THE FIRST DONALD DESKEY NYC LAMPPOST

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In 1958, a new streamlined lamppost — completely different than the ornate cast and wrought iron posts that then lit NYC streets, designed in the Beaux Arts era, 1890-1915 — appeared on Broadway on Murray Street opposite City Hall. It featured a stainless steel shaft with two slots, a curved mastarm, and a new luminaire that emitted a greenish-white light.

They were the work of industrial artist Donald Deskey, who had earlier designed the interior of Radio City Music Hall and the Crest toothpaste tube.

By 1962, the Deskeys were being mass-produced and dominated many NYC byways as a contrast to the octagonal-shafted posts that had first appeared in 1950. They also took their places on parkways and expressways (this was also the debut of General Electric M400 luminaires, which would also dominate their era).

By the 1980s, though, the Deskey posts had ceased production and the few thousand remaining today are being grandfathered out — their replacement parts are no longer being manufactured.





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27 Responses to THE FIRST DONALD DESKEY NYC LAMPPOST

  1. Dan says:

    Three of the last Deskeys on Staten Island were recently replaced with standard light poles. They were on the SIR overpasses at Rose Avenue, Ross Avenue and Beach Avenue.

    • Vinnie says:

      The Deskeys are not Falling apart as some say! There was an extra bolt installed add inside the inner part of the slotin the late 80s! Which is a 90% garentee.
      The City (DOT) is being slick, there taking them down when no one is around, There also loosing the top main bolt. To speed up the process. I love the Deskeys! SLECO! There were the quarter loops, the extended loops, and the real long exteded loops, which thhere is still one on the Cross Island Parkway under the GCP!

      I have inquired on purchasing some on the last that remain, I have 1 quarter loop so far!

      You can email me if you are really interested in the Deskey Sleco’s!

  2. chris says:

    Is that same lamp still in that same location on murray st.?

  3. Gary Farkash says:

    sorry to say, but to my untrained eye, this is NOT the Deskey that I have gotten to know over the years.
    Look closely and you can see that the curved light arm does not go further down the main shaft and the main shaft does not appear to have the curved area that the light arm bolts into.
    I still see plenty of the “Deskeys” in my weekly travels around NYC and this photo doesn’t show what I know to be a Deskey.

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      They modified it from the original which had a more abrupt curve on the mastarm. By the way the original Deskey with that more severe curve survived till 2000 when they replaced it with those big Twins.

      • somebody says:

        They also have the wider Deskeys with both light arms extending onto each other, with the inner span holding the lamp. These are being phased out, along with the two-wide-arm posts, where both arms are held by a curved span. Of course, your standard Deskey is also being phased out by the new Cobra mastheads.

  4. Bill Tweeddale says:

    Might that be a 1957 Chevy Bel Air in the foreground? Just guessing…

  5. Mike in FLA via BKLYN says:

    The car looks like a Caddy.

  6. chris says:

    Well,I never liked them anyway.
    Looked like the eye stalks of the aliens from that movie War of the Worlds.(the old movie from 50s)

  7. Dan Schwartz says:

    The obituary of Mr. Deskey that you linked to says that he designed the lamppost in 1959, and that it was made of extruded aluminum. You say the first one went up in 1958, and that it was stainless steel. There would seem to be an error somewhere, I’m not sure where. Or did the modification of the design you mentioned in response to another comment occur in 1959 and involve changing the metal used?

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      The date Bob Mulero gave me for the photos is 1958. I will have to confirm with him whether it’s 1958 or 1959.

  8. bjmack says:

    Totally great picture. I can’t believe it was 1958! I remember those old lamposts and thought how
    ancient but still around (1950′s) Thanks

  9. John Ghead says:

    So if I’m not mistaken, that stretch of Broadway was two-way? From the angle I’m seeing it sure looks that way.

  10. Wasn’t the conversion of two way streets to one way streets the idea of then traffic commissioner Henry Barnes ?

    • somebody says:

      Who also created the all-way pedestrian crossing strategy called the “Barnes Dance” and at the time endorsed seat belts to increase safety? Yes. It was started in 1949. The conversion to one-way, I mean.

  11. Earthdog says:

    There are still a few extended-mast versions of the Deskey stanchions along the West Shore Expressway mainline in Staten Island including a twin-mast variant between the Victory Blvd and Cannon Avenue overpasses.

    • John says:

      I think there are only two left on the 440 mainline. there are some on the ramps to and from 278 as well. Slowly being replaced, one by one.. Shame that it is, the only poles that made NYC unique!

  12. somebody says:

    They still have those Deskey posts in Queens and other suburban areas, where Deskeys are commonplace. However, the only place where I’ve even seen such a lamppost within a half-mile radius (and I’m not kidding) is on the northwest corner of Broadway and Chambers Street. Turns out it’s still there, along with one at the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren. By the way, the Broadway and Murray lamppost is of the “Downtown Alliance” steel siver/black type.

  13. Joseph Ciolino says:

    Has anyone ever discussed the highly inefficient design of these “modern” lamps? I had been told by a art teaching and historian, who was well familiar with how light works in the eye, that these lights do more to make things LESS visible than more.

    I wonder if the topic ever came up anywhere? Anyone know?

  14. Pingback: The location of the first curved lamppost designed by Donald Deskey | Doobybrain.com

  15. Sebastian says:

    I’m not sure if I identified the pole correctly, but I believe that downtown Kansas City, MO has a few Deskeys… or at least some lookalikes.

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