Some Interesting Things Around New York that Were 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.
Lindenthal’s plans for the West Jersey Bridge were drawn up in 1920. The West Jersey Bridge would have had 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 which would have stretched from Weehawken, NJ to 57th Street in Manhattan. The master plan included cutting a highway across Manhattan 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 before it was given the name that it is known by today: 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 shown in this postcard, but the entrance certainly is not something that came to fruition. The Manhattan Bridge approach as seen here 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. Opposition from community leaders was one issue and funding was another that prevented either of these two bridge designs being built. The current Henry Hudson Bridge, which is an arch bridge was completed in 1936, but lacks all the ornamentation of either of the two proposed bridges.
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 that comprised 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 described as “Rockefeller Radio City” the illustration may have been an early attempt to visualize what Radio City Music Hall would look like. 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 Cities Services Building and the Chrysler Building both surpassed it. Illustrators of postcards weren’t sure of what the top of the tower would end up looking like so they made an educated guess (right). It is not too far off. But this postcard (below) shows the actual completed building’s tower .
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 directly across from Grand Central Terminal and the Commodore Hotel (seen on the extreme right of the 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 much 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. The General is now honored with a viaduct carrying traffic down Park Avenue known as The Pershing Square Viaduct and 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 of New York would look like according to King with 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. Much of this work was done in Europe where the artist most likely had never seen the location he or she was 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 and there are steps to lead you to the main steps up into the library!