Donald Deskey SLECO Bigloops Set New Lighting Standards
|Certainly one of the most unusual looking of New York City's historically unique, proprietary
lighting standards are the Donald Deskey designed, SLECO built aluminum monstrosities that nearly took over the city starting in the early 1960s, that I not so lovingly nicknamed The Bigloops. Early StreetlightSite contributor Larry Rojak filled a major info
gap, providing the following background:
"That "big loop" lamppost (the gooseneck style) is called a "SLECO" (pronounced SLEE-koe). It was manufactured by a company named, appropriately enough, Sleco (an acrynym for Street Light Equipment Company). I have Sleco literature from the early 1960s which promotes these poles as being safe because, when knocked down, their flat cross-section allows a car to continue travelling over the pole without ripping out the underside of the car. The only problem with the Sleco pole is that those goose-neck arms are held on by a bolt that tends to loosen up over the years; you can see that most survivors have stainless steel banding applied to keep the arms from falling off."
They were the brainchild of industrial designer Donald
Deskey, on commission by NYC in 1958 to develop a new prototype
streetlight standard. The late 1950's had seen a parade of experimental
streetlighting standards as New York City struggled to come up with
something to replace the lovely old cast
iron poles that the heartless city deemed unworthy to share
the mercury vapor street illumination era.
In the 1960's, the Deskey Bigloops began their nefarious invasion. As the "crookarm" elliptical masted light poles were given mercury fixtures, many of them got new uplift mast arms that arched up in a quarter circular loop. I suppose either the city thought the higher lamps would throw more light on the streets, or the looping arm maker threw some bread on the DOT officials and made the taxpayers wallets lighter.
The purpose of the even more sinister Bigloops, I assume, was the fact that they'd never need painting. As much of a pain as it might have been to paint the crookarm's poles, the cast iron fixtures must've needed even more care.
The Bigloops became the light de riguer for most of New York City's major arterial highways and parkways. The understated tapered elliptical "crookarm" masts that graced many of the post war expressways were removed in favor of the more durable Biggies.
No more lane closures
due to pole painting. Generally, this replacement was part of
the changeover to mercuries. However, some highways were very
late in getting the merc vapor fixtures. This led to strange
One of the oddest, were the Bigloops that began appearing on the Belt Parkway, which links southern Brooklyn with Queens. Being an old parkway, part of a network of like roads, meant to be more bucolic than practical, the Belt Parkway had funny old wooden lamposts, designed to make the parkway look like a long driveway in a park.
Like the Whitestone posts, many of New York City's wooden parkway light poles survived by adapting merc fixtures, but the major portion of the Belt Parkway never got them. It remained incandescent lit well into the 1980's. As they did on most other highways, the Deskey Bigloops were called into action whenever an old woodie got knocked down. But unlike anywhere else in the city, these Bigloops had the tiny little old cuplights hung on them.
The last of these finally disappeared in 1993, on the westbound Belt's Cross Bay Boulevard. exit, but not before I immortalized it on film. I always thought that looked very funny. Bigloops with cuplights. You had to be there.
Originally written in 1996.