A few things to get out of the way at the start of this post are that a) the intersection of 23rd Street and 45th Avenue in the Hunters Point section used to be part of the Van Alst family’s farming empire, b) the Van Alst land was purchased by Eliaphas Nott on behalf of Union College in 1861, and that c) it was purchased and developed by two fellows named Root and Rust in 1870. The predominance of buildings in the historic district are actually from the 1890s, and even in the 19th century this area was considered special – it was “White Collar Row” and home to LIC’s bankers and elected officialdom.
In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a citywide ferry service that would cost the same as a bus or train ride, including several new routes that would hopscotch along both sides of the East River and would reach as far as the Rockaways in Queens, Soundview in the Bronx, Coney Island in Brooklyn, and Stapleton in Staten Island, where new housing developments are currently under construction.
Ferry service in New York City, aside from the Staten Island Ferry which is subsidized so that there is currently no fare, have proven difficult to sustain. The Rockaway link was recently shut down for lack of ridership and high cost (as much as $30 per passenger to run, with a lesser fare per person).
I like the idea of a beefed-up ferry service, and I have occasionally used the current service run by NY Waterway’s East River Ferry, which was inaugurated in 2011. The ferry is run as a shuttle, with seven stops on each side of the river: Midtown/34th Street, Hunters Point South, India Street in Greenpoint, North 6th Street and Schaefer Landing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO, and Wall Street/Pier 11. The fare is $4.00 weekdays and $6.00 on weekends.
My experience with the East River Ferry is mixed. When I am wandering about the East Side and want a quick ride back to Hunters Point in Queens, from whence I can get the #7 train, the ferry should be a very convenient amenity. There’s only one boat per hour, though, and the last time I attempted it in December, I of course arrived just after the last boat left. I decided to get an M34 bus back to Penn Station, for expedience’ sake and also because it was 35 degrees and drizzling. The East River Ferry does run a shuttle bus that connects the 34th Street landing with Midtown. On other occasions, though, when the weather is pleasant and my usual bad luck is not with me, I can arrive and enjoy the weather for a short time before boarding. Other lines, also, use the landing and people who are not everyday riders can be easily confused about what boat to take.
Although Brooklyn is known as the “Borough of Churches,” Queens is no slouch in that category either. Spires, steeples, minarets and domes accentuate the streetscape in just about every part of Queens. Each one is a marker for the vast amount of history and culture that they represent. Many of these houses of worship are also fine examples of 19th and 20th century architecture, the product of imagination and talent. Many architects specialized in sacred buildings, others created them along with many other kinds of architecture. Some of these architects had great faith themselves, and it shows in the details of the buildings they created. St. Mary’s Catholic Church was designed by one of those faithful men, an architect of prodigious talent and a huge body of work to his name. He was Patrick Charles Keely, and St. Mary’s is but one of hundreds of churches he designed in his long career. (more…)
I used to work in Long Island City, as production manager to a now defunct bedding and home furnishings company. We had our sewing and shipping facilities in a factory building near the Silvercup Studios. Whenever I had the opportunity, I would walk around the neighborhood on my lunch hour and see what I could see. Long Island City was hardly the new outpost of cool at the time, although if you were paying attention, you could see that it was coming. This was around 1998-99.
PS 1 had recently opened, (pre-MOMA) and work was being done on the platforms of the 7 train. They were also spiffing up the old Court House. If you stood where you could see the towers of Manhattan across the river, it was pretty clear that Long Island City’s days as a forgotten backwater were numbered. The harbinger of change, Citibank, had been there for several years at that point, although the plaza around it was still pretty deserted. Still, it would only be a matter of time. This part of Queens was just too tantalizingly close to Manhattan.
One day, on one of my wandering walks, I came upon this block. I lived in Bedford Stuyvesant at that time, surrounded by brownstones. I lived in a brownstone. Was this Queens? Land of 20th century housing? (Ok, I didn’t know much back then.) Where did this block come from? How did it survive? The houses were in pretty great shape, as a group, and were made of brick and, what was that? Marble? Who built marble houses? What was the story here? This block was an architectural miracle. (more…)
My interest in subway mosaics has been re-fired again, as it is every few years. I have a new admiration for the intricate mosaics that were assembled on station walls and signage in the subways between about 1914 and 1928 (after the initial Beaux Arts terra cotta and mosaics done in original IRT stations from 1904 to 1914.
Station appointments and signage from 1908 to the 1930s were developed by architect/artist Squire J. Vickers, who adjusted his approach over time from the florid Beaux-Arts period through a more mundane period in which subway tiling was more direct and informational, through the even more streamlined Moderne stations built for the Independent Subway from 1932 to 1948.
Two underground stations in western Queens (Vernon-Jackson and Hunter’s Point), belonging to the IRT Flushing Line, have acquired more importance in recent years as the surrounding area becomes more built-up. A third station, Court Square, is the site of a recent major transfer construction as the #7 train was united with the IND G, E and M stations.
Both Vernon-Jackson and Hunter’s Point, however, have remained almost unchanged in aspect since 1916, when the stations opened. Most original mosaic tiling is still in place and most exit/entrances are still open. Both stations can be considered living history.
Manhattan’s Wall Street is synonymous with the financial industry and with big money. We all know about the stock market, the banks, brokerages and big insurance companies that have their headquarters on the street, or nearby. People remember the skyscrapers and the counting houses, but forget that Wall Street begins at the shore of the East River, and in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, this was a working harbor. By the mid-19th century, lower Wall Street was best known as the center of the coffee district. And there was big money here, too.
Green coffee is the unroasted, raw beans, and like many commodities, it was coming into New York and Brooklyn ports in bulk by the mid-1800s. Lower Wall Street, along with the surrounding blocks of Front, Water, Pearl and other streets became the green coffee capital of America. There were dozens of coffee merchants headquartered here, with warehouses bursting with bags of coffee beans. Those beans came from Brazil, Central America, Mexico, Haiti and most of the other Caribbean islands. Most of the coffee merchants also became coffee roasters, with roasting plants also in the neighborhood. This area was also home to tea merchants, sugar merchants and other spice merchants. The smells, good and bad, must have been pretty overpowering. (more…)
Before the consolidation of the City of Greater New York, the center of the world in Queens was in Hunters Point. This was where the docks were, and where the LIRR ferries discharged passengers coming from Manhattan. These passengers would ostensibly board the east bound trains, but an entire industry of saloons, bars, and hotels had sprung up in the area around the LIRR yard to keep them in the neighborhood. Now… remember that we’re talking about the 1870-1900 period here. Your best point of reference, from a modern point of view, for what such such establishments offered is fictionalized in Cowboy movies and the Boardwalk Empire television series. There was gambling, women, and lots and lots of liquor. This was, in effect, a frontier town – one which was ruled over by a clique of politicians whose antics would have made Boss Tweed blush. Notorious even amongst his fellows, the last Mayor of Long Island City was Patrick Jerome Gleason. He was called Battle Ax Gleason by friend and foe alike.
Gleason was personally responsible for the construction of the exquisite P.S. 1 school house pictured in the next shot, a terra cotta masterpiece which nearly bankrupted LIC – amongst other imbroglios. Dogged by claims and accusations (and at least one conviction) of corruption – Gleason used to sit in a barber chair outside the Miller Hotel – known today as the LIC Crabhouse – and hold court with constituent and passerby alike. This was his favorite spot by all reports, directly across the street from the LIRR train and ferry terminal.
He instructed those he met to avoid addressing him as “Mayor,” instructing them to instead to “Just call me Paddy.”
Long Island City, which existed as an independent municipality that stretched from the East River to Woodside and from Newtown Creek to Bowery Bay for just 28 years, was hardly a candidate for the good government award prior to Gleason. For some reason, he raised the ire of press and political player alike. Remember – this is during the golden age of Tammany Hall over in Manhattan. Bribes and graft were a matter of fact in this era, a part of doing business. Liquor and gambling were commonplace, along with prostitution, and this turpitude raised the ire of do gooders all over the state and nation.
This massive, beautiful multifamily townhouse at 5-46 51st Avenue just hit the market for a cool $8,000,000. (Nope, that’s no exaggeration — check out the listing right here.) It’s currently configured as an owner’s duplex with four bedrooms, and two floor-through units on the first and the top floor. It’ll be delivered to the buyer vacant. The duplex unit, with its sleek modern kitchen and historically detailed living room, is quite beautiful. It looks like the rental units aren’t as fancy, but nice nonetheless. There’s also a backyard garden.
LIC Talk notes that the current owner was born and raised in the townhouse. The blog says that the owner and his wife “feel that LIC has become more like Manhattan and lost the flavor of the good old days and charms that they know.” But if this pad sells for $8,000,000, they’ll be able to move to Manhattan anyway!
The many-windowed Blanchard Building, its U changed to a V by stonecarvers under orders to make the “U” the Roman “V” to impart majesty and permanency, stands sentinel on Borden Avenue near 21st Street, the old Van Alst Avenue. Its upper floors look out on the noxious and noisome Newtown Creek. It’s one of the brick hulks around town that I ceaselessly admire, whether they are factories or warehouses (as almost all of them once were) or converted into residential apartments. In this part of Hunters Point, that fate is still largely unlikely, as the residential fever that has taken over the west side of the neighborhood near the East River hasn’t reached its business side. The Blanchard looks across the street at a Fresh Direct depot on Borden, one of the handful of main streets allowed to keep its name after many were given numbers in the early 20th century.
In a former life the Blanchard was a factor that made fireproof doors and shutters. Some years after a fire started in the Columbia Paper Bag company engulfed it in flames, Blanchard rebuilt, only to merge with the John Rapp Company, becoming the United States Metal Products Company.
Today the Blanchard hosts many businesses and offices, with a deli on the bottom floor. Its type of brick construction is timeless.
On Friday, the 11th of July, I found myself at the very edge of Queens in a very special place. At the end of Vernon Boulevard in LIC, where the old Vernon Avenue Bridge and the Newtown Creek Towing Company were found, is a facility which is engaged in the hands-on work of the Superfund process. The Anchor QEA company operates out of here, carrying out the collection of samples and scientific tests which will determine the exact nature of what’s wrong with Newtown Creek. These samples and tests are overseen and directed by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, and is an effort conducted by the so-called ”Potentially Responsible Parties” (PRPs).
These “Potentially Responsible Parties” have organized themselves together as the Newtown Creek Group, and they invited a small group of community members and representatives to their LIC facility to describe what they actually do at the Vernon street end and discuss the future of Newtown Creek.