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.
I say this every time that the Mister rings his bells: Mrs. Softee is lonely during the torrid nights of a New York summer, wondering for whom her man plays his song. Mister Softee is no damn good, and she’s sure of it.
Pictured above is a proper “Mister Softee” truck, found on its rounds in Astoria one night, doing exactly what he told the Mrs. that he’d be up to. The mister’s wearing his proper “trade dress” and nothing is as it shouldn’t be (except that I was walking the dog and didn’t have a penny on me, so I couldn’t buy a vanilla cone with sprinkles. Frankly, the dog was more upset than me about this, but there you go.)
Of late, however, something strange has been going on in Queens – someone has been impersonating the Mister.
One thing that the good people of Queens cannot be accused of is a dearth of patriotic flag displays.
Old Glory is found waving everywhere hereabouts, and is particularly conspicuous in the lead up to the Fourth of July holiday. Independence Day in my neighborhood, Astoria, means that in between the flags, there will be a pall of BBQ smoke hanging about in the air and every neighborhood dog will be hiding in the bathtub when the sun goes down and the neighbors begin to detonate their fireworks.
I’ve been missing 5Pointz something fierce lately, so after meeting some friends from the City for lunch nearby Astoria Park recently, we paid a visit to the Welling Court Mural Project. There is a LOT of street art going on here, and there has been since 2009, when the Ad Hoc Art group began the project.
The Welling Court Mural Project began in 2009 when Ad Hoc Art was invited by the community of Welling Court to slay some aesthetic blights in their neighborhood. The first project debuted in May 2010 with over 44 murals, fitting for the diverse and lively inhabitants. Each year since, spectacular crews of legendary and groundbreaking artists have come together to transform the neighborhood into a creative celebration and public art experience.
Many, many more images and lots of commentary after the jump. (more…)