The Time I Found a Missing Piece of the Queensboro Bridge

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    This gated entry point is one of the 37th Avenue portals to the NYC S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard, a facility which stores and sorts various bits of street furniture and fittings – such as lamp posts, for instance. (Nearby the Home Depot on Northern Boulevard.)

    In warmer times, this entire fence line is encased in a thorny vine whose fruit is a foul smelling purple-red berry. The edge of an evidently large facility, it seems seldom travelled by men, but shows all signs of serving as a protected haven for the many cats observed around it. Back in 2011, I was trudging home in a deep snow when something caught my eye.

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    Something about this object was familiar to me, but its identity eluded. My thoughts keep drifting toward mental catalogs of midtown Manhattan transportation centers for some reason. Grand Central perhaps? Simple observations of the object revealed it to be metallic, and designed to exhibit a cuprous patina. Were it composed of copper or white bronze, as it is designed to appear, this would be a small fortune sitting out in the snow (from a scrap metal point of view). Sculptural ornamentation and overall design suggested “City beautiful” or “Beaux Arts” era design to me, but it is difficult at best to discern such things from an object divorced of its overall and proper setting.

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    Its presence at the NYC S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard would also suggest that it’s some sort of ornamental base for a street light, but I couldn’t imagine where in Queens it might belong. Most of what I’ve observed, in western Queens at least, is that this borough follows modernist and heroic design principals of Art Nouveau or Deco – think about the Grand Central Parkway and the Triborough approaches, the Queens Library, Flushing Meadow Park, even the Borough Hall for examples.

    What remains of the historic Queens Plaza are the only examples of “City Beautiful” I’m aware of in the borough. A blog post was published, and shortly thereafter, a commenter named T.J. Connick offered an opinion that this was a long missing part of the Queensboro Bridge.

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    The following text is from the comments of TJ Connick, to whom I am now quite indebted:

    “Looks quite like the light stanchion that once adorned end of Queensboro Bridge wall on SE corner 2nd Av & 60th St. You can see a shot of it on NY Public Library’s Digital Gallery. Use Digital ID of 707887F in the search window. Its cousin at 59th St is still there last time I looked. Maybe someone can take a look and compare. Seem to recall a lot of time and money spent on restoration of that end about 25-30 years back. Think they took it down and lost it?”

    glimpse at Google “street view” confirms. See also library’s picture: Digital ID of 730938F. It’s an old shot of 59th St stanchion. Matches yours, but yours has collar with the depending decorations upside down. Make a ransom note and send it to Dept of Transportation – could be a big score.

    Here’s a NY Times piece from 2001, which describes the loss of the lamp post into some “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” municipal bog hole, where it languished in anonymity for decades until I randomly wandered by.

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    The discovery of the thing garnered a bit of media attention back in 2011, DNAinfo and CBS Radio, amongst others, did pieces on it.

    Judith Berdy, of the Roosevelt Island Historic Society, then began a multi-year quest to preserve and protect the lamp post. Just this week, on Tuesday the 15th, the lamp post was moved to Roosevelt Island where it will take up residence alongside the group’s HQ, which is itself another piece of the great bridge.

    Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.

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