THE SUPER SEVENTIES: WEST SIDE HIGHWAY

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The blasted landscape of the old West Side Highway, closed in December 1973 and finally demolished in the 1980s, epitomizes the general deterioration NYC’s infrastructure was undergoing because of, as always, lack of $$$$, throughout the era. There were rumblings in the late 1980s that the Williamsburg Bridge would have to be permanently closed, and work on the subway tracks of the Manhattan Bridge was ongoing for twenty years to repair 80 years of neglect. Parks were blasted landscapes ruled by criminals and illuminated by the few remaining park lamps through broken glass.

I could even attempt to pass this off as a photo of the West Side Highway when it was still open, as there’s a recently abandoned car in it, but that wouldn’t be honest. I do wonder if the WSH’s distinctive twin lampposts will be the Department of Transportation’s next candidate for revival, but I doubt it. They were attempts to match the stepped-back towers that were rising with frequency when the highway was built in the 1930s, but they have always been plug-ugly.

Photo: Andy Blair.

Another West Side Highway image.

12/28/12





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21 Responses to THE SUPER SEVENTIES: WEST SIDE HIGHWAY

  1. andy says:

    When the WS Highway was closed in December 1973, it was ironic for two reasons. First, repairs to the structure had just begun, to correct the years of deterioration. On Dec. 15, 1973 a dump truck carrying asphalt for those very repairs broke through the viaduct and crashed to the street (thankfully no serious injuries or deaths resulted). After that incident the entire structure was eventually closed south of 46th Street. The second irony is that during the same month a serious gasoline shortage began, resulting in long lines and rationing based on odd-even license plates, just like a few weeks ago.

    • Mark says:

      I remember that. When the dump truck went, it took a Mercedes with it. I knew the guy who owned the Mercedes.

  2. Peter Muhr says:

    The West Side Highway gave the best vantage point for viewing Op Sail in ’76.

  3. NY2AZ says:

    I believe that the West Side Highway was closed in 1974 after a section collapsed. Nice to see the Mercury Capri (made in W. Germany) in the photo. The Capri didn’t last too long after that & the Mercury brand is no longer with us. After so many years it’s now revealed that the USA’s finances are no better than NYC’s were back then. It’s even worse that there are no latter day equivalents for the NYC Municipal Assistance Corp., Felix Rohatyn, or Hugh Carey (“The days of wine & roses are over”). “Where have you gone Joe Di Maggio?”.

    • Al_C says:

      The Capri was a blast to drive. (GF had a 4 cyl auto, then a V6 manual)

      It arrived just as the Feds took the fun out of driving (i.e. 55 MPH and EPA regs that killed horsepower)
      While their advertisements had Capri’s beeping each other (the horn was not a honker) it took on the greater meaning of cars against the Feds.

    • Mark says:

      The Capri, made by Ford of West Germany, was one of the few decent cars you could buy back in the 70s.

  4. Wesley Greenbaum says:

    I have followed your blog for years and have agreed with pretty much all you’ve had to say. For the first time, I must protest, whole-heartedly, a comment of yours. I was very fond of those lamp standards that you blatantly call “plug ugly”. They were not without their crude proportions (perhaps), but had a 1930′s skyscraper-style charm that were reminiscent of some Italian Futurist designs that defined a once-forward-looking aesthetic that I found quite pleasing. Just thought I’d give a shout-out about those lamp posts that I actually miss.

  5. Richard E. Nixon says:

    I remember in my teens in the late 70′s, walking the abandoned WSH from Canal St. to the Battery- It is probably my all-time favorite memories of NYC- walking on summer days, with the Hudson on my right and a mix of ancient buildings and newer skyscrapers like the WTC on my left, and noi crowds or traffic- just the occasional roller-skater or sunbather or jogger- it was truly an urban paradise! They should have just left it as it was….it was better than any “developed” park or boardwalk. I live far away from that stinkhole which is NYC now…but I will always remember the WSH fondly.

    • Fred Phillips says:

      Too bad you didn’t take any pictures. Back in the day photography was expensive, so I assume you didn’t take any pictures of your walks.

  6. chris says:

    Loved that old Yale Transport Co.’s 3 dimensional mock-up of a truck and trailer visible from the Hwy.The headlights lit up at night

  7. John says:

    What I remember most about the Miller Elevated Highway was the left lane entrance/exit ramps — combined with the lack of any area to get your vehicle up to speed once you had reached the level of the roadway it made getting onto the highway a test of skill (as did the ‘S’ curve at West 12th Street — for a roadway that was part of a Robert Moses’ infrastructure empire, and give Moses’ future reputation of running roads right through city neighborhoods, it was odd that in this early case, Moses’ road followed the lay of the shoreline and as a result, had a 15 mph speed limit to account for the sharp curve).

    • JIM KELLY says:

      When I was a boy, my late uncle told me about how Robert Moses designed the WSH without tearing down any structures, He sure must have made up for for that with some of his other projects.

    • btown says:

      I’m pretty sure that the Miller Highway was not a Robert Moses project, as the first sections were designed and built in the late 20s when Moses was working on the Long Island parkways and Jones Beach. Moses didn’t start working in NYC until the early 1930s and I think the first highway project he did was the Triborough Bridge/Grand Central Parkway.

  8. R says:

    I used to play on the highway when I was kid – it was basically bikes, big wheels, and broken glass… but what a joy it was to bike ride on that piece of elevated highway, really. I’d ride down to the WTC site (this is before the waterfront was fully developed) and got to see the real NY.

    I do have memories of driving with my parents on the Miller – I particularly remember that reverse S curve, with dad driving about 50 the effect was basically like a ride at Coney. Someone mentioned the Yale Truck – nice to hear about that memory too. I think the truck was around till almost 2000 or so.

  9. Sandy says:

    These poles looked much better when they had the original luminaires. Those cylindrical mercury vapor ballasts sticking up above each luminaire don’t help either.

  10. Andy Blair says:

    Guys, I’m really flattered that you’re using some of my 1970s photography, but please have the decency to attribute the source of the photos.
    For example, here’s the original view on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wavz13/4103424477/
    Here’s another one of my old West Side Highway photos on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wavz13/4083900643/

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Thanks for the reminder. I had been unaware of the source.

    • april says:

      Nice work there on flickr, Andy. Looks like we’re photog compradres overlapping decades and locales. Glad I kept my SLRs and their forerunners. To me, there’s nothing like film.

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