September 30, 2004
BLOCKS By DAVID W. DUNLAP
N the midst of the longest ticker-tape drought in a quarter century, lower Broadway – the Canyon of Heroes – has been paved instead with 164 granite plaques from Bowling Green to the Woolworth Building.
They commemorate ticker-tape parades from October 1886, when the Statue of Liberty was dedicated, to October 2000, when the Yankees last won the World Series. They were commissioned before 9/11 under a plan by the Alliance for Downtown New York to improve the streetscape with new sidewalks, lampposts, signs and wastebaskets.
Only in recent weeks has the parade chronology been finished from beginning to end. Thirty-six intermediate plaques will be installed as permitted by construction projects along the route.
Against the shadow of Sept. 11, 2001, these plaques recall a carefree, exuberant, giddy spirit that may be difficult to conjure again downtown, even if the Yankees do their part.
Carefree? How about the parade in May 1962 when President Félix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast was cheered as “Scott Carpenter” by spectators who mistakenly assumed he was a newly returned astronaut.
Exuberant? How about the 1,900 tons of paper showered on Douglas (Wrong Way) Corrigan in August 1938 after his flight from New York to Ireland “instead of his ‘intended’ destination of California,” as the plaque says, with quotation marks that constitute one of the few instances of editorializing.
Giddy? How about May 1950, when there was a parade every day for three days, beginning with one for Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan of Pakistan. He was assassinated a year later, one of many foreign leaders who were hailed in the Canyon of Heroes and then jailed, deposed or murdered back home.
“It was almost like a death sentence to get a ticker-tape parade,” said Kenneth R. Cobb, the director of the municipal archives, who has compiled a parade history.
After several spontaneous outbursts, one of the first organized uses of paper tape from stock-market tickers occurred Nov. 18, 1919, in a parade for the Prince of Wales, later the Duke of Windsor.
Grover A. Whalen, the city’s official greeter, recalled in his 1955 autobiography, “Mr. New York,” that he arranged a word-of-mouth campaign among downtown businesses to give the prince a spectacular reception with streams of ticker tape. It wound up including torn-up phone books. (Hmmm. A city official, proud of his Irish descent, contriving to welcome the Prince of Wales by inundating him with waste paper thrown out of windows in tall buildings.)
Watching the paper fall on the Yankees in 1996, Carl Weisbrod, the president of the Downtown Alliance, and Suzanne O’Keefe, the vice president for design, agreed that something should be done to commemorate the parades.
As part of the $20 million streetscape project, under the direction of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, the design studio Pentagram came up with the idea of simple granite sidewalk strips – not unlike the ticker-tape ribbons that remain after a parade, said Michael Bierut, a Pentagram partner – with the date and a few words of description.
(An illustrated brochure and map with information about all 200 parades can be picked up at kiosks outside City Hall and the World Trade Center PATH station or through the alliance, at downtownny.com or 212-835-2789.)
The plaques were made by Dale Travis Associates, the firm responsible for the silver-leaf lettering in the Freedom Tower cornerstone. The granite blocks, 8 inches wide and 3 inches deep, were cut with a water jet, Dale L. Travis said. Then the two-inch stainless-steel letters were inserted, held by pins and thermoplastic grout.
Last week, Jorge Condez and Paul Corrales of A.F.C. Enterprises set some of the last plaques, including “October 28, 1986 * New York Mets, World Series Champions,” into place near Vesey Street.
THREE years and 11 months have passed since the last parade, the longest interval since the 1978 Yankees broke a nine-year dry spell in the Canyon of Heroes.
The next parade will not be easy. The image of a paper blizzard suspended in midair among the downtown skyscrapers, once a visual metaphor for civic celebration, was transformed on Sept. 11, 2001, into a metaphor for cataclysm.
Is it still? Mr. Bierut hopes not. “Part of the resiliency of the city is retaining its own meaning for those metaphors and not surrendering them,” he said. “The post-terror condition has acclimated people to view any disruption of routine as a cause for alarm. There will come a time when the disruption of the routine of city life is seen as something wonderful.”
“Ticker-tape parades were the very essence of that,” Mr. Bierut said.
Just in case, Ms. O’Keefe said, there are 33 blank spots available on Broadway and Park Row to mark future parades. At the current pace, she figured, that ought to last a century and a half.