View Full Version : The Art of Manhole Covers in New York City

May 13th, 2003, 05:10 PM

May 25th, 2003, 07:22 AM

September 6th, 2003, 04:20 AM
September 6, 2003


Art Underfoot, and the Angel Who Guards It


THE round-faced sleuth with the orange visor knelt to take a closer look at a circular patch of concrete. Where others might see only Manhattan sidewalk, she saw evidence of a form of art theft: the disappearance of yet another of New York City's glorious manhole covers.

She knew what was missing because she had once photographed it, a cast-iron cover adorned with a five-pointed star and a raucous sea of raised dots. It was the handiwork of the old Liberty Iron Works foundry on 10th Avenue. It had been blithely trod upon for generations, and now it was gone.

"This is one of my real tragedies," muttered the woman, Diana Stuart.

No one could challenge her use of the possessive. Ms. Stuart has devoted the last decade to the adoration of manhole covers. She has whisked them clean like an umpire tending to home plate, photographed them by the thousands, cataloged their whereabouts, researched the long-gone foundries that struck them, led walking tours in their name, and lobbied without success to have them granted landmark status.

So associated is Ms. Stuart with their preservation that she holds unchallenged claim to a nickname that may not be as intriguing as the Woman in Red, but is not quite as unsettling as the Pigeon Lady. She is the Manhole Cover Lady.

Ms. Stuart, who is single, initially chafed at the nickname, sensing that its wink of eccentricity would do little for her social life. But she gradually decided to embrace the moniker as a mark of distinction in this city of millions.

Manhole Cover Lady? Why, that would be Diana Stuart, of course.

The Manhole Cover Lady maintains an air of mystery. She lives alone in a studio apartment, where her files and photographs "highly organized," she says leave no room for pets. She declines to reveal her age, which is about 50, because she sees herself as "ageless." She also does not want her borough of origin made public. "Just say I'm a native New Yorker," she says.

But she makes no secret of her crusade to save the ancient manhole covers, coal-chute covers and vault covers that dapple the city surface by the hundreds of thousands, some of them still-active portals to the netherworld. She estimates that a good 10 percent of the 400 covers featured in her book "Designs Underfoot: The Art of Manhole Covers in New York City" have already been paved over or tossed away since its publication in April.

To prove that manhole covers equal art, Ms. Stuart conducted a private, head-down tour of Murray Hill, infusing her patter with the urgent tone of someone who seems at constant risk of missing her train. She strode with the confidence borne of having walked thousands of streets, dodging cars and eluding undesirables, armed only with a camera, a notebook and a whisk broom.

As she guided on this rainy morning, she pointed to covers whose raised features may have once had a practical purpose providing traction for the hooves of horses but are now the cast-iron expressions of whimsy from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ship's wheels and snowflakes, hexagons and honeycombs, chain links and flowers, all meant for more than just horses.

IN front of 114 East 37th Street, for example, she spotted a coal-chute cover of an anonymous foundry that sported a raised star, bubble-like dots and a ring of diamond shapes. And on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 37th Street, embedded like a jewel in the slate pavement, there glittered well, not quite a Jacob Mark Sons cover dating from 1878. Rows of mauve- and gold-colored glass insets, surrounded by an elaborate petal design, lent it a certain grimy class.

"Is it at risk? Yes, definitely," Ms. Stuart said, her face damp, her voice raised. "Someone could just come and pierce their equipment right through this."

Her pleas to the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission have yielded no support. Robert B. Tierney, its chairman, said that while he admired Ms. Stuart's commitment, manhole covers are impermanent fixtures by design. Giving them landmark status raises the specter of commission involvement every time Con Ed has to change a manhole cover.

"It may not be something that is a landmark priority," he said. "But that does not mean that it's not important. It's incredibly interesting."

Ms. Stuart, who feels as though she is racing against time, remains committed to her cause. She promotes her slim volume, which has brought her some fame but no money. She conducts her tours. She leads the Society for the Preservation of New York City Manhole Covers. She is, after all, the Manhole Cover Lady.

"O.K.," she said, again pointing to the sidewalk. "This is a very important cover."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

September 6th, 2003, 04:52 PM
Design Keeps Us From the Sewer: Rashid's Manhole Cover

On September 15th [1999] the Consolidated Edison utility company in New York City unveiled Karim Rashid's winning design in a competition for a millennium manhole cover. The circular disk (some things are immutable) features a rectangular grid that is distorted in the middle as though it were bulging. The pattern is like a ball pushing into an elastic net. Rashid was competing with seven other entrants, and by the end of the year his new design will be in place over150 manholes in New York City and Westchester. The cast-iron covers weigh 314 pounds and will cost Consolidated Edison $200 each.

"The grid represents data and energy. The two are inseparable in our contemporary digital age."
There are 250 in place on Gotham's streets.

Queens Tribune

City For Sale

Just when you thought the real estate market was getting ridiculous in New York City, enter the Con Edison commissioned "Millennium Manhole Cover."

This special edition cover has a starting bid of $5,000 dollars on ebay. Shocked or confused? So were we (read on).

Apparently, Con Edison had commissioned Karim Rashid, internationally renowned artist, to design a commemorate piece for the Millennium in a form of a standard 350 pound iron manhole cover. The cover is "uniquely designed" and autographed by the artist himself and donated for a charity auction that will benefit the New York Hall of Science.

Whoopee Doooo!

Apparently, the donated manhole cover is expected to go up in value once a second Millennium Manhole cover is donated to a major museum.

Unfortunately, this raises two more questions:

1) For the person buying this piece of artistic expression: Where will you place a 350-pound manhole cover?

2) How much money can we get for the manhole cover outside our building?

I can't find an image, I'll keep looking. I've seen it published somewhere.

Roosevelt Island 360
September 21st, 2008, 12:32 AM