It wasn’t only in the 1950s that Robert Moses wanted his own way. The New York Aquarium used to be down on the Battery, in Castle Clinton. You know, that sort of forlorn-looking fort where the ferries stop to go to Ellis and Liberty Islands. In early 1939, Moses announced that what had been planned as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was going to be built as the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge, with an anchorage on Hamilton Ave. in Brooklyn, another on Governor’s Island, and the third in Battery Park. The road from this bridge to the West Side Highway would go through the Battery. And this is 1939, right, so the tallest building in that neighborhood is probably the Standard Oil Building. West of Washington Street were docks; when the WTC was later built, it was built on landfill. The scale of this bridge and the road was enormous in proportion to the rest of the neighborhood back then. Not to mention the history of British colonial New York and the Revolution.
The one old structure in Battery Park was Castle Clinton. For 35 years (1855-1890), it was the predecessor to Ellis Island, the way-station for European immigration. By 1939, it was the New York City Aquarium, which two and a half million people visited every year. Caro writes: “The old fort would be partially hidden by the giant road piers- one would, under Moses’ plan, be placed smack in front of it….” There were voices of protest. Eleanor Roosevelt pleaded against the bridge in her syndicated newspaper column. Eventually, President Roosevelt killed the possibility of the bridge Moses was so furious he had the building condemned, ripped all the aquarium accoutrement off of it, threatened to have the building razed and throw all the fish in New York Bay! He built a fence around Castle Clinton and put guards on it.
The Coney Island Aquarium opened in 1955, so for all of those years New York had no aquarium. Because Moses was so angry.