This is the northwestern facade of the old Lidgerwood Manufacturing Company factory complex. A major builder of cableways and hoisting machinery, Lidgerwood supplied cableways for the construction of the Panama Canal, the Hoover Dam, and many other large infrastructure projects. The company was founded in Brooklyn in 1873 and lives on today as the Superior-Lidgerwood-Mundy Corporation of Superior, Wisconsin.
The Brooklyn Edison electric company purchased this property from Lidgerwood in 1926, and by 1937 had painted over this wall (which at that time was fully visible from the harbor) with a big "COOK ELECTRICALLY" ad featuring Reddy Kilowatt. If you look closely (zoom in), you can still make out faint traces of the word "COOK" on the left side of the wall, on top of the older Lidgerwood lettering.
Gazing out across the Atlantic Basin, we get a good look at the Lower Manhattan skyline and the cranes of the Red Hook Container Terminal.
The anchor motif reflects the neighborhood's maritime identity, past and present.
Since before I was born, a big red R has loomed mysteriously over the streets of Red Hook, leaving decades of perplexed passersby to wonder why such a prominent sign would be used to display such a nonsensical message.
There was a time, many years ago, when the R was just one of several 30-foot-tall letters perched atop that cream-colored building. In those days, the sign read "E.J. TRUM", the name of the paper box manufacturer that owned the place.
After John Turano & Sons, a furniture wholesaler, acquired the building in 1978, the Turanos wanted to put their own name up on the sign. But as Frank Turano told New York magazine in 2001:
We went on the roof and started pulling down these giant letters. The E, the J, the T. But the R got stuck. We couldn't move it. Someone almost fell off the building trying. It put a scare into us. It seemed better to leave it up there. It's been like that for 22 years. Recently a lot of people looking for billboards have come around asking about the space. But we'll leave it like that: just R.
The Turanos have since moved on
, but the R remains. (The period after the E is still stuck up there as well, of course, but it never seems to get much attention.) Of the four old neon rooftop signs
that stood in the industrial Gowanus-Red Hook area when I started this walk, the R is one of only two left. Bruno Truck Sales
is its fellow survivor, while Eagle Clothes
and Kentile Floors
have been torn down. (There is some talk of Eagle Clothes possibly being resurrected
Irv Gordon, a retired science teacher from Long Island, has put a world-record 3 million miles and counting on his red 1966 Volvo 1800S (not pictured).
This stegosaurus of a standpipe connection is just one of the many tushie terrorizers conspiring to make the city's streets inhospitable to the weary keisters of pooped-out pedestrians. The sprinkler connection outside this building, pictured below, is equally unwelcoming.
But don't despair. While this callous indifference to the suffering of others may be on the rise, there are still plenty of other Siamese connections that continue to welcome the tired, the poor, and the huddled asses of the world with open arms (a.k.a. spikeless sitting surfaces). Just around the corner, in fact, I found one providing refuge for run-down rumps in three different Street View photos — a sanctuary sitty, if you will.
You can see a wider shot of the building in Street View. And here's what the place looked like in 1932.
From the building's 1994 landmark designation report:
The house at 12 West 129th Street, erected c.1863 when the village of Harlem was undergoing development as a suburban center, stands as a rare survivor of Harlem's early history, prior to its rapid development as an urban neighborhood. Built for two carpenters, William Paul and Thomas Wilson, and their families, it was a two-and-a-half story frame structure characteristic of suburban architecture. Subsequent changes to the house reflect adaptations by new owners to their needs, as well as changes in the surrounding community. In 1883, piano merchant John Bolton Simpson, Jr., added the distinctive Moorish-inspired porch, the most significant architectural feature of the house, with its perforated ornamentation created by the use of a scroll saw. In 1896, the house was acquired by an order of Franciscan nuns which was expanding its mission in the greater New York area. In order to accommodate a new use as a convent and children's home, the building was enlarged to a full three stories. Since that time, the building has continued in institutional ownership; it was purchased in 1979 by the Christ Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith, which plans to convert it to a senior citizens' residence.
I'm not sure what's currently happening with the building, but I do know it was used as a hostel called "Jazz on the Villa"
for a few years around 2006 to 2009
Stepping off a Metro-North train in Harlem, I see that a reasonable approximation of the old Corn Exchange Bank has risen atop the ruins of the original building.