Manhole covers for New York are often labeled as Made In India, creating discordance for anyone looking down and reading.
Few who read the words realize that these manhole covers are hand made artifacts, produced in brutal conditions in small factories in India. The film Cast in India is a fascinating exploration of the process of fabrication:
Founded in 1900, Lee Brothers Storage & Van Co. – a furniture, storage, and moving company – was initially located on 125th Street near 3rd avenue.
In 1913 they moved to the northeast corner of 125th Street and Park Ave. into a building they did not build but leased. However, after 9 years in 1922 they purchased the building at 125th St. and Park Ave. which would henceforth bare the name “The Lee Building”.
In 1925 two stories in the New York Times described the sale of this same building:
“The most interesting transaction in a great many years in Harlem has just been closed. It involves the sale of the Lee Building on the northeast corner of Park Avenue and 125th Street. This is a twelve-story fireproof office and warehouse building on plot 90 by 100. … The Lee Building was originally owned by the Pittsburgh Life Insurance Company who, in 1913, leased it for twenty-one years to Lee Brothers Storage and Warehouse Company, a young and growing concern. On the failure of the Pittsburgh Life Insurance Company, this property, among other assets, was taken over by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, who, in 1922, sold to Lee Brothers. Originally the building was almost entirely used for furniture storage, but gradually Lee Brothers have converted about a third into offices, with retail stores on the ground floor. …” (NYT 3 May 1925, pg. RE17).
“A syndicate represented by Robert B. Bowler bought from Lee Brothers the twelve-story structure at the northeast corner of 125th Street and Park Avenue, opposite the Harlem station of the New York Central. … The sellers are furniture dealers, who occupy the lower section of the building. They purchased the property in March, 1922… It was built by the Hamilton Storage Company and was later converted into offices.” (NYT 9 August 1925, pg. 40).
The Lee company also built a “beautifully detailed, classically inspired building, erected in 1929, (that) was designed as a furniture warehouse and has remained just that. … The warehouse was originally built and owned by Lee Brothers, whose name is still visible beneath layers of paint on the Riverside Drive facade (at 135th Street)”.
The founder of Lee Bros. was Charles Lee (1853-1953).
This ad for Lee Brothers Inc. appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, 1932, and showed the columned facade at Riverside Drive and 134th St.
This image, dated 1920, on the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections shows a Lee Bros sign on their building at 125th St. and Park Ave.
This later image, dated 1934, on the NYPL’s Digital Collections shows a veritcal Lee Bros sign on the same 125th St. building seen from the opposite direction
Parks Department, Made in India
The New York City Parks Department has access covers (manholes) cast specifically for use in NYC Parks.
You can, of course, see the text and their leaf logo on this one (above). Note however that the casting is not American, it was done in India:
Which leads me to highly, highly recommend a short film (with a brilliant title) Cast in India:
Which I guarantee will have you thinking about manhole covers in a completely different way.