A muted statue of the Virgin Mary received the revelers, a few hundred of New York City's fortunate elite, as they navigated the recesses of the dark, cool caverns underneath the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. An orchestra struck up the first chords of the "Blue Danube." The ladies were careful not to lean against the slanted, peeling walls and the men minded their coattails. Amidst the stacks of wine crates stamped ANTHONY OECHS & CO., couples began to waltz. A bottle of fine champagne was passed around as a waiter produced a tray of crystal glasses. Overhead, Depression-era Packards and Hudsons motored along at a roaring 20 mph. It was July 11, 1934, and as The Pittsburgh Gazette eagerly explained, "the dry era" was finally over.
It was a celebration of new beginnings. When the Anthony Oechs wine distributors moved to the Brooklyn Bridge's wine cellar, dormant for almost two decades — the vaults would once again do what they had been built to do when they were established in 1876, seven years before the bridge was even opened for travel.
The wine cellars had originally been constructed as a sort of compromise. As chief bridge engineer, Washington Roebling (and his father John A. Roebling before him), developed plans for a roadway connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan, the question loomed over what to do with two establishments that were in the path of construction. On the Brooklyn shore of the East River, Rackey's Wine Company was doing steady business, and on the Manhattan side, Luyties & Co., sold its liquor to thirsty New Yorkers.
Roebling saw an opportunity to offset some of the bridge's massive $15 million construction costs. It was an ingeniously perfect fit. The design of the bridge would allow for two wine cellars, one on each shore, along with several other vaulted chambers, to be incorporated into construction. The chambers would be rented out to local businesses, which used them mostly for storage, to help pay off the city's debt.
Roebling's plan worked, both architecturally and financially. According to The New York Times, as the bridge was erected in the 1870s, the wine vaults were built "beneath the ramps that lead up to the anchorages, within the arched granite and limestone approaches that span the intervening streets."
Over the course of the next 40 years, several different liquor vendors would utilize the cellars below the bridge. City records indicate, for example, that in 1901, the "Luyties Brothers paid $5,000 for a vault on the Manhattan side of the bridge," located at 204 Williams St., while in Brooklyn, "A. Smith & Company" forked over $500 a year to rent a wine cellar from 1901 until 1909.
Storing wine under the bridge made perfect sense. The caverns below the 60,000-ton granite entrances were dark and consistently cool, ideal places to house even the most delicate vintage Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne. And as the vaults became home to wines from across the globe, the dingy walls of the cellars were enhanced to reflect that heritage. The winding maze of caverns was transformed into a painted "labyrinth", with the names of French streets—-Avenue Les Deux Oefs, Avenue Des Chateux Haut Brion— stenciled overhead. Over time, the cellar walls were festooned with illustrations of provincial Europe; designs of sinewy leaves and purple grapes trailed along the stucco in subdued hues.
Later, the waltzing guests of 1934 would take a turn surrounded by cellar walls which displayed long-faded quotations, such as this one, attributed to either Martin Luther, father of the Protestant Reformation, or Johann Heinrich Voss, a German poet:
Who loveth not wine, women and song,
He remaineth a fool his whole life long.
No one remembers exactly when the statue of the Virgin Mary made its way to the small alcove in the Manhattan cellars. Legend has it that a vendor may have transported the stone figure, plucked straight from the Champagne cellars of Pol Rogers in Epernay, France. Those who saw the Madonna statue watching over the bridge's caverns likened the ethereal scene to Italy's Grotto Azzurra, or the Blue Grotto of Capri. The statue mysteriously disappeared sometime around 1942, but the sobriquet lingered.
By the late 1910s, as America debated the vices of liquor, the wine was moved out and the cellars were converted into newspaper storage. But the end of Prohibition in 1933 enticed new wine distributors. The storied celebration on July 11, 1934 was held in honor of Anthony Oechs & Co.'s move into the bridge's blue-black caverns. Champagne once again flowed through the Manhattan vaults. For just a few years, the era of the Blue Grotto would be reborn. After World War II, for logistical reasons, the city of New York would take over permanent management of the cellars.
But the rare few who have been allowed to visit the historic cellars in the past half century say they can still sense the spirits that once occupied the extraordinary space. If you squint hard enough, they claim you can make out a final homage to the cellars' past imprinted in the 1930s on the crumbling wall: "Legend of Oechs Cellars: These cellars were built in 1876, about seven years prior to the official opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. From their inception, they housed the choicest wines in New York City."
A massive alteration of this bridge is being considered. Expanding the sidewalk deck to the extent suggested in this article would mark the most substantial alteration to this bridge since the David Steinman rehab. http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/08/08/brooklyn-bridge-pedes...
i believe this one is: http://bridgehunter.com/pa/philadelphia/frankford-avenue/
Nope, not even close. Why do you ask?
Isn't this the oldest continuously used bridge in the U.S.?
The 1883 publication "A Complete History of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge" indicates Kingsley's involvement with the bridge was to help raise the first $5,000,000 for building the bridge. He later was vice president and even later president of the Board of Trustees for the bridge. I include an image below.
That's an interesting tidbit. I was under the impression that the Roeblings made the wire in Trenton, NJ. Can you elaborate?
Little mention of my distant kin, William C. Kingsley, who manufactured the cable wires, without which there be no Brooklyn Bridge!
Any Kingsleys reading this if you are related to William,please feel to contact me @ email@example.com.
I was in NYC in October of 2012. While I didn't get a chance to cross the bridge this trip (I did in 94 & 95), I did get a picture of it while walking around City Hall. Thought I'd share it with everyone, even though it's not the greatest picture.
Hello I'd like to sell you this bridge.
Because there were so many subcontractors involved with the BB it is probably appropriate to list some or all of the subcontractor companies such as Edge Moor and John A. Roebling's Sons' Co. The fact remains that the man who made the original design (Julius Adams) is not mentioned, and the man who made most of the drawings (Wilhelm Hildenbrand) is not mentioned. Under the circumstances it seems a bit inappropriate for the website to list John A. Roebling as "builder" when he was deceased prior to the project and wasn't involved with the actual building of the bridge.
Someone should correct the error (with full citation) on Wikipedia if Cold Spring is indeed correct. I own the authoritative print source on Brooklyn Bridge, "The Great Bridge" however I don't have it with me right now, so I have to rely on the Internet to refresh my memory. Google Books is useful, for those who have the time to deal with its clumsy interface. Half the time I get blocked by Google because I download all the books instead of using their online reader.
You might be able to argue removing John Roebling's name as an actual engineer, but since the company name was John A. Roebling Sons Company you are still going to end up with his name to some extent.
Emily Warren Roebling was born in Cold Spring NY Sept 23, 1843. She was from the USA, not Canada. The authority for her birthdate and birthplace is her own genealogy which she published in 1903. We are living in a curious electronic age when errors are being propagated on a daily basis (for example by "Wikipedia" which currently averages about 50% in error) while at the same time more accurate original texts are readily available via Google Books. Refer to the prefaced genealogical explanations and also Page 446 in the Appendix of "The Journal of the Reverend Silas Comfort" published by Lippincott in Philadelphia 1903 wherein Mrs. Roebling gives her own genealogy. Emily surely deserves praise, but all the hype released by ASCE at the time of the BB centennial was politically correct, producing an unfortunate side effect of diminishing the credit due to the engineers who actually performed the work via the instructions channeled to them via Emily (for example C.C. Martin). The fact remains: John A. Roebling's name ought to be deleted and appropriate credit given to those deserving individuals who actually designed and built the BB.
Actually, if you read the history, the person who does not receive due credit in most discussions is Emily Roebling, Washington Roebling's wife. The truth is that all three were critical to the completion of Brooklyn Bridge. John Roebling's previous work on the Covington and Cincinnati served to aid in the design of Brooklyn Bridge, and Washington and Emily together helped make the Brooklyn Bridge a reality. By the way, Emily Roebling was a Canadian, born in Brampton, Ontario. Also, her level of involvement in such a project during this period of history was actually quite a win for womens rights, although she often had to work behind the Washington name. Either way, the Brooklyn Bridge is a wonderful symbol of unity and cooperation.
Although this bridge was conceived by John A Roebling, he died before construction began. His original design was altered significantly by his son Washington A. Roebling who was Chief Engineer when the bridge was built.
I respectfully suggest deleting the name of John A Roebling as a builder of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is time to give proper credit to Washington A. Roebling.
The highlight of my trip to New York City last week was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge - which we did on a cold rainy windy day. My wife thought I was nuts. She wanted to go to some stupid Broadway show.
Thank you for show photo. Happy Brithday to Brooklyn Bridge on May 24, 2008. It is 125 year old. They already put many green light bulbs on bridge. Thank you.