The Cheerful Westinghouse Silverliner OV-25 Cobra Head

My experience of the pioneering Westinghouse Silverliner OV-25 cobra head, the second most prevalent mercury vapor era streetlight used in New York City.
The second most prevalent mercury era fixture, the Westinghouse Silverliner, was the one I've dubbed the "Cheerfuls" , due to the happy, good-natured visage their diffusers gave off. They were always a distant second fiddle to the perfidious "Disgusteds."

The first generation Cheerfuls probably started popping up in Manhattan in the 50's, as the mercury invasion picked up steam at the expense of the incandescents. These older Cheerfuls held sway over much of Manhattan, taking over many avenues, side streets and the East River (FDR) Drive.

They mostly hung off of crook-arm masts. They were my favorite fixtures for years, just as the crook-arms were my favorite masts.They even teamed up with the venerable Whitestone poles, on both the FDR's South Street stretch and the Brooklyn Bridge approaches. A couple still survive on neglected (thankfully) off ramps of that world renowned span. The rest, complacent about lasting well into the 1980's, were massacred in the wake of massive reconstruction work on the bridge approaches & the FDR.

They were also hung off unusual, for NYC, straight, braced arms, attached to the girders on the Brooklyn end of the Williamsburg Bridge. Several still survive there, sharing the span with an assortment of geriatric mercury & sodium era fixtures, including cuplights that hang under cross beams on the covered Manhattan bound lanes.

They all face extinction soon as a massive reconstruction is underway on that incredibly hideous, rotting, hulking, erector-set nightmare of a bridge.* The Brooklyn bound side has already been denuded of it's lights and roadbed.

*UPDATE 2003: The entire Williamsburg Bridge was indeed reconstructed over the past few years since the above was written, and needless to say, the old streetlights and their brackets no longer are there.

They began to lose out to the grumbling GE M400 Disgusteds, in the early 1960's outer borough mercurization frenzy, as the evil triad of the Disgusteds, soaring uplift mast arms made famous by Kojak that I labeled the Quarterloops and Donald Deskey designed "Bigloops" spread out through Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx & Staten Island, ripping the crook-arms off surviving poles, slaughtering the cuplights and incinerating the thousands of beloved cast iron poles, many with their irreplaceable bell and serving-plate shaped fixtures. The Disgusteds owned the outer boroughs in those early merc years, with the minor exception of a few cutoff type fixtures.

The Cheerfuls made do with a few crumbs, like Woodhaven, Junction & Northern Blvds. in Queens. They also received a token presence on the burgeoning highway extensions and reconstructions that preceded the 1964-65 Worlds Fair. Being small at the time, with limited exposure to many neighborhoods, perhaps I underestimate their actual numbers.

cheerful on qloopThe stage was set for the Cheerful's counterattack, but it took a new generation of Cheerfuls to pull it off. In the mid 60's, a new, restyled Cheerful appeared on the scene, with softer lines than it's predesessor, but the same expression. Some major stretches of road & highway were still incandescent. The Disgusteds had run out of steam and the new Cheerfuls swooped in like happy vultures, devouring the Eastern end of Queens Blvd and teaming up with long, brace-masted bigloops that were popping up on various parkways like the Grand Central.

The Cheerful-Biggest Loop alliance took quick advantage of the demise of many Worlds Fair era long-masted crook-arm poles, whenever these were knocked down in crashes. Soon, all these highways became a hodgepodge of the two poles and their respective luminaires. The new Cheerfuls even had the audacity to intrude on the Disgusted's most prized conquest, the Long Island Expressway, at the sprawling Flushing Meadows interchange.

Their halycon days didn't last long. By the end of the 1960's, they were being passed over by the Disgusteds restyled successor, the GE M-400A2 that I nicknamed the Doubtfuls, so named for their own inimicable expression, which always seemed to me to be as if someone was trying to convince them of something and they weren't buying it. The doubtfuls took over Western Queens Blvd. and made the jump into the sodium era, which commenced around 1970, a move that the new Cheerfuls were apparently not wired to do. Today, the remaining Cheerfuls are few and far between. Whatever still survive are almost entirely of the second generation model. The side streets in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bedford Styvesant, Flatbush and East New York still have a number of them scattered about. Classon Avenue, around its intersection with Eastern Parkway, by the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, even has something close to a mini run of them.

I did a double take one day when I noticed that they sported Sodium Vapor lamps. If they were able to hold those bulbs all along, why the hell did the city need to replace most of them? Perhaps they were retrofitted, or rewired. Most of them, in the same area, still have mercury lamps. Another mini run of them is around Highland Park by the Interboro (Jackie Robinson) Pkwy. Most of these rareties are hung on crook-arms and several are in grave danger. One, on a dangerous Highland Blvd. curve, is hitched to a pole that lists precariously, resigned to its fate of eventually being smashed to oblivion by a truck someday.

Another, by the park, wears it's death warrant around it's neck, like a cross between a bowtie and a noose. Whatever agencies or contractors are responsible for the streetlights here, have taken to tagging doomed fixtures, or those in need of a bulb change. Some fixtures have ominous looking tickets taped to their bodies with wrap-around green tape.

Others just have a ticket shoved into their diffusers, sticking out as if the cops have given the pole a parking ticket. With the mayor's quota for cops, to give more traffic tickets, growing, I can see some anxious cops ticketing the lights to fill a slow day.
One last great cluster of them survives on the interchange, where the Cheerful IIs scored their greatest, backbreaking victory over the reeling Disgusteds, on the Long Island Expwy/Grand Central cloverleaf. They still maintain a presence on the Grand Central itself, the Van Wyck extension, and the ridiculous, one-way Nassau Expwy.
Originally written in 1996.