On a frigid afternoon last week, I found myself at Machpela Cemetery, visiting the grave of perhaps the greatest celebrity of the early 20th century – Harry Houdini. Houdini was a stage magician, an escape artist, a genius promoter, a star of the stage and screen, claimed to be one of the toughest men alive, and he died on Halloween in 1926.
There’s a tremendous amount of drama that revolves around Houdini’s grave, which the New York Times has reported on in this 2008 piece, and in this 2011 one. There’s little point in repeating the oft told tale, or the conflicts surrounding the upkeep of the monument as I’d just be dancing around other people’s reporting. Instead, I’d ask you to click through to the links above for the whole story (the links will open in new windows), and I’ll be waiting here for you when you’re done.
Introducing “NoCo,” another ridiculous neighborhood name invented by brokers that is never gonna stick. According to DNAinfo, “The seller of newly built luxury condos on Northern Boulevard is calling the section of Corona “NoCo” to infuse it with some “cool” — but the moniker has confused residents who say they’ve never heard of the nickname.” Can’t say we’re surprised the nickname hasn’t spread like wildfire! The developments, located along Northern Boulevard west of 106th Street, include the Sage House Condos off 112th and the 106 Condos off 106th. And at 112th Place there are plans to build a convention center, which some developer claims will be called the “NoCo Convention Center.”
The website for 106 Condos states, “106 Point Condominiums is a new ground up development built along Northern Boulevard in the heart of North Corona; known affectionately by residents as ‘NoCo.’” Every resident DNAinfo spoke to said they had never heard of the name before. “No one has ever called anything NoCo over here,” a longtime resident said, “No one — and you can quote me on that.”
The Loose Wiles “thousand windows” Bakery on Thomson Avenue, which serves modernity as Building C of the LaGuardia Community College campus, is about to receive a face lift. It’s an important structure, and not just because it was the largest factory building under one roof in the entire United States when it was built in 1913 as the centerpiece of the Degnon Terminal. The erection of the building at the start of the 20th century signaled the beginning of an age of large scale manufacturing in Western Queens, and when the Loose Wiles “Sunshine Biscuits” signage came down in the 1980′s – it heralded the end of that era. The IDCNY signage which replaced it in the 1980′s represents the moment when LIC began to transform into its current incarnation – carefully guided by Urban Planners – a process which saw the Citi building rise in the early 1990′s, followed by the residential towers which continue to propagate between the East River and Queens Plaza.
LaGuardia Community College is in the early stages of a facelift for the century old building, which will alter its appearance and once again change the signage adorning it. It’s the end of the fourth age of LIC, and the beginning of something new.
Just the other day, I decided it was too nice a day not to go out for a stroll. Not having a whole lot of time to amble about, it was decided to “keep it local” and stay in Astoria. A few errands ended up being part of the excursion, and on the way home my path brought me to 46th Street between 25th Avenue and Astoria Boulevard where I encountered one of the many concrete arches that have carried the tracks of the New York Connecting Railroad since the time of the first World War. The tracks head east to the Fresh Pond and Sunnyside Yards, and west to the Hell Gate Bridge. Hell Gate Bridge began carrying rail traffic in April of 1917, by the way, which is what makes what I encountered on 46th Street so puzzling.
On September 30th, 1916, the Hells Gate Bridge opened to rail traffic over a treacherous section of the East River. Nearly a hundred years later, the thing presents Queens with a big question.
Just the facts: Construction began in March of 1912, and was completed in 1916. The design of the thing is credited to Henry Hornbostel, under the direction of Gustav Lindenthal. The Hells Gate Bridge was co-built and owned by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad company and by the Pennsylvania Railroad, but today it is the property of Amtrak. Actual passenger service wouldn’t begin until April of 1917.
To begin with, the only people who would commonly refer to this enormous example of early 20th century industrial architecture as “Ford” are Kevin Walsh and myself (and possibly Montrose). Modernity knows it simply as “The Center Building” and it’s found at 33-00 Northern Boulevard at the corner of Honeywell Street (Honeywell is actually a truss bridge over the Sunnyside Yard, just like Thomson Avenue, but that’s another story). This was once the Ford Assembly and Service Center of Long Island City, which shipped the “Universal Car” to all parts of the eastern United States and for cross Atlantic trade.
The recent sale of the building in December 2014, for some $84.5 million, was discussed by Q’Stoner back in 2013.
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.
Last night, over on 39th Street in Sunnyside, the NYS DOT held a meeting to discuss the forthcoming Kosciuszko Bridge project. This is a BIG deal for anybody who lives in North Brooklyn, Western Queens, or who drives on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. It’s also a HUGE deal for us as taxpayers. The first phase of this project, which will build half of the replacement span and demolish the existing bridge is $555 million – the largest contract in NYS DOT history. The contractors as chosen and announced by Governor Cuomo are Skanska, a construction firm based in NYC, which will be managing partner; Ecco III of Yonkers; Kiewit of Nebraska; and HNTB of Kansas.
The “New Meeker Avenue Bridge” opened back on August 23rd of 1939, and was a pet project of Robert Moses. It was the first link in the chain which would eventually become the BQE. This post at my Newtown Pentacle blog displays a series of historic shots from that long ago time, and this one here at Q’stoner discusses what’s found in DUKBO – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp.
Kerosene was “invented” by a Canadian named Abraham Gesner, who built the first large scale refinery in North America along the Newtown Creek in 1854.
He received the patents for the process, and coined the name “Kerosene” for a distillation of coal oil (like a lot of 19th century industrial product names, we moderns inherited the trademarked nomen as the descriptor for an entire category. It’s the same shorthand we use for facial tissue as being “Kleenex,” or photocopying as “Xerox,” or cotton swabs as “Q-tips”). Gesner was looking for a way to get an angle on the lucrative lamp oil trade.
In 1854, lamp oil was produced from animal fats. Ocean going fish, and especially whales, were basically boiled down to make the stuff. The collection of the raw material was hazardous and expensive, and the refined product was dangerously volatile – there had to be a better way. Chemist Abraham Gesner invented a method by which a combustible oil could be distilled from coal. In doing so, he pretty much founded what would become the American oil industry.
When the time came to set up shop and build a factory to produce his coal oil or “Kerosene,” it was along the Newtown Creek that Abraham Gesner built the first large scale refinery in North America – in the Blissville neighborhood of what we would call Queens.
The nickname I’ve assigned to the section of Northern Boulevard, which begins at the Jackson Avenue/31st Street intersection and rolls out in an easterly direction towards Woodside and Jackson Heights, is “The Carridor.” References to the area as “Detroit East” in the historic literature is the reason why. This was one of the birthplaces of the American Automotive industry, right here in Long Island City. A general description of this forgotten industrial zone was offered back in February of this year, in this Q’stoner post.
Today, we’re zeroing in on a particular manufacturer, the Pierce Arrow factory and service center building, which still stands on 38th Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets.