Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New York and the World Trade Center: The Early Years


Ten years ago, on September 11, 2001, terrorists flew two fuel-laden jet planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, causing their collapse, killing thousands, and changing history. The destruction led to two foreign wars, an enormous increase in the security apparatus in the United States, stunning increases in the military-industrial complex, and myriad changes in the ways we view ourselves and the world around us. In many ways, we lost our way and lost the moral high ground internationally. To commemorate the terrible events of ten years ago, I looked through my archives to find photographs of the towers and other memories of New York. Although I did not live in New York during the years that the towers stood, I saw them on visits to the city, shopped in the underground malls, and once went up to the open observation deck.

Pre-tower Manhattan

This is a map of lower Manhattan from a brochure given out to tourists who visited the Towers in the 1990s. The towers were on the southwest corner of Manhattan. They did not directly face the Hudson River, but the site they were on was artificial fill. The scale of this map is off and the Liberty Island is really much further away.

Early 20th century map of Manhattan with steamship company docks along the Hudson River.

First, let's step back in history to well before the towers were built. The scene above shows upper New York Harbor and Manhattan Island at about 1940. The original photograph is from the archives of the Beach Erosion Board, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The archives are now housed at the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory at the Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Notice how the Hudson River (on the left) is lined with docks and wharves.

In 1940, New York and Jersey City were gritty, bustling working cities and ports. If 1940 is the correct date, war was raging in Europe, and New York harbor was a major transit origin for cargo convoys. Most of Europe was shrouded in darkness, but New York was a beacon of freedom for the few refugees who could find transit to the United States. Lights were blazing, food was plentiful, shops were stocked, and music and entertainment were everywhere - war seemed far away. The site for the towers was on the lower left side of Manhattan, then a district of small shops, factories and residences, known as Radio Row. The George Washington Bridge, completed in 1931, crosses the Hudson in the upper left of the photograph.

The island off the tip of Manhattan is Governors Island, occupied by the Coast Guard for most of the 20th century and now run by the National Park Service and the Governors Island Alliance. In the late 1930s, Robert Moses (Long Island Park Commission) pushed to build a monumental bridge connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn, with one of the bridge supports on Governors Island. Moses had such influence and control of funding sources that only President Franklin Roosevelt was able to squash the plan.

Liberty Island, with its Statue of Liberty, is the small island on the lower left, really much closer to the New Jersey shore than to New York.

The 1960s

Let's move forward to 1967. I took the photograph above from Rockefeller Center, probably from the observation deck in the GE Building, the Top of the Rock. Looking south you see the Empire State Building. If they had been built, the WTC towers would have been in the far distance to the right of the Empire.

This is the former PanAm building, built over the railroad lines leading into Grand Central Station. Back then, First Class passengers on Pan American World Airways were ferried to JFK airport by helicopter that took off from the rooftop heliport. This is a Boeing Vertol BV-107 helicopter (also known as a Sea Knight), operated by New York Airways. The heliport was permanently closed after a 1977 accident, where a broken rotor blade decapitated four passengers.

A side note: 1967 was near the end of the era of trans-Atlantic passenger traffic via ocean liner. The 1940 photograph showed how the entire Hudson River shore of Manhattan was lined with docks. But by the late-1960s, many of the docks were unused and passenger traffic on the great liners was drying up. This was largely a result of the success of the Boeing 707 jet liner, which entered service in 1958. The post-war generation was impatient and did not want to spend six days crossing the ocean (but I am glad that I made two Atlantic ship crossings in my childhood - they were fun). I took the photographs of the S.S. Constitution and the docks on color print film with a Canon range-finder camera and 50mm ƒ/1.9 Serenar lens.

The 1970s

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey built the twin WTC towers between 1996 and 1972. The matching buildings, designed by American architect Minoru Yamasaki, rose to 1353 feet (412 m) in height. When completed in 1972, they were the tallest buildings in the world. A Wikipedia article nicely summarizes their history and the decades of controversy and sordid political maneuvering surrounding the project. The aesthetics of the design were resoundingly criticized at the time and for many years later as extreme examples of post-war gigantism, but eventually they became icons of New York. The undated post card above, from Golden Apple Postcards, shows the towers taken with a long telephoto lens from the waterfront at Bayonne, New Jersey. Unfortunately, the photographer was not credited.

In March, 1974, I made a one-day trip to New York and took the excursion boat to Liberty Island. The South Tower had only been open two years and both towers were were only partly occupied. Attracting commercial (as opposed to subsidized Port Authority) tenants was part of the controversy that continued for years. From this vantage point, it was obvious how huge the buildings were, looming over everything else in lower Manhattan.

This is a 105mm tele view of the towers, scanned from a roll of Kodak Tri-X black and white film. This negative was double-exposed, adding to the dust and flaws in the frame. Still, after 35 years, the negative is intact and contains data that can be extracted. Will we be able to retrieve digital media in 35 years? (Camera: Nikkormat FTn; lens: 105 mm ƒ/2.5 Nikkor.)

Update May 6, 2013

I found this remarkable aerial photograph in NOAA's archives of a flying boat cruising over Battery Park. The Hudson River is in the foreground, the East River in the background. As in the 1940 photograph, you can see the many docks lining the rivers.

The label states:
A flying boat cruising by Battery Park at the south end of Manhattan Island. In: "Flug Und Wolken", Manfred Curry, Verlag F. Bruckmann, Munchen, 1932.
Image ID: line0987, NOAA's America's Coastlines Collection
Location: New York City
Photo Date: 1930 Circa
Credit: Fairchild Aerial Surveys Inc.
(To be continued in the next article.)
Updated with two photographs added on August 15, 2014

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Shotgun Shacks, Rigby Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Rigby Street is an out-of-the way dead-end lane west of Washington Street. Drive west on Polk Street, cross Washington Street at the fire station, and you are on Rigby. The houses in these photographs were west of Oak Street.

Once there were probably tens of shotgun shacks lining both sides of the street, but in 2006, only four were left. They were examples of the ubiquitous narrow one-floor wood houses built in great numbers during the early 20th century. The first one beyond Oak was 507, occupied in May 2006 when I took this photograph.

The second was 509, also occupied and reasonably neat.

No. 513 had clearly been deserted for years and was being overtaken by the vines. This reminds me of shows on the SyFy channel, were evil vines overcome and squash a house, often with the occupants inside.

513 had once been fixed up with wood paneling on the walls. The original fireplace had been boarded up. You can see wood tongue-and-groove where the door trim has been removed. I am not sure if the walls were ever plastered or if originally they had cheesecloth tacked to the wood with wallpaper over the cheesecloth (a common practice here in the late-1800s and early 20th century).

As of August 2011, all of these houses are gone, and the jungle has grown so luxuriously, there is little evidence that the house lots ever existed.

(Photographs taken with a Sony DSC-W7 digital camera.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Railroad Warehouse, Levee Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Drive on Levee Street in Vicksburg south of the waterfront and the casino, and you soon reach the Kansas City Southern railroad yard. This is a historic railroad yard and has been in continuous use since before the Civil War. There is still a turntable, and there was once a brick roundhouse, but it was demolished sometime in the 1970s, I was told. One remnant of the 1800s remains, a forlorn and sad but once handsome brick building. According to the Vicksburg Post (20 January 2008), it was once a warehouse and work shop for steam engine supplies, but it now sits neglected and deteriorating.

Some Vicksburg residents do not know about the warehouse. The view above shows the railroad yard from Klein Street, looking west. The steel building beyond is part of the Anderson Tully wood mill.

This is the west side of the building, seen from Levee Street. A marble plaque above the louvered entry shows "L. N. O. & T. 1890, R.T. Wilson, President, J.M. Edwards, Vice Pres." According to the Mississippi Rails web page, the abbreviation stood for the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas Railway, in operation from 1884 to 1892. It was sold to the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad in October of 1892 (this is the name on the Vicksburg Depot, highlighted in a previous blog entry this year). As of December 2010, the plaque had disappeared from the facade.

The south side has a section of wall that is collapsing. Some of the window sashes had broken and the glass has fallen out.

The north side had a loading dock. Overall, it is in as bad condition as the south side.
As of 2010, many of the windows were broken. Sad, this was a handsome building in its day with nice proportions.

The rooms inside have old tools and furniture strewn about. I have never been able to walk inside but could take photograph through the windows.

The handcart above is the type you see in old movies where the porter takes the elegant passengers' luggage into the terminal, with dramatic lighting, steam hissing from the locomotives, and the couple smoking into each others faces (and then kissing without brushing their teeth).

Ledgers were kept in a pre-computer age.

According to the Vicksburg Post article, there are no plans to restore the building, and calls to Kansas City Southern railroad were not returned. Another piece of our heritage will soon be lost.

Finally, here is the turntable I mentioned earlier. KCS rebuilt it about 20 years ago. The old one looked like it had the original timbers and machinery from 100 years ago. I do not know how often it is used. The brick engine barn (roundhouse) would have been located about where the modern steel shed is situated. In the old days, all railroad yards needed a turntable because steam locomotives did not run in reverse as efficiently as forward. Therefore, the easiest way to turn them around was to place them on a turntable. There is less need now because modern diesel/electric locomotives run in either direction.

This the the motor and chain mechanism to spin the turntable. It had to be robust because of the weight of the locomotives. Notice the disk brake mechanism.

(2008 photographs taken with an Olympus E-330 digital camera, tripod-mounted. 2010 photographs with a Sony DSC-R1 camera. The turntable photograph was taken with an Olympus 9-18mm lens at the 9mm setting (equivalent to 18 mm on 35 mm film) on a Panasonic G1 camera.)

2014 update: I added two photographs.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shelter 3 at the Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi

In the previous article, I described how the Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi, formerly conducted numerous tests using hydraulic models. Some were outside, like the famous Mississippi Basin Model in Jackson (see the December 2010 update). But most models were inside shelters or hangars to keep them out of the weather and limit dirt and debris.
Shelter 3 is an example. There is nothing glamorous about it; it is just a steel roof over a dirt floor. When complete, it covered 97,300 square feet of model space. Most of this shelter will be torn down soon, so the models were dismantled and miscellaneous equipment was moved out in 2010.

(Notice the "blooming" around the windows and doors. This is diffraction that occurs when the source of light is many stops brighter than the main part of the image. It is worse with small-sensor point-and-shoot cameras. High-speed black and white film would have responded similarly because of the thickness of the emulsion, but a thin, low-speed film like Kodak Panatomic-X would have minimized the blooming. The quality of the lens coating and the number of elements also affects diffraction.)
Until the building is demolished, it serves as a convenient place for employees to park cars. In a 1949 aerial photograph of the lab, a low wood shelter occupies this location, but in a 1981 photograph, this steel building is present. Many of the World War II-era wood shelters were replaced with steel in the 1960s.
A few treasures remain. A sizable collection of file cabinets and map cases contain old project files. As time goes by and technicians retire, fewer and fewer remain who remember what the files pertain to. It is unlikely that a hydraulic model would ever be rebuilt, but most Corps of Engineers projects, such as locks, dams, and waterways, last for centuries, so the data in the files may be of value in the future. But how will these files be stored and organized? Eventually the bugs and mildew will eat the paper if they don't move the files to a climate-controlled space.
There is still one model in the north part of the shed, but I have not seen it used in a long time. It was a section model of the Dalles on the Columbia River. You see a number of odd little footprints in the soft dirt, probably raccoon. There are also fox on station
The south side of the shelter was used by a joint US Army Corps of Engineers and US Geological Survey program that developed and calibrated river sediment samplers. Measuring how much suspended sediment moves down rivers is difficult and labor-intensive because field crews have to cross the river and collect water samples at various depths. Bedload samples are even harder to collect and calibrate.
For the field work, they used sturdy Army Bridge Erection Boats. These were sent away to some other Army base. I like strange heavy-duty equipment like this.

All images except the last (the boat) were taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera with Lumix 14-45mm lens, tripod-mounted. The in-camera black and white mode is very nice, with results as good as reprocessing the RAW file.

Update April 30, 2012: The shelter is actively being dismantled.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pumps from the Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Pumping water has always been a big activity at the Waterways Experiment Station, the Corps of Engineers research center south of Vicksburg, Mississippi. In the past, most hydraulic models were physical models, meaning they were three-dimensional reproductions of the earth, rivers, and channels through which water was run to test how different engineering works performed.

Over the last decade, the amount of physical modeling done at the station has dropped off greatly because of the high cost of the technicians and equipment. Also, numerical (computer) models can now do many of the simulations more quickly and can test a wide range of options. Therefore, much of the old pump equipment has been surplussed, and some of the hangers have been removed. The scene above shows Pump House 3063 being demolished.

The pump house formerly housed six or seven 200 horsepower pumps that distributed water to the surrounding shelters and to an open-air model of Old River Control. Pipes ran underground to the various shelters, and the return water flowed back to the lake.

This was massive, heavy-duty equipment. The pump house appears in a 1949 aerial photograph of the station, so we can assume the pumps are older. The body of water that served as the reservoir was known as the Supplemental Lake (with Brown's Lake being the "main" lake). Over the years, the lab switched to using city water to reduce fouling from silt and organic debris. The lake now is a healthy habitat for fish, turtles, snakes, and fish. I occasionally see a Belted Kingfisher perched on a pole looking for lunch.

All the pumps were taken away by a metal recycler on May 11, 2006. I heard that he found a buyer for the equipment, so maybe these historic pumps are still at work somewhere.

Digital images taken with a Sony DSC-W7 digital camera.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Follow-up: Demolition of WWII-era building at the Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi

In the last essay, I showed some photographs of Building 2025, one of the "temporary" structures erected in World War II at the Waterways Experiment Station. I am glad I stopped to record what was left because on July 8, 2011, the backhoe started tearing it down.

It does not take long for a machine to tear down wood walls. But the floor was well made; the tractors drove on it without it collapsing.

This very interesting manifold was part of the water sprinkler system. Plumbing was well made in those days, made to last.

Finally, I found a room with thousands of 35 mm slides strewn about on the floor. They had once been labeled and neatly stored in sleeves or Kodak Carousel trays. Is this the fate of most old photographs? We cherish 100-year-old photographs of people and cities, but age and rarity have enhanced their value. Once photography became a common hobby in the post-war era, people took millions or billions of snapshots and dumped the negatives and prints in boxes. Possibly only the original photographer considered the work valuable. I often read on photography forums how a digital photographer backs up all his files on a RAID machine and sends a spare backup to safe storage somewhere. And if those machines fail, will it really matter? He takes 10,000 photographs a year and all of them are works of art? It is a guy thing. Will his family ever really look through his tens of thousands of files? The same with this old building. Does it really matter that it was torn down?)

(Photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 camera. The scene with the slides was an 8-second exposure.)

Update, July 13, 2011. The demolition continues.

During the 1980s and 1990s, this part of Building 2025 was the supply depot, where you could pick up stationery supplies, field books, some tools, work gloves, and similar small items. Back then, pens and pencils had "U.S. Government" or "Federal" written on them. They even stocked fountain pens and ink (was it red ink?). At the end of the summer, students would raid the supplies and take off to college crates of diskettes and notebooks. Then they closed the depot, with the idea that it was cheaper to send a government employee to Office Max to buy supplies. So much for convenience or saving money.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Historic Buildings at the Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg

The Waterways Experiment Station (now known as the Engineer Research and Development Center or ERDC) is a 550+ acre army base in Vicksburg, Mississippi, located south of I-20 off Halls Ferry Road. The station was created by Congress in 1929 as a response to the great 1927 Mississippi River flood as a testing laboratory for the Corps of Engineers to build hydraulic models and study riverine processes.

During World War II, the laboratory's mission expanded greatly in response to the war effort, and many temporary wood building were built for offices and workshops. One of these is Building 2025, used until recently as the Shipping and Receiving office. Sadly, it's time has come and it is being dismantled.

I am not sure why it will be demolished other than the typical problems associated with 60-year-old buildings, such as difficulty in maintaining climate control and possibly vermin.

I recall visiting Washington, DC, in the 1960s and at that time, there were still many clusters of these one-floor wooden "temporary" buildings still being used as government offices. Most have disappeared, so now you have to find them on remote bases off in the hinterlands.

The work crew removed asbestos shingles that covered the original pine siding. A couple of the gents told me that overall the building was in excellent condition. The asbestos panels had preserved the pine siding and there was no rot or decay.

After 60 years, the ceilings and floors had not sagged at all. I am sure the joists were heart pine or cypress. I asked about recycling the wood, but the workmen said it would be too expensive to dismantle piece by piece.

There is still a lot of furniture and detritus inside, but little is worth recycling.

The walls were painted with industrial pink, possibly a bit more cheerful than the gross green you see in most institutional buildings. The blue box contained some sort of router for the computer network.

A final farewell.

(All frames except for no. 1 taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera with 14-45 mm lens, tripod-mounted.)