On a recent walk through an empty Times Square during the Covid-19 “Stay at Home” period in early spring, I rediscovered a favorite map of New York City.
In honor of the “reopening” of New York City today, June 8, 2020, I’m sharing it with you.
First, there are actually two maps, found on opposite sides of the recently renovated Police Substation in Times Square, in the shadow of where the New Years Eve ball drops, between 42nd and 43rd streets. Created in mosaic glass of mainly blues and oranges, it’s approximately 10 foot x 10 foot.
Despite its location and size, it can be easy to miss when Times Square is in full swing with tourists and office workers. These days it stands quietly waiting for the place to buzz with people again.
The map was created in 1957 by Edward Meshekoff (1917-2010, New York), an American artist, illustrator and designer. It was commissioned for the building, which was originally an Information Center for the Department of Commerce and Public Events.
The map depicts the five boroughs of New York City: Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island (formerly known as Richmond). Major landmarks, such as the Museum of Natural History, Central Park, the Bronx Zoo, Yankee Stadium and the area’s three major airports, unnamed, are integrated into the mosaic. It’s a snapshot of New York in the late 1950s. Over the years, I have seen these wonderful metal markers disappear. They had no doubt been chipped out for souvenirs, leaving gaping areas of plaster and chipped tiles.
In 2018, EverGreene Architectural Arts was commissioned to save and restore the mosaics as part of an extensive renovation of the Police Building, that coincided with the redesign of Times Square. The maps has been all cleaned up and looks great. The little metal reliefs have been replaced and continue to depict landmarks of long ago.
The map is a fabulous artifact of the time. Clearly, Manhattan was the where to see the sites during the middle of the 20th century. It’s fun to trace at the names of rivers and boroughs and count off the landmarks you’ve visited. Manhattan and other coastlines are crenelated with piers of the 1950’s, some of which are now in designated park land on the Hudson and East Rivers.
When sunlight hits the tiles the city can seem like it’s glowing. The artistry of the tile work and design creates a subtle transition from bright and bold rays of color at the top, which fade to the bottom of the piece, as if sun were shining down on New York (as it often does).
The map has an almost unreadable key high in the upper left. The key does not seem to be present in the 1957 New York Times photo. (Perhaps it had yet to be installed.) Most items on the map are numbered in the key. As a map is always a snapshot in time, a couple of these landmarks do not exist anymore. Can you find which ones?
Next time you are in New York and find yourself in Times Square, hunt down this map. It’s definitely worth a stop!
Post and tag your photo with @mapseverywhere
EverGreene Architectural Arts
“Beloved Anachronisms, Times Square Mosaics of the City May Be Preserved,” by David W. Dunlap, New York Times.
“Makeover Set for Police Building at Heart of a Sleeker Times Square,” by Ashley Southall, New York Times.
“Completion is Near for City’s Information Center in Times Square.” New York Times, 1957.