Manhattan puddle mystery

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Puddle on E64th St. between Park and Lexington avenues. (This East Side)

Here is a story worthy of the literary bent of the author of the book A Burglar’s Guide to the City.” Geoff Manaugh has a blog, wittily framed as BLDGBLOG. The letters seem to read “blog-blog” until you look at it more closely. Manaugh’s building blog concerns itself a lot with the infrastructure of cities. Now Froma Harrop, in her This East Side blog (it used to be the Silkstocking blog), reports, in “Mystery of the East 64th Street Puddle,” on the mysterious origin of a puddle on the Upper East Side that never seems to go away. To be sure, if I lived on the UES I would never go away either.

Harrop springs a pop quiz on her readers:

The East 64th Street puddle is caused by:

  • A broken fire hydrant
  • A leaky underground pipe
  • A washing machine dumping its rinse cycle onto the street
  • None of the above.

And the answer (otherwise it would not be much of a mystery) is “None of the above.” It turns out that the puddle is in fact not a puddle at all but a spring that feeds the De Voor Mills stream – an underground aquifer that is one of many brooks and streams that were buried, paved over, possibly redirected but not snuffed out, and which survives under who knows how many levels of pavement. Calling Dr. Manaugh! Assistance on East 64th Street! Required to determine the layers of infrastructure that lie between the “spring” and the sidewalk! Its gutter never says adieu to the puddle, which many scorn as a source of mosquitoes.

When I lived in the Smith Building in downtown Providence, there was a puddle that frequented the rutty asphalt pavement just outside the front door. I used to enjoy taking pictures of the banking towers of Fulton Street (Kennedy Plaza) as reflected in the puddle. In 2011, the year after we moved out of the Smith, the “street,” really an alley, was paved over nicely, no doubt just to spite the departing architecture critic. This no doubt meant doomsday for the poor puddle, which probably did not have a hidden stream to assure its longevity, as the East 64th Street puddle has.

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Viele’s Map of 1865 shows path of De Voor Mills stream under East 64th Street. (TES)

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to Manhattan puddle mystery

  1. A Subscriber says:

    Froma’s “stream” runs from #121 to #133 East 64th. I’m curious to know how many of those basements have sump pumps.

    I love to see people waving ‘hello’ to the Google ‘Street View’ car.


  2. No doubt a very adaptive species, Fred, throwing survival of the fittest into a cocked hat as Darwin scratches his head!


  3. Frederick Thurber says:

    Hi Dave,

    Would now be a good time to address the rumors of trout streams under Manhattan and whether they still have trout?

    On Tue, Jun 6, 2017 at 3:07 PM, Architecture Here and There wrote:

    > David Brussat posted: ” Here is a story worthy of the literary bent of the > author of the book A Burglar’s Guide to the City.” Geoff Manaugh has a > blog, wittily framed as BLDGBLOG. The letters seem to read “blog-blog” > until you look at it more closely. Manaugh’s building blog c” >


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