FILIGREE on the IRT

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What are we looking at here?

In 1900, when the IRT subway was designed and began construction, engineers had to make a decision about what to do with Manhattan Valley: run the subway deep beneath it, or keep it level and bridge it over the gap? They chose the latter, and we have a beautiful arch bridge — rivalling the Bayonne in beauty if not in size — completed for the subway line in 1904.

The train has to ‘ascend’ and ‘descend’ the bridge, even though it is the hills taht do that, as the tracks remain relatively normal. In the blocks north and south of West 125th, the tracks cross the streets at a shorter level, and are carried over the streets by more modest bridges.

Not that modest, though. Subway decorators Heins and Lafarge were working in the midst of the Beaux arts era, when tons of filigree and ornament, some in human form representing gods, some in animal form representing demons and monsters, were carven from stone and placed on buildings.

While still authoring a utilitarian structure, Heins and LaFarge couldn’t resist some ornamental stonework on the abovementioned overpasses, and one such cartouche is seen here. Today such decoration would be dismissed as over-indulgent and a waste of money, but we can be glad we still have architecture from when it was an aesthetic art.

10/10/13





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3 Responses to FILIGREE on the IRT

  1. Jim says:

    Thankfully, this was an era when something that was useful was considered to be beautiful, just because of its utility. Therefore it deserved to be decorated. For this reason you will sometimes be lucky enough to see elaborately decorated cornices atop buildings on narrow streets where they cannot possibly be seen from the ground, or fanciful carvings on elevator machinery sealed inside shaftways where no one will ever see it. Hopefully some day we will get back to that state of mind….

  2. dave c. says:

    It was a time when the nation had the wealth and the skills to do such things. Not anymore.

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