Gizmodo yesterday published an article called 6 Radical Infrastructure Schemes That Almost Changed NYC Forever. The proposals listed ranged from “almost happened” (the Lower-Manhattan Expressway) to “no effing way” (filling in the Hudson).
My first reaction was to question my model. Here I spend all of these hours leafing through crumbling books at the library looking for novel topics for the sake of a few hundred visitors a day, when I could just cobble together research that other people have posted online and get 120,000 hits in twenty-four hours. (For example, Curbed NY had a much better article in January on the Hudson fill.) Then I re-read my post from the other day on this very topic and felt better.
My second reaction was to say: “Where the hell is the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge?”
This plan might have come to fruition in 1939 had President Roosevelt not grown a pair and stood up to the only man who had more power than he: Robert Moses.
Moses and FDR were fierce rivals, but Moses had always had the upper hand. When FDR succeeded Moses’ patron, Al Smith, as Governor of New York in 1928, he found it impossible to fire Moses, and in fact granted Moses wide-sweeping powers as the Commissioner of Parks for the state. (Probably unknowingly, as Moses was a master of burying seemingly innocuous clauses deep within bills.) Once FDR was in the White House, Moses could cast his attempts to rein in New York’s use of WPA funds as a federal intrusion.
Moses liked to leave his mark on the city with bridges; no one appreciates a beautiful tunnel. His Brooklyn-Battery Bridge, connecting lower Manhattan to Red Hook, would have been his crowning glory. The difference between this and other projects – the Tri-Borough, the Henry Hudson Parkway, the BQE – was that the aristocracy would feel the direct effects.
He would destroy the Battery, the only green space at the tip of the island, along with Castle Clinton and the New York Aquarium. Wall Street’s property value would plummet to basically nothing, as the bridge would erect a “Chinese Wall” separating the concrete jungle from the water. (“Chinese Wall” is also used to describe how the Belt Parkway splits Sheepshead Bay in two.) No one really cared what happened to Red Hook, but whatever.
Moses’ former allies were now against him, and they petitioned for national help. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a plea for “the preservation of the few beautiful spots that still remain to us on an overcrowded island” in her daily column. But FDR had the final say, and he showed that he had learned from his past mistakes.
While pulling the strings behind the scenes, FDR deferred the final decision to Secretary of War Harry Hines Woodring in order to distance himself from Moses’ criticism. Secretary Woodring rejected the plan on July 17, 1939, on the grounds that “the proposed bridge is seaward of a vital Navy establishment” – the Navy Yard. Nevermind that the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, too, would make the East River impassable were they reduced to ruins.
Calling Moses a prick is quite the understatement. Out of spite, he closed the Aquarium. (Its replacement, on Coney Island, would not be opened for 14 years.) An injunction from the Supreme Court prevented him from demolishing Castle Clinton, although he did manage to burn down the stately old doors.
For more reading, check out The power broker: Robert Moses and the fall of New York by Robert A. Caro (Vintage Books, 1975).