New York's Golden Age of Bridges 9780823253081

In New York’s Golden Age of Bridges, artist Antonio Masi’s paintings and Joan Marans Dim’s text encourage the understand

187 59 15MB

English Pages 140 [131] Year 2013

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

New York's Golden Age of Bridges

Citation preview



Empire State Editions An imprint of Fordham University Press


New York 2012

Frontispiece: Cables—Manhattan Bridge (40" x 60") Copyright © 2012 Fordham University Press

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.

Fordham University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Fordham University Press also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Masi, Antonio. New York’s golden age of bridges / paintings by Antonio Masi ; essays by Joan Marans Dim. — 1st ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-8232-4065-4 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Masi, Antonio—Themes, motives. 2. Bridges in art. 3. Bridges—New York (State)—New York. I. Dim, Joan Marans. II. Title. ND237.M2555A4 2012 759.13—dc22 2011015521

Printed in China 14 13 12 5 4 3 2 1 First edition

For my wife, Elizabeth Jorg Masi — A.M. For my husband, Stuart Dim — J.M.D.

This page intentionally left blank

CONTENTS Foreword by Harold Holzer  ix Introduction  1 The Brooklyn Bridge (May 24, 1883)  7 The Williamsburg Bridge (December 19, 1903)  19 The Queensboro Bridge (March 30, 1909)  29 The Manhattan Bridge (December 31, 1909)  41 The George Washington Bridge (October 25, 1931)  53 The Triborough Bridge (July 11, 1936)  65 The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge (April 29, 1939)  77 The Throgs Neck Bridge (January 11, 1961)  89 The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (November 21, 1964)  101 Selected Bibliography  113 Acknowledgments  115 Williamsburg Bridge—Zag (60" x 28")

Index  117 vii

This page intentionally left blank

FOREWORD Harold Holzer

In 2007, a group of history- and civic-minded New Yorkers banded together under the leadership of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to plan a unique commemoration: the approaching centennial birthdays of not one but several of the city’s extraordinary bridges. Three years later, the group had issued medals honoring the Queensboro Bridge and some of its smaller, less renowned though equally well-traveled Harlem River spans and hosted public events calling attention to their importance. Admittedly, the centennials made no headlines. But if they managed to educate even a small number of students about the crucial, history-altering significance of these engineering marvels, then they succeeded admirably. I was proud to play a small role in the planning and execution of these events, along with friends like traffic expert extraordinaire Sam Schwartz, Borough President’s office veteran Maggi Peyton, planning board leaders Barry and Judith Schneider, and many others. Bridges are perhaps the most overlooked of the human-made, landscape-altering masterpieces of the New York cityscape. Skyscrapers earn architectural awards—and, in their absence, mass mourning. Old buildings provoke civic love and landmark status. Even subways evoke more interest: New York has a subway museum for those eager to recall the charms of the hot, noisy, malodorous vehicles of the past. But even the most majestic bridges merely exist—they function—and typical New Yorkers want nothing less than to linger over their beauty or dwell on their staying power. They want merely to cross them—to get from one side to the other—as quickly as

possible, without delay, without sentimentality, and, heaven knows, without traffic. They are not the stuff dreams are made of; rather, at their best, they conduct us from one dream to the next. Perhaps the best way to rekindle the awe they once inspired is to imagine a five-borough city without them. It is nearly impossible: something out of a science fiction movie. But consider that only a few years before Manhattan joined Brooklyn to form a greater New York in 1898, even the Brooklyn Bridge did not yet exist. When Abraham Lincoln arrived here in February 1860 to deliver his career-altering Cooper Union address and felt obliged as well to visit and worship at the Plymouth Church across the river in Brooklyn Heights, the only transport available to him was the slow-moving, wind-whipped Fulton Street ferry. At least the voyage was more agreeable than the one that brought him across the Hudson to Manhattan: On that ferry, he shared space with horses and other livestock. Such were the limits of civic routine even at the dawn of the Civil War. By the pre–World War II era, bridge openings had become big news. Construction of the George Washington Bridge included a contest to name it. The Triborough Bridge’s grand opening attracted no less a personage than President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even as it approached old age, the Queensboro Bridge inspired Simon & Garfunkel to compose an unforgettable tribute song. I myself remember journeying to rather rural Whitestone in the 1960s to watch in wonder as workers built the foundations for the Throgs Neck. And in the twenty-first century, as much as these relics might be taken for granted, ix

the renaming of the Triborough in memory of the late Robert F. Kennedy and, more recently, of the Queensboro in honor of former Mayor Edward I. Koch caused enough anxiety and disputation to draw sudden and earnest attention to engineering marvels that had long eluded serious notice. Build them and we exult. Open them and we cross them daily with hardly a thought about their virtuoso construction. But alter even the names with which we have known them all our lives and the suppressed love and sudden indignation pour forth like an open wound. Hard-hearted New York adores its old bridges, after all. Those who feel the love will find no better valentine than


this book. It explores the planning, building, and opening of all of New York’s extraordinary spans, and it does so in an accessible, appealing way. And it captures their breathtaking beauty and individuality with artistic portrayals that dazzle the eye. But the result is more than a coffee table book: It is a serious history of the way our forebears struggled to link this big, disparate, water-suffused city against the forces of nature, science, and nay-sayers, with daring, futuristic vision, consummate determination, architectural innovation, and high style. It will be hard to cross a treasured New York City bridge with indifference again.

“The bridges of New York City are in my DNA.”— Antonio Masi

This page intentionally left blank

INTRODUCTION In 1883, John Augustus Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge rose majestically over the roiling currents of the East River, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan. The bridge, hailed as the “new eighth wonder of the world,” signaled the start of the “Golden Age” of American bridge building and a time of immense hope, ambition, and invention. The bridges that followed would be the Williamsburg in 1903, the Queensboro (renamed the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge in 2011) and the Manhattan in 1909, the George Washington in 1931, the Triborough in 1936 (renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in 2008), the Bronx-Whitestone in 1939, the Throgs Neck in 1961, and the Verrazano-Narrows in 1964. As a result of this extraordinary undertaking, America would be for almost one hundred years the center for building large-scale, long-span suspension bridges. America’s great bridges, built almost entirely by immigrant engineers, architects, and laborers, have come to symbolize not only labor and ingenuity but also bravery and sacrifice. Each bridge took a human toll. Roebling himself died in the service of bridge building. But beyond those stories is another narrative—one that encompasses the dreams and ambitions of a city, and eventually a nation. At the turn of the twentieth century, traveling across the deep and wide harbors of the East and Hudson rivers was at best difficult. Ferries were overcrowded, undependable, and, in inclement weather, sometimes dangerous. The ferries could not handle the multitudes who wanted to cross the city’s rivers—only bridges had that capacity. As each bridge opened and as the outer boroughs and the

state of New Jersey were linked, residential and industrial development boomed, and the social, cultural, political, and economic growth of the metropolis blossomed. The new bridges also spurred the creation of a sprawling highway system that further expanded travel, commerce, and urbanization. Across the nation, engineers, politicians, city planners, and businesspeople took note and action. Soon the result of this great bridge building in New York City led to the rise of similar structures across the nation. Commerce expanded. Cities and states were connected. Insular burgs turned into thriving megalopolises. New highways crisscrossed the country, and the automobile, replacing the horse and buggy, quickly became king of the road. The populace now had a freedom of movement that had heretofore been unknown. Eventually, word of the Golden Age bridges and their significance would spread around the world—especially to Europe and Asia. The fact is, New York’s bridges transformed the way people live and work in New York City and set the example for the nation and even for the world. Today, New York’s Golden Age bridges still stand. As iconic as ever! As utilitarian as ever! As long as these bridges stand, the story of who we are, where we came from, and what we have accomplished also stands. For Antonio Masi, whose paintings grace this book, bridges connect more than one land mass to another—they connect to his distinctly American heritage. Thus, our story in words and paintings begins with Antonio’s grandfather Francesco Masi, an immigrant.

The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges. —Marcel Duchamp It so happens that the work which is likely to be our most durable monument, and to convey some knowledge of us to the most remote posterity, is a work of bare utility; not a shrine, not a fortress, not a palace, but a bridge. —Montgomery Schuyler, architectural critic, writing about the Brooklyn Bridge, Harper’s Weekly, 1883 Bridges to me are a connection, not just joining two landmasses, but an emotional state, one that acts as an invisible thread binding the past and future or, as in my case, binding a grandfather who helped build a bridge 100 years ago to a grandson who painted it. —Antonio Masi


The Power of a Story More than a century ago, Francesco Masi traveled to New York from Italy, looking for work. There, amid the Diaspora, he hauled steel as part of the labor force that built the Queensboro Bridge. His toil didn’t pay much; the work was hard and often dangerous, the hours long. By the time the bridge opened on March 30, 1909, some fifty people had given their lives to it. Soon after the bridge opened, Francesco returned to Italy. There, he regaled his family with stories of the burgeoning city, with its glut of scruffy and elegant humanity. He talked of Little Italy in lower Manhattan, where Genoans, Calabrians, Sicilians, and Neapolitans were settling; of men in derbies who walked briskly on lower Broadway; of women in longflowing skirts who pushed strollers on Washington Square; of a new-fangled underground rapid-transit system that ran from City Hall to 145th Street and Broadway; and of the scores of rising buildings that seemed to touch the sky. Most of all, Francesco talked about the city’s wondrous bridges and how these majestic structures connected the parts of the metropolis and made it whole and livable. Francesco died in 1941. But his adventures were retold in the Masi family, and the power of these bridges began to grow in the imagination of his grandson Antonio Masi. In 1947, Antonio, then a seven-year-old who loved to draw, embarked with his parents and seven siblings aboard a freighter bound for New York City from Palermo. Antonio still remembers his excitement at the outset of that journey. He couldn’t wait to see the bridges, especially the Queensboro— the one his grandfather had helped build. A Home on Second Avenue The Masi family settled in a tenement at 74th Street and Second Avenue. His father, Giuseppe Masi, worked as a janitor. 2

In the late 1940s and early ’50s, a boy could wander the city freely, and Antonio eagerly explored the five boroughs. One of Antonio’s favorite pastimes was ambling down Second Avenue to 59th Street and the Queensboro Bridge. He never tired of studying the span. Sometimes he rode the trolley that ran on the outer lanes of the bridge’s lower level on his way to visit his elder sister, Gina, who lived in Astoria. These frequent jaunts gave him, he says, a “bird’s-eye” view of the bridge. The Queensboro Bridge’s cantilever construction was especially intriguing to him. (Of the nine bridges described here, the Queensboro is the only one that is not a suspension bridge. Nevertheless, we consider it a Golden Age bridge because it was central to the city’s expansion.) Antonio was struck by the Queensboro Bridge’s distinctive look: the repetition of its symmetrical parts and the intricate, lacelike gathering of interlocking steel that gave the span an unexpected gracefulness, even delicacy. Yet he saw that the span also expressed enormous mass, power, and delicacy. These paradoxes would be important to him many years later. As Antonio studied the span, the idea to draw it percolated in his head. Looking northward from the East River around 57th Street, he sketched in charcoal a rough drawing of the bridge. He also sketched the turret buildings that stand at the bridge’s entrance on the Manhattan side. Shortly thereafter, on one of his trolley rides to Gina’s house, he had what he describes as a moment of “magical foresight”: He would one day paint not only the Queensboro Bridge but also the city’s other major bridges. “The bridges of New York City would be my artistic destiny,” he says. “And to honor my grandfather’s words and labor, I would begin with the Queensboro.” In 1955, Antonio, then fifteen years old, took and passed the test for what was at that time the High School of Industrial Art. He majored in illustration, graduated in 1958, and

received a full art scholarship to the School of Visual Arts, graduating with honors in 1961. He began his professional career working as a commercial artist for city publications and art agencies. In 1962, he married Elizabeth Jorg, an artist, and they had three children. In 1966, Antonio returned to his high school alma mater to teach art, and in 1973, he was named art department chairperson. He also enrolled in the City University of New York (CUNY) and in 1975 received a B.A. in the history of art. At CUNY, Antonio became interested in the Dutch Golden Age of painting, a period spanning the seventeenth century in which Dutch art was among the most acclaimed in the world. The painters of this era had left a profound legacy. He particularly admired Rembrandt’s work. As he studied Rembrandt’s work, Antonio saw a progressive change throughout the master’s life. Paintings increased in size; colors became richer and brush strokes more pronounced. He studied the master’s treatment of light and shadow. Antonio especially noted in Rembrandt’s later work the master’s thickly layered brushwork and his use of glazes— a thin, transparent layer of a darker paint over a lighter layer. “Glazing changes slightly the shade already laid down and heightens depth, color, and richness,” explains Antonio. Antonio also admired Rembrandt’s virtuoso draftsmanship. He understood that the master was capable of producing uncompromisingly realistic pictures. Yet he concluded, as had other scholars, that what made Rembrandt’s work unique was not his draftsmanship but his capacity to express a rare and unique emotionality. In Antonio’s view, Rembrandt seemed to convey an extraordinary range of moods. As his studies continued, Antonio began to think about how one day he could apply his knowledge and appreciation of Rembrandt’s artistry to his own work. In 1979, he left teaching and became a full partner in a graphic arts and printing plant

in New York City. Finally, in 2000, after almost forty years of working, Antonio retired from his nine-to-five responsibilities. At last, he would have the time and the means to realize his childhood goals.

Returning to the Queensboro Bridge Antonio returned to his study of the Queensboro Bridge. This time, instead of riding the bridge’s trolley (which was long gone), he hopped the Roosevelt Island Tramway and took the four-and-a-half-minute ride to the island. From the tram, which runs parallel to and, at certain points, above the span, he had breathtaking views. Now, as he studied the bridge, he says, he began to feel as though it had almost human qualities. The bridge had a mood, an attitude, a distinct personality. He wanted to get closer to the bridge—to really know it. So, one day, he decided to meet it. “The only way to meet it was to walk across it,” he explains. The tram kept him at a distance, and driving across the bridge was too quick. By walking across it, he could take his time. He could run his hands along the girders, explore odd angles, study the nuts and bolts, hear the cars and trucks rumbling by, and feel the springy surface of the bridge beneath his feet. At the same time, he closely observed the light and gauged the weather. These walks, solitary and frequent—and always back and forth—eventually gave him an intimacy with the bridge that later would be expressed in the complexity of the moods, details, and textures of his paintings. On his walks, he prodigiously photographed the Queensboro Bridge. Using a black marker, he also made quick abstract drawings. Returning to his Garden City studio on Long Island, he used watercolors and, on occasion, oils to roughly work out the composition and color schemes of future paintings.


Developing a Method As Antonio considered the task of creating fully worked-out bridge paintings, he found himself in a quandary as to what medium best suited his iconic subjects. Oil paint would provide the heaviness appropriate for massive structures. But he also wanted to capture each bridge’s delicacy. He needed a medium that would achieve both effects. His wife, Elizabeth, suggested he experiment with watercolor. “Watercolor, being a thin medium, organically allows expression of the most delicate subjects,” Antonio explains. “But I discovered that watercolor can also be used in a thick manner, and it therefore can express the heaviest subjects imaginable. I appreciated the contrasts that watercolor provided.” In 2005, his artist friend Ruth Baderian told Antonio about a Chinese-American painter, Paul Ching-Bor, who used watercolor in new and fresh ways and, like Antonio, painted bridges. As luck would have it, Ching-Bor was teaching on Sunday mornings at The Art Students League in Manhattan. Antonio signed up for the class. Ching-Bor, who worked on a large scale, soon suggested that Antonio work on a large scale, too. Doing so was a transforming experience that immersed Antonio even more deeply in his art. He found that his entire body was now engaged in the act of painting. He remembers feeling like a fencer. Alert! On the offensive! Taking risks! The results were palpable. Brushstrokes were bolder. Colors flowed with added brilliance. The new and larger paintings were more direct and complex than his earlier work. Antonio continues to hone his approach—to evolve and experiment. In the end, however, it is his use of watercolor that radically defies the old-fashioned expectations of the medium—that it is best for light, airy, and delicate subjects. Antonio developed a novel way to use watercolor thickly, in the same way that he (and others) used oils thickly. When he painted the bridges of New York City, he could now capture 4

exactly what he’d wanted—that paradox of mass, power, and delicacy. Additional defining elements of his work include an obsessive attention to detail and a knack for seeing the unseen: a red railing against a bridge’s grayness or the jigsawlike steel girders, the unusual angle that captured the bleak underbelly or the massive monolithic towers of a bridge. Yet perhaps most important is Antonio’s ability to evoke that rare and elusive emotionality that he so admired in Rembrandt and the other Dutch masters.

Painting the Queensboro Bridge As he began to paint the Queensboro Bridge, Antonio was captivated by a view that showed a foreshortened bridge reaching into the shrouded mist toward Roosevelt Island and Queens; to the left stood the tramway. He especially wanted to capture the indigo-blackness of interlacing steel as well as the bleakness of the day. He tacked a 60- x 40-inch watercolor paper to his studio wall and began to create the mood and mass of the larger areas using his fattest 8" hake brush to apply juicy washes. He added detail by applying layers of slightly thicker paint. Mood, energy, and texture were further heightened by loose brushwork. He then placed the painting on his studio floor and began glazing by applying thin, transparent coats of paint. (Sometimes Antonio glazes a painting as many as sixty times.) After each glaze dried, he added final descriptive details with repetitive layers of thicker and thicker paint. These last refinements gave the piece solidity. The final bridge and tramway image is a somber mix of greens, dark browns, and deep ultramarines. And there is a sense that something is about to happen—but exactly what is about to happen is a mystery. Antonio would name the painting NY Tramway II (page 38). In 2006, NY Tramway II won First Place in Landscape in The Artist’s Magazine’s annual “Best Art of 2006” contest. The

competition receives some 14,000 entries. The artist and juror Dean Mitchell wrote in the magazine that the painting was poetic and moody and had harmony, strong design, and unusual composition.

“Bridgescapes”: An Artistic Commitment If it were not for the bridges, New York would be a different city: smaller and more provincial. “The only reason the city grew the way it did was because of the bridges,” Antonio says. Many artists over the years have painted these remarkable structures. But no artist other than Antonio has committed to painting all nine of the city’s major bridges. By 2006, Antonio had completed some two dozen bridge paintings and named the series “Bridgescapes.” To date, he has completed more than one hundred paintings and drawn and painted thousands of sketches of all nine bridges. He also has steeped himself in the history of the Queensboro Bridge and later his other bridge subjects. “The bridges of New York City are in my DNA,” he explains. Coming Full Circle More than one hundred years have passed since Francesco Masi hauled steel for the Queensboro Bridge. What would he say about the city today? He surely wouldn’t recognize much

of it. Little Italy, once extending as far north as Bleecker Street and as far south as Bayard Street, is slowly being absorbed by Chinatown’s burgeoning infusion of Asians. Many Italians have dispersed to Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens, to the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue, and into other neighborhoods. Skyscrapers now seem to touch the stars. Men in derbies and women in long-flowing skirts have disappeared. The subway, now more than a century old, is no longer new-fangled. Its 842 miles of track crisscross every borough; laid end-to-end, the track would stretch from New York to Chicago. One also wonders: What would Francesco say about the addition of more than a half-dozen major bridges? He would surely be dazzled by the George Washington Bridge, described by Le Corbusier as “the most beautiful bridge in the world” and “the only seat of grace in a disordered city.” And the elegant Verrazano-Narrows Bridge would impress Francesco, too. Surely, it would please him that the bridge was named after a fellow Italian, Giovanni da Verrazano, who in 1524 was the first European explorer to sail into New York’s harbor. And finally, how would Francesco feel about the beauty and breadth of his grandson’s work? One can only guess at how pleased he would be to learn that it was his excitement about New York and its bridges that inspired Antonio’s artistic journey. One can only imagine . . .


This page intentionally left blank


View of Bridge (60" x 40") 7

D To so artfully merge the architecture of the past with the present, to handle steel for the first time with such deftness, to build a bridge of such utility as to accommodate the future without knowing the future, and to do all this in the face of terrible personal dangers is to do, quite amazingly, the impossible. That seems very American to me. —Antonio Masi

uring the winter of 1852, John Augustus Roebling, a German immigrant, bridge designer, and manufacturer of wire rope, took a ferry from Brooklyn across the lower East River to what was then all of New York City. Ice floes blocked the passage of Roebling’s ferry, and the trip took several hours. Roebling also noted the glut of ships in the river and the press of crowds waiting at the terminals to cross. At this time, New York was radically changing in terms of its wealth, magnitude, and configuration. Indeed, at the start of the Civil War, New York was already America’s leading metropolis—the “London of America”—with a population of 500,000 that was rapidly expanding. Commerce between Brooklyn and New York City required travel across the East River, a tidal strait connecting Upper New York Bay on its south end and Long Island Sound on its north end. At the time, Brooklyn was a separate city and would not become a part of New York until almost a half-century later. In the late nineteenth century, the East River was one of the busiest stretches of navigable salt water in the world. It also was one of the most treacherous. Unlike the tranquil waters of the Seine or the Thames, the East River’s constantly shifting tides made boat crossings sometimes long and occasionally disastrous. By the late 1800s, ferries, steamboats, and sailboats were transporting more than 125,000 people across it daily.

Right Time and Place Roebling saw that a bridge would allow people and goods to cross the East River quickly—whatever the weather. Thus he proposed building across the East River the world’s longest span, 1,595.5 feet from tower to tower. A suspension bridge, it would be the first to use steel (he said it was the “metal of the future”) for the wires, cables, and trusses. The use of steel, he 8

claimed, would make the bridge the safest and strongest in the world. Roebling estimated that the bridge would support 18,700 tons—an astounding weight to many. Roebling also proposed that the bridge have two granite neo-Gothic arched towers. The twin towers, standing 268 feet high, would be placed on either side of the river. The towers would serve two key purposes: They would bear the weight of four large cables, and they would hold both the cables and the roadway of the bridge high enough—135 feet—so as not to interfere with river traffic. Roebling estimated that some 40 million people would cross the bridge annually. In 1867, Roebling, as the bridge’s designer and chief engineer, presciently wrote: The contemplated work, when constructed in accordance with my design, will not only be the greatest bridge in existence, but it will be the greatest engineering work of this continent, and of the age. Its most conspicuous features, the towers, will serve as landmarks to the adjoining cities, and they will be entitled to be ranked as national landmarks. By 1867, Roebling was already established as a successful designer of bridges. Among his achievements were the Niagara Bridge, the world’s first railroad suspension bridge, and the Cincinnati-Covington Bridge, also a suspension bridge. At first, not everyone was keen on Roebling’s idea, nor was his East River bridge proposal the first. Roebling understood the public’s uncertainty and lack of knowledge about bridges. To succeed, he would need to aggressively market himself and his ideas to politicians, businessmen, and the public. Roebling aligned himself with William C. Kingsley, a Brooklyn businessman with political clout and the publisher of an influential newspaper, the Brooklyn Eagle. Kingsley successfully enlisted financial and political support, and Roebling’s bridge soon became a public and political fascination.

Undoubtedly, Roebling’s proposal was buttressed by the coming Industrial Revolution and a stream of immigration with its promise of ready labor. Clearly, those with cool business heads also understood that a bridge uniting New York and Brooklyn would accelerate commerce between the cities and would offer Brooklyn—the more undeveloped of the two cities—special opportunities for growth. New York then consisted only of Manhattan. Brooklyn, then America’s thirdlargest city, had approximately half of New York’s population. Incorporation of the two cities would occur in 1898.

The Bridge Prevails Despite Tragedy Regrettably, Roebling would not live to see his bridge built. In 1869, only one week after winning approval to build it, as he stood on piles along the Brooklyn shore plotting the precise position of the Brooklyn tower, a docking ferry clumsily crashed against a nearby slip. A stack of falling piles crushed his leg. Three weeks later he died of tetanus. His son Colonel Washington Roebling, also an engineer, replaced his father as chief engineer. Fortunately, John A. Roebling left comprehensive records of the bridge’s design. Still, Colonel Roebling would need to apply his own inventiveness to address the bridge’s many construction challenges. Construction began on January 3, 1870. One of Colonel Roebling’s great challenges was to build a secure foundation for the bridge’s two massive towers. To do this, he needed to reach the solid rock of the riverbed. He built giant airtight wooden chambers, called caissons, in which mostly immigrant workers, dubbed “sand hogs,” shoveled and used dynamite to clear the mud and boulders from the bottom of the river. Each week, the caissons inched closer to the riverbed. To get to and from the caissons, the sand hogs rode in small iron containers called airlocks. As an airlock descended into the river, it filled with compressed air that made breathing in the caisson possible and kept water from seeping into

it. However, changes in air pressure affected the nitrogen levels in the bloodstreams of the sand hogs, who often endured headaches, itchy skin, bloody noses, and slower heartbeats. More serious problems included numbness, convulsions, and paralysis. The condition, on occasion fatal, was labeled the “bends” or “caissons disease.” At least three sand hogs died, and more than one hundred required medical treatment. Their pay for such work: $2.00 a day. In 1872, Colonel Roebling, who often supervised the sand hogs in the caissons, suffered an attack of the bends and was paralyzed. Too sick to visit the bridge site, he spent much of the decade of the bridge’s construction in his Brooklyn Heights residence at 110 Columbia Heights. During the bridge’s construction, Emily Warren Roebling, ably guided by her husband, assumed day-to-day supervision of the project at the bridge site and dealt with the press and public officials. Writes David McCullough in The Great Bridge: [Emily] kept all [Colonel Roebling’s] records, answered much of his mail, delivered various messages or requests to the bridge offices, went to the bridge itself to check on things for him and was his representative at occasional social functions. She was quite literally his eyes, his legs, his good right arm. . . . Although Colonel Roebling lived to see the finished bridge, he remained a semi-invalid for the rest of his life. He died July 21, 1926, at age eighty-nine. In the end, some twenty-seven workers gave their life to the bridge. An exact count does not exist because official records were not kept. John A. Roebling’s estimate of how long it would take to build the bridge and how much it would cost missed the mark. The bridge took three times as long to build as first estimated and cost $15.1 million, more than twice the $7 million estimate. Nevertheless, the engineering achieve9

ments were significant—John A. Roebling and Colonel Roebling’s daring use of steel, caissons, and wire rope revolutionized bridge construction forever. The Brooklyn Bridge opened to the public on May 24, 1883.

The Art of the Bridge Although John A. Roebling believed his bridge would be “the greatest bridge in existence,” one wonders if he anticipated to what degree his creation would stir the pens, brushes, and hearts of countless poets, writers, and artists. Antonio Masi is one of those artists. As fortune would have it, Antonio’s graphic arts business moved in 2000 to a neighborhood in Brooklyn called DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), only steps from the East River. This meant that the bridges of lower Manhattan—the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg—became old friends. Antonio believes that his feelings for the Brooklyn Bridge relate to his pride in his adopted country. To him, the achievements of the bridge personify American know-how. He explains: To so artfully merge the architecture of the past with the present, to handle steel for the first time with such deftness, to build a bridge of such utility as to accommodate the future without knowing the future, and to do all this in the face of terrible personal dangers is to do, quite amazingly, the impossible. That seems very American to me. To Antonio, the Brooklyn Bridge also exemplifies “pure art and pure power.” Others have compared the bridge to the Roman Colosseum, the Court of Thebes, and the Cathedrals of Rheims and Westminster. Antonio is especially drawn to the 10

massive neo-Gothic arches, which remind him of cathedral windows. Looking south from his window in DUMBO, Antonio saw the Manhattan Bridge and then the Brooklyn Bridge. He studied the view from the perspectives of mood and light. Different times of the day as well as seasons changed everything. In 2004, he decided to paint the two bridges as he saw them through his window and to include the window in the painting. The painting, Broken Window (page 41), features the Manhattan Bridge. But in the filmy distance, the Manhattan tower of the Brooklyn Bridge looms. Interestingly, Antonio added a broken window. In reality, the window was unbroken. Antonio often improvises by adding descriptive details that are not factual. This small inventive addition of the broken window heightens the painting’s mood and interest. Today, Broken Window stands as one of Antonio’s earliest and most memorable bridge paintings. Another paean to the Brooklyn Bridge, especially the bridge’s Gothic towers, is an eerie painting entitled Sunset— Brooklyn Bridge I (page 17). A large vertical work, the painting profiles the Brooklyn tower framed by a reddish sunset. The details of the steel cables—finely traced lines—run down from the tower and add to the work’s effect. The painting, at first look, appears straightforward. But it is intensely ambiguous. Consider again Antonio’s notion of the arches as cathedral windows. Then it dawns: He has painted the tower as a crucifix, and the background’s bleeding sunset suggests the blood of the cross. The work demonstrates the progression of Antonio’s art. One sees, for example, his move from small to large paintings and his willingness to grapple with deeper ideas, richer colors, and, on occasion, even gloomier moods. Sunset—Brooklyn Bridge I was painted in 2008. The author/artist John A. Parks’s essay “Think Big, Paint Big” in Watercolor magazine notes the expanding directions of Antonio’s artistry:

Occasionally the artist has already ventured into a more colored world where the scene is drenched in spectacular reds and yellows. . . . If Masi does succeed in infusing his work with even richer colors while keeping the powerful atmosphere that infuses all his pictures, we can look forward to a great many more pleasures.

Brooklyn Bridge Lore Antonio Masi likes to “meet” his subjects. He does this, when it is possible, by walking across each bridge that he paints. Not all bridges have pedestrian and bike paths, but the Brooklyn Bridge happens to have one of the world’s most commodious bridge walkways. When walking across the Brooklyn Bridge Antonio often thinks about the art, myths, prose, and poetry of the bridge. Many subjects come to mind: For example, in David McCullough’s The Great Bridge, he recalls a reference to the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in which a young soldier from Pennsylvania comes to New York for the first time after World War I. “I thought if I ever I got to New York,” says the soldier, “I’d like to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.” The line resonates with Antonio because it evokes his immigrant heritage. He also shares the exhilaration of those who’ve trod the bridge and the yearning of those who wish to tread the bridge. On any given weekend, thousands of people jog, walk, skate, and bicycle on the walkway. Lovers stroll hand in hand. The walkway is often so crowded that two people cannot stroll easily side by side. Tourists jam the bridge, carrying cameras and camcorders, seeing and recording much. As you approach the bridge’s center from the Brooklyn side, you can look south and see the Statue of Liberty. On the clearest of days, some say, they see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. To the north stands the Manhattan Bridge. Farther up

the river (out of sight) is the Williamsburg Bridge. To the west stands Manhattan. In 1883, only the spire of New York’s Trinity Church on lower Broadway could compete in stature with the bridge. Today Trinity’s spire is hidden amid Manhattan’s downtown canyons. Many poets and artists have expressed their appreciation of the Brooklyn Bridge. Marianne Moore’s poem “Granite and Steel” appeals to Antonio, who says that the poem not only expresses Moore’s appreciation of the Brooklyn Bridge as art but also gracefully tells the story of its building. Antonio also has studied many of the painters who have captured the Brooklyn Bridge and particularly admires the work of Joseph Stella, also an Italian immigrant, who, at age nineteen, arrived in New York in 1896—just a few years before Francesco Masi, Antonio’s grandfather, came to work on the Queensboro Bridge. In her book Joseph Stella, Barbara Haskell writes that Stella’s “. . . depictions of New York—especially those of the Brooklyn Bridge—are quintessential emblems of the machine age and American industrial genius and prowess.” Stella, widely known as a Futurist, often painted the Brooklyn Bridge. Indeed, he returned to the subject of the Brooklyn Bridge so often that it became his signature image. Antonio (and others, too) speculates that Stella returned to the image of the Brooklyn Bridge so often as a way of affirming a connection to his adopted homeland. Like Stella’s, Antonio’s bridge paintings certainly help connect him to America, but his bridge paintings also connect to his past—most especially to his grandfather.

An Intriguing History In 1885, Robert E. Odlum was the first man to leap off the bridge. He did not survive. In 1895, Clara McArthur was the first woman to leap off the bridge. She cleverly put twenty pounds of sand in her stockings so she would fall feet first. She sur11

vived. In 1886, Steve Brodie, who was found alive under the Brooklyn Bridge, swore that he had survived a jump from the bridge. Brodie’s claim likely was a hoax; he had no witnesses to his jump. Today, his act lives in infamy in the phrase “To do a Brodie,” which has the double meaning of jumping off a bridge or failing miserably at something. Antonio’s favorite Brooklyn Bridge story is about P. T. Barnum, American showman and circus entrepreneur. Shortly after the bridge’s opening, a tragedy occurred on Memorial Day in 1883 when a woman walking up the bridge’s Manhattan steps tripped, and her companion screamed. The scream triggered a rumor on the bridge that it was collapsing. A panic ensued and twelve people were trampled and killed; thirty-five were seriously injured. After this incident, Barnum, in a brilliant public relations ploy, took a herd of twenty-one elephants across the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn to prove its strength and safety. Ever the showman, Barnum included his star performer, the seven-ton elephant named Jumbo. When Barnum and his elephants reached Brooklyn, he declared to the delight of the media and spectators that the bridge was sound.

The Eternal Bridge Somehow—certainly helped by art, myth, film, prose, poetry, and public relations—the Brooklyn Bridge has helped unite the mosaic of New York. For New Yorkers, the city without the Brooklyn Bridge is unimaginable. Even in the worst of times, it has been there, a comforting witness to our sorrows. Who can forget September 11, 2001, and the spectacle of thousands fleeing across the bridge to the safe harbor of Brooklyn? In truth, the artistic and historical narrative of the Brooklyn Bridge has been an ever-widening circle of ideas and metaphors that reaches well beyond the metropolis. It is a narrative of a distinctly American dream—one filled with persistent ambition, an almost unending stream of immigrants, and exceptional ingenuity in the face of huge engineering challenges. Not surprisingly, a similar narrative is often echoed in the great spans that followed.

(opposite) Nocturne—Brooklyn Bridge (40" x 60") 12


Brooklyn Tower (60" x 40")

(opposite) Sunset— Brooklyn Bridge (40" x 60") 14


Tracks— Brooklyn Bridge (60" x 40")


Sunset— Brooklyn Bridge I (60" x 40")


This page intentionally left blank


A View from Below (60" x 40") 19

U What I like most about the Willie B. is that it is basic and functional. It isn’t trying to be anything but what it is: a bridge that allows you to easily go back and forth! That’s it. —Antonio Masi


nlike its neighbor, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge has not stirred the muse of many artists or writers. No epic poems, no brilliant paintings, or breathless expressions of praise by critics of its design exist. Nor does anybody seem impelled to leap off or lie about leaping off it. Nor is there any record of P. T. Barnum’s testing the Williamsburg Bridge’s strength with Jumbo and the rest of the herd. Indeed, if a bridge were a Cinderella, then it would be a tossup as to whether it would be the Williamsburg Bridge or the Manhattan Bridge, as we will see in that bridge’s chapter. The Williamsburg Bridge was built to relieve traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge and was New York City’s second East River bridge. It connects Manhattan’s Lower East Side at Clinton and Delancey streets with Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood at Broadway and Roebling Street. The bridge opened to the public on December 19, 1903. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Lower East Side was home to thousands of poor Jewish and other immigrants, who were packed into squalid tenements. Soon after the bridge opened, many of these Jewish immigrants used the bridge as an escape route and fled across it to the more agreeable neighborhood of Williamsburg. In 1904, an article in Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune mentioned the flow of Jewish traffic from the Lower East Side to Williamsburg and dubbed the bridge “The Jews’ Highway.” The name hasn’t stuck to the bridge, although there is still a sizeable Chasidic community in Williamsburg. In the early 1900s, Williamsburg was an industrial community dependent on ferry service and home to mainly Irish and German immigrants who named their community “Kleine Deutschland”—Little Germany. These Irish and German immigrants often worked in Williamsburg’s thriving breweries and sugar refineries. Within a decade after the bridge opened, Williamsburg’s

population doubled as it became a place of shelter and opportunity not only for Jewish immigrants but also for Italians and Poles. By the mid-1950s, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and others had joined the neighborhood. For many immigrants—working stiffs, really—who settled in Williamsburg, the bridge has been a “highway” to the goldine madina, the golden land.

Utility and Art—Never Did the T wain Meet The Williamsburg Bridge, whose towers are 1,600 feet apart, unseated the Brooklyn Bridge as the longest suspension bridge in the world by four-and-a-half feet. As noted in the Brooklyn Bridge chapter, the Brooklyn Bridge’s towers are 1,595.5 feet apart. The Williamsburg Bridge also was the first suspension bridge to have all-steel towers—likely its most unusual feature. Leffert Lefferts Buck, a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who had worked with the Roeblings, designed the bridge and served as its first chief engineer; it is widely thought that Buck was influenced by the designs of Alexandre Gustav Eiffel, known for his eponymous Tower, built in 1889 for the Paris Exhibition. Construction began on November 7, 1896. The estimated cost was $7 million, less than half the $15.1 million that the Brooklyn Bridge cost. The Williamsburg Bridge’s final cost was $24.2 million, more than three times the original estimate. From the beginning, controversy followed the bridge. The ungainly towers rankled many. As the bridge neared completion and New Yorkers saw what had been wrought, pressure for design improvements mounted. Finally, in 1902, with the bridge almost fully in place, New York City’s mayor, Seth Low, appointed Gustav Lindenthal to serve as commissioner of the new Department of Bridges. Lindenthal, a brash fifty-two-year-old born in Moravia, was an established bridge builder. In the 1880s, he had built a series of long-span steel and wrought-iron bridges in Pittsburgh. As

the years passed, he would become an important figure in New York City’s world of bridges, and his design accomplishments would include the East River’s Queensboro Bridge, opened in 1909, and the Hell Gate Arch Bridge, a railroad span, opened in 1917. He would also serve as a consultant on the George Washington Bridge. In 1902, however, the accomplishments of the Queensboro, Hell Gate Arch, and George Washington bridges were a long way off. For Lindenthal, the Williamburg Bridge presented vexing problems. He intensely disliked the Williamsburg Bridge’s design and publicly proclaimed that its towers were “the ugliest possible.” To rectify the situation, he removed Buck as chief engineer and assigned the noted architect Henry Hornbostel the task of improving the bridge aesthetically. Buck stayed on as consulting engineer. Financial problems also plagued the bridge. The capital improvements that Lindenthal and Hornbostel wanted to implement were largely overruled by the city, which simply did not want to spend large sums of money on a bridge that so many people disliked. The capital improvements that did squeak by—ornamentations such as curlicues to the towers and globular decorations beside the towers—didn’t result in a significant aesthetic improvement. A 1903 article in Scientific American attempted unsuccessfully to be positive: Several sentences read: As a matter of fact, the [Williamsburg Bridge] is an engineer’s bridge pure and simple. The eye may range from anchorage to anchorage and from pier to finial [an architectural decoration] of the tower without finding a single detail that suggests controlling motive, either in its design or fashioning other than bald utility. The finished bridge, despite the efforts of Lindenthal and Hornbostel, pleased few people.

In The Bridges of New York, Sharon Reier offers her impression: The bridge’s . . . tall towers dominate the adjacent neighborhoods like oil rigs among Oklahoma shanties. They are stark, skeletal. The trusses are ponderous. It would seem the designer Leffert Lefferts Buck had little interest in designing an architecturally harmonious structure.

Cutting Costs Courts Disaster As the years rolled by, displeasure with the bridge’s design would pale as a more troubling problem emerged—one that would ultimately threaten the life of the bridge. The trouble was traced to a crucial error in judgment made by Buck during his tenure as chief engineer. Buck likely in an effort to conserve money decided not to galvanize—coat with zinc—the cables on the Williamsburg Bridge. (Colonel Roebling had wisely galvanized the cables on the Brooklyn Bridge.) Buck’s error made the Williamsburg Bridge’s four cables—each 18¾ inches in diameter, consisting of 7,696 individual wires less than twotenths of an inch thick—vulnerable to rust and corrosion. Only seven years after the bridge opened, broken wires were discovered in the anchorages holding the main cables. During the next half-century, repairs were made on the cables by oiling and rewrapping them in galvanized wire. Support towers were also added to the side spans. But more trouble lay ahead. To Raze or Not to Raze The Williamsburg Bridge, like so many of New York City’s bridges (and other bridges across America), was not properly maintained for much of the twentieth century. Most everyone who lived near the bridge or traveled across it was aware of its deteriorated condition. But little was done. In the mid-1960s, 21

the problem of “a rain of rust falling on pedestrians as they crossed the bridge” was reported in the New York World-Telegram & Sun. Still, nothing was done. Not until the late 1980s was a thorough inspection of the bridge completed, revealing rust and corrosion throughout the bridge’s cables, beams, and steel supports. Emergency repairs were performed. By this time, some (perhaps many) deemed the bridge a hopeless wreck and thought it should be razed. In November 1988, just when the bridge’s future looked gloomiest, plans to raze it were scrapped. Instead, the city committed to a massive rehabilitation plan. The goal: Ready the bridge for another century of service. As always, money was the deciding factor. At the time, repairs were estimated at $250 million. A replacement span was estimated to cost between $600 million and $1 billion. On a bridge like the Williamsburg, rehabilitation never truly ends. One project simply follows another. In 1991, the city began its first major overhaul of the bridge, including repairs of the four main cables, trusses, and roadways and major upgrades to the bridge’s towers. The tower improvements included new copper cable saddle housings that replaced older, rusting stamped-steel housings and new custom-cut steel plates to provide additional strength as well as ease a century’s worth of stress. By 2006, most of the larger projects were completed. The result of the city’s rehabilitation was a transformation. The rusty wreck that was the Williamsburg Bridge suddenly had new life. The ugly duckling hadn’t exactly turned into a swan, but it wasn’t an ugly duckling anymore either. Today, the Williamsburg Bridge, far from a crumbling wreck, carries some 140,000 vehicles daily. Two subway tracks carry approximately 100,000 people a day. Two pedestrian and bicycle paths bustle with joggers, bicyclists, sightseers, an occasional rollerskater, kids sporting backpacks, Chasids in their black hats and long black coats, and many others. 22

The Art of the Bridge Antonio, like so many others, enjoys his walks on the Williamsburg Bridge. As usual, he has his sketchbook and camera with him. He remembers that his first impression of the Williamsburg Bridge as a boy was that it looked like a gigantic Erector Set—a metal construction toy popular during the 1950s. He also remembers the bridge’s years of decay. “Just riding across the bridge in the 1970s and 1980s was creepy,” he says. “Rust was everywhere.” Surely, he thought, the bridge after its rehabilitation would be different from what those early memories suggest.

A Walk in the T wenty-first Century Antonio particularly remembers a midday walk during the spring of 2006; he ambled eastward from Delancey along the walkway and soon approached the newly renovated Manhattan tower. He noted that its scale was so much smaller than that of the Brooklyn Bridge’s towers. The tower soared skyward, not straight up but angling in—wider at the base and narrower at the top. As the sun played peek-a-boo with the clouds, he admired the repetition of the tower’s crisscrossing steel work. Four cables, two on each of the tower’s peaks, curved downward in a blurry haze. At that moment, the tower impressed him. On this day, the tower looked new. Indeed, it was almost new. It had just been freshly rehabilitated. In the foreground, crossing girders framed but did not distract from the tower. This is the scene Antonio would paint. The ensuing painting, A View from Below (page 19), well demonstrates Antonio’s skill. Says Barbara Wing, manager of Exhibitions and Curator at the Brooklyn Public Library:

A View from Below, more than anything, conveys what few before have painted or written about. Although Antonio’s depiction of the tower leaves little room for idealization, the tower is graceful, even beautiful. Another key point is that the painting avoids any sense of architectural or technical rendering. Antonio paints it as he sees it. The finished work is majestic and worthy of the Masters. It’s also stunning to me that these enormous works are made from watercolor—such a tricky medium, especially when working so large. Indeed, the immense size gives the work a unique gravitas. Gustav Lindenthal and Henry Hornbostel (and others), who were so critical of the bridge at its creation (Lindenthal even refused to have his name on the bridge’s plaque), would be astonished by Antonio’s modern depiction of the bridge as well as by its current beautification. Antonio explains that his artistic interest in the Williamsburg Bridge is in discovering individual parts of the bridge that others have not always appreciated. In his view, the Williamsburg Bridge’s recent rehabilitation is a grand success. “The bridge now looks like a structure to which care has been given,” he says. “It has a general feeling of openness, and it also feels strong. Trains rumble across it, but the bridge does not tremble. Traffic seems to purr. The approaches to the bridge are as spare and sensible as the bridge itself. No fancy arches or colonnade adorn entranceways. Two open walkways, smartly suspended over the bridge’s roadway, allow for distant and up-close views of the towers. The walkways’ railings are painted red. I love that touch. The crimson contrasts with the gray steel girders and towers; the overall effect gives the bridge an unanticipated feel of modernism.”

A recent walk across the bridge was a joy, although the weather was frigid. The views mid-bridge are spectacular and pure New York. On the north side is the Queensboro Bridge and the sweeping skyline of Midtown. Tucked into a corner on the Queens side is the Domino Sugar factory—a relic of Williamsburg’s industrial past; it closed in 2004. On the south side of the bridge, along the curve of the river and then downtown, just a little, are the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. The FDR Drive, to the west, runs along the bank of the river. Antonio maintains that the “Willie B,” his affectionate nickname for the Williamsburg Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge provide the best walks of the lower East River bridges. The Brooklyn Bridge’s broad promenade, not unexpectedly, gets his top honors. “What I like most about the Willie B,” he adds, “is that it is basic and functional. It isn’t trying to be anything but what it is: a bridge that allows you to easily go back and forth! That’s it.”

Respect, Finally The opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 followed by that of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 triggered the rapid expansion of the city beyond Manhattan. Even now, the towers of both bridges dominate the skylines. Yet the responses they evoke are often enormously different. The magnificence of one span continues to enthrall the world and stands as a monument to American ingenuity. The other continues to stand as the no-frills span of working stiffs—not universally admired for its beauty but respected for its utility. The Williamsburg Bridge, a New York City survivor, celebrated its centennial in 2003. The odds are good it will still be around in 2103.


Willie B— Williamsburg Bridge (60" x 40")


Alone on the Williamsburg Bridge (40" x 60") 25


Diagonal Girder (40" x 60") (opposite) Supporting Arm (40" x 60") 27

This page intentionally left blank


Sunday Morning— 59th Street Bridge (40" x 30") 29

A When I’m on the Queensboro Bridge, I am home. — Antonio Masi

On March 23, 2011, the Queensboro was renamed the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge after former Mayor Koch, a New York City icon who served from 1978 to 1989. 30

t the turn of the twentieth century, New York City had two East River crossings—the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges. The bridges connected lower Manhattan, a crowded metropolis, with Brooklyn, soon to become another crowded metropolis. Some in lower Manhattan required a place where they could live a more quiet and commodious life than the one Manhattan island offered. Just as Jews, and later others, would stream across the Williamsburg Bridge seeking sanctuary, so, too—in the not-so-distant future—would Manhattan residents who lived uptown seek similar sanctuary. The answer to their quest would be a new bridge, the Queensboro (originally called the Blackwell’s Island Bridge), connecting 59th Street and Second Avenue with Queens at Long Island City.

The Building of the Queensboro Bridge The task of building an East River bridge “uptown” would take some seventy years to complete. Along the way, numerous ideas and designs were proposed and dismissed. Initial discussions began in the 1830s, when a group of eminent citizens, including Austin Corbin, railroad tycoon; William Steinway, piano manufacturer; and Dr. Thomas Rainey, steamship operator, proposed building a bridge over Blackwell’s Island, a two-mile outcropping of rock located midstream between Manhattan and Queens. (Blackwell’s Island is now known as Roosevelt Island.) A lack of finances and municipal indifference stalled the project until the 1850s, when John A. Roebling expressed an interest in building a bridge over Blackwell’s Island. During the mid-1800s, New York City, which then consisted only of Manhattan, was growing at an extraordinary pace and would soon contain more people than Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston combined. In addition, immigrants from Europe were pouring into the city by the tens of thousands. Despite

all this, John A. Roebling could not persuade investors that the booming city would soon need a bridge to Queens. Pundits and others often criticize politicians for building “bridges to nowhere.” What is not readily understood is that in many cases a nowhere becomes a somewhere only after a bridge is in place. It took great prescience to envision the practicality—indeed the necessity—of building a bridge to Queens. Those who pushed to build the Queensboro Bridge—men including Austin Corbin, William Steinway, Dr. Thomas Rainey, and John A. Roebling—were pioneers of futurist planning. Roebling reluctantly discarded the idea of an uptown bridge in favor of building his “Great” bridge downtown, where the city was more developed and financiers, particularly those in Brooklyn, understood the value of a bridge to their city. Finally, in 1899, interest in a bridge to Queens awakened. After many stops and starts, R. S. Buck (no relation to Leffert Lefferts Buck), an engineer, submitted a cantilever design for a Queensboro Bridge. In 1901, Buck’s design received government approval. But, as usual with all the city’s bridges, construction would not follow a smooth path. Soon after R. S. Buck’s design was approved, bridge builder Gustav Lindenthal was installed as the first commissioner of the city’s new Department of Bridges. When Lindenthal stepped into his new job, the Williamsburg Bridge was almost fully in place. Construction of the Williamsburg Bridge had begun in 1896—five years before Lindenthal’s appointment. Lindenthal had been deeply vexed by the “ugliness” of the Williamsburg Bridge’s towers and had struggled, in his view mostly in vain, to beautify them. Now, as he reviewed R. S. Buck’s design for the Queensboro Bridge, he found himself once again vexed. He flatly declared Buck’s proposal ugly. But time was now on Lindenthal’s side. The Queensboro Bridge was in its design phase. No ground had been broken on the project. And changes could be made. A man of action, Lindenthal promptly removed R. S. Buck

as chief engineer of the Queensboro Bridge and named himself to that position. Then he hired Henry Hornbostel, noted architect, who had helped out on the Williamsburg Bridge, to collaborate with him on the redesign of the Queensboro Bridge.

Fusing Art with Engineering Lindenthal’s goal was to fuse art and engineering. He wanted to create a bridge that was serviceable and architecturally pleasing. “In a bridge,” Lindenthal declared, “it is not possible to separate the architectural from the engineering features.” In his redesign of the bridge, Lindenthal retained R. S. Buck’s idea for two large cantilever spans of 1,182 feet and 984 feet, connected by a smaller span of 630 feet over what is now Roosevelt Island. The main spans are flanked by side spans of 469 feet on the Manhattan side and 459 feet on the Queens side. A description of the Queensboro Bridge’s cantilever design is provided in Images of America: The Queensboro Bridge: The construction is similar to [that of] a diving board, with the cantilever span analogous to the end of the board extending over the water. This type of bridge also took advantage of the . . . Roosevelt Island location. The bridge was to be put together with nickel-steel, a new alloy, and eye bars [flat lengths of nickel-steel joined at their ends by steel pins] instead of cable. The cantilever design was considered economical to build and stronger than that of a suspension bridge, and it allowed for long spans with wide clearances beneath the road deck. Lindenthal’s new design narrowed the bridge. Instead of its being 120 feet wide, he made it 80 feet wide. He also made the bridge a double-decker, thus adding to its capacity and grace-

fulness. Total length would be 7,449 feet. The bridge would be supported by four 350-foot steel towers constructed on stone piers. Finally, the United Pennsylvania Steel Company was hired to provide steel for the bridge, and construction began on July 19, 1901.

Construction Woes A number of problems plagued the project. An uncompleted section of the bridge collapsed during a windstorm. A steel strike interrupted construction. And union saboteurs, opposing the project’s open-shop policy, dynamited a span. The most troubling occurrence was a tragedy that occurred far from the Queensboro Bridge’s construction site. In 1907, as Lindenthal and Hornbostel struggled to complete their bridge, shocking news came from Canada that a cantilever bridge under construction in Quebec had collapsed. Killing seventy-four workers—mostly Mohawk Indians—the collapse raised serious doubts about the safety of cantilever bridges generally and of the Queensboro Bridge specifically. But independent consultants assessed the nascent Queensboro and declared the bridge’s design safe and reliable, except for one hitch. The consultants were concerned about an overuse of steel beams that made the bridge too heavy and possibly unsafe. When Hornbostel finally saw the completed bridge—and its excesses of steel beams—he was famously quoted as saying: “My God, it’s a blacksmith’s shop!” The overload of steel was removed, and the bridge was deemed safe, lighter, and more beautiful. The Queensboro Bridge was opened to the public on March 30, 1909. It cost approximately $20 million. Fifty people had died during construction.


The Art of the Bridge Antonio’s grandfather Francesco Masi would live to see the bridge finished and upon his return to Italy tell the story of his journey. Thirty-nine years later, in 1948, Francesco’s grandson Antonio would begin his own journey on the Queensboro Bridge. When Antonio, at age eight, took his first walk across the Queensboro, the bridge was thirty-nine years old, not even middle-aged, if a bridge’s lifespan is calculated to be one hundred–plus years. Antonio gallantly says—as though he might be referring to a woman of a certain age—that he has seen the bridge “mature.” The truth is he has seen the bridge’s creeping age— the pitted roadways, incessant rust, corrosion, and peeling paint. In 1978, engineers assessing the bridge found multiple structural defects. Something had to be done. In 1981 the city began reconstruction projects, costing an estimated halfbillion dollars. Improvements included rehabilitating and reconfiguring roadways, replacing outer roadway floor beams, cleaning and repairing stonework, and adding new drainage and electrical systems. Today the bridge seems in a constant state of repair. A walk across the bridge reveals occasional rusted girders and unpainted sections (true of all the bridges); certainly, the bridge is not the wreck it was three decades ago, but work always needs to be done. The walkway, located on the north side, is divided by a white line—one side for bikers, the other for pedestrians. Many of Antonio’s paintings of the Queensboro have been done from the walkway’s perspective. As Antonio passes a large cactuslike girder, he pauses to study it. It is black with peeling rust. Several years earlier, he 32

had painted this girder and the walkway, too, and called it Sunday Morning—59th Street Bridge (page 29). “Sunday Morning—59th Street Bridge was completed after returning from a painting trip in the Arizona desert,” he explains. “Its genesis began during a Sunday-morning walk across the Queensboro when I saw a steel girder that instantly reminded me of a cactus that I’d recently painted. The girder, like the cactus, was majestically isolated.” When he’d painted the girder, he adds, it was healthy—it did not suffer rust or peeling paint. He also notes that the painting has a feeling of isolation; there are no people on the walkway. Of late, he is adding people and also vehicles to his paintings to humanize the bridges and provide scale. The glowing red rear lights of vehicles often add a nuanced splash of color to often steel-grayish or otherwise dark paintings. Examples of this nuanced technique can be found in Under the Bridge (page 36) as well as in other paintings. The walkway provides an unobstructed view of the East Side’s sleek high-rise skyline, the more modest low-slung buildings in Queens, as well as Roosevelt Island. Upriver is the Roosevelt Island Bridge, which crosses the East Channel of the East River between Queens and Roosevelt Island. Beyond are the Hell Gate Arch Bridge (likely Lindenthal’s greatest design achievement) and then the Triborough Bridge, now the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. The Queensboro Bridge’s lower deck is low-slung, although the four towers with their delicate torchlike architectural refinements are visible. A southern view is partially blocked by low-hanging girders. But you still can see the Williamsburg Bridge and to the west Manhattan’s downtown skyline; the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the UN Building predominate. Antonio cannot count the times he has walked the Queensboro Bridge. “When I am on the Queensboro Bridge,” he says simply, “I am home.”

He’d rather paint the Queensboro Bridge than any other bridge; indeed, he has painted more pictures of the Queensboro than any other bridge. He jokes that he is a man obsessed—much like the French Impressionist Claude Monet, who produced some 250 paintings of water lilies.

Awe, Grandeur, and Power Robert Armetta, artist, teacher, and the founder and director of the Long Island Academy of Art, has reviewed many of Antonio’s Queensboro Bridge paintings and says the series reveals the artist’s vision, technical mastery, and growing confidence. Armetta feels that each painting is more stunning and intense than another. And each reveals its own particular color. Many paintings, including NY Tramway II and 59th Street Melody (page 35), have a striking silvery grayness. “Some people think that mastery of color means using color as Matisse did—strong, vibrant, almost garish,” says Armetta, “but I believe that mastery of color is control of color, especially the grays. To achieve beautiful color harmonies using a muted palette, as Antonio does, is truly a feat. I think of Diego Velázquez with his silvery grays, and who, after all, is greater than he?” Another admirer of Antonio’s work is The Artist’s Magazine. Antonio first came to the attention of the editors of the magazine when his study of the Queensboro NY Tramway II won First Place in the Landscape category in the magazine’s “Best Art of 2006” contest. At the time, the judges described NY Tramway II as “dark and pulsating” and relating “a stirring, overpowering sensation.” Two years later, in 2008, The Artist’s Magazine published a major essay on Antonio’s “Bridgescapes,” his series of New York City’s nine major bridges. Holly Davis, senior editor of The Artist’s Magazine, says Antonio’s paintings stand out immediately. “His handling of his subject matter,” she says, “is smart and unique and goes well

beyond recording the mere physical characteristics of these iconic bridges.” In sum, Davis finds the body of Antonio’s work extraordinarily rich. His draftsmanship is “right on”; his point of view and composition are fascinating. Indeed, the more she studies his art, the more she senses the grandeur and power of his portrayal of the bridges. “For a lot of people,” Davis notes, “a bridge in a city would not be a beautiful thing. But Antonio’s paintings evoke awe.”

From Nowhere to Somewhere “The Queensboro Bridge was undoubtedly the single most important factor in the creation of the borough [of Queens] as we know it,” says Bob Singleton, co-author of Images of America: The Queensboro Bridge. Soon after the bridge opened, communities such as Long Island City and Astoria, in the western part of Queens County near the bridge, took hold and prospered. Farms sprang up. Soon, more farms spread across Queens and then eastward into Long Island, all the way to Montauk. The bridge was the critical link in trucking crops from farms to Manhattan’s dining tables. The bridge also triggered a building boom throughout Queens that lasted until the Great Depression. The boom picked up again from the 1940s to the 1960s. The business of farming, however, would be overtaken by the need for residential and industrial development. Today, the only working farm left in Queens is at the Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park. The Queensboro Bridge also helped spur the creation of a sprawling highway system that further expanded travel, commerce, and urbanization to outer Queens, Long Island, and the other boroughs. Today these arteries, often clogged, are a cacophony of cars, buses, and trucks. A century ago, Queens was rural and horizontal. Today, it grows more vertical each year. As the second-most-populous 33

borough (Brooklyn is the most populous), Queens is a massive multiethnic “gorgeous mosaic,” to paraphrase former Mayor David Dinkins, and home to thousands of Jews, Greeks, Italians, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Asian Indians, Puerto Ricans, and many others.

Happily, the futurists were correct: The Queensboro Bridge made Queens a definite somewhere. Sadly, Queens no longer provides quietude or commodiousness. The Queensboro Bridge, alas, must bear, at least in part, the burden for modernity’s good and evil.

(opposite) 59th Street Melody (30" x 40") 34


Under the Bridge (40" x 60") 36

Late Afternoon— Queensboro Bridge (30" x 22")


NY Tramway II (51" x 36")

(opposite) No Left Turn (30" x 40") 38


This page intentionally left blank


Broken Window (40" x 30") 41

T I wanted to paint the Manhattan Bridge not as I saw it, but as I felt it. —Antonio Masi


he building of the Brooklyn Bridge was a triumph of art, genius, and courage in the face of tragedy. The building of the Williamsburg Bridge demonstrated that a bridge doesn’t have to be a swan to serve. The building of the Queensboro Bridge perfectly fit the grace and richness of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. So exactly where in the pantheon of New York’s City’s major bridges does the Manhattan Bridge stand? Construction of the Manhattan Bridge, the fourth bridge to open across the East River, began on October 1, 1901; the bridge opened to the public on December 31, 1909. A doubledecker suspension span, the bridge now carries automobiles and subway trains and has a pedestrian walkway and a separate bikeway. On the Manhattan side, the bridge has a grandiose archway modeled after the Porte St. Denis archway in Paris. Flanking the archway on each side are columns modeled after the Bernini Colonnade at the Piazza of St. Peter’s in Vatican City. The Manhattan Bridge’s archway was designed by Carrere and Hastings, the architectural firm that designed the New York Public Library building. Sitting approximately one-quarter mile north of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge connects to Canal Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown. In the early 1900s, Chinatown already had some 7,000 residents. On the Brooklyn side, the Manhattan Bridge connects to Flatbush Avenue and the artistic neighborhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). The bridge was built principally to relieve traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge; near-riots on the Brooklyn Bridge often seemed imminent as New Yorkers forged their paths to and from work.

and radically different suspension bridge in which the suspension system was connected to steel eye-bar chains. (The eye bars were flat 45' lengths of nickel-steel joined at their ends by steel pins.) Lindenthal’s eye-bar proposal did not use the already tested suspension method—employed by Colonel Roebling—of woven steel-wire rope cables. Notably, the Roebling family maintained a lucrative business producing steelwire rope cables for New York’s bridges and for other bridges around the country. Skepticism greeted Lindenthal’s unconventional plan. In 1904, New York City elected its ninety-third mayor, George Brinton McClellan Jr., who promptly appointed a new bridge commissioner, George Best, who, in turn, commissioned another design, this one by Leon Moisseiff, a designer in his department. Moisseiff, born in Latvia in 1872, immigrated to America in 1891 and received a degree in civil engineering from Columbia University. Moisseiff, considered a mathematical genius, designed the Manhattan Bridge at a time when modern bridge building was in its nascent state. Computers were many years away from being invented; thus, precise calculations concerning stresses and strains on spans were impossible to make until bridges were erected. In his design of the Manhattan Bridge, Moisseiff believed that long-span suspension bridges, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, were stronger than necessary (if one takes into account the stiffness provided by the main cables) and that he could underbuild the Manhattan Bridge by using less steel and fewer supports and still produce a safe bridge. Moisseiff’s underbuilding—as noted by many experts—appealed because it meant that bridges could be built more cheaply, more quickly, and lighter.

Trouble at the Outset In the early 1900s, Gustav Lindenthal, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Bridges, proposed a controversial

Politics as Usual In the end, the issue of who should design the Manhattan Bridge was not so much about which controversial design was

best but likely which design best suited Tammany Hall. At the time, Mayor McClellan and the Roeblings’ steel-wire rope company were linked to Tammany Hall, the corrupt political machine that ran New York City in the 1800s. Lindenthal’s steel eye-bar chains design obviated the need for steel-wire ropes. But Moisseiff’s design required steel-wire ropes. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Lindenthal’s design was rejected and Moisseiff’s design was adopted.

Essential Problems The Manhattan Bridge would be underbuilt. Moisseiff compounded the problem of underbuilding the Manhattan Bridge with another engineering decision that still puzzles bridge builders today. He placed subway and streetcar lines between the inner and outer trusses of the bridge, causing differential movement, or torque, in the suspended spans. The heavy moving loads of the trains—today an eight-car train packed with passengers weighs some 500 tons—put enormous additional strain on the bridge and caused untold problems, including cracking and corrosion. An eight-car train weighing 500 tons is equal to approximately 71 elephants the size of Jumbo traversing the bridge. That’s more than three times the number of elephants P. T. Barnum marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. Such a comparison provides a glimmer of the punishment the Manhattan Bridge has taken over the years. In Manhattan Bridge: The Troubled Story of a New York Monument, Thomas R. Winpenny writes: If the life expectancy of a modern iron, steel, and nickel-steel suspension bridge were forty years then the Manhattan Bridge could have been deemed a success. . . . Alas, designers, engineers, government officials, and the citizenry have come to believe, with some justification, that these metallic behemoths should serve the public

for at least a century. . . . Where the Manhattan Bridge is concerned, only the first four decades were generally positive. After 1953 it was patch, patch, patch. . . . In 1953, the Manhattan Bridge was briefly closed when a break was discovered in a bottom chord truss near the Brooklyn tower. The noted bridge engineer David Steinman was hired to evaluate the bridge. Steinman’s recommendation: To save the bridge, remove the subway trains and build a separate $90 million tunnel for them. Steinman’s idea—a good one—was too expensive to implement. A second option costing $30 million, also nixed, proposed relocating three tracks to the center of the bridge. No improvements were made, and the bridge continued to deteriorate. In 1978, engineers discovered cracking and corrosion on the bridge. Further investigation revealed that cracking occurred as a result of the train loads. Even the passage of just one train caused microscopic cracks. Over decades, the cracks enlarged. In addition, corrosion problems were found in four suspension cables. If the Manhattan Bridge were to survive, long-term reconstruction was essential. In 1982, New York City finally committed to reconstruction of the Manhattan Bridge. To help put the expenses into perspective: The Manhattan Bridge cost $31 million to build. The costs of maintenance and reconstruction during the past one hundred years are difficult to estimate. However, an article in the New York Times on October 30, 2009, stated that during the past three decades $830 million has been spent repairing the bridge. As this book goes to press, the city’s Department of Transportation has begun the final phase of the reconstruction. When the job is completed (in 2013 if on schedule), virtually every horizontal part of the bridge will have been replaced; original steel will be limited to trusses, main cables, and the towers that support them. 43

Epitaph for Mr. Moisseiff Leon Moisseiff had an active career as a bridge designer. He had a hand in many bridges, including the George Washington and Bronx-Whitestone bridges. His most famous work was not the Manhattan Bridge but as the designer of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge across Puget Sound in Washington state, where he also employed his underbuilding theory—this time taking it to its greatest and most disastrous economy. In 1940, just four months after the Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened, it collapsed in a 42-mph sustained windstorm. Winpenny describes the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse as the “most spectacular bridge failure of the twentieth century.” The flapping spectacle of the demise—it was dubbed “Galloping Gertie”—was caught on film, which today is still shown around the world to physics, engineering, and architecture students to prevent hubris and to demonstrate the dangers of underbuilding. Three years after the Tacoma Narrow Bridge’s collapse, Moisseiff, his career in tatters, died of a heart attack.

The Art of the Bridge Although Antonio is aware of the Manhattan Bridge’s troubled history, his artistic focus has not been influenced by the pros and cons of underbuilding. Nor has he paid much attention to the bridge’s legacy as one of the city’s conspicuous money pits or the incongruity of its grandiose entranceway at what is today the grimy base of Canal Street amid the honking of traffic and clatter of Chinatown. At the turn of the twentieth century, Chinatown was a pit of prostitution and opium dens, making the entranceway even more curious than it is today. But what has most impressed Antonio in his walks across the Manhattan Bridge is its “artlessness.” He is aware of 44

the ungainly trusses, the narrow and unwelcoming pedestrian walkway, and the towers—the bridge’s most attractive feature—which cannot be appreciated because fencing and subway trains block the view. The artlessness is further compounded by graffiti on the bridge’s stonework and a tall chain link fence (no doubt to discourage jumpers) that lines the bridge’s railing. Antonio concludes that the Manhattan Bridge is a span of bare utility and, in fact, a bridge built more for trains than for people. Yet he notes that train bridges can be beautiful and cites the Hell Gate Arch Bridge on the East River at Hell Gate as a model of a beautiful train bridge. Perhaps comparisons are unfair, but, as noted earlier, the Brooklyn Bridge has one of the most graceful and commodious walkways of any bridge in the world. It seems a bridge built for strollers. By comparison, the walkway of the Manhattan Bridge offers no comparable amenities. The one consolation is that when walking westward on the Manhattan Bridge, you wind up at Canal Street and the Bowery—the perfect place for a Chinese meal. As you walk the Manhattan Bridge, the rumble of subway trains makes it impossible to sustain conversation. The bridge trembles as trains cross. It is difficult to have confidence in the bridge’s strength. The Manhattan Bridge, Antonio feels, is like a subway station where trains never stop. Likely the most pleasure the Manhattan Bridge gives is from a view of the Brooklyn Bridge: If you stand on the walkway of the Manhattan Bridge and look south, the Brooklyn Bridge seems so close you can almost touch it. This view of the Brooklyn Bridge, Antonio says, is best at twilight. As the sun fades, the Brooklyn Bridge is the centerpiece, American flags flying on each tower and the bridge’s yellow mercury vapor lights glowing as vehicles—also with their lights glowing— whiz back and forth. In the distance is the Statue of Liberty. To the west is the skyline of downtown Manhattan.

“What a sight!” Antonio exclaims, as he takes endless photos (mostly of the Brooklyn Bridge) with his digital camera. When he walks the Manhattan Bridge, he says, he gets more ideas for Brooklyn Bridge paintings than for Manhattan Bridge paintings. Twilight also becomes the Manhattan Bridge. When the sun goes down, the Manhattan Bridge’s graffiti, its blocked towers, its clumsy girders, its ridiculously inappropriate archway, even its chain link fence seem to soften and (almost) disappear. After much rumination, Antonio concludes that the Manhattan Bridge looks best from afar—that its whole is more than its individual parts, that it is most beautiful when it is shrouded in twilight or in haze or in mist. A key element that imbues so much of his work is not fact or even subject, but mood. He explains: “My primary concern while I paint, always, is to capture the mood I’m after; the subject is secondary to conveying what I feel in the moment.” In the essay “Bridging the Gap” in The Artist’s Magazine, Lisa Wurster touches on Antonio’s approach to conveying mood and reports that his greatest struggle as an artist is to stay focused on his initial inspiration and not let a painting become simply a rendering of the subject. “To maintain a painterly effect,” adds Wurster, “[Antonio] relies on his memory of the subject and the emotional impact it first delivered.” In the painting Manhattan Bridge Mist (page 47), the bridge is almost, but not quite, subsumed by mood. Antonio remembers how he came to paint Manhattan Bridge Mist. At twilight, as he walked to the subway from his office in DUMBO, a misty fog rolled in and enveloped the bridge. Everything looked out of focus. “I wanted to paint it not as I saw it, but as I felt it,” he says.

Many of Antonio’s early paintings of the Manhattan Bridge are nonliteral expressions. In these paintings, what emerges is an ethereal Manhattan Bridge that leaps across the river; it seems more connected to the sky or some celestial sphere than to the Earth. Occasionally, in the distance, just beyond the Manhattan Bridge, you can see (sometimes just feel) the presence of the Brooklyn Bridge. Other, more recent interpretations of the Manhattan Bridge, such as Caution Slippery When Wet (page 49), are more literal and acknowledge that Antonio’s earlier assessment of the bridge’s “artlessness” has changed. The idea for Caution Slippery When Wet dawned on a rainy and wintry Sunday in 2009 when Antonio and artist Ruth Baderian, returning to Long Island from their weekly class at The Art Students League, traversed the Manhattan Bridge. As Ruth drove, Antonio envisioned a new Manhattan Bridge painting and began making sketches and taking photographs. But one drive across the bridge was not enough for him. So he asked Ruth to drive back and forth across the bridge multiple times so that he could continue sketching and making photographs. Later, in his Garden City studio, using the sketches and photographs, Antonio painted Caution Slippery When Wet. The resultant work feels as though you are looking at the bridge through a water-splashed windshield. A prominent feature of the painting is the bridge’s suspender cables—vertical wire ropes that connect the main suspension cable with the road deck. The suspender cables, framing the great towers, appear not as muscular wire ropes but as almost gossamer filaments of threads. How did Antonio achieve such an effect?

The Secret Is Eyedroppers Here’s the backstory: In 2010, Antonio presented a demonstration sponsored by the American Watercolor Society to a group of artists at the Salmagundi Club in New York City. Using an 45

early rough of Caution Slippery When Wet, he revealed how he painted the Manhattan Bridge’s suspender cables. Believe it or not, Antonio did not use a paint brush; instead, he used an ordinary eyedropper—bought from his local pharmacy—to meticulously drip vertical lines of paint onto the watercolor paper to replicate each of the suspender cables. He held the painting upright so that gravity pulled each suspender thread downward. The technique—easy, resourceful, and nontraditional— appealed to all. More important, perhaps, was Antonio’s message: No boundaries exist when creating art. “Think outside the paint box,” he exhorted the crowd. Shortly after the demonstration, Antonio entered Caution Slippery When Wet in The Art Students League 2010 exhibit; the painting won a prestigious Red Dot Award and was purchased by The Art Students League for its permanent collection.

Love Is Expensive So exactly where in the pantheon of New York City’s major bridges does the Manhattan Bridge stand? The Manhattan Bridge has the distinction of being New York City’s most troubled bridge. Even today, according to one city engineer, the bridge drops and rises up to three feet as subway trains cross. That’s an improvement—before recon-


struction, movement was as much as eight feet as subways trains crossed. (It is important to note that bridges are not inert structures; some movement is normal and necessary, as anyone who has stopped a vehicle on a bridge can attest.) The Manhattan Bridge was inadequately designed and for many years, because of a lack of funding, poorly maintained. From its inception, the bridge’s long-term future was dim. During the second half of the twentieth century, the bridge’s deterioration continued, and tearing it down was rumored. Some observers, remembering the fate of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, believed eventual collapse was likely. But the Manhattan Bridge would not share the fate of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. New York City would rescue it. Today the bridge’s utility is unquestioned—approximately 75,000 vehicles and some 969 subway trains cross it daily. After the George Washington Bridge, New York’s busiest bridge, the Manhattan Bridge is New York’s second-busiest span, carrying more than 450,000 commuters daily. Skill, wisdom, hard work, and enormous financial resources have given the bridge new life. In the end, the city couldn’t— whatever the price—bear to have its skyline diminished. Love is expensive! For better or worse, the Manhattan Bridge stays— as iconic, if not as majestic, as its neighbor downriver.

Manhattan Bridge Mist (22" x 30") 47

Biker— Manhattan Bridge (60" x 40")

(opposite) Caution Slippery When Wet (40" x 60") 48


Underbelly— Manhattan Bridge (60" x 40")

(opposite) The Trip Home— Homage to Ruth (30" x 40") 50


This page intentionally left blank


Tower Dipped in Fog (40" x 30") 53

O The George Washington Bridge is the most important span of the twentieth century. The wonder is that more than eighty years after its creation, the bridge still is as modern and aweinspiring as the day it opened. —Antonio Masi

n the morning of September 2, 1609, Henry Hudson, an English explorer who had set sail from Amsterdam in search of a Northwest Passage to the Far East, guided his ship, the Half Moon, into the lower bay of New York. According to the Half Moon’s log, fog obscured the shore, but within hours the mist cleared. After nine days of surveying the lower bay, Hudson proceeded through what we now know as the Narrows—the site of the future Verrazano-Narrows Bridge—and sailed his ship up the river that one day would bear his name. Henry Hudson didn’t know it, but he had discovered a pathway that would help transform the island of Manhattan, then occupied by the Lenape Indians, into the urban powerhouse of New York City. In 1825, more than 200 years after Hudson’s explorations, the importance of the river would be established by an engineering marvel, the 363-mile Erie Canal. The Erie Canal, dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” secured New York City’s place as the nation’s premier port and financial center.

Building a Bridge As the twentieth century dawned, optimism prevailed. By 1860, New York City’s population had grown to more than half a million. At the same time, the city and its exploding population of new immigrants moved from lower Manhattan farther uptown, where impressive homes now sat on Washington Square North and up Fifth Avenue, edging north toward 14th Street and beyond. By 1910, the four major bridges on the lower East River were in place. The citizenry no longer depended on ferry service to travel across the East River. But such was not the case on the west side of Manhattan, where serious problems were posed by the press of people crossing the Hudson River on ferries from the New Jersey and New York sides. The scenes were not 54

unlike the tumult that John A. Roebling had witnessed in 1852 on the piers of the East River. Ferries simply could not handle the masses of people wanting to cross the river. In 1901, the first automobile went on sale. By 1927, Henry Ford had rolled off his assembly line more than 18 million Model Ts. Soon, large numbers of automobiles flocked into the Hudson Valley and formed long lines for car space on ferries. It was evident to all that automobiles in proliferating numbers needed more roads and bridges. America’s love affair with the automobile had begun. And the stage was now set for building a bridge across the Hudson to accommodate vehicular traffic. Clearly, much of New York’s and New Jersey’s commercial and residential futures depended upon spanning the Hudson, just as lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens had depended upon the East River bridges for their futures.

Othmar H. Ammann Who would be charged with the privilege of creating the new Hudson River bridge was the subject of much speculation. The choice would be a surprising, even unlikely, one: Othmar H. Ammann. Ammann, an engineer, had immigrated to America from Switzerland in 1904, when he was twenty-five years old. Even at this early date, he pored over maps of the Hudson River and created plans for the bridge he hoped to build. Perhaps most important, Ammann came to America because he understood that America was then the only country in the world bold enough to build large-scale, long-span suspension bridges. Outside of engineering circles, Ammann was not well known. Nor was he socially or politically connected. Nevertheless, Ammann would be chosen to design the George Washington Bridge and—as his career progressed—would become a premier molder of the modern city. He would be responsible for building many of New York’s great twentieth-cen-

tury spans. In the eyes of some, he would even eclipse John A. Roebling. His accomplishments would include, in addition to the George Washington Bridge (1931), the Bayonne (1931), Triborough (1936; now known as the Robert F. Kennedy), Bronx-Whitestone (1939), Throgs Neck (1961), and VerrazanoNarrows (1964) bridges. He also supervised the construction of the Lincoln Tunnel and consulted on other projects in New York and beyond, including the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. “No civil engineer gave more bridges to a single city than Ammann did to New York,” writes Darl Rastorfer, author of Six Bridges: The Legacy of Othmar H. Ammann. Ammann was also an unrivaled manager of supremely complicated projects, a role that involved negotiating New Jersey’s and New York’s politically complex landscapes. By all reports, he was a self-effacing gentleman who disdained showman antics. He was not the kind of man who would befriend a P. T. Barnum. He made no pronouncements, as did Roebling, who had declared that the Brooklyn Bridge “will not only be the greatest bridge in existence, but it will be the greatest engineering work, of this continent, and of the age.” Ammann was, quite simply, a dedicated public servant, a meticulously organized executive, and a nose-to-the-grindstone genius. Engineers and politicians (affectionately calling him O.H.) respected his talents and wished to collaborate with him.

The Path of a Genius Othmar H. Ammann was born in 1879 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and grew up in Feuerthalen, a hamlet located near the Rhine River. His father was a successful manufacturer of hats. His grandfather Emanuel Labhardt, a noted lithographer and landscape artist, is thought to have instilled in his grandson an appreciation of art. As a young boy, Ammann, fascinated by a local 400-foot wooden bridge that spanned the Rhine, often walked down to the riverbank to sketch it. Early on,

Ammann also discovered that he was adept at mathematics. He received his engineering education from the prestigious Swiss Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich. Ammann’s first recognition among fellow engineers in America followed his insightful report on the failure, in 1907, of the Quebec Bridge in Canada. The excellence of Ammann’s Quebec report impressed Gustav Lindenthal, chief engineer of the Queensboro Bridge, who, at the time, was working on the East River’s Hell Gate Arch Bridge. Lindenthal hired Ammann to work with him on the Hell Gate, which was completed in 1917. By 1925, Ammann had left Lindenthal’s employ and, moving swiftly up the professional ladder, was appointed chief engineer of the Port Authority of New York (later to be called the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey). At the time, competition was keen for the plum job of designing a Hudson River span. Questions lingered. One of the biggest was where in the city the bridge should be located. In 1906, two commissions recommended a 178th Street location (in Washington Heights) because the river was narrower and shallower there than it was downtown. Laying a deep foundation at the 178th Street site was also considered less costly because the height of the Palisades’ cliffs made expensive graded viaduct approaches unnecessary. Other questions included whether the bridge should be cantilever or suspension. Should it be a railroad bridge? A vehicular bridge? Or both? At least four locations were proposed and eighteen designs submitted. Lindenthal, Ammann’s former employer, would be a chief competitor. As early as 1888, Lindenthal submitted proposals whose costs exceeded what New York or New Jersey would pay for a Hudson River bridge. Many were impressed with Lindenthal’s ambitious proposals, but the costs were too high. This competition was one that Lindenthal, the brash bridge builder, would lose. Ammann’s proposal, setting the bridge in 55

Washington Heights at a cost of $60 million, was the one New York and New Jersey embraced.

The Bridge Rises On October 21, 1927, groundbreaking ceremonies for the Hudson River span were held on both sides of the Hudson. The bridge would link 178th Street in Manhattan’s Washington Heights with Fort Lee, New Jersey, and be majestically set by the steep bluffs of New Jersey’s Palisades. The bridge site was historic because two forts—Fort Lee in New Jersey and Fort Washington in Washington Heights—were where General George Washington had fought (and lost) a battle with the British during the Revolutionary War. A number of names for the bridge were proposed, including the Hudson River Bridge, the Verrazano Bridge, and, as you’d expect, the George Washington Bridge. The naming debate grew so heated that a public vote was held, and George Washington was chosen. The George Washington Bridge opened to the public on October 25, 1931. The cost was $59 million, $1 million less than Ammann’s original estimate; and the bridge was completed eight months ahead of schedule—another example of Ammann’s engineering and management skills. When the lower deck was completed in 1962, the total cost of the bridge rose to $219 million. More than 100 million vehicles cross it annually, making it one of the busiest bridges in the world. Twelve people died during construction. The Design of the Bridge Understanding the power of the automobile, Ammann designed a mighty suspension bridge for vehicular traffic. The bridge contained 113,000 tons of fabricated steel, 28,000 tons of cable wire, and 200,000 cubic yards of masonry. The bridge has two steel towers; each tower features two arches, one above the roadway and one below. The upper arch is as high as a 17-story building. With a center span of 3,500 feet, 56

the bridge was twice as long as any span constructed as of that date. Between anchorages (an anchorage is a solid, usually concrete mass, in which the main cables of a suspension bridge are attached), the length is 4,760 feet. A lower deck— lightheartedly referred to as “Martha”—designed by Ammann, was added in 1962 when he was eighty-three years old. The bridge’s top level has eight lanes and the lower has six, making it the world’s only 14-lane suspension bridge. In Six Bridges: The Legacy of Othmar H. Ammann, Darl Rastorfer provides a startling comparison that reveals the magnitude of Ammann’s engineering accomplishment: “. . . imagine New York’s Fifth Avenue between Forty-second and Fifty-seventh Streets lifted and suspended in air six stories above a river. You must also imagine Fifth Avenue to be twice its width and thronged curb-to-curb with automobiles, buses and trucks.”

The Art of the Bridge Ammann’s focus wasn’t only on designing a structurally sound bridge capable of carrying millions of vehicles. His European training in civil engineering involved art as well as science. Ammann once famously said, “It is a crime to build an ugly bridge.” He also said, “Economics and utility are not the engineer’s only concerns. He must temper his practicality with aesthetic sensitivity. His structures should please the eye. In fact, an engineer designing a bridge is justified in making a more expensive bridge for beauty’s sake alone . . . .” Antonio believes that European-trained architects and engineers—such as Ammann—focus primarily on art, whereas architects and engineers trained in America focus primarily on cost cutting.

“The American way of doing business, even artistic business, often targets the bottom line,” says Antonio. “That’s an American trait.” Consider the professional chasm between Ammann and Leon Moisseiff. Ammann, educated in Switzerland, produced well-balanced, gracefully designed bridges that were always in harmony with their surrounding landscapes. On the other hand, Moisseiff, who received his degree in civil engineering at Columbia University, was a cost cutter whose practices led to the greatest bridge fiasco of the twentieth century, the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Antonio also believes that Ammann was influenced by Bauhaus design, one of the twentieth century’s most important artistic movements. Bauhaus design took hold in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, just after World War I. At the time, postwar Germany, riddled by poverty and inflation, was ripe for a fresh ideal—for living as well as for art. Bauhaus design drew artists away from art for art’s sake and offered a new set of standards for beauty—a beauty that was spare, elegant, and functional. The result was that Ammann’s George Washington Bridge was a sleek span marked by two unadorned towers uniquely industrial in appearance. Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect, designer, painter, and writer, rode across the George Washington Bridge shortly after it opened. To him, the bridge was a shrine—a place to be worshiped and a place in which to worship. “The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River is the most beautiful bridge in the world,” Le Corbusier wrote. He continued, Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color, and between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent chord supported by two steel towers. When

your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular, that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apron, the second tower is very far away, innumerable vertical cables, gleaming against the sky, are suspended from the magisterial curve which swings down and then up. The rose-colored towers of New York appear, a vision whose harshness is mitigated by distance. Like Le Corbusier, Antonio is moved by great structures. Antonio remembers an afternoon in 2008 in which he took yet another drive with artist Ruth Baderian—this time across the George Washington Bridge. As he studied the tower, Antonio observed that the top of the tower seemed to be disappearing into the sky. “All the activity was below,” Antonio remembers. “It was wondrous to see and feel the thin, transparent top contrast so sharply with the bottom.” From this scene, he created Tower Dipped in Fog (page 53). He glazed the painting thirty-seven times to achieve the nuanced gradations of dark to light. The author/artist John A. Parks wrote in Watercolor magazine: Atmospheric effects also come into play in “Tower Dipped in Fog,” where the steel framework of the bridge support is enveloped in a diaphanous film of mist and shimmers like a benign ghost behind a solidly painted overpass. Still, the tower completely dominates the work. Another George Washington Bridge painting, similar in tone, Colossus (page 59), also presents an atmospheric tower; this time the tower stands steadfastly alone in the mist. Antonio rides across all of the bridges, but he prefers to walk a bridge, if possible. It seems he always finds a picture to paint on a walk! On a breezy spring afternoon in 2010, Antonio 57

walks the George Washington Bridge’s southern footpath. He has been snapping pictures of the towers with his digital camera until a Port Authority officer orders him to stop. Photos are not permitted for security reasons. The camera hangs idle around his neck as he studies the scene, imbued with a feeling of isolation. The Mother City is seen in the far distance, but no sense of hustle and bustle is evident. Below, the river meanders, to the west are the New Jersey Palisades, to the south is the plush shoreline of upper Manhattan, and above are cumulus clouds—like wads of cotton candy—floating in the sky. At the moment, Antonio is thinking about composition. The composition of his paintings often purposely neglects reality. He moves scenery or objects (even a tower, if necessary); adds people, a different sky; or changes angles—all in his quest to create the most “interesting” composition. Earlier he had snapped photos of a trio of Chasidic men, wearing prayer shawls and tall black hats, strolling along Fort Washington Avenue, near the bridge. “Wouldn’t it be interesting if I painted a picture and put them on the George Washington Bridge’s footpath?” he asks. Yet, no matter how he arranges (or rearranges) the composition of his paintings, he never loses the sense of place that he paints. He simply adds to it. One of his most important compositional elements for his George Washington Bridge paintings is an American flag. One of the world’s largest American flags is hung from the upper


arch of the George Washington Bridge’s New Jersey tower eight holiday days each year. The flag (90 feet long and 60 feet wide) drapes downward, gently undulating in the river breezes. Old Glory on the bridge stirs Antonio deeply. He has painted many pictures of the George Washington Bridge, but his most moving paintings feature the flag as a startling splash of red, white, and blue against the hazy and steely-gray images of the tower. The flag reminds him of how much America has given him. The flag also reminds him of his father, Giuseppe Masi, a janitor and one of those immigrant Americans who scratched a better life for their families. Le Corbusier wrote that the George Washington Bridge was “the only seat of grace in the disordered city.” Yet the gleaming new bridge was so much more. For the immigrant-infused population—the maids, the bankers, the teachers, the plumbers, the janitors, the storekeepers, the construction workers— the new bridge was symbolic of the genius and ambitions of the advancing age and metropolis. If such a bridge could be built, could not anything be accomplished in America? Indeed, America was now the locus of realized hopes and dreams. These are the reasons, says Antonio, that “the George Washington Bridge is the most important span of the twentieth century. The wonder is that more than eighty years after its creation, the bridge still is as modern and awe-inspiring as the day it opened.”

Colossus (40" x 30")


Flag—George Washington Bridge (40" x 60")


(opposite) Cross Bronx Expressway (40" x 60")



Morning Ride (10.25" x 14.25")

Waiting to Cross (14" x 9")


This page intentionally left blank


Evening Approaching (40" x 30") 65

O Some—including President Franklin D. Roosevelt—recognized that the building of the Triborough Bridge signaled a change in leadership and philosophy that would reverberate not only in the metropolis and its environs, but also across the nation. —Antonio Masi

On August 8, 2008, the Triborough was renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge after the former U.S. attorney general and U.S. senator from New York. 66

n July 11, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the dedication address at the opening of the Triborough Bridge. A heat wave was plaguing much of the nation, including New York. Seventy-two heat-related fatalities in the city had been reported. Nevertheless, some 15,000 hardy souls turned out for the opening ceremonies. The president, wearing a jaunty Panama hat, spoke on a platform crowded with dignitaries, including Governor Herbert H. Lehman, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and Robert Moses, chairman of the Triborough Bridge Authority. “This Triborough Bridge was neither in its conception nor in its building a matter of purely local concern,” said the president. He continued,

has been written about “battling Bob Moses” and his epic clashes, especially with Roosevelt, who wanted a parkway to the partly developed Taconic Parks area in upper New York state. Moses argued that New Yorkers—those in the city of New York, that is—were in greater need of recreational relief than their upstate country neighbors and required the parkway more. The drama between the aristocratic president and the tactless chairman continued. Roosevelt tried cutting funds to the Triborough Bridge project and even sought to oust Moses. But Moses held on. Readers interested in the granular history of these quarrels and the broader history of Moses’s footprint (some might say elephant print) on New York City should read Robert Caro’s monumental account, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.

Nation, state and city, each in its own way, have contributed to the gigantic undertaking. And it will serve the people not only in all the boroughs of this largest of cities; it will serve also the people of Long Island, of up-state New York and our neighbors of Connecticut and New Jersey; and it will serve the hundreds of thousands of those living in all the other States and in foreign countries, who visit New York on matters of business and of pleasure. And so you see that the United States has an interest and a stake in this bridge.

The Bridge Rises, Slowly The building of the Triborough Bridge was a drawn-out affair, starting in 1916 when Edward A. Byrne, chief engineer of the New York City Department of Plant and Structures, announced a plan to build a bridge linking three boroughs. Immediately, plans and suggestions—some things the city always had in abundance—for the new bridge rolled in. One plan that took hold was to build a suspension bridge from Randall’s Island, which was situated in the East River. The island is separated from Manhattan on the west by the river’s main channel, from Queens on the east by Hell Gate, and from the Bronx on the north by the Bronx Kill. The proposed suspension bridge would lead to Astoria in Queens. Gustav Lindenthal, whose plan to build the George Washington Bridge had been rejected by the city, was a critic of the new suspension bridge. In 1917, Lindenthal was riding high. He had just completed his spectacular Hell Gate railroad bridge, and the proposed suspension bridge was slated to stand next to his new railroad bridge. Lindenthal particularly objected to this idea.

President Roosevelt’s rhetoric seemed right. The Triborough Bridge would serve the city and its neighboring states and be a gateway to the great metropolis for the city’s millions of visitors. While the Triborough Bridge was not a design achievement on the scale of the George Washington Bridge, it was a political achievement for Robert Moses, master builder, who, in his ambition to build the Triborough Bridge, had become entangled in an internecine struggle with the Roosevelt administration as well as with city and state officials. Much

Locating a Triborough suspension bridge of a “cheap pole and washline architecture” only 300 feet from the Hell Gate Bridge would be an “architectural outrage,” he railed. One bridge would diminish the other and the “river landscape would be lastingly ruined.” He proposed that the new suspension bridge sit 1,200 feet below the Hell Gate Bridge. He also argued that a new suspension bridge set near the Hell Gate would further congest traffic at 125th Street in Manhattan, the approach to the proposed bridge. Moses thought Lindenthal’s plan credible, but the politics of the day intervened. It seemed the publisher William Randolph Hearst wanted the city to buy depreciating property that he owned at 125th Street. If Moses refused to buy Hearst’s property, Moses feared that Hearst, a supporter of President Roosevelt who despised Moses, might be able to use his political connections to thwart the entire Triborough Bridge project. Eventually, the new suspension bridge would stand next to the Hell Gate Bridge. As the years passed, plans to build the Triborough Bridge crept along. Finally, on October 25, 1929, Mayor Jimmy Walker broke ground for the new bridge. The date of the groundbreaking was inauspicious. One day earlier, on “Black Thursday,” a stock market panic triggered what would become the Great Depression. By 1930, work on the Triborough Bridge project ground to a halt, and many worried that the bridge would never be built. In 1933, the New York state legislature, convinced that the city could not build the Triborough Bridge, unanimously passed a bill to transfer the project from the New York City Department of Plant and Structures to the newly created Triborough Bridge Authority (later renamed the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority) and named Robert Moses chairman of the Authority. Not surprisingly, the chief advocate of the new bill was the same Robert Moses who was known as the “best bill drafter in Albany.” A rebel Republican, Moses held three top jobs in New York. He was City Parks Commissioner, chair-

man of the State Council of Parks, and president of the Long Island State Parks Commission. One of Moses’s first acts as chairman of the new Authority was to hire Othmar H. Ammann as chief engineer. Ammann, of course, was the genius behind the building of the George Washington Bridge. Moses’s hiring of Ammann marked the beginning of a long and successful partnership. At last, the scene was set: The Triborough Bridge now would be built.

A Bridge Like No Other Robert Moses’s Triborough Bridge isn’t a single span and therefore isn’t a bridge in the traditional sense. Rather, the Triborough Bridge is a snaking series of arteries that comprise three distinct long-span bridges, a number of smaller bridges and viaducts, fourteen miles of approach highways and parkways, and parks and recreational facilities. At its christening, the Triborough Bridge’s major claim to fame—apart from its magnitude—was that it linked for the first time three major areas—Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. The city’s newest bridge was like nothing ever seen before. Costing $60.3 million—$927 million in present-day dollars— it was a construction of unbridled chutzpah, a behemoth so massive that even an aerial photograph could not capture it whole. Robert Caro wrote that the Triborough Bridge was as big as any pyramid built by an Egyptian pharaoh and had roadways wider than those built by the Caesars of Rome. In a city like New York, size counts. But the Triborough Bridge was so much more than a massive construct. Its opening immediately altered the boundaries that defined New York City. It also permanently changed the lives of city residents and those in neighboring burgs, who now had an unbroken path through and around the northwest metropolitan area. The FDR Drive, running along the edge of Manhattan’s East River, now had approaches that led directly to and from the Triborough Bridge. As a result, city traffic congestion was 67

greatly alleviated. In addition, Long Islanders could now easily reach upper Manhattan, the Bronx, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New England without having to traverse the overloaded Queensboro Bridge or ferry across Long Island Sound. Residents of New Jersey could drive across the George Washington Bridge and connect to the Bronx, Westchester County, Queens, Long Island, Connecticut, and New England. Thanks to Robert Moses, getaway routes to and from the city now abounded.

A Transformative Moment One of Moses’s goals was to give motorists using the Triborough Bridge and its links accessibility to Long Island’s state parks and beaches. Almost immediately after the opening, New Yorkers jammed the bridge and its arteries in a beeline to Jones Beach, Moses’s first major public project, begun in the early 1920s. Even today, Jones Beach, opened to the public on August 4, 1929, with its wide swath of sandy beach is considered one of the world’s most beautiful parks. Its causeway provided easy automobile access from Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties. For those without automobiles, other choices were a bus or subway ride to the Rockaways or Coney Island. For better or worse, Moses’s ambitions for the Triborough Bridge resulted in a transformative moment that signaled not only change but also progress. The city and its environs were much easier to navigate. But there was a hitch: The Triborough Bridge would measurably enhance the life of only those who could afford automobiles. Those who couldn’t—and many have seen the seeds of racism and bias against the underprivileged in Moses’s actions—would have to settle for public transportation and limited access to the recreational bounties to which the new bridge led. Other troubling issues existed, too. Across the nation, city planners, dazzled by Moses’s successes, likewise championed a maze of arterial highways, often cutting swaths through the 68

centers of cities. The result: Automobiles proliferated; neighborhoods were damaged and even destroyed as hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. Lewis Mumford, historian and architectural critic, noted the dark side of Moses’s efforts. Mumford called Moses the “unbuilder.” In the twentieth century, wrote Mumford, the “influence” of Robert Moses on the cities of America was greater than that of any other person. In sum, Mumford believed that Moses’s influence was massively destructive. Despite Mumford’s disdain (others, including the author and activist Jane Jacobs, agreed with Mumford), many admired Moses’s bulldoze-and-build moxie. In 1936, Moses could get seemingly impossible jobs done. He also showed flashes of brilliance. Certainly in building the Triborough Bridge, nowhere was Moses’s judgment keener than in selecting Othmar H. Ammann as chief engineer of the project.

The Art of the Bridge In the Triborough Bridge complex, one span particularly stands out—the Triborough Lift Bridge, connecting East Harlem to Randall’s Island. (A lift bridge has a span that goes straight up and works like an elevator, with two counterweights and a pulley.) Ammann would have a strong hand in designing the Triborough Lift Bridge, and even a quick look reveals how he applied—especially to the towers—many of the design concepts he used in the George Washington Bridge. Antonio is a great admirer of the Lift Bridge and has painted it. He says that while the Lift Bridge’s 210-foot unadorned towers lack the colossal scale of the George Washington Bridge’s 604-foot towers, they shine with Ammann’s handiwork from top to bottom. Each of the two towers has a rounded arch; the base consists of four columns. “Seeing it—even repeatedly—one is struck by its power,”says

Antonio. “Even among the celebrated spans that line the East River, it is an engineering marvel.” Antonio’s painting of the Lift Bridge, Evening Approaching (page 65), is typical of many bridge paintings he has done. The tower stands in the background, a square labyrinth of steel. In the foreground, crisscrossing girders dominate. The painting is true to the bridge’s structural design, which is of great interest to him. Each bridge is a mix of pins, wires, bolts, curves, angles, and beams, he explains. He studies how these objects fit together, striving to understand the basic engineering principles, and then incorporates this knowledge into his art. Indeed, many of his paintings reflect his interest in structural design, notably those in the Williamsburg Bridge series.

Capturing the Triborough Bridge The Triborough Bridge is not an easy bridge to know and therefore not an easy bridge to paint. Although segments of the bridge can be walked, it does not have a footpath that stretches from beginning to end. Even if you could walk it, it would be almost a twenty-mile hike in air saturated with noxious vehicular fumes. The only way to see the bridge, or “meet it,” as Antonio would say, is by automobile. Usually Antonio will ask a friend to drive the bridge’s route while he makes photographs or quick sketches. “Painting the Triborough Bridge is problematic because it has no instantly defining element,” says Antonio. “I always see a bridge in terms of place. How does a bridge fit into its immediate surroundings and into the city? How to paint it so people will know it and be drawn to it?” Attempting to capture the Triborough Bridge’s elusive defining element, Antonio painted Blue Fusion (page 71), a potpourri of girders, one atop another. The painting, an abstract, is a moody homage in blue to the bridge and its gargantuan status. Quick brush strokes imply constant movement. Stacked girders suggest the bridge’s massiveness. Whether

the painting is recognizable as the Triborough Bridge is for the viewer to decide. One thing is certain: The painting is a surprising departure from Antonio’s more familiar approach. The painting also demonstrates that Antonio is an artist with a basketful of ideas and styles. Newsday’s “LI Life” published a memorable essay on Antonio by Rachel Bryson-Brockmann. The essay, including eleven color reproductions, displayed a variety of artistic ideas and styles and referred to Antonio as “the bridgemaster”—a designation that (happily) continues to follow him. It’s Dec. 7, 1947 [writes Bryson-Brockmann], and a 7year-old boy is stepping off a crowded boat onto Ellis Island, the legendary gateway for immigrants into New York City. Antonio Masi speaks no English, and knows of no life besides the simple country lifestyle of a hillside town in Sicily. He gazes at the city skyline and is awed by the abundant bridges. It will be decades later . . . before Masi conveys his lifelong fascination with those bridges through dramatic large-scale watercolor paintings, illustrating their sheer magnificence and vital importance in New Yorkers’ everyday life. . . . It’s easy to see that the little boy in him, the one left in awe by the bridges, hasn’t left.

The Tri-Way Challenge An especially thorny challenge for Antonio was the painting entitled Tri-Way (pages 72–73), which, unlike Blue Fusion, is recognizable as a depiction of the entire Triborough Bridge. Capturing the bridge’s labyrinth of roads, ramps, and bridges and then linking them to the three boroughs seemed, at the outset, an impossible task. For weeks, Antonio unsuccessfully explored possibilities and nearly quit the project. After one particularly frustrating day, he went to bed believing that Tri-Way was a painting he couldn’t do. Then, in the 69

middle of the night, he awoke from a dream and reached for a pencil and a blank envelope that sat on his night table. Halfasleep, he roughly sketched an idea on the envelope. Then he fell back asleep. In the morning, he studied his sketch and, to his amazement, realized that he’d drawn a solution to painting a whole and recognizable Triborough Bridge. It was plain: He would paint the Triborough Bridge as a triptych: each panel measuring 60 x 40 inches would represent one of the three bridges and boroughs. Each panel would stand individually, but, taken together, the sum of the panels would be greater than its individual parts. Paradoxically, says Antonio, simultaneous focal points can create a singular view. That very morning he began Tri-Way. He soon discovered that his task was so enormous that he had to move his studio into his garage to complete the work. Tri-Way was first displayed in 2010 in The Forbes Galleries in Manhattan. When Bonnie S. Kirschstein, managing director of The Forbes Collection, saw the triptych, she recognized it as the Triborough Bridge and said it gave the impression of “driving across the bridge.” Antonio explains that this impression was intentional, and he had created it by placing a guard rail across the bottom of the panels and using the steel girders of

the Manhattan and Bronx sections to unite the panels across the top of the painting; the atmospheric treatment, the common colors, and the symbolic properties of each unit also link the panels. Commenting on his Tri-Way experience, Antonio, cracking a grin, says, “I dreamed the impossible dream!”

Was It Worth the Aggravation? At the 1936 dedication of the Triborough Bridge, President Roosevelt ended his speech by saying, “May the Triborough Bridge, in the years to come, justify our efforts and our hopes by serving truly the city, the State, and the Nation!” Safe to say, President Roosevelt, despite all the aggravation Robert Moses caused him and others, would find the efforts justified and the hopes of service satisfied. As of 2009, according to the New York Times, 3.3 billion vehicles have crossed the Triborough Bridge since it opened. That’s roughly 400 times New York’s current population. Perhaps more than any other of New York’s major bridges, the Triborough Bridge has done the most to make New York City a movable feast. Imagine New York City without the Triborough Bridge! It simply would not be.

(opposite) Blue Fusion (40" x 60") 70



Tri-Way (60" x 120")


View from Window—Triborough Bridge (40" x 60") 74

Bronx Side— Triborough (14.25" x 10")


This page intentionally left blank


Wispy Tower (51.5" x 39.25") 77

B The Bronx-Whitestone is the Rodney Dangerfield of bridges; it gets no respect. —Antonio Masi

uilding a bridge is a leap of faith. Until a bridge is completed, no one can absolutely predict whether it will fall or stand. Questions about the stability of every new bridge must be asked: Can a new bridge overcome the forces and stresses to which it will be subjected? Can it stand up to disasters such as earthquakes? Will it hold in high winds? Can it carry its own weight? Can it support the weight of people, vehicles, and sometimes trains? Even the most prolific and brilliant bridge engineer of his age, Othmar H. Ammann, was forced to address such questions as chief engineer of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. But at the bridge’s opening on April 29, 1939, all seemed blissfully perfect. The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge was widely praised for its detail and fine-spun elegance. Even the famously cantankerous Robert Moses rhapsodized that it was “. . . architecturally the finest suspension bridge of them all, without comparison in cleanliness and simplicity of design, in lightness and absence of pretentious ornamentation. Here, if anywhere, we have pure, functional architecture.” Nevertheless, soon after the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge opened, motorists and pedestrians complained that the bridge produced frightening vertical and horizontal motions in certain wind conditions. Although movement is normal on suspension bridges, the exaggerated movement of the BronxWhitestone Bridge alarmed people. Its being slim and gorgeous could not quell the fears of a nervous public. Word of the bridge’s movements spread, and motorists began avoiding it. Was it possible that a bridge of such grand beauty—one produced by Othmar H. Ammann—could be fatally flawed? Could the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge fail?

The Inside Story Certain facts about the bridge stand. The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge had motion problems. And Othmar H. Ammann as78

serted that, despite the motion problems, the bridge was safe. The inside story of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and its problems must also include bridge engineer Leon Moisseiff, who served as a design consultant to Ammann on the bridge. Moisseiff, not nearly so lionized as Ammann, was the designer and engineer of the troubled Manhattan Bridge and was also simultaneously working as designer and engineer on the soon-to-be-disastrous Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington state. As noted earlier, Moisseiff championed the idea that the inherent structure of long-span suspension bridges was stronger than originally thought and that such bridges could be built more quickly, lighter, and more cheaply, as less steel was needed. Compare the Brooklyn Bridge and its supporting trusses with the trim and economical Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. Even the novice gephyrophiliac can see that one bridge seems profoundly overbuilt, while the other bridge seems profoundly underbuilt. A year after the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge opened, Moisseiff’s Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened in 1940. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was similar in design to the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. And like the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge had movement problems. Worries about the stability of both bridges ran high. Then, just four months after the Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened, a windstorm produced a stunning series of violent oscillations that sundered the bridge. The demise of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge heightened safety issues surrounding the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. The result was that Robert Moses decided to strengthen the BronxWhitestone Bridge, no matter how safe Ammann claimed it to be. Public-safety concerns, rightly, trumped the assurances of the legendary bridge engineer.

The Bridge Rises The notion of a Bronx–Queens span connecting the Ferry Point section of the Bronx with Whitestone, Queens, had been floated as early as 1905. But, it wasn’t until Robert Moses began building the Triborough Bridge (now called the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge) that such plans fell into place. Several reasons for building a Bronx–Queens span were proposed: The Triborough Bridge’s eight lanes—connecting the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan—had become engorged with traffic since its opening in 1936. A Bronx–Queens span would ease traffic on the Triborough Bridge and also connect those in the Bronx and farther north to La Guardia Airport, located adjacent to the Grand Central Parkway, an artery linked to the Triborough Bridge and other arteries in Queens and on Long Island. Moses had another key reason for championing a Bronx– Queens span. In addition to his job as head of the Triborough Bridge Authority, Moses chaired the 1939–40 World’s Fair. A Bronx–Queens span would bring motorists from upstate New York and New England to the Fair while helping to complete a fluid network of bridges and highways that would knit the city and neighboring states together. The new bridge would also encourage, if not cement, the growing dominance of motor vehicles and add to the urban and industrial sprawl of Queens and Long Island. Moses believed that if he built the bridges and highways, the hordes in their motor vehicles would come—and in 1939 he especially wanted them to come to the World’s Fair. For this reason, he rushed the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge to completion in only 23 months—and one day before his World’s Fair opened. The bridge cost some $19.7 million—more than $39 million less than the initial cost of the George Washington Bridge (before the lower deck was added in 1962). The elimination of heavy structural lines and ornamentation gave the new bridge—

which boasted a 2,300-foot center span—a breathtaking grace at an extremely reasonable price. In 1939, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge’s first year of operation, 6 million vehicles crossed it. In 2008, 43 million vehicles crossed it. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority estimates that 1.7 billion vehicles have crossed the span since it opened to traffic.

Lingering Questions of Safety Robert Moses’s addition of 15' heavy stiffening trusses, lining each side of the bridge, greatly diminished the bridge’s graceful profile. The stiffening trusses, while providing extra stability, did not eliminate troubling oscillations. One especially alarming incident occurred on November 12, 1968. During a nor’easter whose 70-mph winds pummeled the city, the bridge swayed vertically approximately ten inches. The incident disrupted morning traffic and caused the bridge to be closed for five hours. The public once again was on edge about the bridge’s stability. In the 1980s, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge was further stabilized with hydraulic dampeners—similar to massive springs—to reduce oscillations. In 2004, the stiffening trusses were removed and replaced by new lightweight fiberglass fairings that were triangular in shape and installed along both sides of the deck. The fairings, an aerodynamic advance, slice the wind as it passes through the bridge. The addition of the fairings made the bridge lighter and greatly improved its resistance to wind. Another benefit was that the see-through fiberglass fairings allowed the bridge’s graceful profile to again be enjoyed. Despite the tumult, Ammann always remained unwavering about the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge’s safety. Robert Moses in his autobiography, Public Works: A Dangerous Trade, recalled Ammann’s repeatedly telling him, in his Swiss accent, “The britch is safe. The britch is safe.” 79

Moses’s response to Ammann was that even if the bridge was safe, it didn’t “make a damn bit of difference if drivers won’t use it.”

The Art of the Bridge Antonio says the Bronx-Whitestone is the Rodney Dangerfield of bridges—it gets no respect. Public disdain likely hearkens back to the bridge’s motion problems. Nevertheless, Antonio considers the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge a masterpiece of lightness and simplicity in which the setting—sky, water, and country greenery—is spectacularly integrated into the design. The result is a bridge in perfect harmony with its surroundings. Of the nine bridges, Antonio believes the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge is the most difficult to know because it has no pedestrian path upon which to take lingering walks to make the necessary roughs and photographs. Originally the bridge had a pedestrian path, but it was removed in 1946 when the roadway was widened from four to six lanes. The bridge also is a short drive, only 3,770 feet, compared, for example, with that of the George Washington Bridge, which is 4,760 feet. Says Antonio: “You’re on and off too quickly.” Still, the quick ride is an artistic event. As one drives across the bridge, whether from the Bronx or Queens, it feels, says Antonio, as though you are ascending to heaven. Then, there are those pristine steel-plate towers. “Le Corbusier would love this bridge,” Antonio remarks. Antonio maintains that the best view of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge is from the Throgs Neck Bridge, which sits approximately one mile east of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. From the Throgs Neck Bridge, looking west, Antonio says, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge seems a slender ribbon—like the tail of a kite—floating in the sky. Beyond the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge is the panorama of Manhattan and the Bronx. On a 80

clear day, the towers of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings are visible. Because it is difficult to “meet” the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, Antonio has sought to know it by exploring nearby areas. One spot, on the Queens side of the bridge in Francis Lewis Park, would be a perfect vantage point. But, maddeningly, a chain link fence keeps visitors away. Making matters worse, lush greenery blocks what would be a spectacular upclose profile of the Queens tower; in 2006, Antonio painted Wispy Tower from this exact spot. At the time, the greenery was less mature, and he could see the tower. Today, even on a midwinter day, the tower is almost completely obscured by brush, trees, and some foliage. Antonio is eager to do more paintings of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, but not being able to survey the bridge closely is frustrating. Still, Antonio has produced compelling paintings of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge; all reflect the bridge’s elegance and fine lines. Wispy Tower Wispy Tower (page 77), like many of his “Bridgescapes,” has an intentionally unfinished look that is hardly unfinished; rather, it is nuanced—that is, the painting’s details are not immediately apparent until one steps back and studies the work. Then, amazingly, the whole painting appears. “It’s not necessary to provide every detail,” Antonio explains, “only to suggest details.” In developing his nuanced approach, Antonio was influenced by Velázquez. Antonio explains that when you look closely at a Velázquez painting, you see only brush strokes. But when you step back, the form appears. And it is when one steps back from Wispy Tower—and other “Bridgescapes”—that one truly sees Wispy Tower and how its details emerge and mesh with the contrasting elements of sky, hard steel, and the natural environment. Another unique aspect of Antonio’s work is his handling

of the space around his enormous subjects. His spatial sense stems, in part, from his early interest in sculpture, particularly in the sculpture drawings of Michelangelo. Antonio explains: “Michelangelo’s sculpture drawings have a three-dimensionality in which one feels the space around the forms. I find that I, too, am aware of the space around the forms that I paint.” He also says that reproducing accurate perspectives and mechanically straight lines is unnecessary to achieve feelings of mass and structure. Remember his replicating in Caution Slippery When Wet—with an eyedropper— the wobbly lines of the Manhattan Bridge’s suspender cables, and how real they looked. “Once paint is on paper,” Antonio says, “the energy of the paint takes over and dictates its own movement and atmosphere.” White Stone I Another painting of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, White Stone I (page 83), featuring one of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge’s no-frills towers, is a white-on-white homage to the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, who famously painted White on White in 1918. Malevich developed the aesthetic theory Suprematism, which he characterized as “the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts.” To Antonio, the color white is basic and fundamental and represents simplicity and a purity of emotions. Yet, Antonio says, white is the most complex of all colors. “In the color theory of light,” Antonio notes, “white is created by the absorption of all the colors in the rainbow. So, white, although simple in appearance, is actually the most complex of all the colors in the rainbow.” The painting’s title honors the residential neighborhood of Whitestone, Queens. Water’s Edge At the base of the Queens side of the Bronx-Whitestone

Bridge, again in Francis Lewis Park (west of where Antonio painted Wispy Tower), sits a launching ramp for kayaks and canoes. In the near-distance stands the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge; here is a commanding view of the bridge and surrounding landscape and a scene Antonio would paint using a monochromatic palette of earth colors. The painting, Water’s Edge (page 84), well captures the tranquil scene. Bonnie S. Kirschstein, managing director of The Forbes Collection in New York City, offers an appreciation of the BronxWhitestone Bridge series: Antonio creates a moodiness that draws you into a world where the bridge takes on a biomorphic nature. And the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge series particularly conveys the feeling that the bridge is a living, breathing structure—alive with energy. The fact that a bridge doesn’t literally stay still, but rather moves ever so slightly to accommodate the weight of its riders or to handle the various elements of nature, is expressed in these paintings. The result is that the personality of the BronxWhitestone Bridge comes through perfectly in the delicate Wispy Tower, the unique White Stone I, and the serene Water’s Edge, while all reflecting the enduring elegance of one of Ammann’s most lovely creations.

From Disaster Comes Innovation In 1953, thirteen years after the fall of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Othmar H. Ammann philosophized on the subject of bridge design to a group of civil engineers. He said: . . . engineering is not, as popularly assumed, an exact science. While ordinary structures are closely controlled by ample experience and experiments, every structure which projects into new and unexplored fields of magnitude involves new problems, for the solution of which neither 81

they nor physical experience can furnish an adequate guide. It is then we must rely largely on our judgment and if as a result errors or failures occur we must accept them as a price for human progress. Ammann’s thoughts hearken back to bridge building’s being a leap of faith; the leap is somewhat lesser today than it was in 1940, the year the Tacoma Narrows Bridge fell. Dr. Henry Petroski, a historian of engineering at Duke University and author of Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design, has written that failures always teach us more than successes about the design of things. And thus failures often lead to redesign and new and improved methods. For years, investigators have studied long-span suspen-


sion bridges and concluded that the success of these bridges created false confidence in engineers, who increasingly took more liberties with design by making bridges leaner, longer, and lighter. As a result, bridges such as the Bronx-Whitestone and the Tacoma Narrows were significant leaps of faith. Success paradoxically led to failure. What lessons have the teams of investigators and designers of long-span suspension bridges learned from failure? Simply put, they deduced that the only way to make longspan suspension bridges safe is to build them stronger. Failure, perhaps not paradoxically, has led to success. A shining example of success can be seen in the retooled BronxWhitestone Bridge—elegant as ever, but, most important, safe.

White Stone I (30" x 40")


Water’s Edge (40" x 30")


White Stone II (40" x 30")


Nocturne—Bronx-Whitestone (7" x 10") 86

String Harmony— Bronx-Whitestone (10.25" x 7")


This page intentionally left blank


Hot Day— Throgs Neck Bridge (40" x 30") 89

T The Throgs Neck is a man’s bridge. It is short and stout. It instills instant confidence. It’s not going to snap in the wind. It is no “Galloping Gertie.” —Antonio Masi


o build the Throgs Neck Bridge, “battling Bob Moses” and Othmar H. Ammann, chief engineer of the George Washington, Triborough, and Bronx-Whitestone bridges, once again became a team. Moses’s choice of Ammann, considering the years of public complaints about the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge’s instability, likely raised eyebrows.

The Bridge Rises Amid Controversy The Throgs Neck Bridge, nearly three miles long and hovering over the East River and Long Island Sound, opened on January 11, 1961. It connects the Throgs Neck neighborhood in the Bronx with Bayside in Queens. A six-lane vehicular span, the bridge was set roughly one mile east of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and was a key link in the city’s interstate highway system, connecting Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island. The bridge also linked motorists to New Jersey, Westchester County, upstate New York, Connecticut, and the rest of New England. On the Bronx side, the Throgs Neck Bridge connects motorists to the Cross Bronx and Bruckner expressways, the Hutchinson River Parkway, and the New England Thruway. On the Queens side, the Throgs Neck Bridge connects to the Cross Island Parkway, the Clearview and the Long Island expressways, and Grand Central Parkway. The Throgs Neck Bridge’s price tag was $92 million, inflation driving the cost to almost five times that of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the automobile was king, thanks in large part to Robert Moses, who secured the dominance of the automobile in New York City. The highways and bridges in the metropolitan area—particularly the Triborough and the Bronx-Whitestone bridges—were often jammed. By 1952, volume on the Triborough Bridge had soared to 32 million vehicles annually, compared with 10 million vehicles in 1937. The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, too, was overloaded. By 1960, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge carried more than 33 mil-

lion vehicles annually, compared with some 6 million vehicles in 1939. Despite the overcrowding, Moses’s proposal for a new bridge didn’t catch fire with the public. One reason was that many who lived in or near the comfortable middle-class communities of Bayside, Queens, and Throgs Neck in the Bronx did not want their flourishing neighborhoods invaded—perhaps even destroyed—to build highways leading to one more span, no matter the need. While bridges often stimulate urban and commercial growth, the downside is that bridges inevitably change the complexion of a place—forever. Moses’s decision to build the Triborough and Bronx-Whitestone bridges and favor highways over public transit was historic. The bridges he built helped create the sprawl of Long Island and the urban and commercial mecca of Queens. In accomplishing his goals, Moses ultimately displaced hundreds of thousands of residents in and around New York City. Some felt that Moses had gone too far. Some felt that he was ruining New York City. Consider the damning subtitle of Robert Caro’s tour de force on Robert Moses. It reads: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. Consider, too, Anthony Flint’s book Wrestling with Moses, in which he says that Jane Jacobs—the now widely regarded visionary and author of the classic Death and Life of Great American Cities—regarded Robert Moses as a despot. According to Flint, Jacobs understood that “city neighborhoods had an organic structure of their own that couldn’t be produced on a drafting table.” Flint describes activist Jacobs’s organizing her neighbors to rally against Moses to “save” New York City. As Moses started work on the Throgs Neck Bridge—and the same would be true for the soon-to-come Verrazano-Narrows Bridge—the public would never again wholly embrace him or his grandiose plans.

The Bridge—Safe, Strong, and Clunky As a result of the public’s negative reaction to Moses’s Throgs Neck plans, Ammann was thrust into an atmosphere heavy with animus and complications. Animus came from a public having a needed but unwanted span thrust upon them. Complications involved lingering memories of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge failure, instability troubles with the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, and Moses’s realization that he needed to build a safe, trouble-free Throgs Neck Bridge. Thus, Moses’s charge to Ammann was clear: Using proven engineering principles, deliver a safe, trouble-free bridge. Construction began on October 22, 1957. Clearly, Ammann was cautious with the Throgs Neck Bridge, which would be his first long-span suspension design since the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster. In fact, his suspension structure of the Throgs Neck Bridge mimics that of other successful bridges of similar size built just before the Throgs Neck Bridge. The Walt Whitman Bridge, built in 1957 and located between Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, is an example of a similar structure. (Ammann also served as a consultant on the Walt Whitman.) Building the Throgs Neck Bridge did not present remarkable engineering challenges. Ammann’s construction employed conservative and well-established practices that did not test the limits of design but, nevertheless, yielded an enormously strong bridge. New York City’s official Throgs Neck Bridge Web site describes Ammann’s deck construction and provides a glimpse of the bridge’s remarkable strength. The single-deck structure carries six lanes of vehicular traffic that rest on a series of laterally arranged transverse floor trusses. These transverse trusses are framed into two longitudinal stiffening trusses located in the vertical

planes of the suspension cable. A lateral system of stiffening trusses between the top and bottom chords of the truss provides additional bracing. Together, the system of lateral, longitudinal and transverse trusses forms a rigid frame that offers ample resistance to load and wind forces. The concrete pavement rests atop this extensive truss system. . . . Many Jumbos could march across the Throgs Neck Bridge without collapsing it. Enthusiasts keen on structural design should visit the shoreline of Queens’ Little Bay Park and the Bronx’s SUNY Maritime College at Fort Schuyler, located on the outskirts of the Throgs Neck peninsula. From Little Bay Park, the exposed underbelly of the Throgs Neck Bridge approaches can be viewed; a commanding profile of the bridge can also be enjoyed. On the Bronx side at the Maritime College, a leisurely stroll down Erben and Shepard avenues provides up-close views of the Throgs Neck Bridge’s anchorage and the tapering pillars that support the span’s viaduct. Many of Antonio’s paintings, especially his Throgs Neck Bridge series, feature the span’s anchorages and underbelly. “You can learn much about a bridge’s condition, its strength, and how it is engineered by looking underneath it,” he advises. When the Throgs Neck Bridge was completed, one expert described it as taut and muscular and having an inherent elegance. Other comments were not so complimentary; they characterized it as stiff, squat, square, and bulky. The reality is that the Throgs Neck Bridge, although sturdy, disappoints on key aesthetic levels. One has only to drive over the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge (recall that Antonio considered the quick ride over the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge an artistic event) and then drive over the Throgs Neck Bridge to appreciate the differences. 91

From the Bronx, as one proceeds along the Throgs Neck Bridge’s curving viaduct, which sits just above a shallow cove, the span’s towers loom. An air of expectancy exists. Even excitement! But arriving on the bridge is anticlimactic. The towers rise 355 feet—only 22 feet shorter than the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge’s towers. Yet, the Throgs Neck Bridge’s towers appear clunky. Darl Rastorfer, author of Six Bridges: The Legacy of Othmar H. Ammann, explains the differences between the BronxWhitestone and Throgs Neck bridges’ towers: Although both bridges’ towers are built of two steel columns of closed box construction tied together at the top and just below the road deck with arched struts (braces), the struts of the Bronx-Whitestone towers form portals possessing truly seamless lines . . . whereas the struts of the Throgs Neck present the less fluid line of a flattened segmental arch. They are an odd couple, these two bridges—the Throgs Neck and the Bronx-Whitestone. Conjuring a metaphor: Imagine one span as a mini–Hulk Hogan and the other as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace Kelly—the princess being the BronxWhitestone Bridge, of course. In sum, the overall effect of the Throgs Neck Bridge is not one of inherent elegance but rather one of an inherent inelegance. Today, some fifty years after the opening of the Throgs Neck Bridge, it’s hard to imagine the audacious George Washington Bridge, the stylish Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, the soonto-come flashy Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the Throgs Neck Bridge as resulting from the labors of the same man.


The Art of the Bridge To Antonio, the Throgs Neck Bridge does not have the pencilthin elegance of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. Yet he is uncritical of the Throgs Neck Bridge, preferring to focus on its admirable qualities. “It’s a man’s bridge,” he maintains. “It is short and stout. It instills instant confidence. It is not going to snap in the wind. It’s no ‘Galloping Gertie.’ ” Antonio has often photographed and sketched the Throgs Neck Bridge from various spots around it; it has no pedestrian path. One day several years ago, while sketching and photographing the anchorage of the Throgs Neck, he got too close to the bridge for some people’s comfort. A policeman approached him and said several concerned citizens had reported his “suspicious” behavior. Antonio patiently explained that he was not a terrorist but an artist surveying his subject. Nevertheless, the policeman requested identification and held him for forty-five minutes. When he finally released him, the policeman ordered him to cease and desist from further artistic research. Says Antonio: “I’m glad the police are on the job, but the incident reveals what we artists must endure in the twentyfirst century.” Antonio has also driven the Throgs Neck Bridge multiple times. The ride across the bridge, he reports, provides a breathtaking view of Manhattan. One reason is that 28-footdeep rigid steel stiffening trusses, which look from a distance like a series of angled triangles, are set low enough so that motorists may enjoy unobstructed views of the surrounding landscape. To the west is the profile of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. And beyond the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge is the glittering

jewel of Manhattan island, afloat in the water. On a clear day, the outlines of some of the city’s other bridges are visible in the distance; these bridges, scattered across the Harlem River and up the East River, seem to Antonio to have another purpose other than connecting the island to the other boroughs. Rather, they seem to anchor Manhattan. Without these bridges, Antonio muses, Manhattan might float away.

Painting the Muscle Antonio’s paintings of the Throgs Neck Bridge reflect the bridge’s muscle and stability and contain, as all his paintings do, emotion and a sense of place. The paintings also validate each moment—a moment likely missed by most people. The idea for the painting Hot Day—Throgs Neck Bridge (page 89) began with Antonio’s roaming Little Bay Park on the Queens side of the bridge, where he discovered a path under the ramps to the bridge. He followed the path. Looking up, he saw a strong X-like composition of two ramps seeming to intersect. In the distance were the faint arches. A blazing sun was in his eyes. To create the painting’s mix of warm and cool moods, he contrasted yellows against bluish-grays. Another work, Sunset—Throgs Neck Bridge (page 95), seems on fire. The idea for the latter painting came about when Antonio visited a friend at Wildflower, a housing development on Long Island Sound in Throgs Neck. Wildflower, for a brief period in the 1920s, was the home of Arthur Hammerstein, brother of the composer Oscar Hammerstein II. The Hammerstein Tudor mansion was landmarked in 1982; soon after, the Wildflower apartments were built on the five-acre site. On the day Antonio visited Wildflower, a summer scorcher was ending as he stepped into his friend’s back yard. There he discovered a brilliant view of the Throgs Neck Bridge. In

Sunset—Throgs Neck Bridge, the bridge’s austere concrete anchorage, measuring 140 feet wide by 200 feet long by 150 feet high, dominates; the towers sit against a red-hot background. In a 1988 article on Wildflower in the New York Times, Christopher Gray offers his take on the scene and gives the bridge a mixed review. Writes Gray: “The Throggs [sic] Neck Bridge, built in 1961, dives down to Queens just offshore from Wildflower, magnificent but certainly not genteel.” The setting of one of Antonio’s most dramatic Throgs Neck paintings, Impending Storm (page 96), is the SUNY Maritime College at Fort Schuyler. One day in 2009, just before crossing the Throgs Neck Bridge, Antonio decided to visit the Maritime College. There, walking among the anchors, propellers, and other marine artifacts displayed on the grounds, he turned a bend and saw the bridge in the near-distance. The scene was compelling because although the bridge stood in sunlight, a storm swiftly approached. Antonio says that the moment of impending storm reminded him instantly of J. M. W. Turner’s painting Snow Storm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps. In the painting, Hannibal’s soldiers, at the base of the work, tumble helplessly on the rocky landscape as a treacherous storm is about to engulf them. “Turner’s painting expresses man’s vulnerability in the face of nature’s overwhelming force,” says Antonio. Thoughts of Turner and his painting simmered in Antonio’s mind as he plotted the scene of his new work. What he wanted to convey in Impending Storm was that even the steely and stalwart bridge could be lost in the midst of the gale. As Turner did so brilliantly, he, too, hoped to express the raw, overwhelming power of nature. Paul Scott Eubanks, co-owner of the Paul Scott Gallery 93

(which represents Antonio) in Scottsdale, Arizona, admires Impending Storm: Each person will, of course, have his own unique aesthetic reaction, but, ultimately, an Antonio Masi bridge, such as the Throgs Neck Bridge in Impending Storm, sits fortified and wrapped in a certain proud solemnity that exudes permanence. While Nature appears to shake the foundations of these structures at times, they, like seasoned veterans, fight through adversity and remain standing—comforting, hopeful and always humbling in their timeless strength.

A Lukewarm Reception Unlike the pomp and circumstance that accompanied the opening of earlier bridges, the opening ceremony of the Throgs Neck Bridge was a non-event. Only twenty-five years earlier, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and 15,000 people had sweated through a heat wave to open the Triborough Bridge.


The New York Times’s story on the Throgs Neck Bridge aptly captured the ennui. The headline read: “Throgs Neck Bridge Is Opened to No Pomp and Little Traffic.” The first toll, 25 cents, was paid by Michael Catan of the Bronx. Other news—buried at the bottom of the story—was that a group of angry women who had lost their Throgs Neck homes to the bridge had unsuccessfully tried to block opening-day traffic. The glory days of New York City’s great spans were over. People were weary of being ripped from their homes and watching neighborhoods torn apart. Nor did the public want the financial burdens of these steel behemoths. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy talked of sending a man to the moon— a far more captivating project to a hostile citizenry than forging a new path to Queens and the Bronx. As for Robert Moses, by all reports he was pleased with his latest achievement. Moses had wanted a safe, trouble-free bridge, which was exactly what Ammann delivered. So much for grace and elegance! So much for what the people wanted!

Sunset—Throgs Neck Bridge (30" x 40")


Impending Storm (60" x 40")

(opposite) Reflections (10.5" x 14") 96


View from Wildflower (14.5" x 10.25")


Stalwart (4" x 14.5")


This page intentionally left blank


Light Traffic (40" x 30") 101

I The Verrazano-Narrows is the work of a mature artist. —Antonio Masi

n 1964, the year the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened, Othmar H. Ammann was eighty-five years old and at the end of a glorious engineering career. More than forty years earlier, Ammann was given the daunting task of designing the first major span over the Hudson River, what became the George Washington Bridge. Ammann had delivered a bridge that Franklin Delano Roosevelt described as “almost superhuman in perfection.” But for Ammann, the George Washington Bridge was a tantalizing first course. He would consult on a multitude of America’s most important spans. He also would count among his accomplishments the Triborough, Bayonne, Bronx-Whitestone, and Throgs Neck bridges. But one more span was to come. And many would consider it Ammann’s ultimate achievement. In the late 1950s, Robert Moses assigned Ammann the task of creating a span that would join Brooklyn and Staten Island at the Narrows, where the upper New York harbor joins the lower New York harbor. The new bridge would be named the Verrazano-Narrows after the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano, who had sailed into New York harbor in 1524. The bridge would be, at the time, the world’s longest and heaviest and would be the only highway connecting Staten Island and another city borough, Brooklyn. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge also would stand as the new portal to New York harbor. Lady Liberty, with her raised torch, would no longer be the first to greet visitors and immigrants. Instead, they would be greeted by Ammann’s state-of-the-art span. Nearly one mile long with two soaring 693-foot towers, the Verrazano-Narrows was a vision of staggering immensity and technological wizardry.

Sometimes a Great Notion The notion of linking Brooklyn and Staten Island first surfaced in 1888, when the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad floated plans to build a tunnel to expand its Staten Island North Shore line 102

route. Financial problems prevented the project from progressing. Throughout the next 50 years, other plans were proposed. One included a 2,500-foot steel arch span. Another was a twin-tube railway tunnel. Another was a 4,620-foot suspension bridge with Gothic towers outfitted with bells, beacon lights, and an observation deck. All of these plans were derailed, mostly for financial reasons and because the military decided that a bridge at the Narrows would be a security risk during wartime—if the bridge were attacked, the harbor could be blocked. Ultimately engineers convinced the military that the harbor could be cleared in only 36 hours should a catastrophe occur. Still, bridging the Narrows would take Robert Moses almost two decades to accomplish. Moreover, the project would rouse a wellspring of animosity—an animosity that Moses’s multiple public works projects generated with each passing year.

Battling the Inevitable In 1946, the New York City Tunnel Authority was absorbed by the newly created Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA), formerly the Triborough Bridge Authority, which, of course, Moses already headed. Moses, his power solidified, would chair the combined Authorities. Most important, Moses, who now controlled the purse strings of the TBTA, would more than a decade later dictate where the new bridge and its approaches would be set. In 1946, Moses was more than two decades away from retirement and, among other things, beginning to rethink a Narrows crossing. Earlier attempts to build at the Narrows had failed. Moses favored a bridge rather than a tunnel because a bridge would be cheaper and quicker to build than a tunnel. A bridge would also accommodate more vehicles than a tunnel. Many Staten Islanders welcomed the new bridge. For much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Staten Island re-

mained untouched by the immense changes in Brooklyn and Manhattan. With the opening of ferry service between Manhattan and Staten Island in the 1820s, breweries and dye works began to dot the Staten Island shoreline. Yet Staten Island remained a rural outpost. (Similarly, Queens had been a rural outpost at the turn of the twentieth century, before the opening of the Queensboro Bridge.) In much the same way that the Queensboro Bridge transformed Queens, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge would transform Staten Island. Malls, industrial parks, and a thriving bedroom community of condominiums and private homes would come to Staten Island post-1964. For Staten Islanders, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge promised prosperity and a degree of tumult that some understandably found unwelcome. For residents of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the VerrazanoNarrows Bridge promised pain and disruption. Approach lanes to the bridge would destroy 800 buildings and force some 7,000 residents from their homes. Gay Talese in The Bridge, an account of the building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, details how despite the pleas of citizens to the City Council and the state legislature in Albany, a group of engineers working for Moses secretly plotted to obliterate a large chunk of Brooklyn. Writes Talese: “. . . one of the engineers, to his horror, realized that his plan included the demolition of the home of his own mother-in-law. When he told her the news, she screamed and cried and demanded he change the plan. He told her he was helpless to do so; the bridge was inevitable. She died without forgiving him.” Others had problems with the new bridge, too. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt believed that the bridge would ruin the beauty of New York’s skyline. Lewis Mumford, historian and design critic, railed at the bridge’s proposed $220 million cost. The final cost would be $320.1 million.

Because earlier attempts to build a bridge (and a tunnel) had been mostly talk and little action, many in Bay Ridge who were against the bridge thought plans for the new span would again fall through. They were wrong. They underestimated Moses’s power to bulldoze and build. Despite the civic pain, political battles, and a vociferous late-in-the-day “Save Bay Ridge” movement, the New York state legislature authorized construction in 1957. Construction began on August 13, 1959.

The Bridge Rises The building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, a doubledecked bridge with twelve lanes, was an epic task. Construction involved the building of caissons, anchorages, and two towers; the stringing of cables; and the raising of a deck to complete the final span. The first task was the construction of caissons: Since the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, caisson technology had greatly advanced. By the middle of the twentieth century, the process of dredging out muck and sand from the river’s base was automated. On the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, workers never entered the caisson and therefore did not suffer from the debilitating and sometimes fatal illness called the bends. Following the dredging of the river’s base, two anchorages were set at each end of the Narrows. The anchorages, writes Darl Rastorfer in Six Bridges: The Legacy of Othmar H. Ammann, “are among the city’s most breathtaking spaces” and “an encounter with overwhelming scale.” The anchorages resist the extraordinary pull of the bridge’s suspension cables— each anchorage stands 130 feet high, 160 feet wide, and 300 feet long. To build them, 378,000 cubic yards of concrete were used. Next to be set were the towers: Graceful and as high as a 70-story building, the towers contain 26,000 tons of steel, as much steel as was used in the Empire State Building. The 103

bridge’s four cables were then connected to the towers. Each cable is 7,205 feet long and 36 inches wide. The technology of cabling—unlike caisson technology—has changed little since the Roebling era. Wheels at the base of the bridge looped the cable wires up and over the towers as laborers, working on catwalks, secured the cables from anchorage to anchorage. The final phase of construction was the installation of an 81,000ton deck. Approximately 12,000 men worked on the bridge; three men gave their lives to the bridge.

The Bridge Opens Gay Talese, then a reporter for the New York Times, covered the bridge’s opening on November 21, 1964. Talese wrote that the bridge “reaches like a rainbow over the Narrows.” Robert Moses served as master of ceremonies at the opening and introduced a bevy of celebrities, including Francis Cardinal Spellman, Mayor Robert Wagner, and Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Ammann was there, too, sitting quietly in the grandstand’s second row. Finally, Moses introduced Ammann. “I now ask that one of the most significant great men of our time—modest, unassuming and too often overlooked on such grandiose occasions—stand and be recognized.” Ammann, removing his hat, his hair blowing in the gentle wind, stood and looked at the crowd of 1,000 people. “It may be that in the midst of so many celebrities,” Moses continued, “you don’t even know who he is. My friends, I ask that you now look upon the greatest living bridge engineer, perhaps of all time. A Swiss who has lived and labored magnificently 60 years in this country and is still active, the designer of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, respected throughout the world and regarded here with deep affection.” Applause followed. But Moses, in his speechmaking, forgot to name Ammann. When Moses finally finished, Ammann si104

lently sat down, and, according to Talese, was “again lost in the second row of the grandstand.” Ammann died one year later, in 1965. Three years later, in 1968, Moses, by then an unloved urban relic, was pushed into retirement by Governor Rockefeller and Mayor John Lindsay. Robert Moses died in 1981 at age ninety-three. Writes Anthony Flint in Wrestling with Moses: His legacy would be 13 bridges, two tunnels, 637 miles of highway, 658 playgrounds, 10 giant public swimming pools, 17 state parks, and dozens of new or renovated parks. He cleared 300 acres of city land and constructed towers that contained 28,400 new apartments. He built Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Shea Stadium, Jones Beach and the Central Park Zoo. By the time Moses was finished, scarcely a city street had not felt his touch. Yet despite Moses’s monumental accomplishments, his legacy remains controversial. One issue is certain, however: For nearly four decades, he was the relentless force behind the swiftly changing metropolis. But Moses’s legacy ran deeper. His often brutal bulldoze-and-build approach, for better or worse, was fancied and implemented by many city planners across America.

The Art of the Bridge On a gray October weekday, Antonio walks along a path in Bay Ridge. In front of him is the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Water sloshes against the concrete barriers of the path. One can imagine a much busier waterway more than a century ago with ferries constantly crisscrossing the harbor. Today, only a bulky tanker meanders, shortly to be followed by one of New

York City’s fireboats—a state-of-the-art anti-terrorist vessel designed to protect the metropolis’s shores. Weekends are busier under the Verrazano-Narrows as cruise ships flow up and down, usually docking at slips uptown on Saturday and Sunday mornings and then shortly thereafter departing with fresh boatloads of revelers. Antonio surveys the panorama of land, water, and bridge. To his left, traffic on the Belt Parkway whizzes by, heading deeper into Brooklyn and toward Coney Island. The only building that stands out along the path is the VA Hospital, located across from the Belt Parkway. Antonio’s ubiquitous camera hangs around his neck. A sketch pad and pen are in his pocket. Directly in front of him is the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, a bridge that cannot be walked, only driven. Eighteen-wheelers rumble across the bridge’s roadway. The trucks look like toys on the immense bridge. The view of the bridge is breathtaking. Unlike the George Washington Bridge, set against the stately Palisades and the lush, rolling embankment of 178th Street in Manhattan, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is set against the flat landscape of Staten Island and equally flat landscape of Bay Ridge and the Belt Parkway. Nothing of interest competes with the bridge; it is a jewel that needs no embellishment. Antonio eagerly takes picture after picture. Although he has been to this site before, he is excited. For him, taking photographs of bridges can be troublesome. He has had unpleasant encounters on the George Washington and Throgs Neck bridges, where he was warned that taking photographs violates security. Today, no one stops him. “This is a rare opportunity,” he says. As Antonio surveys the bridge and its surroundings, he sees the destruction that Robert Moses wrought. He points to spots where he says bulldozers ripped homes from their foundations to make way for an approach to the bridge. More than

forty-five years after the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened, it is hard not to feel enmity for Robert Moses and pity for those who lost their homes and the quietude of their lives in Bay Ridge. Still, the bridge is profoundly elegant—an accomplishment for the ages. The towers on both the George Washington and the Verrazano-Narrows bridges are their most prominent features, and how they differ is an interesting tale. When Ammann designed the industrial-looking towers of the George Washington Bridge, he never intended for them to be seen. Ammann hired the famed architect Cass Gilbert, who designed the Woolworth Building in Manhattan, to create a masonry design for the George Washington Bridge’s towers. But the masonry towers were never added because the George Washington Bridge was built during the Depression and budget cuts required that the towers remain unadorned. As it turned out, the public loved the George Washington Bridge’s unadorned towers, and Ammann would never consider applying masonry to a tower again. “The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge’s towers, unlike the George Washington Bridge’s towers, which appear unfinished, are finely honed, simple but not simplistic, and the work of a mature artist,” explains Antonio. To Antonio, the towers are also mysterious and, in fact, remind him of Stonehenge, the baffling prehistoric circular formations of stones and slabs and lintels in Wiltshire, England. How puzzling those circular formations are to us today, 4,600 years after they were built, he says. Then, he wonders (optimistically) about what future generations will make of Ammann’s towers 4,600 years from now.

Painting the Verrazano-Narrows Antonio has painted the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from a variety of perspectives. 105

Light Traffic (page 101) captures the bridge’s monumental gray towers, which dwarf a sprinkling of vehicles on the roadway. His palette of colors in this painting—and many others, too—is deliberately limited. Simplicity of color contributes to graphic quality and harmony, he explains. Light Traffic, done in 2007, was the first painting of a period in which he began to add splashes of color to his work. As in a later painting, the Manhattan Bridge’s Caution Slippery When Wet, the splash of color in Light Traffic is on a sign in the forefront of the painting. “In Light Traffic,” he says, “I used the sign’s strong local color—red and yellow. The challenge in using color, always, is to do it without sacrificing atmosphere.” Another artistic point of interest for Antonio is the bridge’s deck, which because of its unusually long length was built to conform to the curvature of the Earth. This added touch gives the bridge, as Talese noted, its “rainbow” effect. One day Antonio hopes to do a painting of the start of the New York City Marathon, which since 1976 has begun on the deck of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. “Imagine,” he says, “some 45,000 people streaming across the bridge. What a start to a life-altering event!” For him, the start perfectly suits the mythic proportions of the race and bridge. A Marathon Day painting would be atypical, as Antonio’s “Bridgescapes” include few people. Another painting—this one completed—Silvery Day (page 108), is a profile of the bridge that reflects the gloom of the day and is shrouded in a steely blue-gray-green mist. The towers soar skyward, their details unclear. The slight curvature of the deck is evident. Below, at the base of the bridge, three boats lurk. As in many of Antonio’s paintings—and as noted by artist/teacher Robert Armetta—the influence of Velázquez’s steely grays once again is evident. The painting is also reminiscent of Antonio’s somber NY Tramway II, his award-winning portrait of the Queensboro Bridge. 106

Silvery Day captures not only the bridge’s deck but also its power and clean-cut lines. Coincidentally, a quote by Ammann about the Verrazano-Narrows also fits a description of Silvery Day. Ammann said that the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is “an enormous object drawn as faintly possible.” The viewer sees at once—in Ammann’s statement and in Antonio’s painting—the familiar mix of power and delicacy in the bridge and in the art.

A Vision Realized The opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964 signaled the end of an era. New York now had nine great bridges. However imperfect, all were engineering marvels. Amazingly, too, all would likely serve the city another one hundred years—at least. For some, the bridges simply link people and places. For others, the bridges are about the remarkable junction of wire, wood, steel, stone, and humankind’s gift of invention. For Antonio, the bridges are a vision realized. “In Antonio Masi’s watercolors,” writes the author/artist John A. Parks in Watercolor magazine, the bridges of New York City live and breathe the light and air of the city, dissolving into its fogs and mists only to materialize as massive and enormously physical objects. . . . Reinforcing the power and authority of Masi’s work is the enormous scale on which he works, often up to 40 x 60 inches. “To me,” says watercolorist and friend Ruth Baderian, Antonio is a magician. He conjures his subjects from watercolor, using juicy washes, loose brushwork, and developing a multitude of textured moods with a seemingly never-ending use of glazes. Who would guess, at first glance, that Antonio’s paintings are made

with watercolor? Who would believe that watercolor, considered a light and airy medium, could convey such a remarkable mix of lightness and power and yield such commanding, indeed, ground-breaking results?

bridges are also tied to the promises of America and his immigrant heritage, which, of course, is viscerally linked to his grandfather Francesco Masi, who, at the dawn of the twentieth century, helped build the Queensboro Bridge.

Thus, for Antonio, the Golden Age bridges of New York are about art and creating art. But, most important for him, the


Silvery Day (60" x 40")

(opposite) Exodus (30" x 40") 108



Access to Bridge (13" x 9")

(opposite) Storm over Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (30" x 40") 111

Anchorage (10.5" x 13.5") 112

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY Akam, Simon. “Fire at Throgs Neck Bridge Reveals Fragile Traffic Web,” New York Times, July 22, 2009. Bender, Thomas. The Unfinished City. New York: New York University Press, 2007. Boorstin, Robert O. “A Critical Point for Bridge Repair,” New York Times, January 26, 1987. Broad, William J. “Taking Lessons from What Went Wrong,” New York Times, July 19, 2010. Cannato, Vincent J. “Not Here, She Said: Wrestling with Moses,” Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2009. Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York: Vintage Books–Random House, 1974. ———. “Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson,” Virginia Quarterly Review. 2003, Winter. Chan, Sewell. “70th Birthday of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge,” New York Times, April 29, 2009. Christman, Henry M. Walt Whitman’s New York—from Manhattan to Montauk. Lanham, Md.: New Amsterdam Books, 1963. Collins, Glenn. “Honors for Bridge Many Take for Granted,” New York Times, September 16, 2009. Dim, Joan Marans, and Nancy Murphy Cricco. Miracle on Washington Square. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2001. Dupre, Judith. Bridges: A History of the World’s Most Famous and Important Spans. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1997. Ellis, Edward Robb. The Epic of New York City. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1966.

Feuer, Alan. “Shepherding Millions Across the Rivers and Through Tolls,” New York Times, June 28, 2009. Garner, Dwight. “When David Fought Goliath in Washington Square Park,” New York Times, August 5, 2009. Greater Astoria Historical Society and the Roosevelt Island Historical Society. Images of America—The Queensboro Bridge. Mount Pleasant, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2008. Hamill, Pete. Forever. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2003. Haskell, Barbara. Joseph Stella. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994. Kimmelman, Michael. The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa. New York: The Penguin Press, 2005. Lankevich, George J. American Metropolis: A History of New York City. New York: New York University Press, 1998. McCullough, David. The Great Bridge. New York: Touchstone Press, 1982. Moses, Robert. Public Works: A Dangerous Trade. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979. Petroski, Henry. Engineers of Dreams. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1995. ———. Success through Failure: The Paradox of Design. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008. Phillips, McCandlish. “Throgs Neck Is Opened to No Pomp and Little Traffic,” New York Times, January 12, 1961. Rastorfer, Darl. Six Bridges: The Legacy of Othmar H. Ammann. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. Reier, Sharon. The Bridges of New York. New York: Quadrant Press, 1977. 113

Samotin, Pierre. “Who Was Henry Hudson?” amNew York, July 5, 2009. Simmons, Peter. Gotham Comes of Age. Petaluma, Calif.: Pomegranate Communications, Inc., 1999. Talese, Gay. The Bridge. New York: Harper & Row, 1964. ———. “Once Around the Island,” New York Times, July 5, 2009. ———. “Verrazano Bridge Opened to Traffic,” New York Times, November 22, 1964.


Weber, Paige. Great Cities through the Ages—New York. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Enchanted Lion Books, 2003. Winpenny, Thomas R. Manhattan Bridge: The Troubled Story of a New York Monument. Easton, Pa.: Canal History and Technology Press, 2004.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS In describing the art and history of New York City’s Golden Age bridges, we depended upon the scholarship of unrivaled poets, authors, and historians. Thanks (and this is just a partial list) to Thomas Bender, Joseph Berger, Robert Caro, Hart Crane, E. L. Doctorow, Edward Robb Ellis, Anthony Flint, Pete Hamill, Kenneth T. Jackson, Jane Jacobs, Le Corbusier, David McCullough, Marianne Moore, Lewis Mumford, John A. Parks, Henry Petroski, Darl Rastorfer, Montgomery Schuyler, Gay Talese, Walt Whitman, and Thomas Winpenny. We also depended upon the support and expertise of family, friends, and colleagues. Thanks to Robert Armetta, Ruth Baderian, Paul Ching-Bor, Nancy Murphy Cricco, Linda Rodgers Emory, Rob Del Bagno, Paul Scott Eubanks, Dan Evans, Diane Fairbank, Krista Goering, Joan Goldsmith, Anne Harrison, Judith Herbert, Helen Horowitz, Abigail Johnston, Jim Keleher, Ken Kimmelman, Bonnie S. Kirschstein, Joshua Knoller, Naomi

Levine, Barry Lippman, Margie Loftus, Peter Melnick, Fredric Nachbaur, Niko Pfund, Johanna Rosman, Sam Schwartz, John Sexton, Tina Simms, Barbara Wing, and Robert Youdelman. Most of all, we are especially indebted to our spouses, Liz Jorg Masi and Stuart Dim, who cheerfully reviewed each draft and offered artistic and literary advice, as well as infinite patience. Finally, we acknowledge our local libraries: The main branch in Manhattan was a boundless resource. The Garden City Library on Long Island was often useful. The Carroll Gardens Branch in Brooklyn was spectacularly creative in locating hard-to-get books. For their outstanding efforts, Brooklyn librarians Paul Miklusky and Cheryl Powell deserve special kudos. Like building a bridge, creating a book is often a leap of faith. Certainly, this book would not be if not for the numbers of people who shared our faith.


This page intentionally left blank

INDEX A View from Below, 19, 22–23 Access to Bridge, 111 Alone on the Williamsburg Bridge, 25 American Watercolor Society, 45 Ammann, Othmar H., 54–57, 67, 68, 78–82, 90–92, 94, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106 Anchorage, 112 Armetta, Robert, 33, 106, 115 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, 5 Art Students League of New York, The, 4, 45–46 The Artist’s Magazine, 4, 33, 45 automobile(s), 1, 42, 54, 56, 68, 69, 90 Baderian, Ruth, 4, 45, 57, 106, 115 Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 102 Barnum, P. T., 12, 20, 43, 55 Bauhaus, 57 Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 103, 104, 105 Bayonne Bridge, 55, 102 Bayside, Queens, 90 Belt Parkway, 105 bends (decompression sickness), 9, 103 Bernini Colonnade (at the Piazza of St. Peter’s in Vatican City), 42 Best, George, 42 “Best Art of 2006” contest, 4, 33 Biker—Manhattan Bridge, 48 “Black Thursday,” 67 Blackwell’s Island Bridge, 30 Blue Fusion, 69, 71 “bridgemaster” (nickname), 69 The Bridge (Talese), 103

The Bridges of New York (Reier), 21 “Bridgescapes,” 5, 33, 80, 106 Brodie, Steve, 12 Broken Window, 10, 41 Bronx Kill, 66 Bronx Side—Triborough, 75 Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, 44, 55, 77–87, 90, 91, 92 Brooklyn Bridge, 1, 7–17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 30, 42, 43, 44, 45, 55 Brooklyn Eagle, 8 Brooklyn Public Library, 22 Brooklyn Tower, 14 Bruckner Expressway, 90 Bryson-Brockmann, Rachel, 69 Buck, Leffert Lefferts, 20–21, 30 Buck, R. S., 30–31 Byrne, Edward A., 66 Cables—Manhattan Bridge, ii caissons, 9–10, 103–4 cantilever, 2, 30, 31, 55 Caro, Robert, 66, 67, 90, 115 Carrere and Hastings (architectural firm), 42 Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, 5, 115 Catan, Michael, 94 Cathedral of Rheims, 10 Cathedral of Westminster, 10 Caution Slippery When Wet, 45–46, 49, 81, 106 Chinatown, 5, 42, 44 Ching-Bor, Paul, 4, 115 Chrysler Building, 32, 80 Cincinnati-Covington Bridge, 8

City University of New York (CUNY), 3 Civil War, U.S., 8 Clearview Expressway, 90 Colossus, 57, 59 Columbia University, 42, 57 Coney Island, 68, 105 Connecticut, 66, 68, 90 Corbin, Austin, 30 Court of Thebes, 10 Cross Bronx Expressway, 90 Cross Bronx Expressway, 60 Cross Island Parkway, 90 CUNY. See City University of New York Dangerfield, Rodney, 80 Davis, Holly, 33 The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Jacobs), 90 Diagonal Girder, 27 Dinkins, David, 34 Domino Sugar Factory, 23 Duchamp, Marcel, 1 DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), 10, 42, 45 Dutch Golden Age of painting, 3 Dutch masters, 3, 4 Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. See Queensboro Bridge Eiffel, Alexandre Gustav, 20 Eiffel Tower, 20 Ellis Island, 69 Empire State Building, 32, 103

Erie Canal, 54 Eubanks, Paul Scott, 93, 115 Evening Approaching, 65, 69 Exodus, 109 FDR Drive, 23, 67 Ferry Point, Bronx, 79 59th Street Melody, 33, 35 Flag—George Washington Bridge, 60 Flint, Anthony, 90, 104, 115 Forbes Collection, The, 70, 81 Forbes Galleries, The, 70 Ford, Henry, 54 Fort Lee, New Jersey, 56 Fort Washington, New York, 56, 58 Francis Lewis Park, Queens, 80, 81 Futurist, 11 “Galloping Gertie,” 44, 92 George Washington Bridge, 1, 5, 21, 44, 46, 53–63, 67, 68, 92, 102, 105 Germany, 57 Gilbert, Cass, 105 glazing, 3, 4, 57, 106 Golden Age bridges, 1, 2, 107 Golden Gate Bridge, 55 Grand Central Parkway, 79, 90 “Granite and Steel” (Moore), 11 Gray, Christopher, 93 The Great Bridge (McCullough), 9, 11 Great Depression, 33, 67, 105 Greeley, Horace, 20 117

Half Moon, 54 Hammerstein, Arthur, 93 Hammerstein, Oscar II, 93 Harlem River, 93 Haskell, Barbara, 11 Hearst, William Randolph, 67 Hell Gate, 44, 66 Hell Gate Arch Bridge, 21, 32, 44, 55, 66, 67 High School of Industrial Art, 2 Hornbostel, Henry, 21, 23, 31 Hot Day—Throgs Neck Bridge, 89, 93 Hudson, Henry, 54 Hudson River, 54, 55, 56, 57, 102 Hutchinson River Parkway, 90 Images of America: The Queensboro Bridge (Singleton), 31, 33 Impending Storm, 93–94, 96 Jacobs, Jane, 68, 90, 115 Jewish immigrants, 20, 30, 34 “Jews’ Highway,” 20 Jones Beach, 68, 104 Jumbo (elephant), 12, 20, 43, 91 Kennedy, John F., 94 Kingsley, William C., 8 Kirschstein, Bonnie S., 70, 81, 115 “Kleine Deutschland,” 20 La Guardia, Fiorello H., 66 La Guardia Airport, 79 Labhardt, Emanuel, 55 Late Afternoon—Queensboro Bridge, 37 Le Corbusier, 5, 57, 58, 80, 115 Lehman, Herbert H., 66 Lenape Indians, 54 Light Traffic, 101, 106 Lincoln Tunnel, 55 Lindenthal, Gustav, 20–21, 23, 30–31, 32, 118

42–43, 55–56, 66–67 Little Bay Park, Queens, 91, 93 Little Italy, 2, 5 “London of America,” 8 Long Island, 3, 33, 66, 68, 79, 90 Long Island Academy of Art, 33 Long Island City, 30, 33 Long Island Expressway, 90 Long Island Sound, 8, 68, 90, 93 Low, Seth, 20 Malevich, Kazimir, 81 Manhattan Bridge, 1, 10, 11, 20, 23, 41–51, 106 Manhattan Bridge—The Troubled Story of a New York Monument (Winpenny), 43 Manhattan Bridge Mist, 45, 47 Masi, Elizabeth Jorg, 3, 4 Masi, Francesco, 1, 2, 5, 11, 32, 107 Masi, Gina, 2 Masi, Giuseppe, 2, 58 Matisse, Henri, 33 McArthur, Clara, 11 McClellan, George Brinton Jr., 42–43 McCullough, David, 9, 115 Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 79 Michelangelo, 81 Mitchell, Dean, 5 Monet, Claude, 33 Moore, Marianne, 11, 115 Morning Ride, 62 Moses, Robert, 66–68, 70, 78–80, 90–91, 94, 102–5 Mosseiff, Leon, 42–44, 57, 78 Mumford, Lewis, 68, 103, 115 Narrows, the, 54, 102, 103, 104 New England, 68, 79, 90 New England Thruway, 90 New Jersey, 1, 54, 55, 56, 58, 66, 68, 90, 91 New Jersey Palisades, 55, 56, 58, 105

New York Bay, 8, 54 New York City Department of Bridges, 20, 30, 42 New York City Department of Plant and Structures, 66, 67 New York City Department of Transportation, 43 New York City Marathon, 106 New York City Tunnel Authority, 102 New York Harbor, 5, 102 New York Public Library, 42 New York Times, 43, 70, 93, 94, 104 New York Tribune, 20 New York World-Telegram & Sun, 22 Newsday, 69 Niagara Bridge, 8 No Left Turn, 39 Nocturne—Bronx-Whitestone, 86 Nocturne—Brooklyn Bridge, 13 Northwest Passage, 54 NY Tramway II, 4, 33, 38, 106 Odlum, Robert E., 11 oils, 3, 4 Palermo, Italy, 2 Palisades. See New Jersey Palisades Paris Exhibition, 20 Parks, John A., 57, 106, 115 Paul Scott Gallery, 93 Petroski, Henry, 82, 115 Port Authority of New York, 55 Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 55 Porte St. Denis archway, Paris, 42 The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Caro), 66 Public Works: A Dangerous Trade (Moses), 79 Quebec Bridge, 55 Queens County Farm Museum, 33

Queensboro Bridge, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 21, 23, 29–39, 42, 68, 103, 107 Rainey, Dr. Thomas, 30 Randall’s Island, 66, 68 Rastorfer, Darl, 55, 56, 92, 103, 115 Red Dot Award, 46 Reflections, 97 Reier, Sharon, 21 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 3, 4 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 20 Revolutionary War, 56 Rhine River, 55 Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. See Triborough Bridge Rockaways, 68 Rockefeller, Nelson A., 104 Roebling, Emily Warren, 9 Roebling, John A., 1, 8–10, 20, 30, 54, 55 Roebling, (Colonel) Washington, 9–10, 21, 42 Roman Colosseum, 10 Roosevelt, Eleanor, 103 Roosevelt, Franklin D., 66, 67, 70, 94, 102 Roosevelt Island, 4, 30, 31, 32 Roosevelt Island Tramway, 3 “Save Bay Ridge” movement, 103 School of Visual Arts, 3 Schuyler, Montgomery, 1, 115 Scientific American, 21 Seine River, 8 September 11, 2001, 12 Sicily, 69 Silvery Day, 106, 108 Singleton, Bob, 33 Six Bridges: The Legacy of Othmar H. Ammann (Rastorfer), 55, 56, 102, 103 Snow Storm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps (Turner), 93 Spellman, Francis Cardinal, 104

Stalwart, 99 State University of New York Maritime College. See SUNY Maritime College Staten Island North Shore Line, 102 Statue of Liberty , 11, 44, 102 Steinman, David B., 43 Steinway, William, 30 Stella, Joseph, 11 Stonehenge, 105 Storm over Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, 110 String Harmony—Bronx-Whitestone, 87 Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design (Petroski), 82 Sunday Morning—59th Street Bridge, 29, 32 Sunset—Brooklyn Bridge, 15 Sunset—Brooklyn Bridge I, 10, 17 Sunset—Throgs Neck Bridge, 93, 95 SUNY Maritime College, 91, 93 Supporting Arm, 26 Suprematism, 81 suspension bridge, 1, 2, 8, 20, 31, 42, 43, 54, 56, 66–67, 78, 82, 102 Swiss Federal Polytechnic Institute, 55 Tacoma Narrows Bridge, 44, 46, 57, 78, 81–82, 91 Taconic Parks, 66 Talese, Gay, 103, 104, 106 Tammany Hall, 43 Thames River, 8 The Trip Home—Homage to Ruth, 51 Throgs Neck Bridge, 1, 55, 80, 89–99 Tower Dipped in Fog, 53, 57 Tracks—Brooklyn Bridge, 16 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Smith), 11 Tri-Way, 69–70, 72–73 Triborough Bridge, 1, 32, 55, 65–75, 79, 90, 94 Triborough Bridge Authority, 66, 67, 79, 102 Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, 67, 102

Triborough Lift Bridge, 68–69 Trinity Church, 11 triptych, 70 Turner, J. M. W., 93

World War I, 11, 57 World’s Fair (1939–40), 79 Wrestling with Moses (Flint), 90, 104 Wurster, Lisa, 45

Under the Bridge, 32, 36 Underbelly—Manhattan Bridge, 50 United Nations building, 32, 104 United Pennsylvania Steel Company, 31 Velázquez, Diego, 33, 80, 106 Verrazano, Giovanni da, 5, 102 Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, 1, 5, 11, 55, 92, 101–12 View from Wildflower, 98 View from Window—Triborough Bridge, 74 View of Bridge, 7 Wagner, Robert F., 104 Waiting to Cross, 63 Walker, Jimmy, 67 Walt Whitman Bridge, 91 Washington, George, 56 Washington Heights, 55, 56 Washington Square, 2, 54 Water’s Edge, 81, 84 watercolor, 3, 4, 23, 46, 69, 106, 107 Watercolor magazine, 10, 57, 106 Westchester County, 68, 90 White Stone I, 81, 83 White Stone II, 85 Wildflower (housing development), 93 Williamsburg Bridge, 1, 11, 19–26, 30, 31, 32, 42 Williamsburg Bridge—Zag, vii Willie B—Williamsburg Bridge, 24 Wiltshire, England, 105 Wing, Barbara, 22, 115 Winpenny, Thomas R., 43, 44, 115 Wispy Tower, 77, 80, 81 Woolworth Building, 105 119