MYSTERY POLE, Washington Heights

by Kevin Walsh

In Manhattan, there are a pair of “mystery poles” that continue to flummox and vex me, as no satisfactory identification of their purpose seems imminent. This one can be found on the west side of Broadway at West 142nd Street. It ostensibly resembles one of the “olive” poles that supported two-color stoplights between the 1930s and 1980s around town, but the design is different if you take a close look. The top appears to be sawn off and I wonder if it was a proprietary pole installed by a long-lost business on this corner. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t installed by the city as a streetlamp.

The other “mystery pole” is on Manhattan’s only unnamed street, between Vestry and Laight alongside the inbound ramp of the Holland Tunnel. The street was probably built in the 1920s when the tunnel was, but I have still gotten no good answer about what this pole supported when it was first placed here.

Perhaps it is all for the best that some mysteries remain unsolved.

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Mike Olshan January 19, 2023 - 12:21 am

Could it be an air vent for something underground?

George Gauthier January 19, 2023 - 4:07 am

Maybe a support for a street clock?

Ty January 19, 2023 - 8:52 am

The one on Broadway may have been a clock stand. It was headless even in the 1940 photo. Max and Simon Bernheimer, wealthy brewers, owned the building. The building itself dates to 1907 and appeared in the society pages a few times, even a Daughter of the Confederacy (paying rent to two German Jews.) So maybe a clock to call attention to fancy bar like Diamond Chesterfields that appears in the 1940 tax photo.

And btw I lived on 142 and that is definitely not Washington Heights

Eric Costello January 19, 2023 - 8:55 am

I went to that handy-dandy site with the NYC tax maps. The photo showing plot 2088-98-M should, in theory, be showing a pole, and I think by enlarging the photo, I can actually see it in front of a store marked “Chesterfield.” (The truncated pole would be just to the left of the “C.”) It’s hard to tell, but it looks like there’s some kind of street furniture on that side of Broadway at West 142nd.

Eric Costello January 19, 2023 - 9:02 am

If you look at the 1916 street atlas sheet for the area ( it does look like there’s a “+” right where the pole is today.

Alan January 19, 2023 - 11:41 am

Perhaps a street clock was on that pole.

Pete January 19, 2023 - 12:49 pm

The pole at Broadway 142 St can be seen in a 1940s image. It appears to be the same as now, top of the pole looks like it may have had a mount for a shop sign before it was sawed off.

James Boylan January 19, 2023 - 3:17 pm

Looks like light pole froma park with top cut off.

John January 19, 2023 - 6:09 pm

It looks like a very old gas lamp base.

Don Gilligan January 19, 2023 - 9:28 pm

Hamilton Heights?


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