Peter Rinaldi



“Swedish Mahogany” - So maybe you are thinking this is about some kind of wood from Sweden. Well, you are half right. Swedish Mahogany is a type of granite stone found in Sweden that was used to construct the Holland Tunnel lettered façade on the New Jersey toll plaza canopy structure. Now you think, I know where it came from, Sweden. Well, again you would be half right. The pieces of stone that form this façade were actually fabricated in Italy.

I was the Engineering Manager for the Tunnels, Bridges and Terminals (TBT) unit in the Engineering Department in 1990 when we implemented a project to replace and upgrade the Holland Tunnel Toll Plaza. Today’s cashless tolling and the supporting technology was a distant dream back then and we needed to provide a better facility for our toll collectors as well as improve the layout and capacity of our tolling facility.

Peter Antippas was our Engineering Project Manager who led a team of talented in-house engineers and architects, who working closely with the planning and operations staff in the TBT Line Department, undertook this project. At that time, the planning, design and construction supervision, for the majority of the agency’s projects, was still being done by Port Authority staff. It was one of the things that, as a newly minted engineer, attracted me to work for the PA – the ability to actually work on a vast array of technically challenging and meaningful projects.

One of the challenges of this project, and there were many, was how to take something as mundane as a tolling facility and not only make it functional but also attractive. The main function of the canopy structure was to provide weather protection, and safe overhead access for personnel to and from the toll booths and the adjacent toll building, without having to cross active traffic, as well as housing the mechanical and electrical equipment needed to support the toll plaza operations. In trying to add some form to that function, our team of architects, led by then senior architect Gil Dillon, came up with the design for using an attractive natural stone cladding and integrating signage that would identify the facility to the motorists that use the Holland Tunnel. That stone was Swedish Mahogany, chosen not only for its esthetic qualities but also for its durability and low maintenance, attested by the fact that it looks as good today as it did some 30 years ago when it was first installed.

To fabricate and undertake the somewhat unique and difficult lettering of such a large stone façade, the contractor hired to construct the project, turned to the skilled artisans in Verona, Italy, where there is a long history of working with stone. The full-size lettering stencils produced by Gil and his team were sent to Italy, where they were laid out on the factory floor and used as a template to guide the cutting and fabrication process. The pieces of stone, 2 inches thick, varying in size from 3 feet by 10 feet to 10 feet by 12 feet, were then numbered and shipped to the plaza. Once there, Rich Raczynski, our construction manager, and his team, including Keri Pastore, one of our early-on women construction inspectors, oversaw the assembly and installation, resulting in the beautiful, finished product you see today.

So now, the next time you whiz through the most recent version of the Holland Tunnel Toll Plaza, you might glance up and think-- Swedish Mahogany. And maybe, in this 100th year of the Port Authority, you might also think about the dedicated and talented people of the agency, both past and present, that build, maintain, and operate these vital regional facilities.



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