March 2019 marks Forgotten New York’s 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, I’ve re-scanned about 150 key images from the early days of FNY from 35MM prints. In the early days, when people including me were accessing FNY with dial-up modems, I had to save photos really small — in some cases, just 4″ across. I couldn’t find all those early photos — I think I foolishly discarded some along the way — but all month, and into April, I’ll be picking out some and showing the newly scanned versions.
There are three photos on my “One Shot” today, all of them stoplights in the same genre. These posts, placed on thousands of streets on opposite corners beginning until the late 1920s and surviving for the most part until the mid-1980s, served to control most of the auto traffic in NYC in those years. I don’t know the manufacturer or design numbers of the posts themselves; I refer to them as Olives because they were always painted a dark olive green.
When installed, most carried red and green stoplights manufactured by Ruleta:
Ruletas usually came with a red and green pair; when briefly flashed simultaneously, it served as an “amber” or yellow light. Olive posts all shared a grooved shaft and fluted base, and one of the pair always featured the control box, in which the stoplights were electronically switched back and forth.
When I moved to Flushing in 1993, I immediately discovered a surviving Olive, shown above, at Crocheron Avenue and 170th Street. Its Ruleta pair had been replaced by a modern three-light system. Though most Ruletas were two-lampers, rare examples featured an amber; there were also “cyclops” Ruletas that flashed a single red light.
I discovered this beauty on a bike ride to Forest Hills, 110th Street and 69th Road, shortly after moving to Queens in 1993. It survived longer than most, until late 2008. The stoplight was removed and its rusting Olive base is still in place.
Several Central Park Olives, supporting different clusters of stoplights, were functional until 2017, when they were all taken out of service; I’m not sure if their Olive posts are still in place.