February’s Map of the Month, “The Missing Link” is more properly described as a broadside, for the map was published in October 1939 by the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge Coalition to support an appeal of the veto of the bridge’s construction by then U.S. Secretary of War, Henry Woodring.
The Brooklyn-Battery Bridge? Yes, a bridge connecting Red Hook to the Battery proposed by Robert Moses. Here is the short version: in 1938, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, low on resources for financing after years of the Depression and the construction of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, was looking for a way to build a tunnel from Brooklyn to the Battery. The Triborough Bridge Authority under Robert Moses, on the other hand, was relatively flush with the successful opening and operation of the Triborough Bridge. LaGuardia pitched the project to Moses who agreed to undertake it, on condition the Tunnel Authority be brought under his control. After this transfer of authority, Moses announced a proposal to construct a bridge rather than a tunnel, even though the Board of Estimate had already approved the construction of a tunnel.
Many approved of the plan, including Mayor LaGuardia, and it looked inevitable once it had been cleared by City and State boards and agencies. But the plan also provoked strong and immediate opposition from community groups and local politicians on both sides of the East River, but particularly those situated near Wall Street and the Battery where a tremendous off-ramp would cut off the southern tip of Manhattan from sunlight and views of the harbor. The plan also imperiled Castle Clinton and the very popular New York Aquarium (designed by McKim, Mead and White).
Opponents appealed to Eleanor Roosevelt who wrote in support of their position in her April 5, 1939 “My Day” newspaper column. Finally in July, Secretary of War Woodring, who was serving under Franklin Roosevelt, vetoed the proposed bridge as a hazard to national defense as it would hinder access to the Atlantic from the Navy Yard should it be bombed or destroyed.
Woodring’s veto did not end the matter for supporters (indeed-what about the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges?) and this broadside is evidence for the vigor with which they pleaded their case. The range of Brooklyn business and civic leaders amassed to reverse the veto is impressive, and they used their business savvy to push their agenda in the press–note this map is reprinted from the Daily News and on its verso 2 editorials are reprinted from the News and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle–as well as directly to the public. (For Moses buffs, the rebuttal submitted by Moses and presented to Roosevelt by LaGuardia, Brooklyn-Battery Bridge appeal from the decision of Secretary of War Woodring denying a permit for the construction of the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge, is an astonishing document in its display of a blend of dismissal and expertise.)
The appeal was not successful, and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was finally completed, after many delays, in 1950. Robert Caro, in The Power Broker, characterizes this as a first defeat for Robert Moses. The story does not end there either for Moses: as the Parks Commissioner he declared the Aquarium structurally unsound in 1941, ahead of the tunnel construction, and it was closed. A new Aquarium opened in 1957, in Coney Island. One of the opponents of the Bridge project, Alfred Bard, and other civil reformers worked to have Castle Clinton declared a national landmark in 1947, saving the structure that still stands in the Battery today.
Interested in seeing more maps? You can view the BHS map collection anytime during the library’s open hours, Wed.-Sat., from 1-5 p.m. No appointment is necessary to view most maps.