When the 5Pointz Warehouse Was Home to Neptune Meter

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The 5Pointz story has been all over the web for the last few weeks, including here at Brownstoner Queens, and it is just sad that the structure has already been stripped of the graffiti artwork which once made it remarkable.

I guess it’s the way of things, here in New York City, and the 1892 vintage factory will be excised in the near future. Observationally, it was the single largest “draw” in LIC for foreign tourists (and even jaded New Yorkers) and it will be missed. A composition of saturated color that brightened the urban landscape, which incurred reflection in viewers, is always appreciated.

Once upon a time though, specifically before the Second World War, there was no color and the entire world was black and white. Rising out of this monotone landscape was the Neptune Meter Company of Long Island City.

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Image above courtesy google books, specifically their scan of 1912′s “the Tammany Times.”

It seems that a partnership existed between two Brooklyn gentlemen, Mr.’s Frank Lambert and John Thomson, which involved the design and production of water meters under the corporate name of “Thomson Water Meter Company.” A falling out between the men resulted in the dissolution of the partnership, and so Mr. Thomson set about organizing a new enterprise in Long Island City ca. 1892, which he called the “Thomson Meter Company.” Back in Brooklyn, Lambert still controlled the original “Thomson Water Meter Company.”

Thomson changed the name to Neptune Meter Company in 1893, for… ahem… marketing reasons.

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Detail from image below, please see larger vertical shot for attribution

Water meters were a “new thing” at the end of the 19th century, and “paying for what you use” was a very popular thing as NYC entered into the 20th century. Neptune manufactured these water meters by the truckload, eventually selling millions of them. The Museum of the City of New York hosts a shot that depicts the interior of the Neptune foundry operation which can be accessed here. Neptune relocated from LIC in 1972, and the company is still around.

Of course, like all industrial zones, there’s some mess in the ground that Neptune, or some other tenant or neighbor, left behind. Always a goldmine of information, NYC.gov hosts this 2012 Remedial Investigation Report which discusses a nearby development site in LIC and refers to the Neptune Meter Factory as NYS DEC site ID #C241138. A description of the Neptune site, from that report: 

This site is a 2.92-acre that has a history of multi-tenant manufacturing, warehousing, commercial and residential use that dates back to the late 1800s. Groundwater at this site flows to the east-northeast. Soils at this site have been impacted with VOCs, SVOCs, and metals. No groundwater or soil vapor data is available.

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This image and the one above also emanate from Google Books, this time from: Queens Borough, New York City, 1910-1920: The Borough of Homes and Industry, a Descriptive and Illustrated Book Setting Forth Its Wonderful Growth and Development in Commerce, Industry and Homes During the Past Ten Years … a Prediction of Even Greater Growth During the Next Ten Years … and a Statement of Its Many Advantages, Attractions and Possibilities as a Section Wherein to Live, to Work and to Succeed. Chamber of Commerce (Queens, New York, N.Y.) – January 1, 1920

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This shot was captured in the not too distant past from up on the 7 train, depicting 5Pointz in all its glory.

A confession: I’ve never been a graffiti guy. My pop art fetish is of the comic book variety, and I can rattle off and extoll the virtues of Stephen R. Bissette or Rick Veitch at the drop of a hat, let alone Jack Kirby. There’s also a lecture I keep at the ready on the virtues of the underappreciated Curt Swan, one which awaits any that might ask.

My pal, Ms. Heather over in Greenpoint, is the expert on this graffiti stuff. Saying that, this 5Pointz place really was a pleasure for one to behold and I used to look forward to its periodic redressing whenever new works went up.

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The same courtyard about two weeks ago.

Neptune Meter came here in 1892, and left in 1972. The Phun Phactory came here in 1993, morphed into 5Pointz, and was painted over in 2013. I’ll miss seeing the tourists come to LIC from Manhattan, wandering around under the 7 train and dodging traffic on Jackson Avenue, brandishing their expensive cameras at the building and spending some money in Queens. You actually wouldn’t believe how many people came here on the weekends just to see this wonder.

Ultimately, though, what I’m really going to miss are those bright colors.

Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.