Rendering by iProspect

Many architects have yearned to leave a lasting mark on New York City. While the lucky few are able to realize their dream, an untold number never get that chance.
Some of their plans never saw reality due to red tape or funding issues, while others remained on the drawing board because the city was not ready for their grandiosity. Presented below are 10 ideas for New York City that never left the drawing board.

10. The Coney Island Globe Tower

Samuel Friede, Coney Island Globe Tower, 1906. Courtesy Queens Museum (left)

Coney Island has always been known for its outrageous architecture and general atmosphere. Before it became beloved to New Yorkers and Brooklynites alike, back in the 1870s, the small peninsula was being developed as a “pleasure island” of sorts. And so it was not so giant a leap, what entrepreneur/architect Samuel Friede proposed to build in 1906: the Coney Island Globe Tower, a literal world of entertainment, sitting full and proud as a setting sun on the little peninsula’s horizon. Had it ever been built, the Globe Tower would have been the largest steel structure ever erected and the second tallest man-made structure in the world besides the Eiffel Tower.
The 700-foot-high globe would have 11 floors, which were to be filled with restaurants, a vaudeville theater, a roller skating rink, a bowling alley, slot machines, an Aerial Hippodrome, four large circus rings, a ballroom, an observatory, and a weather observation station.

 9. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Building Tower

Metropolitan Life Building and TowerUnfinished base of the Met Life tower on left

Harvey Wiley Corbett, who worked as a draftsman for Cass Gilbert designed a tower for Met Life that would have been the tallest building in the world. The new building was to be located on the full block site between East 24th and East 25th Streets, next to the company’s headquarters at the time.
In what can only be described as a cross between Gaudi and Art Deco (with a little Moderne thrown in), MetLife’s new building would have been mountainous. Construction began in 1928, but was never completed. While construction continued throughout the Great Depression, Black Tuesday took its toll. By 1933, construction was terminated. The 28 story stump of 11 Madison Avenue/the North Building stands as a testament to what might have been.

8. The Chrystie-Forsyth Parkway and its Grand Art-Deco buildings 

In 1929, the Regional Plan Association released its first Regional Plan for New York and its Environs. The plan proposed to demolish the tenements that littered the area and called for the creation of a grand corridor along Chrystie-Forsyth.
The Chrystie-Forsyth Parkway was designed to maximize light and air by incorporating low rise buildings, parks, and adequate spaces between the skyscrapers. The parkway was designed in conjunction with rows of Art Deco skyscrapers. How different the Lower East Side would have been!

7. Robert Moses’ Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX)

Proposal for the Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX) that would connect the East and Hudson River crossings. via Library of Congress.

Among Robert Moses’ visionary plans throughout New York City during his time as one of the prime urban planners in the mid 20th century is a plan for a Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX) that would connect the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges to the Holland Tunnel.
It would have also cut through SoHo and Little Italy, and the plan was ultimately nixed in 1962 due to widespread disapproval from the public (and from Jane Jacobs, of course). Of all the plans here, it is probably the most likely to have come to fruition given Moses’ influence over city building in the era. Read about 5 things we can blame on Robert Moses however.

6. The Gaudi Hotel

Gaudi is most well known for his Art Nouveau and Art Moderne styles fantasies that decorate Barcelona and the City’s Sagrada Familia Basilica. Two American businessmen sought to add a building based on Gaudi’s unique vision to the New York City skyline. In response to their request, Gaudi designed multiple sketches of an 980 to 1,100 foot high hotel called the Hotel Atraccion (Hotel Attraction).
Had the hotel been built, it would have been the tallest building in New York City, containing an exhibition hall, conference rooms, a theater, and five dining rooms, symbolizing the five continents. and therefore in the United States. Ultimately the plan was abandoned and all that survives are the conceptual sketches by Juan Matemala. Gaudi’s building was featured in an episode of the television show Fringe and the design for his hotel was submitted for the contest to decide what should be built in Lower Manhattan on the site of the World Trade Center.

5. A Conveyor Belt Between Grand Central and Times Square

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Conveyor Belt-Times Square-Grand CentralImage via NYCVintage

1951, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company proposed a conveyor belt system with clear gondola-like cars that would have taken 60,000 riders daily between Grand Central and Times Square on unused shuttle tracks, hoping to ease the traffic congestion problem on New York City streets. It claimed it could transport people “about a third faster than the crowds transported now by the shuttle trains under 42nd Street.” The system was tested to make sure it could accommodate “women wearing high heels, shoppers with both arms loaded with bundles, and physically handicapped persons.”
The New York Board of Transportation went as far as to allocate $3.8 million of the capital budget in 1953 for its installation. Only a few months later, the budget director recommended against spending for transportation or hospital projects. The Bend Bulletin reported, “Whether [New York] City will be one of the first if not the first to use a conveyor belt for transporting human beings remains therefore to be seen.”

4. Lindenthal’s Hudson River Bridge


Rendering from Scientific American May 23, 1891

Beneath a tree on a (landlocked) college campus in New Jersey, there’s a cornerstone of a bridge that leads to nowhere. The stone is the only trace of a planned 6,000-foot-bridge that would have spanned the Hudson River from Manhattan’s 23rd Street at 10th Avenue to New Jersey. Originally laid in June 1895 at the corner of Garden and 12th Streets in Hoboken, the stone was only later moved to its current location at the Stevens Institute of Technology.
Had plans come to fruition, the massive structure would have been an iconic element of New York’s skyline. Even by modern-day standards, the size of the bridge is impressive: 200 feet wide and 200 feet high to accommodate 12 railroads, 24 traffic lanes and 2 pedestrian walks. The massive structure would have been double the length of the George Washington Bridge, and two supporting 825-foot-high towers would have been taller than the 792-foot Woolworth Building (the world’s tallest skyscraper at the time).

3. A Highway for the Rooftops of NYC

Highway on Rooftops NYC-Manhattan-Popular Science-1927
In July 1927, Popular Science profiled a proposal for a 16-mile elevated highway that would span the rooftops of a Manhattan avenue. This futuristic plan, which called for a series of uniform twelve-story buildings extending from the Battery Park to Yonkers, came from the mind of John K. Hencken, a New York based engineer. Allegedly, it was “approved by a number of eminent engineers and city planners.”
The added benefit of this plan was that it called for the highway to be connected by bridges at all cross streets, thereby allowing for the free movement of vehicular and pedestrian traffic at grade crossings. Urban planners today would commend the sub-basements which were supposed to contain “four railroad tracks for freight service, as well as conduits and sewers.” Had this plan been realized, it would have contained a city within a city; apartments, offices, studios, schools, theaters, ballrooms, restaurants, and shops would have filled in the upper levels of these unique structures.

2. Midtown’s Rooftop Airport

Rendering by iProspect

The 990-acre Manhattan Airport was the brainchild of real-estate mogul William Zeckendorf, who also owned the Chrysler Building and Astor Hotel. According to a 1946 LIFE article, Zeckendorf’s $3 billion project–an astronomical sum today, let alone in the 1940s–would have stretched 144 blocks from 24th to 71st Streets and 9th Ave to the Hudson River at 200 feet above street level.
The building below would have contained restaurants, business, waiting rooms and ticket offices, much like Port Authority and Penn Station do today. Not only could the airport accomodate air travel, but it also had piers for ships to anchor. An estimated 68 planes an hour could take off across the runway, compared to the 71 per hour at LaGuardia and 89 per hour at Newark and JFK.

1. Filling in the Hudson River and East River

At the beginning of the 20th century, industrializing cities were growing voraciously and needed more room. Proximity to rivers and oceans were essential for the early settlements due to water transport. But then came trains, and it started to seem like a good idea to dump land into water on a huge scale to create breathing room for boom towns. New York City did this even before the turn of the century–shipwrecks and garbage were often used to create surface area along the edges of Manhattan. The land dug up to create the 4/5/6 line was used to create Governors Island. But what if New York City had taken this strategy way further?
In December 1924, Popular Science Monthly reviewed a proposal by Dr. John A. Harriss, a former New York City health commissioner, to drain the East River as a congestion solution. In the March 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix and Invention, Alfred Albelli discussed the many benefits of filling in the Hudson River.
Check out more plans to fill in New York City’s rivers including one to relocate City Hall to the middle of the East River and another to connect Manhattan to Governor’s Island.
As wacky as these plans may be, in today’s commodified architectural space, we can only hope that New York City will continue to think creative and big in the future.

Read one for more in the New York City that Never Was Series:

The New York City that Never Was: Part I Buildings
The New York City that Never Was: Part II Bridges
The New York City that Never Was: Part III Roadways and Railways