GUMBALL, Rockaway

by Kevin Walsh

I have often said that you can find all kinds of strange objects lurking beneath overpasses in NYC, and years ago I found one of the last extant Gumball lamps in New York City at Rockaway Freeway and Beach 95th Street, just south of the Cross Bay Bridge. A subway trestle clad in concrete runs over Rockaway Freeway that was constructed in 1942 when the LOng Island Rail Road eliminated grade crossings. After a fire on a bridge over Jamaica Bay destroyed part of it, NYC leased the railroad right of way and rebuilt the bridge, and by 1956 A trains were using it.

I call these fixtures “Gumballs” for their round shape; many other lamp aficionadoes also use the term. A number of manufacturers produced Gumball-shaped lamps and NYC employed one of these (I can’t pin down the actual manufacturer, but if you know it, let me know in Comments. This style was introduced around 1938-1939 and at one time battled Bells for hegemony on NYC streets until about 1950, when the Westinghouse AK-10 “cuplight” was introduced. All employed yellow-lamp incandescent bulbs.

By 1998 when I began Forgotten NY, precious few Gumballs were remaining. They can still be found in bulk in other locales (Toronto, Ontario still has hundreds, outfitted with LED bulbs) but in NYC, close to zip. The Brooklyn Bridge’s antique-look poles used them for decades until the early 1980s, when retro versions with sodium lamps replaced them.

On a recent jaunt I noticed this one, too, had disappeared, and I also noted that another one, which could be seen at Bay street at the Fort Wadsworth entrance, was gone too. And so I say, as I say so often…

Sick transit, Gloria!

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Andy February 15, 2023 - 12:06 pm

May I take the liberty of adding some additional historical information about the LIRR service to and from the Rockaways. About a thousand feet of the LIRR trestle across Jamaica Bay burned in May 1950, and the LIRR suspended service. Trains were routed the long way around through Nassau County and Far Rockaway, on the LIRR branch of that name that is still in use. In 1933, when New York City government was building the IND subway under Queens Boulevard, the tunnel just east of 63d Drive was constructed with a bellmouth (turnout in the tunnel wall) to allow for a future connection to the nearby LIRR Rockaway Beach Line in Rego Park. That connection was never built, but the trestle fire renewed pressure for the IND subway to take over LIRR service to and from Rockway.

The LIRR in a 1950 was a private firm in bankruptcy operating under court supervision and had no desire to rebuild the trestle. Thus, in 1952 NYC City bought the LIRR line between Rego Park and the two Rockaway branches; it was not leased. Work was done to convert the route to subway operation, including a connection to the former BMT Fulton Street elevated at Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park. In turn the Liberty Avenue structure provided access to IND Fulton Street subway at Euclid Avenue. This work was completed in 1956, and ever since the IND A train has operated between Manhattan and the Rockaways. The A train route is unique because it operates on three legacy railroads – the IND, BMT, and LIRR.

The old LIRR branch north of Liberty Avenue has been abandoned since 1962, when LIRR ended a limited service between Ozone Park and Penn Station. The right-of-way is the subject of current debate about its future – a NYC subway route or as a Queens version of the High Line. Be patient, as that debate will no doubt continue for years to come.

chris February 15, 2023 - 4:15 pm

You should collect obsolete streetlights.Clean em up,have a display case in your house.
Light them all up on special occasions.Im sure somewhere theres a yard with a bunch of them
just mouldering away.


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