SFPC: Day 15 - Ingrid's Walking Tour of NYC Telecommunications History

Today was our second class with Ingrid. In Lower Manhattan, she lead us on a walking tour of “the Architectural History of Computing”,which , coincidentally, is the name of the class.

Class at 32 Ave of Americas

For each location, I’ve included audio of the tour. You can also download the unedited audio at the bottom of this post.

The Map

The Map

270 Broadway

Click here for tour audio at this location.

We began at 270 Broadway Ave.

Address 270 Broadway.

Now a residential building, this is the formal central offices of the North Atlantic Army Corps of Engineers. It’s also where the Manhattan Project began, in apartment 8D, in those very offices.

We all agreed that the apartment is probably haunted.

Class at 270 Broadway.

WiFi Router on the Street

Click here for tour audio at this location.

This is a WiFi router.

Ingrid explaining the router

In 2011, there was a city project that installed these routers across the city, mostly for NYC governmental agencies to communicate with each other. Mainly it’s the Department of Transportation who uses these routers to generate data and metrics for programming traffic lights and things of that nature.

The router was up on top of a distro box on the traffic-light pole. Here’s Ingrid explaining things about the router:

Ingrid explaining the router with Baku

33 Thomas St.

Click here for tour audio at this location.

Windowless tomb-like ATT power distro building

Built by John Carl Warnecke, who also designed JFK’s gravesite and was a proponent of the school of “Contextualism”. Built for AT&T’s “Long-Lines” division, which connects the US to telecommunications networks abroad.

Building was designed to be completely self-sufficient and able to last for two weeks on it’s own power during war time.

In 1991, the central switch of the building was completely disabled because all of the building’s technicians were receiving training at another AT&T facility in midtown. The result was that 5 million calls were dropped, and the private telco lines that air traffic control uses were disabled, so air traffic control could not communicate with airplanes for three hours!

Here’s our happy class walking to the next location. Perfect weather today, sunny and cool, but not chilly. Saw people in t-shirts.

Windowless tomb-like ATT power distro building

Orange Arrows Spray-Painted on the Sidewalk

Click here for tour audio at this location.

Orange arrows

Orange arrows

Ingrid explained that these ubiquitous orange spray-paint markings signify to construction workers where internet cables and infrastructure are, under the street.

We also found an open manhole with a righteous mess of fiberoptic cables and whatnot

Open manhole with internets exposed

Open manhole with internets exposed

60 Hudson Ave.

Click here for tour audio at this location.

Ingrid and class at 60 Hudson Ingrid and class at 60 Hudson

A former “carrier hotel”.

60 Hudson Ave. is significant to telecom history because it marks the site of a major battle won by small telecom carriers against the AT&T telecom monopoly in the 1970’s, when US telecommunications were being deregulated. AT&T would not allow smaller carriers such as Sprint and MCI access to their underground telecom infrastructure. However, Sprint(and other carriers?), shrewdly officed in this building because AT&T’s telecom cables were accessible from a tunnel that connected this building and 32 Avenue of the Americas, which was our last stop on the tour.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but our intrepid classmate Ruby got the contact info at the front desk to set up a tour of this beautiful art deco building.

60 Hudson class reflection


Click here for tour audio at this location.

Western Union Telecommunications manhole. This manhole has been there at least since the 1930’s.

60 Hudson class reflection

Here’s Ingrid heroically pointing to our final destination, 32 Avenue of the Americas.

60 Hudson class reflection

32 Avenue of the Americas

Click here for tour audio at this location.

Dan entering the building

Another beautiful art deco building, and former carrier hotel. Listen to the audio(^link above)for more of the story on this building.

Fantastic mosaic pieces inside depicting each continent.


Telecom Mosaic Map

It’s taken me two hours plus to write this post, so that’s all I will share today. Will post tomorrow, per usual. Tomorrow, we have Phillip Stearns Physical Computing class in the morning. Should be good. I like the hardware stuff, I do I do.

For Lunch: At school, Dannie made a bok choy stir fry, and Bryan made rice and shared his falafel with Dannie and I. Yum yum.

For Dinner: Dunno! The stove is still broken at our AirBnB(grr), so probably grab something from DAG-mart.

Audio From Class(unedited):

Written on October 24, 2016