Friday, April 27, 2012

Vintage streetlight collection

Joe Maurath stores his collection of vintage streetlights in a maze-like museum behind his home in Abington, Massachusetts.

Ever since he was a child, he has always been fascinated by telephone poles, streetlights, and insulators—all the so called “street furniture.” He worked as a meter reader, and he has befriended utility crews, who often given him retired lamps and housings. 

He loves seeing streetlights in their element close up from a bucket truck. “You gotta go up in a truck and look at these in the wild,” he told me. “It’s a whole different world up there.”

He has a special fondness for the “cobra head” style streetlights from the 1950s. I was struck with how big the housings appear when they’re brought down to eye level. They look like weird metallic mushrooms or UFOs.

Here's a Westinghouse OV-25 Separate Ballast from 1963 in the wild. Maurath's collection focuses on streetlights and insulators, but he's also got high voltage signs, switches, and police call boxes. Movie companies rent them from time to time to use in period films.
The older mercury-vapor illumination, with its pleasant cool color tinge, has almost entirely been replaced by the orange-colored high pressure sodium lamps. The traditional mercury vapor lamps are friendlier to trees, and they make better economic and environmental sense, he says, because the lamps last longer. 

Mercury lights also have the aesthetic advantage of a fuller color spectrum. High-pressure sodium (HPS) spikes almost entirely in the yellow-orange, and has an abysmal CRI (Color rendering index). “Sodium vapor light at night has that city-crime look to it,” he said. “And it makes the snow look dirty.” Hopefully, the new LED street lights, which have superior CRI, may eventually replace HPS.

Joe's website: Vintage Streetlights
Previously on GJ: Multi-colored Streetlights


Tom Hart said...

I love to see this sort of passion - maybe especially so when it's for something that most of us take for granted.

Kudos to you James for appreciating this and bringing it to our attention. Very intersting info about the mercury lights too.

T. Arispe said...

Wow, that museum looks like fun. All of those streetlights stacked up like that give the feel of some futuristic city in miniature.

Lindsay Gravina said...

There are some cities that use blue street lights because the calming influence reduces crime. True story

David Teter said...

His museum looks like it would be fun to visit and a fascinating study of street furniture all in one place.

I notice this kind of stuff all the time. If paying attention most things reflect the era they were designed and built, even the overlooked.

Nice post James.

JonInFrance said...

Jim, your blog's so predictable, I just like knew you'd soon be doing a post about vintage streetlights ;D

Robert Michael Walsh said...

But James, poor as their color rendition is,sodium discharge roadway lamps have always been used to give the Golden Gate Bridge it's beautiful distinctive golden glow, as you may recall from yourdays at Cal. The low pressure sodium lighting was replaced with high pressure sodium in 1972, but these slightly whiter lights were fitted amber lenses to simulate the old lamps golden illumination.

Gregory Lee said...

Viewed from the heights inland from Honolulu, the mixture of mercury and sodium lights, strung out along alternating streets, give a cheerful holiday look to the city. But at ground level, the video you linked contrasting HPS with LED, certainly makes it seem that drivers could orient themselves better with LED lighting. Someone should do a traffic safety study.

Unknown said...

Great entry! I agree. There's a certain sensory dimension that bucket trucks can bring to any view. For example, you 30 ft or so from the ground, on a floor that is barely spaced around your foot, and a platform that holds on from an unlikely angle. Odd, but yes, that is among the few quirks that the most menial vehicles can deliver, which make them very helpful.

Jonathan Carroll @ Utility Fleet

Muhammad Yasir said...

FUNTASTIC article about street lights I like it very much.

Unknown said...

Great im from n.y.c remembered
The old wooden lights from the
30s on are parkway system you
Could tell the state city county by the lights if a film
Was being made for ny look in the back ground you could see
Toronto lights steet lights had style artdeco was my favorite