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Base of Historic Queensboro Bridge Lamp Rediscovered After Nearly 40 Years

By Amy Zimmer | April 11, 2012 3:25pm
The East 60th Street lamppost can be seen in the background near the kiosk for the Queensboro Bridge trolley station.
The East 60th Street lamppost can be seen in the background near the kiosk for the Queensboro Bridge trolley station.
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Roosevelt Island Historical Society

UPPER EAST SIDE — The twin of the elaborate Beaux Arts bronze lamppost that graces the entrance of the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge on East 59th Street — albeit with a sign obscuring it — was removed from East 60th Street more than 35 years ago.

New York City history buffs had been hunting for it ever since — until the lamp's base turned up last year in a photograph posted on a blog.

The image on the Newtown Pentacle website, taken by photographer Mitch Waxman in January 2011, shows the base looking worse for wear as it sat in a Department of Transportation street lights yard at 45-03 37th Ave. in Sunnyside, Queens.

At first, Waxman had no idea what the object was when he posted the photos. But some of his readers did and clued him in to the object's past.

"It was a bit like Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark. It got shuffled to a warehouse and lost in the shuffle," Waxman said of the serendipitous discovery he made while taking a walk in Western Queens.

"It was clearly part of that great school of architecture: City Beautiful from the early 20th century," he said. "I was stunned to see it. Something made of metal in this part of Queens that hasn’t been taken to the scrap yards is such a rare thing."

Waxman discussed his discovery with Judith Berdy, president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, who is now on a mission to raise $60,000 to restore the 6,000-pound base. She hopes to install it on Roosevelt Island, near the historic cast iron and terra cotta kiosk that once served as a Queensboro Bridge Trolley Station and is now the Roosevelt Island Historical Society Visitor Center.

"It’s a beautifully decorated piece of bronze," Berdy said. "But it has to be taken to a foundry to be put back together, and it’s expensive to move."

Her organization would also have to prep the foundation for its new home to make sure it could withstand the base’s weight.

The two lampposts were installed on East 60th Street and East 59th Street on the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge when it opened in 1909. They both have elaborately decorated bases, each side of which was labeled with a borough’s name (except Staten Island).

Both lampposts had been removed in 1974 to make way for the construction of the Roosevelt Island aerial tram. Two years later, the East 59th Street lamppost was reinstalled. It was restored in 2000 and then reinstalled once again.

"It’s part of the bridge’s history," Berdy said. "To me, it’s important that something like this not be trashed and put away somewhere where no one can see it."

Waxman, also a preservationist, was pleased to hear it might be heading to Roosevelt Island.

"It would be a great place for it, particularly with the new construction of Cornell University [for its tech campus]," he said.

"It will give a new generation a way to learn about Queens history," he added, noting that even though the lamppost was originally situated on the Manhattan side, the bridge helped spur development of Western Queens. 

Before it was lost, the East 60th Street lamp stood near the kiosk where passengers boarded the trolley that crossed the bridge and connected Manhattan and Queens — with a stop on Roosevelt Island when it was called Welfare Island — until the line shuttered in 1957.

That 210-square-foot, 86,000-pound kiosk was moved to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in 1970. Then, five years ago, Berdy brought it to Roosevelt Island — a process that involved a massive operation with a crane and a flatbed truck that had to be operated in the middle of the night, Berdy said.

"I already moved the 86,000-pound visitor center," Berdy said, "so nothing fazes me. After 86,000 pounds, what’s 6,000 pounds?"

Community Board 8’s transportation committee gave a green light for moving the base to Roosevelt Island. Some Upper East Siders, however, said they wanted the base to remain on Manhattan soil, so members approved the base for Roosevelt Island with the condition that it include a plaque explaining its history.

The full board will vote on the proposal on April 18.