visualize the unbuilt Radio City Music Hall. This cylindrical building shown standing in front of “30 Rock” was never built.
The Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1913 and held that title until 1929 when 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building both surpassed it. Illustrators of postcards weren’t sure of what the top of the tower would look like and so an educated guess was made (right). It is not too far off from the final version. But this postcard (below) shows the actual completed building’s tower .
Peace and Quiet
The name Pershing Square exists in New York City, but not as originally planned. Pershing Square was intended to be a park located between Park and Lexington Avenues on 42nd Street. A good idea placing a park directly across from Grand Central Terminal and the Commodore Hotel (extreme right of postcard). The square was named in 1919 in honor of World War I American General John J. Pershing. But it never became as it is seen here, a bucolic little plaza. It was meant to be a green space in the hub of the bustling city, like Bryant Park in back of the New York Public Library. Unfortunately the land was too valuable and development began before Pershing Square’s plans were finalized. Buildings were put up on the spot designated for the Sqaure. Pershing is now honored with a viaduct carrying traffic down Park Avenue known as The Pershing Square Viaduct. Another consolation to the general; one of the buildings on the intended park site is the Pershing Square Building.
Publisher Moses King commissioned artist Harry Pettit to illustrate for King’s Views of New York (1908) “King’s Dream of New York.” This was what the future New York would look like. Interconnected skyscrapers, flying machines and above ground railroads. The popularity of this illustration lead to a postcard of a New York that was never to be.
The final unbuilt postcard featured is more likely an illustrators mistake. When postcards first appeared at the turn of the century they were usually illustrated from photographs that were hand colored. This was usually done in Europe where the artist had probably never seen the location they were coloring in. How else would you explain the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Street having a lush lawn in front of the main entrance surrounded by a wall? If you look at this postcard you will realize the wall runs across the entire frontage of the library. There is no access from the street to lead you to the main steps up into the library!