FUTURE LIGHTS. The odd lamps of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel

by Kevin Walsh

Jane! Stop these crazy things!

There are some streetlamps on the East Side in the 30s that resemble props from an animated Jetsons cartoon. But these venerable poles are now over sixty years old! (Come to think of it George is over 50 himself.)

With their sci-fi, futuristic design, the streetlamps that line “Tunnel Entrance” and Tunnel Exit” Streets that feed traffic in and out of the Queens Midtown Tunnel resemble the Flash Gordon sci-fi styles that persisted through futuristic features right into the early 1960s, culminating with the Hanna Barbera animated Jetsons series.

One good futuristic design deserves another. Here, one of the ‘Jetsons’ is seen with the 1987 Corinthian Apartments on 1st Avenue.

The Queens Midtown Tunnel was built between 1936 and 1940, a time when America was looking forward, dreaming of breaking out of the then-still potent Great Depression.

Design at this time was beginning to reflect this sense of national confidence. The 1939-40 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows introduced new products and designs, many of which would not be developed for many years as the specter of war spread its long shadow. That futuristic feeling began to exhibit itself in the Queens Midtown Tunnel’s approach lighting, with a new streamlined design featuring a cobra shaped neck. Cobra necks would start to dominate NYC lampposts in the 1960s (and coincidentally were used in the design for the Martian war machines in the 1953 George Pal movie adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic “War of the Worlds”).

The ‘Jetsons’ have kept their 1940s-era ‘cuplights,’ which have been fitted with modern yellow sodium high intensity bulbs.

They look dated now, but it’s a different kind of dated from other streetlamps of their era, the aggressively detailedcastirons which hark back to the previous gilded age of Queen Victoria.

The ‘Jetsons’ have recently been spiffed up with a brand new coat of green paint, so apparently the city wants to maintain them well into the 21st Century, an era their designers were looking forward to.

Tunnel Entrance and Exit Streets also have a few shaded mercury (green-colored) lamps, which were all the rage in the 1960s. The shades prevent light from leaching into surroundiung apartment buildings. There were once much more plentiful around town.

For more on the Queens Midtown Tunnel, see its page on the nycroads.com page.

For more on the 1939-40 World’s Fair check this page.