Volume 75, Number 46 | April 5 - 11 2006

The Model T medallion at the corner of the Tunnel Garage at Broome and Watts Sts., long obscured by a parking sign, was recently uncovered in preparation for the building’s demolition.

Trying to save bit that’s left at end of the Tunnel

By Alex Schmidt

Although their efforts to save the historic Tunnel Garage in Soho have failed, preservationists are now focusing on keeping the terracotta medallion that sits high atop the front corner of the garage from being destroyed.

The garage was built in 1922, five years before completion of the Holland Tunnel, in anticipation of the new spate of drives with access to Manhattan. The medallion, hidden for over 20 years by a “24-Hour Parking” sign, depicts a Model T Ford emerging from the tunnel. Painted in bright colors, it recalls the innocent excitement at the prospect of an underwater motorist’s route connecting New York and New Jersey.

“If you look closely you can see a guy behind the wheel of the automobile. There’s even a license plate complete with numbers. It’s an incredible artifact and just such a wonderfully rich piece of history,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “We’d hate to see it lost or removed from public view.”

Berman rejects the use that Bob Esnard, a representative of Broome Thompson LLC, the property’s owner, said the owner is proposing for the medallion — to locate it inside the lobby of the new residential building slated to go up at the location.

“It would be a very nice gesture on his part to make sure it is preserved in perpetuity in a place where the public can see it,” Berman said. “It’s the public who should be able to appreciate it.”

Also in doubt is whether the artifact will make it down from its high perch intact.

“It has some very serious cracks through it, so it’s taken a very long time to try to pull it off. We’re just starting the removal and if it stays together we will preserve it and use it in our new building,” said Esnard.

Berman stated that for a delicate artifact of this kind, “you really need to get a conservationist or a preservation architect to create a plan for its removal…. At one point workers were hacking away at it in a manner that seemed they were not committed to preserving it.”

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