November 9, 2012 | 11:00 AM
The rusted, riveted steel archway above the entrance to Pier 54 is the only remnant of the pier's former opulence. Before Manhattan's West Side Highway hugged the Hudson River coast, huge luxury liners docked on these piers, discharging their passengers into sprawling buildings. The White Star Liners of the time were the height of maritime technology, helping connect Europe and North America faster than most could imagine.
Pier 54 is awash in 20th century history. When David Blaine performed ELECTRIFIED, a high-tech interactive feat of endurance enabled by the Intel-inspired Ultrabook™, 21st century history was made. Below is a quick rundown of the Pier's former incarnation and the rich history David and Intel built upon.
In 1910, the pier was renovated by Warren and Wetmore, the same architects who designed Grand Central Station. Pier 54 was exceptionally ornate. Its exteriors were cladded in pink granite.
Two years later, after the RMS Titanic sank, the ship that picked up the survivors of the disaster docked at Pier 54. Reporters from news organizations packed the pier hoping for first-hand tales from survivors of the historic and unprecedented disaster.
That wasn't the last time Pier 54 was involved in a maritime disaster. In 1915, the Lusitania, an English luxury liner sank by German U-boats, launched from Pier 54 before becoming a cause célèbre in the lead-up to World War I. That sinking galvanized American anti-German sentiment and helped lead to America's eventual involvement in the Great War.
During World War II, Pier 54 was used for troop ships that brought soldiers to and from the European theater. By then, luxury liner service had ended at Pier 54. Larger piers had been built uptown.
The next few decades saw a slow obsolescence of the pier. In the 1980s, it was to be demolished for the construction of the West Side Highway. Then in the 1990s, the building was taken down, leaving an open-air but seldom-used platform where a once gorgeous and historic building had stood.
The archway might be the only remaining fragment of Pier 54's former glory, but when David Blaine completed ELECTRIFIED earlier this month, the pier once again became the backdrop to human wonder and the nexus of new technologies connecting people across the world.