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Deskey’s next design revealed

March 7, 2011
by Chuck Hunt, Register Editor
Last week’s column told the story of Blue Earth native Donald Deskey, who went on to fame as a designer of such diverse things as Radio City Music Hall and the Crest toothpaste tube.

But, the column ended promising there was more to the story and that Deskey was famous for another item he designed.

Any guesses?

The answer is; New York City street lights. Surprised? Not what you were expecting?

It’s true. While many street lights were designed by nameless engineers, Deskey designed an aluminum slotted pole which had two street lights attached by brackets. These Art Deco style street lights were even named ‘Deskeys.’

The first Deskeys were installed on Broadway and Murray Street, just off City Hall Park, in 1958.

It wasn’t until around 1962 that production got cranking and they were installed by the thousands all over the five boroughs of New York City.

Around 1980, production ceased. Some other new designs of street lights were being installed, when needed.

Now, nearly 50 years after the first Deskeys were installed, most of them are being removed and replaced with modern-style street lights.

Here is the interesting part, with a local angle.

Another former Blue Earth resident, who also went on to live in other places and achieve notoriety, Al Eisele, learned that these Deskeys were being removed. He also had learned that Donald Deskey had been born in his own hometown of Blue Earth.

So, Eisele acquired one of the street lights from the City of New York. And, he wants to donate it to the City of Blue Earth.

“Wouldn’t it be nice for Blue Earth to have a Deskey on display somewhere?” he recently asked. “Since he was born there?”

I had to agree, it would be a fun thing to have.

Perhaps it could be installed somewhere like the downtown band shell park. With a plaque explaining that it is an authentic New York City Deskey street light – and an explanation of who Donald Deskey was.

Heck, it could even be wired in and function as a light to illuminate the park.

There is a small problem, however. This is a street light, not a tube of Crest toothpaste. It is big (one 20 foot section and two eight foot sections) and it’s heavy. So, shipping it to Blue Earth is not going to be easy – or cheap. Eisele wants some help with that expense.

So, all I have to do is find a business or person willing to help out with the shipping. Maybe Blue Earth Light and Water has some miscellaneous funds available.

There is another little tiny issue, also.

It seems Donald Deskey really didn’t have fond memories of Blue Earth.

When he left in 1912, after graduation, he didn’t come back for a visit for 50 years. He finally showed up for his 50th class reunion in 1962.

In a newspaper article at the time, he says he had a miserable childhood in Blue Earth. He was a quiet, shy, withdrawn youth, he says, and wasn’t really close to classmates, or his own family members, for that matter.

But, he certainly blossomed and had an interesting life later.

Besides the information in last week’s column, I learned Deskey also served in the army during World War I. Plus, he spent two years in Paris studying art. He said once, however, that he felt painting was a waste of time, at least for him.

It was in Paris that he met his first wife, an American girl, and they had two kids. When he was in Blue Earth for the class reunion, he was with his second wife.

He must have done alright with the designing work. In 1962, he had offices in New York, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Tokyo and Belgium. He had 125 employees working for him in design and architecture. He was also half owner of a hotel in Jamaica, which he designed.

After his retirement in 1975, he moved to Vero Beach, Fla. But, he also maintained homes in Scotland and Jamaica, and an apartment in Manhattan.

He died in 1989 at the age of 94.

During his visit here in 1962, Deskey found it a bit amusing that many of the products he had designed the packaging for were on display in a Blue Earth drug store.

I imagine he would find it equally amusing that one of his Deskey street lights would be on display here as well.
 
 

 

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