On exhibit at the NYC Municipal Archives Building (the lobby alone is worth a visit) is “In the Shadow of the Highway: Robert Moses’ Expressway and the Battle for Downtown,” a two-room installation that explores one of Robert Moses‘ most hated plans: a 10-lane downtown expressway (LOMEX) that would have cut through Soho and Little Italy.
The exhibit begins with some context, in some ways situating Moses’ plan within a greater movement geared towards efficient and well-planned cities – this makes Moses seem slightly less like the villain he’s often portrayed as, that perhaps he was part of a misguided Utopian vision. But the exhibit quickly moves into its main emphasis – the community response that eventually defeated the plan and ended Moses’ reign in New York City.
Proposal for the Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX) that would connect the East and Hudson River crossings. via Library of Congress.
First proposed in 1929, LOMEX would go through a Brutalist redesign as support waned for it, a request from Moses to Paul Rudolph, then dean of the Yale School of Architecture. Towers would rise next to this wide highway, filled with car parking on the first ten floors.
In the exhibit, a replica of the highway is built under which are photographs from the archives that are part of the collection. This part of the installation shows that though LOMEX failed, similar projects were achieved under Moses’ rule, like the Cross Bronx Expressway, and photographs of the urban fabric Soho that would have been destroyed.
Model of the LOMEX cutting through New York City
A video interview with Lower East sider Fraunces Goldin, one of the major activists fighting LOMEX, plays on the back wall of the first room. “If you have the support of the people involved, you can do anything,” she says. The second room shows letters and other memorabilia from the constituent groups impacted by the potential construction of LOMEX, including the construction industry who was strongly in favor, as well as the other plans, in addition to LOMEX, that were part of the 1941 National Defense proposal drafted by Robert Moses.
Lobby of the NYC Municipal Archives, a film location seen in the TV show Gotham.
In 1969, after a successful campaign by neighborhood activists, LOMEX was officially demapped. In the Shadow of the Highway is produced by The NYC Department of Records and Information Services’ in collaboration with Below the Grid Lab and the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU.