Illustration of the Kunz garnet from the New York Academy of Sciences Transactions 5.
In 1885, a press sensation erupted over the discovery of the “Subway Garnet” or Kunz Garnet, as it is otherwise known, underground at West 35th Street between Broadway and 7th Avenue. Eventually owned by the New York Mineralogical Club, the largest perfectly-formed mineral found in the United States was written up in many academic and industry publications. The size of a bowling ball, the Kunz Garnet weighs about 10 pounds with a diameter of roughly 7 inches. The New York Times wrote that it was the “city’s most spectacular mineral specimen.”
Yet the name is a misnomer as the garnet was found during a routine sewer excavation and not during a subway construction but the story is that the New York Mineralogical Club thought “subway” sounded more upscale than “sewer.”
Like all objects however, the garnet’s novelty faded over time and when the Department of Public Works acquired the mineral, they decided it was prime for adaptive reuse and the garnet could be found on the floor as a doorstop for many years. Eventually, a dealer recognized the quality of the piece and purchased it on behalf of the Mineralogical Club. Today, the garnet resides in the archives of the American Museum of Natural History.
Yet the Garment District remains largely under the radar at best or actively disliked. In 2010, the Municipal Art Society granted the same street next to Macy’s where the garnet was discovered with the dubious title of the “ugliest street” in New York City. In 2012, the city attempted a failed rezoning of the area, as well as a rebranding. We at Untapped though remain big fans of the Garment District and all its “untapped” surprises.
See more quirky NYC facts and discoveries in our “Daily What?!” series.