It looks like a boiler return line heading for the ceiling and a wall-mounted gas lamp aligned directly in front of it.I see a pole in the corner to operate the windows, but what is the device extending above, and attached to, the radiator? I grew up with radiators, but never did we have attachments.
It probably is asbestos. It was the wonder mineral right up until the the 1960s.Is that asbestos wrapped around what I'm assuming to be a heating pipe on the wall in the upper left of the image? A lot of asbestos was used for decades as a fire barrier.
Carcinogen or white asbestos was used as artificial snow in theatres and movie & television sets before they stopped using it. Remember that when you see Jimmy Stewart running through the artificial snow (foamite and asbestos) in "It's A Wonderful Life".