Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

November 27, 2015

The Marvel of NYC’s Water Supply

By David Reiss

Rocket Thrower & Unisphere by Jim Henderson

Another school holiday, another museum. The family and I went to the Queens Museum. Although I am a lifelong New Yorker, I had never been there before. It is a great, small museum, with just a few galleries. It is right smack in the middle of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The museum is a stone’s throw of the majestic Unisphere, which is even more amazing from close up. We had gone to see the survey of Zhang Hongtu‘s work, which was very good. But readers of this blog would likely be more interested in two exhibits on long-term loan to the museum. The first is From Watersheds to Faucets: The Marvel of New York City’s Water Supply System:

For the 1939 World’s Fair, city agencies were invited to produce exhibits for the New York City Pavilion, now the Queens Museum. Each exhibit shared “what the various branches of municipal government are doing to serve the citizens of today.”

To educate New Yorkers about the water supply system, the Department of Water Supply, Gas, and Electricity, created the relief map now displayed at the Queens Museum. A team of cartographers began work in 1938 with a depression-era budget of $100,000, roughly $1.5 million in today’s dollars. But at 540 square feet, the model was too big for the allotted space. Ten years later, it made its only public appearance in the City’s Golden Anniversary Exposition at Manhattan’s Grand Central Palace.

In 2008, after decades in storage, the 27-piece relief map was in desperate need of conservation. The model was sent to McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Lab in Oberlin, Ohio and restored to its original brilliance. In collaboration with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, it will now remain on long-term loan in its originally intended home in the New York City Building.

The second exhibit is pretty famous and it is very cool to see up close: the Panorama of the City of New York, the biggest full-scale architectural model in the world. The Panorama was commissioned for the 1964 World’s Fair. The museum has kept the Twin Towers on the Panorama, which is pretty powerful, once you notice it.

The two exhibits together give you a sense of the grandeur of a world-class city both in itself and within its broader physical context. Another thing to put on your NYC bucket list.

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