The men who built the roadway on 28th Street

You rarely consider the effort that went into building the typical unfashionable Manhattan side street. Laying those granite blocks looks like hard work, and there’s no equipment or machines in sight.


The caption of this photo, dated October 2, 1930, reads “Elevated shot (from El station) of men laying blocks down street-activity makes pattern.”

It’s from the wonderful New York City Municipal Photo archive. Here’s another look at the street, the Sixth Avenue El Station, and the thousands of granite bricks waiting to be laid down.

I love the ad inside the stairwell of the el station: graham crackers.

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2 Responses to “The men who built the roadway on 28th Street”

  1. Manhattan Past (@ManhattanPast) Says:

    The men in the center of the photo are sweeping sand across the newly-laid blocks to fill in the joints. Afterward, the surface would have been sprayed down to remove the surface sand and settle it into the cracks for tight joints.

    Despite a spate of various patents in the late 19th Century for new ways to prepare the roadbed and pattern the blocks, this basic “Belgian block” design proved the most useful in Manhattan for nearly a century – as this photo shows, it was still being used in the 1930s long after asphalt had come along.

    The caption says the contractor is the St George Paving Company, which was a New York outfit that owned a granite quarry near St. George, Maine. Granite building stones for the Standard Oil Building also came from quarries in St. George.

    The name of the inspector is also in the caption: J. McNelus. I don’t now about Mr. McNelus in particular, but the job of a street inspector was one of the more lucrative city positions for those willing to turn a blind eye to contractors cutting corners or substituting cheaper building materials for those quoted in the bid. Street and utility contracts were especially susceptible to corruption as much of the work ended up underground where it would not be noticed until problems arose. The street inspector was supposed to be on the site every day making sure the contractors followed the bid specifications.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Cool info MP, thanks. I imagine these guys may have felt lucky to be working, considering that Depression had recently set in.

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