A totem in Times Square: New York as it might have looked – in pictures

Chris Michael


The Midtown Airport

Midtown Airport

In 1946, property mogul William Zeckendorf proposed bringing air service directly into the heart of the city – along 144 blocks, from 24th to 71st Streets and from Ninth Avenue to the Hudson River.

Related: Trafalgar pyramid? A look at an alternative London

The airport would sit 200ft above street level and had piers for commercial and passenger ships. The cost was $3bn – equivalent to roughly 10 times that figure now – but Zeckendorf thought it would pay for itself within 55 years, thanks to rental income from the shops, restaurants and offices underneath the runway.

George Washington Monument

Washington monument street view

Since 1822, New York had been planning to build a monument to George Washington. Officially approved by the city, Calvin Pollard’s monument was to be 425ft high, located on Union Square and cost $400,000. The granite building would have been almost double the height of any other building in the city, and was to feature a library with more than 400,000 books and a statue of Washington holding the Declaration of Independence. It was never built, however, due to objections over the design and a lack of funds. On 4 July 1856, a smaller bronze statue of Washington on horseback, sculpted by Henry Kirke Brown, was unveiled in Union Square instead.

Union Square

Times Square Tower

Times Square

Drawing 50 million visitors each year, Times Square attracts more tourists than any other US attraction. But 40 years ago it was known as a seedy and crime-ridden area, and redevelopment plans by Philip Johnson and John Burgee had been approved. In 1984, however, the Municipal Art Society and the National Endowment for the Arts launched a competition for alternative ideas to regenerate the square and find a more visually engaging style than the one proposed by Johnson and Burgee.

With a $10,000 prize, the competition received more than 500 entries, with George Ranalli’s among the most striking: a totem-style tower with a sphere nestled in the body and capped with stepped pyramidal forms.

Times Square view 2

Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island

Around the turn of the 20th century, inspired by the World’s Fair in Chicago and the newly popular American obsession with ancient Greece, Thomas J George proposed regenerating Blackwell’s Island – now known as Roosevelt Island – from a collective of hospitals, prisons and workhouses into a neo-classical civic centre. The municipal building would stretch over seven blocks long and stand 6ooft tall, but never received planning permission.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, catch up on our best stories or sign up for our weekly newsletter