Rooftop Water Towers

Posted on: September 23rd, 2008 at 9:17 am by

Rooftop water towers are a strikingly familiar symbol of city living. Their charming industrial aesthetic bleeds vintage, and continues to inject neighborhood skylines with personality. Each tank is unique, and a constant reminder of a bygone era. As downtown tenements are increasingly torn asunder for glass sterility, this beloved iconography suffers.

The last remaining wooden tank builders in New York City date back to the 1890’s – the Rosenwach Tank Company [link] and Isseks Brothers [link]. With the advent of indoor plumbing and higher building heights after the Civil War, it became necessary to maintain proper water pressure. The same technology is still utilized today, as the city’s aging infrastructure is too fragile to support an electric pump control system. Needless to say, these two companies have plenty of business.

When selecting water towers, developers generally favor wood over steel due to its lower price tag ($30,000 vs. $120,000) and single-day assembly time. Units can store between 5,000 and 10,000 gallons, and are fed from a complex network of pipes below the streets. Water for everyday use is skimmed from the upper portion of the tank, while the bottom is held in reserve to fight fires. Should the water drop below a certain level, a pump is activated to replenish supply.

See Also:
Last Wooden Water Tower Building Vie for Supremacy [Gothamist]
Longtime Emblems of City Roofs, Still Going Strong [NYT]

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