Photos 30 Aug 2009 07:36 am

Up on the Rooftops – SundayPhotoRecap

- Here’s a recap of one of my favorite SundayPhoto posts. It came from May 2007. I’m posting it anew since I plan to upadate it in the next week or two. Enjoy your Sunday.


I’ve always had something of a fascination with the rooftops in New York. There are lots of pipes and chimneys, and other paraphernalia on tar paper covered roofs. My curiosity should have pulled me off my bum to do a bit of research and find out what those bits & pieces and unidentifiable objects are.

For this reason, I often look up while walking down the street. I decided to photograph some of these things while out and about this past week. For better or worse here they are:

a b
Most buildings look like these three. There are the older buildings constructed in the early 20th Century (as in “a”) with a fancy ediface. They’ve been cleaned of any gargoyles or protrusions that might’ve once leaned off the face of the building – landlords didn’t want to be sued as these objects started to come loose and fall off.

There are the sleeker, newer, less interesting buildings (as seen in “b” above) which are boring to the eye. The flat top in the foreground is not as attractive as the turreted red building in back of it.

My favorites are the smaller, more interesting buildings built (to the left) with odd pipes and chimneys peeping out.

In the not-too-distant past, rooftops were covered with TV antennae.
This has been replaced with satellite dishes. I’m not sure which is more attractive.
I know illustrators still enjoy putting an occasional antenna on a city rooftop
or even a pair of rabbit ears atop a television set.
After all, what says TV more than an antenna? A cable box?

d e
I only photographed the one building, but I found that many of the early 20th Century constructions had crosses on the top. These aren’t churches, either. Perhaps in an earlier time they had some connection to a Christian organization, but today they’re very commercial. However golden globes are definitely big on the tops of many of the buildings in the City.

e f
Many are under maintenance; many just stand out shining.

There are also those, such as the building on the left, which have a beautifully sculpted golden top that merely crowns the steeple of the building.

A lot of care went into these rooftop pieces that shone over a pre-neon city. This building, on 23rd Street and Madison Avenue, was at one time the governmental center of the city. It was a very rich area until the downtown low-lifes started encroaching, and the rich moved further uptown. The Mayor’s home, Gracie Mansion, is on 88th Street, the far East side of Manhattan.

Where does such a building keep its air conditioning equipment and water towers so prevalent on other buildings of the period? That might be asked of a lot of buildings, today, in this modern era.

h i

j k

Speaking of water towers, there are plenty of them. They cover the rooftops and range in sizes and shapes. Some look more industrial than others, and I’m not sure what purpose they serve.

Years ago I took my father to a show at Lincoln Center. He was an air conditioning engineer, and as we passed the large fountain in the square, he remarked that the water of the attractive fountain also served the air conditioning of the entire center. That bit of information has stuck with me for many years.

Do the water towers of the city also serve the air conditioning? Are they the remnant of an architectural solution of the past? The newer, less attractive buildings don’t seem to have these structures. I guess I have more homework to do.

m n
Plants, of course, proliferate on the City’s rooftops. Any way to add green to the tans and greys of Midtown is obviously optimistic.

o p
However, one isn’t always prepared for the variey of plants and trees one sees in the distant sky. Many fir trees abound, but obviously a homesick Californian would plant palm trees on his roof. (see “p”)

I couldn’t help but finish with one of my favorite little buildings in town.

It’s not so much the rooftop that’s interesting, here, but the building, itself.
You see the entire structure in this photo to the left.


It sits on 28th Street squeezed between two larger buildings. In a way it reminds me of the “Little House” in the Disney film as designed by Mary Blair. I doubt laundry would ever have hung out of a midtown Manhattan window. They used to dry it on clotheslines on the rooftops (a bit I used in my film, The Red Shoes.)

One wonders what the story of this building can be told and what interesting landlord didn’t sell out to the money grubbers to the left and right of him. There’s a lotta history in this City.

4 Responses to “Up on the Rooftops – SundayPhotoRecap”

  1. on 30 Aug 2009 at 8:29 am 1.richard o'connor said …

    The golden domed building was the original office Bertram Goodhue, who, as you know, was the architect responsible for The Ink Tank’s space on 2 W. 47.

  2. on 30 Aug 2009 at 8:37 am 2.Michael said …

    How sad that Bob had to vacate that space when he spent so much love and money reconstructing it and caring for it. They’ve probably already painted the wooden walls white again.

  3. on 30 Aug 2009 at 9:43 am 3.Kellie Strøm said …

    I love that little building with the beautifully detailed brickwork. I wonder how far back it goes.

  4. on 05 Aug 2014 at 5:51 am 4.Rhett Zoda said …

    great man! Thank you

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