Photo-Bombing Circa 1904

This a nice picture of Morningside Park from the Detroit Publishing collection. Given the notable lack of drone technology in 1904, it was probably taken from an apartment house at the south end of the park, on 110th Street. The park has a reputation of being built on a cliff between Morningside Heights (to the left) and Harlem (to the right). (Note that the old names to distinguish these two neighborhoods were Harlem Heights and Harlem Flats. Then gentrification took over.) Most of the park is at the lower elevation and therefore actually useful as parkland, but the west edge of the park is a series of terraces, retaining walls, and staircases, partially visible here.

Up on top of the rights, we have some stuff. The white wedding cake is the old building of St. Luke’s Hospital, now partial demolished, partially still in use. But the real show-stopper is that huge free-standing arch. Comparing it to the hospital, it’s well over seven taller-than-usual stories high. It is the beginning of the crossing structure for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Here’s a close-up:

You can see the the arch is not the only work going on. The side walls are well above grade and the far eastern end of the building has gotten far enough along to have a roof. The original design was Romanesque and that was changed during construction to Gothic, but I’m a little fuzzy on the details of when. When this picture was taken, construction had been going on for about a dozen years, but a lot of that was constructing foundations. About five years after this picture the crossing was completed, a moment which supposedly marks the change in style, but the completed east end here is pretty clearly Gothic.

The other thing to note is the wood falsework below the arch. The curved form that actually supported the stone before the arch was completed is in two pieces, each spanning via some truss work from one of the spring-points of the arch to the crest; the inverted-Y timbers are supports for the crest-ends of the trusses. I suspect the horizontal running across at about the mid-height of the Y arms is a tension tie to make sure that the forms couldn’t move outward.

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