LAMPPOSTS BY THE LETTER: Types A through G

LAMPPOSTS BY THE LETTER Henry Bacon's Types A through G
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Paleontologists tell us that the legions of birds twittering in the trees, paddling in streams and migrating worldwide in the air are directly descended from the dinosaur line and are all that remains of the group of animals that brought the planet the marauding Tyrannosaurus Rex, plodding Brachiosaurus and brave Triceratops many millions of years ago.

An analogy can be drawn here to one variety of NYC lamppost that fate has managed to preserve for nearly a century now; and it will almost certainly continue to flourish for decades to come. It is the mid-sized park post, technically Type B, that first appeared between 1910-1912 and has been standard issue ever since in NYC parks. It’s one of a group of NYC lampposts given letter designations. While thousands of Type Bs are still to be found, other letter posts have survived by just the dozens.

Type B

The Type B has a Beaux Arts pedigree. It was designed, as we’ve said, somewhere in the 1910-1912 period expressly for New York City parks by architect Henry Bacon (1866-1924).

Bacon began as a draftsman and quickly gained employment in what was one of the largest architectural firms at the turn of the 20th Century, McKim, Mead and White.

Bacon went on to design the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, the Danforth Memorial Library in Paterson, NJ, the Union Square Savings Bank in Manhattan, and many of the Wesleyan University campus buildings in Middletown, CT. The Special Collections and Archives department of Olin Library at Wesleyan is the repository of Bacon’s collection of books and papers.

2nd from left: Type B, shown with what is likely its original luminaire, in the survey The System Electric Companies: Photographs of Street Lighting Equipment as of November 1, 1934. The pamphlet shows more than 300 different varieties of street lighting equipment that could then be found in NYC. Type B posts are approximately 11 feet in height.

For nearly 100 years (2009), the Type B has been the workhorse of the NYC Parks Department (and its predecessors) for park pathway lighting. It can also be used for street lighting — most notably it turns up on West 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues and Main Street in Port Washington in Nassau County. It has been through a variety of luminaires in its career, likely beginning with the crown variety seen above on the pamphlet, and also some globular styles. In the 1970s, Parks settled on this rather bland edition (above right) that the post still sports in most parks. In the 1990s, new luminaires (the Central Park and the Battery Park) produced by the Sentry Electric Co. appeared; they are much handsomer and are a perfect complement to the post.

4th and 5th from left: One of my favorite uses of a Type B isn’t in a park at all — it’s on 3rd Avenue and East 46th Street, where there’s a small flock of them painted silver instead of the usual black, with the “cage” luminaire that was adopted in the 1950s to prevent against increasing vandalism. These posts also sport old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. Are these posts still there?

I got familar with them during my stint at Photo-Lettering, formerly one of the country’s biggest type shops; it handled a great deal of NYC advertising, and much of the work was done overnights, when I worked. PL was located on East 45th between 3rd and 2nd Avenues.

2nd row: This pair of Type B’s in Nelson Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City along the Hudson River sport the Sentry Central Park lume, but have also been playfully accentuated by sculptor Tom Otterness as part of his “The Real World” installation there.

Otterness’ work pops up all over in NYC — he is in the 8th Avenue Line (A, C, E) 14th Street station and its Canarsie Line (L) connection, as well as MetroTech Plaza in downtown Brooklyn.

Type A

Type A, you say? I’m not sure whether they preceded or succeeded Type B, but both bear that classic Bacon design. The Type A shaft is taller by a few feet than the Type B. It’s found frequently around town, especially in parks (top: Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood, above right in Van Cortlandt Park, the Bronx) but never caught on as much as the Type B.

Type C

The Type C is the odd duck among the “letter” lampposts — while the shaft is much the same as A and B, its base is quite different: I’m not sure it’s a Bacon design. The post pops up on infrequent occasions around town. There are a pair in High Bridge Park at Laurel Hill Terrace and West 187th Street in the Fort George area near Yeshiva U…

… a pair at India House facing Hanover Square downtown and, of all places, a couple of lawns on Rugby Road near Cortelyou Road in Beverly Square, Brooklyn, of all places. The Brooklyn posts must have been salvaged from somewhere.

Type D

The Type D was somewhat bizarre, with the 11 foot height of the Type B park post, but a lengthy mastarm with a scroll reminiscent of theCorvington longarm post, which had several variants of its own.

The odd design gave it few opportunities to, ah, shine, apparently, and while it served some terms in parks perched on walls where it couldn’t be waylaid by truck traffic, it was apparently quickly phased out there, as well. I’ve seen no extant examples or remnants anywhere.

Type E

We’ve returned to a more Henry Bacon-ish profile with the Type E post, which first began appearing in NYC streets in 1913 and continued to be installed into the 1940s. It’s about 13.5 feet high, about the same size as the Type A, but the difference is that the fluted shaft ends about halfway up the post and continues as a plain pipe to the apex. The two sections are separated by ornamentation echoing that at the top of the base.

There are a few dozen Type E’s scattered around the city, including a dozen in Stuuyvesant Square Park on 2nd Avenue between East 15th and 17th Streets. Here are views of two of the posts in 2008 (left) and 1986 (right). There are 3 in Cadman Plaza in downtown Brooklyn, five in Fort Greene Park, 25 in Silver Lake Park and 41 in Clove Lake Park, Staten Island, the step street at West 161st Street and Sedgwick Avenue, High Bridge, Bronx (above right), one in Hero Park, Staten Island (on Victory Blvd. near Silver Lake Park), and one in Kelly Playground, Eastern Parkway Extension and Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The 12 at Mullaly Park in the Bronx have likely been wiped out by construction of the New Yankee Stadium.

4th from left: Compare differences between the Type E and Type A bases. The Type A base shown above. The base is a little heavier and thicker and the fluted ornamentation is subtly changed.

Last two photos: My favorite Type E is the lone specimen I found on the underside of the Long Island Expressway on a walkway taking 21st Street over the Long Island Rail Road cut in Hunter’s Point, Queens.

Type F

The Type F and its variants, introduced in the early 1910s Top row left), is the passenger pigeon of NYC lampposts — once they were ubiquitous on city side streets and some avenues, but starting in the 1950s there was a persistent program to slay them, and most original Type Fs have vanished except for a few select areas. But a revival has begun, as we’ll see. According to NYTimes’ Christopher Gray they were reportedly designed in the 1910s by Charles F. Lacombe, at the time the city’s chief engineer for light and power (he has an avenue in Soundview, the Bronx, named for him).

Type F had many variants – there was the 11-foot tall model (2nd from left), which pretty much held down the Manhattan side street franchise for decades, and the F3 (above right) which was a foot taller and did duty on avenues, including Seventh. In addition, the hybrid Type EF (3rd from left) was basically a Type E with the F-style reverse scroll mastarm welded at the top. There were also a number of knockoffs that appeared on step streets and pedestrian bridges; all of those have vanished.

The Queensboro Bridge formed the backdrop to this tragically lost Type F Twin at Sutton Square (East 58th Street) and Riverview Terrace. The post was taken down in the early 2000s and replaced by a new version of a Type 24 Bishop Crook post.

5th and 6th from left: This Type F, on East 26th near 1st Avenue, was installed in 1929 but was terminal by the time it was snapped in the 1980s at Bellevue Hospital.

These are salvaged Type Fs that appear on East 10th Street in the East Village  and Clinton Avenue in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Each seems to have had the middle section of the shaft removed, they may have been used under overpasses or elevated trains.

As we’ve said there are only a few original Type Fs remaining around town. In the 2nd row third from left is the Type F on the 53rd Avenue steps west of 65th Place, in the Ridgewood Gardens apartments in Maspeth. NEXT, 17th Avenue overpass, Belt Parkway.

Believe it or not, that 43rd Avenue post is the only landmarked object in Maspeth. It was renovated, fitted with a bright sodium luminaire and moved to the opposite side of the walk in the early 2000s. The Belt Parkway’s 27th Avenue overpass also has a pair of Type Fs. You can also find one at 123 west 13th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, the only one left of the Type F tribe of side street posts. I have also heard of a pair at Charles Young Triangle at West 152nd Street and Macombs Place in Hamilton Heights.

2nd row 5th from left: Recently departed Type F, and a new model. In 2005 I found some heretofore unheralded Type F’s and Type G’s (including this twin version) on the State University of New York campus at Fort Schuyler in Throgs Neck, the Bronx. (They don’t appear in my research materials). Unfortunately I’m told they, too, have recently been uprooted and discarded, presumably.

Last photo, 2nd row: retro-Type F’s have begun to appear in city streets such as Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick, shown here, and West 8th Street in the Village. These are taller and more massive than the shorter 17-ft Type F’s of old

Type G

The Type G, 20 feet in height, and its successor, Type G3, 22′, were equally at home in public parks, side streets and even some important roads. In many ways they resembled the somewhat more massive Type 24M Corvingtons, though they had different metal scrollwork and the bases, of course, were of the Henry Baconesque style that Types A, B, D, E and F all used.

There are still a few Type G’s left, but their main bastion nowadays — almost 40 — is in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village on the far east side, where a flock of them still lights the roads. They have gone through a number of luminaires — from the 1970s through the late 1990s, they employed the late, unlamented Unidor 400 sodium fixtures. They appeared en masse beginning in 1972. Most have disappeared, though Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn still has a number of them.

In the early 2000s the Stuy Town G’s were given a black paint job and treated to new pendant lumes every bit as repulsive as the Unidor 400s, in their own genre. Why not go with bells or their cousins, the mission bells? Maybe these were on sale.

1955 view of a Type G with Westinghouse AK10 “cuplight” (where is this? Looks like it’s along the Metro-North in the Bronx) and there were a number of rusted ones in Van Cortlandt Park until fairly recently. The G’s were often used for park lighting — as a kid I remember them in McKinley Park in Bay Ridge, boasting both “crescent moon” and radial wave luminaires.

Where are today’s G’s? Until fairly recently — the dawn of Forgotten New York in 1998 — you could find four of them on the Dyker Park Golf Course service road and parking lot. Of course they had long since stopped working. Thye were removed around 1999-2000 in favor of regulation octagonal poles that did. A couple survived on the SUNY Maritime campus at Fort Schuyler till just recently.In 1988 or so, I found an extremely rusted one at Mosholu Avenue and Post Road in Riverdale, but that one was removed around 1999 or 2000. As late as the early 1970s there was a survivor on 78th Street near the 7th Avenue Gowanus Expressway service road, but the DOT ferreted it out and felled it.

There are supposedly a pair on Kazimiroff Boulevardnear tthe entrance to the Haupt Conservatory in the NY Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, but try as I may, I have never been able to locate them. Maybe this year.

NYC Lamppost King Bob Mulero supplied the research and many of the photos for this page.





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