Basil Levine Photography

Verrazano Narrows Bridge

The bridge was started in '61/'62, and it opened in 1963. At that time I was a partner in a commercial photographic firm, and one of our clients, Bethlehem Steel, gave us the assignment of doing many of the progress photos on the bridge... This was very... arduous work because much of it took place during the bitter cold months of winter. The towers of the bridge... were not built truly vertically. This was due to the fact that the bridge, when completed, was going to be almost a mile and a half long... And, [because] they had to take into consideration the [slight] curvature of the earth, the two towers were not built completely... vertical.


...these towers were the equivalent of a thirty-six story building. ...to get up to the top of the towers, [the workers] had to ride an elevator which was merely a platform on the outside of the towers, raised and lowered by cable. The only thing surrounding this platform... was chicken wire. ...this platform would go up at a startling speed to carry... maybe seven or eight men at a time... to the top.

...someone in the public relations department of Bethlehem Steel [thought] it would be a good idea to take the board of directors on a tour of these towers as soon they were completed. These men, mostly in their late '60s and early '70s, were not told they would have to ride up on this outside elevator. And when they... got on this platform and started up, many of them suffered... acrophobia, and a number of them dropped down to the floor of the platform in an almost fetal position. It was very embarrassing for everybody concerned.

 

 

...the next project was the actual spreading across the river of a cable ...which the rest of the suspension bridge would be built on. This cable was... hauled across the river by a boat from the Staten Island side, and it was secured... and permitted to rest on the bottom of the river for about two weeks. On a specified day, all shipping traffic in the Verrazano Narrows was suspended and the cable was then hoisted up, making the first link between the two towers.

...there were a lot of ceremonies surrounding this occasion. A tugboat brought out a great many of the city dignitaries to witness the raising of this cable, and in the Narrows on that day the temperature was probably about eighteen degrees above zero. Refreshments were served, including hard liquor, and because everybody was... shivering and cold, much hard liquor was consumed. Everybody after a while was feeling no pain, and I... could barely get my fingers to operate the camera after having a couple of quick shots of bourbon and soda to try and keep warm.


After the raising of the first cable, a second cable was raised, sent across, and thus began the construction of a footbridge. And this footbridge resembled... a jungle bridge which would be used to cross a ravine. It was two cables with smaller cables reaching down to wooden slats, which acted as flooring. I had the opportunity to walk out on this bridge, which usually was swaying quite violently because the winds in that area were very, very strong. This was... the basis for... the spinning of the cables which would eventually support the whole superstructure of the bridge.


An interesting fact about [the bridge] was a great deal of work was done by members of a tribe of American Indians... They were very proficient in working at heights and working with huge beams of steel... often this was an enormous challenge because,... these men would work every single day under any conditions, with the exception of a day when there was sleet... And often the temperatures and the conditions under which they were working would really be almost unbearable for the average person.


The bridge was completed in 1963 and opened at that time. To see it and to ride on it is an unbelievable experience, because you have the whole harbor stretching out before you as you ride across. And the bridge is so wide and [because it's] double decked,... it's more like driving on a superhighway than what you would think of as a normal vehicular bridge.


...unfortunately, I have no photos of the progress work being done on the bridge... all the pictures we took were the property of Bethlehem Steel and U.S. Steel. We no longer had access to any of the pictures that we had taken.


Statue of Liberty

The [Statue of Liberty] was refurbished... about ten years ago, and it involved building scaffolding over the entire statue. ...our client, Black and Decker Tool Company,... as a public relations gimmick, ...supplied every tool that was used on the refurbishing of the statue.

 

 

I'm the fellow with the camera standing right up next to the torch. That picture is of the old torch, which was removed from the statue and replaced by a new torch. An interesting aspect of that old torch, and you probably can see it in the picture, is the fact that it was completely dented and caved in in certain spots.

...the statue is located very close to the Jersey Shore... [closer] than it is [to] the island of Manhattan. In the 1st World War, [the Jersey Shore] was a munitions storage area for armament which was being sent to Europe to the American forces... Something happened in one of the storage buildings there, and the entire building blew up with a huge explosion. It was so violent that... the shrapnel dented the torch on the Statue of Liberty... it just remained that way for all those years... until the statue was refurbished.

 

All text and images © Basil C. Levine

 

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