ARCHITECTURAL TILES, GLASS AND ORNAMENTATION IN NEW YORK

A blog about architectural tiles, terra cotta and other ceramic surfaces, architectural glass and ornamentation in and around New York.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Bits and Pieces: The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and following up on the James N. Gamble House and the Charles Volkmar Overmantle Mural

The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel


Drive through any tunnel built in the first half of the twentieth-century, and the interior wall covering will most likely be “subway tiles.” Subway tiles have been a boon to modern decorative arts for awhile, now, but they’ve been an architectural staple for a much longer time.

This was the view of the Manhattan to Brooklyn tube wall in December 2015. (Courtesy of Michael Padwee)

If you’ve driven through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (renamed the Governor Hugh L. Carey Tunnel) between Battery Park in lower Manhattan and Red Hook in South Brooklyn over the past two years, you might have noticed that tiles were being removed from the tunnel walls. The repairs and restoration are the result of the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy, which flooded the tunnel in 2012. (Noah Hurowitz, “Battery recharge: Tunnel to half-close overnight for three years”, Brooklyn Paper, March 4, 2015; http://www.brooklynpaper.com/ stories/38/10/dtg-brooklyn-battery-tunnel-repairs-2015-03-06-bk_38_10.html)

Saltwater pours into the Manhattan entrance of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel during Hurricane Sandy. (Photo credit: Associated Press / John Minchillo)

Proposals for a crossing between the Battery Park in lower Manhattan and the Red Hook section of Brooklyn had been around since 1929. "...Originally envisioned as a three-tube, six-lane tunnel, the crossing was to connect two pieces of Robert Moses' rapidly expanding arterial network: the West Side Highway in Manhattan, and the 'Circumferential bypass' (later known as the Gowanus Expressway and the Belt Parkway) in Brooklyn. The proposed tunnel, which also had the support of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, was approved by the New York City Board of Estimate in November 1930. However, its construction was delayed by the deepening economic depression. By 1936 the story of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel became acrimonious with a political and economic dispute between two alternatives on how to connect these major arteries in Manhattan and Brooklyn: a Brooklyn-Battery Bridge or a Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel." (http://www.nycroads.com/crossings/brooklyn-battery/)


(taken with permission from Samuel Amadon's poem, “The Brooklyn–Battery Bridge in the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel”; https://www.poetry foundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/90969)

There were many political and personal twists and turns before the tunnel actually was built. "...Mayor La Guardia [established] the New York City Tunnel Authority...in 1935 to build the Queens Midtown Tunnel. In 1936 the City advanced $75,000 to this Authority for preliminary studies of a Battery Tunnel. On January 25, 1939, however, the Mayor and Board of Estimate decided on a bridge instead of a tunnel, and to use the Triborough Bridge Authority as the agency to finance it. This started a bitter controversy provoked by opponents of the bridge who claimed it would spoil the view from Brooklyn.” (Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, May 1950, p. 3) It was also suggested that much taxable land in Lower Manhattan would be lost to access roads and construction, and development in Lower Manhattan would be greatly curtailed.

When the funding changed from the NYC Tunnel Authority to the Triborough Bridge Authority, LaGuardia ceded control of the NYC Tunnel Authority to Robert Moses. Moses “changed the original plan from a six-lane tunnel crossing to a six-lane bridge crossing. This change reflected the values of the bankers that would finance such a project: that a bridge would be built for less money, cost slightly less to operate, and carry more traffic. Moreover, this change reflected his own personal philosophy: his eagerness to build impressive monuments for all to see. According to an aide, Moses regarded a tunnel as ‘but a hole in the ground.’” (http://www.nycroads.com/crossings/brooklyn-battery/)

A 1939 model of the proposed Brooklyn-Battery Bridge. (From the collection of the Museum of the City of New York) "Moses hired his favorite designer - Othmar Ammann - for the proposed Brooklyn-Battery Bridge. The design of Moses' proposed crossing -a twin suspension bridge linked together by a central anchorage near Governor's Island - was similar to that of the twin suspension span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge." (http://www.nycroads.com/crossings/brooklyn-battery/)

Before the tunnel was actually built, this controversy involved Mayor LaGuardia, Robert Moses, the Army Corps of Engineers, property owners on both sides of the proposed bridge, ordinary citizens and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Eleanor Roosevelt delivered the president’s message on this subject: “I have a plea from a man who is deeply interested in Manhattan Island, particularly in the beauty of the approach from the ocean at Battery Park. He tells me that a New York official, who is without doubt always efficient, is proposing a bridge one hundred feet high at the rive, which will go across to the Whitehall Building over Battery Park. This, he says, will mean a screen of elevated roadways, pillars, etc., at that particular point. I haven't a question that this will be done in the name of progress, and something undoubtedly needs to be done. But isn't there room for some consideration of the preservation of the few beautiful spots that still remain to us on an overcrowded island?” (http://www.nycroads.com/crossings/brooklyn-battery/)

On July 17, 1939 the Secretary of War, Harry Woodring, ruled that the proposed bridge could not be located seaward of the Brooklyn Navy Yard; it would be vulnerable to attack in the event of war, and it could block access to the Navy Yard. “[It] could be argued that this was a ludicrous objection, since the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges were downstream of the Navy Yard. In the end, perhaps the Battery crossing decision stemmed from the long-[simmering] grudge between Moses and Roosevelt.” (Ibid.)

The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel under construction. (From The New York Times archives, 1944)

A noted tunnel engineer, Ole Singstad, began directing the construction of the tunnel in 1940, but World War II interrupted construction until 1945. The tunnel was completed in 1950 and was opened to auto traffic on May 25, 1950.

I did mention the tiles in the beginning of my article. According to a 1948 newspaper article, the “...Brooklyn-Battery tunnel is getting the longest tile lining ever installed in the  United States. Seventeen teams of tile setters are already working on the...two tubes. ...When completed, the tunnel’s lining will extend 9117 feet... . The tile, a total of 780,000 square feet, or enough for 6500 average size bathrooms, is being installed to simplify cleaning and to diffuse light for motorists... .” (“New Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel Gets Tile Job”, November 17, 1948. An unattributed newspaper article.)

I only discovered the name of the original wall tile manufacturer when I saw an ad on ebay for a 6 5/8” diameter commemorative tile made for the dedication of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in 1950.

The reverse of this tile reads: “ROMANY TILES  UNITED STATES QUARRY TILE CO.” (Courtesy of Michael Padwee)

The United States Quarry Tile Company began in East Sparta, Ohio as “...the U. S. Roofing Tile Co. in 1913, with plants in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and East Sparta, Ohio, and became the United States Quarry Tile Co. in 1926. ...East Sparta’s ‘other’ two tile plants, the Federal Clay Products Co., later ([in]1936) acquired by United States Quarry Tile, and the East Sparta Clay and Limestone Co., which morphed into the Sparta Ceramic Co. in 1922. The Sparta Ceramic Co. in turn became a fully owned subsidiary of US. Ceramic Tile in 1954, due in part to the fact that its Spartan tile complemented U. S. Quarry Tile’s Romany Tile and due in part to the fact that most of the stockholders of the two companies were the same.” (James L. Murphy, “KOW: The Ceramic Art of Kenneth O. Weaver”, Contributions to Ohio Ceramic History No. 2, Grovetucky Press, Grove City, Ohio, 2010, pp. 2, 3)

Many people know of the U.S. Quarry Tile Company (now the United States Ceramic Tile Company) because of their 10” diameter, art pottery line, Romany Spartan plates:

The Romany-Spartan American Institute of Architects’ Centennial ceramic plate, 1957.

According to the website of Ceramic Solutions, a supplier of imported tiles, the new "subway" wall tiles are being manufactured by Agrob Buchtal of Germany. 


A rendering of the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel (Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel) proposed repairs. (http://www.mta.info/news-bridges-and-tunnels-hugh-l-carey-tunnel/2014/11/17/queens-firm-be-awarded-2825-million-contract)

"As part of the redevelopment the tunnel wall tiles will be complet[ly] replaced with new Agrob Buchtal, Chroma wall tiles, offering easier cleaning, as well as diffusing light for motorists.




The Chroma Plural Colour Chart
"ChromaPlural was specially developed for complex design requirements.Ten ranges of colors form a color circle comprising 50 co-ordinated shades. Six color spheres illustrate various color nuances and areas of application." (http://www.agrobbuchtal.de/en/cd/produkte/produkte_seiten_2_13092.html)


"These tiles will also act as a fire-retardant, providing a protective coating for the tunnel in the event of a fire. Agrob Buchtal supplies tiles for roadway tunnels and underground railways all over the world... ." (http://www.ceramicsolutions.com.au/ redevelopment-hugh-l-carey-tunnel-tile-finish) 


The colors and tiles of Agrob Buchtal. This ceramics company was organized "...in 1992 after a merger by the traditional Deutsche Steinzeug Cremer & Breuer AG and AGROB Wessel Servais AG companies[. The] AGROB BUCHTAL tile range picks up on a history which dates far back into the 18th century." (http://www.agrob-buchtal.de/en/unternehmen/index.html?pe_id=763)




FOLLOWING UP ON:

The James N. Gamble House in Cincinnati, Ohio

At the end of my May 2013 blog I reported on the loss of the James N. Gamble house and its tile installations in Cincinnati, Ohio. Below is a further report on what's happened to the site since. James N. Gamble was one of the founders of the Proctor and Gamble Company.


April 1, 2013. In about three hours, the 170-year-old house was rubble. (Photo credit: The Cincinnati Enquirer)

"3 years ago today the City of Cincinnati lost what was arguably her most historic single-family residence. Thirty-six months later, the lot still sits empty and idle. Imagine how far along the restoration would be today if the owners -- and Procter & Gamble -- had truly understood its importance and valued their own origins. Imagine if both the owners and the company recognized that in all likelihood they would not themselves exist today if it weren't for the contributions of the man who called this place home for more than 6 decades. So much was lost that day, three years ago, when the historic James N. Gamble house was demolished. Rendering courtesy of Graeme R Daley, who fought bravely & tirelessly to help preserve this important piece of American history for future generations. Let's hope that at some point in the near future the owners will follow through on their promises of transforming what remains into an educational center that will benefit the local community." (https://www.facebook.com/groups/savethegamblehouse/)




The Charles Volkmar Overmantle in Clifton, New Jersey

In my January 2016 blog I wrote about a house in Clifton, New Jersey that had a fireplace with a tiled panel overmantle. This panel is 72" long x 24" high and depicts a boar hunt with dogs,



The fireplace with the Volkmar tile overmantle.

a boar, and hunters in the background. The panel is signed in the lower left scenic tile, which had been broken and repaired.




The owner of the house decided not to try to remove the tile panel, and has placed the property on the market. It will be up to the new owner to determine the future of the panel.


*****


LINKS TO MY PREVIOUS ARTICLES:


Art Deco Buildings and Their Lobbies: the Chrysler Building, the Film Center Building and the Kent Garage/Sofia Brothers Storage Warehouse
read more...

ARCHITECTURAL MURALS OF LUMEN MARTIN WINTER and a REPORT ON THE EMPIRE STATE DAIRY BUILDING
read more...

The Heart of the Park: Bethesda Terrace and its suspended Minton Tile ceiling
read more... 

A Landmarks hearing was held on July 19, 2016...
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Two Restorations: The City Hall Subway Station and the Tweed Courthouse
read more...

Egyptian, Moorish and Middle Eastern Ornamentation Used In Art Deco Terra Cotta in New York City, and Empire State Dairy Update
Wall Murals in Brooklyn: A Mini Survey
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Inside Prospect Park: The park's Rustic, Classical and other Internal Architecture
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Herman Carl Mueller in Titusville and Trenton, New Jersey; A Charles Volkmar Discovery in Clifton, New Jersey
read more...

A Book Review and New Discoveries and Updates-II: Jean Nisan, Ceramic Tile Artist
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Polychrome Terra Cotta Buildings in Newark, New Jersey
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New Discoveries-I: The Tiled House of Jere T. Smith
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Introducing the Stained and Dalle de Verre Glass Art of Robert Pinart
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Bits and Pieces: Polychrome Terra Cotta- and Tile-Clad Buildings
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Socialist and Labor Architecture and Iconography in New York City
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Bits and Pieces: Two Mosaics--Hamden, CT and Manchester, NH
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The Renaissance Casino and Ballroom Complex in Harlem: Another Tunisian Tile Installation Headed for Demolition
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Clement J. Barnhorn and the Rookwood Pottery
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The Woolworth Building
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The Mosaic Art of Hildreth Meière
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Lost Tile Installations: The Tunisian Tiles of the Chemla Family
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The Grueby Children's Murals on East 104th Street
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The Experimental Lustre Tiles of Rafael Guastavino, Jr.
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Bits and Pieces: Two "E"s--Eltinge and Elks; and more about Jean Nison
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The Ceramic Tiles and Murals of Jean Nison
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Pleasant Days in Short Hills: A Rookwood Wonderland
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Architectural Ceramics in the Queen City
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Isaac Broome: Innovation and Design in the Tile Industry after the Centennial Exhibition
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"Immigration on the Lower East Side": A Public Arts Mural Created by Richard Haas
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Movie Palaces-Part 2: The Loews 175th Street Theatre
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Béton-Coignet in New York: The New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company
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Michelin House, London
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Movie Palaces, Part 1: Loew's Valencia Theatre
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An Architectural and Ceramic Tour of Istanbul - Part II
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The Tiles of Fonthill Castle
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An Architectural and Ceramic Tour of Istanbul - Part I
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Tiled Facades in Madrid
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Nineteenth Century Brooklyn Potteries
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Ernest Batchelder in Manhattan
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Leon Victor Solon: Color, Ceramics and Architecture
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Architectural Art Tiles in Reading, Pennsylvania
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Charles Lamb and Charles Volkmar
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Kansas City Architecture - II
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Kansas City Architecture - I
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Westchester County--Atwood and Grueby
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Modern Houses in New Caanan, Connecticut
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PPG Place, Pittsburgh
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Aluminum City Terrace, New Kensington, Pennsylvania
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Newark's WPA Tile Murals: “Fine Art is an Important Part of Everyday Life”
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Public Art Programs in New York City: The CETA Tile Murals at Clark Street
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Concrete and Tiles-I: Moyer, Mercer, Murosa
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The Café Savarin and the Rookwood Pottery; Chocolate Shoppe Rebounds
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Architectural Ceramics of Henry Varnum Poor
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Herman Carl Mueller and the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle
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Meet Me at the Astor
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The Mikvah Under 5 Allen Street; "Historic Hall" Apartments Revisited
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London Post-3
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Some Moravian Tile Sites in New York
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London Post-2
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London Post-1
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Brooklyn's International Tile Company
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Subway Tiles-Part III, the Squire Vickers Era
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Subway Tiles-Part II, Heins and LaFarge
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Subway Tiles--Part I, Guastavino tiles
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Trent in New York-Part III, Historic Hall Apartment House
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American Encaustic Tiling Company-Part II, Artists' Tiles
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Trent in New York-Part II, a Dey Street Restaurant
read more...

American Encaustic Tiling Company-Part I, Tile Showrooms
read more...

Trent in New York-Part I, The Bronx Theatre
read more...

Fred Dana Marsh's Tiles
read more...


*****


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