by Kevin Walsh

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.


Dan April 30, 2012 - 10:33 am

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 November 18, 2012 - 11:28 pm

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!

chris April 30, 2012 - 10:43 am

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

Kevin Walsh April 30, 2012 - 1:51 pm

Long gone.

Gary Farkash April 30, 2012 - 8:18 pm

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 April 30, 2012 - 11:14 pm

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 May 6, 2012 - 2:03 pm

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.

Bill Tweeddale May 1, 2012 - 8:32 am

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

Neil May 1, 2012 - 12:52 pm

No, that’s a ’57 Caddy.

Edward May 1, 2012 - 1:35 pm

Double taillights and “V” emblem on trunk make it a ’57 Cadillac, maybe an Eldorado.

Mike in FLA via BKLYN May 1, 2012 - 12:15 pm

The car looks like a Caddy.

chris May 1, 2012 - 2:48 pm

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)

Dan Schwartz May 2, 2012 - 11:33 am

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 May 3, 2012 - 1:56 pm

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

bjmack May 2, 2012 - 6:32 pm

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

John Ghead May 3, 2012 - 2:54 pm

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

Kevin Walsh May 3, 2012 - 3:02 pm

In those days, most avenues were 2 way

somebody May 6, 2012 - 1:58 pm

Most streets, however, were only unidirectional in those days, as is now.

William Mangahas May 3, 2012 - 6:43 pm

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

somebody May 6, 2012 - 1:50 pm

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.

Earthdog May 5, 2012 - 8:23 am

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 May 17, 2012 - 9:49 pm

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!

somebody May 6, 2012 - 11:53 am

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.

Joseph Ciolino May 17, 2012 - 9:45 am

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?

The location of the first curved lamppost designed by Donald Deskey | May 20, 2012 - 3:16 pm

[…] Forgotten NY writes that the first curved lamppost installed in NYC was located at Murray Street and Broadway across from City Hall. The lamp was installed in 1958 and designed by Donald Deskey, a designer known for designing the interior of Radio City Music Hall , the Crest toothpaste packaging and logo, and the Tide logo. Whip this knowledge out at your next trivia party! Share this: Collect Pond Park in NYC is a rat zoo […]

Sebastian June 26, 2012 - 12:30 pm

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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