Friday, September 18, 2009

There's An Aquarium in Coney Island Because There Is A Tunnel In Brooklyn

The Times had a story the other day on how the Coney Island Aquarium is being renovated.

Reading the story reminded me of the history of the Aquarium, and how it ended up in Coney Island.

This may be useless info,or you may find it interesting:

Once upon a time, the Aquarium that we all know as the Coney Island Aquarium was located in Battery Park. It was a huge destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike. By the late 1930's, the Aquarium had over 2.5 million annual visitors- almost four times as many visitors as it gets today.

What happened to this vibrate institution? Why was it moved from Manhattan? Robert Moses happened. You see, Moses wanted to build another bridge,this one from Brooklyn to Battery Park. It was going to be called the "Brooklyn Battery Bridge."

Moses' opponents wanted a tunnel. They thought that another bridge would destroy the park land in Battery Park, and that a bridge was totally out of scale to everything else in the Financial District.

Who were Robert Moses' opponents in the battle over the Brooklyn Battery Bridge? Here is a partial list:

1) The Historical Preservationists- they led the charge
2) Mayor La Guardia-
3) Governor Lehman
4) Wall Street Money Men
5) Home Owners
6) The Manhattan Borough President

It looks like a pretty powerful list, right? They were powerless against Bob Moses. La Guardia and Lehman had no money to build a sand box, never mind a huge public works project.

Moses had control of Triborough, and thus he had the money to build. But if you were going to use Bob Moses' money, you had to let him build what he wanted. And he wanted a bridge.

At this point,the Preservationists threw a "Hail Mary". Or more accurately, a "Hail Eleanor". They contacted Eleanor Roosevelt,who was sympathetic to their cause. She got FDR involved.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Robert Moses hated each other. When Roosevelt was governor of New York, Robert Moses was already the a master builder of New York, with massive public support. Even though Moses ostensibly worked for Roosevelt, FDR knew he had no control over Moses. Moses knew it to, and had no respect for FDR. In fact with the notable exception of Governor Al Smith, Moses had no respect for any of the numerous governors and mayors that held office during his 40 years in public service.

When FDR was informed about the battle over the Brooklyn Battery Bridge, he saw it as an opportunity to get even with Moses. But Moses was such a popular figure he had to do it in a way that would not have FDR's fingerprints.

A shrewd FDR made sure that before the bridge could be built, the department of WAR had to sign off on the project. FDR sent the word to the WAR department to delay & finally deny.

When the WAR Department finally denied approval, it did so on dubious grounds that no one would question as the nation geared up for war: if the bridge was built, and the Nazi's attacked it, it would block access to the Brooklyn Navy Yard-which everyone knew was indispensable.

So what does this have to do with the Aquarium? Everything.

Moses, enraged that his beloved bridge would not be built, and knowing that his adversaries adored the Battery Aquarium, decided to hit back by removing the Aquarium from Battery Park in 1941. Moses gave a bulls**t excuse, stating that the building that the Aquarium was in was in danger of collapsing. It wasn't. At one point, Moses gave the entity that ran the Aquarium an ultimatum: Pick up your goddamn fish in 48 hrs. or I will throw them into the Atlantic! Even FDR was powerless to stop Moses, as Moses had total control over city parks.

The Aquarium was removed from Battery Park in 1941. The Coney Island Aquarium did not open until 1957. For 16 long years, there was no Aquarium in New York City. Why? Bob Moses, had a long memory, and the city never made it a priority. Moses took a semi-sadistic pleasure that his opponents who loved the Aquarium had to wait almost a generation as well as trek out to Coney Island to get to their beloved Aquarium.


After Moses was defeated on the Brooklyn Battery Bridge, he built what his opponents wanted: The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Oh, how he hated that Tunnel. It was the one public works project that he completed that he had contempt for: he called it a "huge toilet bowl" and went to his grave stating that the government had forced him to build a tunnel at "twice the cost, twice the operating fees, twice the difficulty to engineer, and half the traffic,."

And the Aquarium? It's never reached the attendance that it received in the Battery.

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