In a recent New York Times article about Henry Hornbostel who designed Carnegie Mellon’s campus, and did the 59th street bridge, alum Jeffrey Kroessler ’73 was quoted as the author of “New York Year by Year: A Chronology of the Great Metropolis” (New York University Press, 2002). He is currently an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a member of the Historic Districts Council, Queensboro.
The article was written on the event of the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Queensboro Bridge and notes how it has “a certain industrial, Erector Set symmetry that some bridge aficionados find irresistible,” also pointing out that not everyone finds it to be an attractive piece of history.
Kroessler, in fact, is quoted as calling it an “ugly duckling.”
The piece goes on, however, to explain how, “Queens devotees like Mr. Singleton and Mr. Kroessler say that the bridge was the single most important force in the borough’s development” and concludes with Kroessler’s comment, “When we think of the modern Manhattan skyline, it came up in the 1920s and 1930s. Those are the years people were moving into Queens and Brooklyn and the Bronx. Most of those people were moving into suburban-style housing. So you have this anomaly: The most urban symbol in the world, the Manhattan skyline, is going up when the population is spreading out and moving to what were essentially suburbs in places like Queens.”
Kroessler graduated from Hobart College with a B.A. in history. While here, he was active in swimming and the Little Theatre.
Full article follows.
The New York Times
To Fans, Queensboro Bridge Is a Steel Swan, Not an ‘Ugly Duckling’
James Barron • March 29, 2009
This is about history, and not just because Monday is the 100th anniversary of the day the first cars officially crossed the Queensboro Bridge. This is about family history, the kind of history some might prefer to forget and certainly not speak about.
Somewhere on the East Side lives an 83-year-old woman who can look out her window at the Queensboro Bridge. This is the history part: The bridge outside her window – a 3,724-foot span of stone and steel and fanciful finials between the two anchor towers – is her ex-husband’s uncle’s bridge.
Or, to put it more clearly, Henry Hornbostel, the architect who designed the bridge, was the uncle of her former husband.
“It’s a family joke that she overlooks the bridge and sees it every day,” said her daughter, Elizabeth Valdez del Álamo, an art historian who also lives in Manhattan. “It’s a joke we all share, including her husband. We all appreciate the irony.”
Hornbostel’s creation, designed with Gustav Lindenthal, has a certain industrial, Erector Set symmetry that some bridge aficionados find irresistible. “I’ve been collecting Erector Sets,” said Dave Frieder, a photographer who is assembling a coffee-table book about the bridges in and around New York. “The Erector Set girders have this zigzag pattern. So does the Queensboro Bridge, on a large scale.”
He calls the upper roadway heading out of Manhattan “the road to forever.” Of course, he got to photograph it when that level was closed for repairs in the 1990s. F. Scott Fitzgerald rhapsodized about the view in the other direction in “The Great Gatsby”: “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”
But there are those who say the Queensboro Bridge is not nearly so romantic. After all, the historian David McCullough did not write a book about the Queensboro, the way he did about the struggle to bring the Brooklyn Bridge into being.
“That was easy,” said Jeffrey A. Kroessler, the author of “New York Year by Year: A Chronology of the Great Metropolis” (New York University Press, 2002). “Ask David McCullough what he can do with one of the ugly ducklings, like the Queensboro.”
One of the ugly ducklings? Not to Bob Singleton, an author of “Images of America: The Queensboro Bridge” and a trustee of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, which, by the way, will serve birthday cake on Monday at 7 p.m. at its headquarters. Other festivities are planned for late May and early June, mirroring events that took place 100 years ago.
“It’s really the quintessential American bridge,” Mr. Singleton said. “You get a massive feeling of the use of steel that went into that bridge. It’s a graceful bridge when you take a look at what they tried to accomplish, and it’s an iconic symbol of the city. It’s been in movies from ‘Dead End’ in the ’30s to ‘Spider-Man.’ But it’s very unassuming as it goes about its work.”
“Unassuming” is perhaps the appropriate word. “It’s very much like the place it goes to, Queens,” said Barry Lewis, an architectural historian. “Who lives in Queens?” Who, that is, besides Mr. Lewis, who grew up in Woodhaven and now lives in Kew Gardens.
But why not let him answer his own question? “You’re going to have your newsstand guy, your doorman, the guy who runs the store around the corner, they all live in Queens,” he said. “The people who live in Queens are really the people who make the city run in a basic, gritty way, and the bridge is exactly that. It’s not a bridge that you write poetry to.”
No, but Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song about it. They called it by its Manhattan-centric name, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” and included the line “Hello, lamppost.”
“Hello, darkness, my old friend,” from their hit single “The Sounds of Silence,” it is not.
Mr. Lewis said the bridge has a “heavy industrial aesthetic.” But it has its whimsical touches, thanks to Hornbostel. He reworked the original design, adding structural elements like the masonry towers with their dome-shaped tops. Mr. Singleton said Hornbostel even worked his initials into the base of the finials at the top of the bridge.
Hornbostel was a flamboyant man who bicycled from Brooklyn to Niagara Falls when he was a teenager. He was 94 when he died in 1961.
Ms. del Álamo, his great-niece, met him seven years before he died, when she was 7. She does not remember meeting her famous relative; she said her mother remembers him as “very likable, very elegant, and he treated us all like long-lost relatives.”
But Hornbostel and Lindenthal, who was the city’s bridge commissioner in the early years of the 20th century, are no longer household names. For a while this month, the Web site of the city’s Bridge Centennial Commission referred to Hornbostel as “Henry Hornblower.” By Friday, his name had been corrected. Besides the Queensboro, the two men also designed the Hell Gate Bridge, which links Queens and the Bronx.
As for what happened 100 years ago Monday, Mr. Singleton, of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, said that Mayor George B. McClellan rode in the first car across the bridge. One of the first vehicles was a farm wagon going home to Queens. It had made the trip to Manhattan, loaded with produce, on a ferry hours before the bridge opened.
But all those firsts were really seconds and thirds, according to Mr. Singleton. An acting mayor named Sullivan led the first official party across the bridge a year earlier, in 1908. That was after the spans that had started on opposite sides of the river had been joined, Mr. Singleton said.
In 1909, he said, the first official group to cross the bridge (an “official group” being different from an “official party” when it comes to firsts) made the trip on St. Patrick’s Day, two weeks before the opening. That little caravan represented the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Mr. Singleton speculated that the crossing was arranged to placate Irish-Americans in Queens who had objected to naming the bridge Queensboro because it sounded too British. One suggested finding a different name for the borough, not the bridge. (It had originally been called the Blackwell’s Island Bridge, using the name by which Roosevelt Island was then known.)
Queens devotees like Mr. Singleton and Mr. Kroessler say that the bridge was the single most important force in the borough’s development. “When we think of the modern Manhattan skyline, it came up in the 1920s and 1930s,” Mr. Kroessler said. “Those are the years people were moving into Queens and Brooklyn and the Bronx. Most of those people were moving into suburban-style housing. So you have this anomaly: The most urban symbol in the world, the Manhattan skyline, is going up when the population is spreading out and moving to what were essentially suburbs in places like Queens.”