from some point in space
- photo by Mitch Waxman
Recent travels and travails, which I’ll be describing in some detail in the coming days, have been consuming me. Antiquarian studies, which normally bring joy and excitement to one such as myself, are instead feeding a black dog nipping at my heels. The arrival of seasonally appropriate cold weather shatters the illusion I project of vigor and health, and instead reveals a weakened and tired old man whose ease of movement and comfort is shattered by lower temperatures. A huddled mass of insulating garments, what you perceive as a windblown pile of rag and filth often reveals itself to be me.
I’m all ‘effed up.
The Roswell P. Flower estate sold last week to the Borden Realty Company, a subsidiary concern of the Degnon Terminal Improvement Company, 362 lots in the sunken meadows south of Jackson Avenue, in Long Island City, and extending to Dutch Kills Creek and Newtown Creek, at prices ranging, it is said, from $1,000 to $1,500 each.
The Degnon Terminal Company has already invested from $2,500,000 to $3,000,000 in Long Island City meadows and meadows at the head of Flushing Bay, in the towns of Flushing and Newtown.
The meadows are to be filled in with the earth taken from the Belmont tunnel, and the Dutch kills Canal and Flushing Bay are to be dredged.
- photo by Mitch Waxman
Recent opportunities and accesses to certain locations normally forbidden to the general public have drawn me out from HQ, however, and that which I have witnessed is the terrible spectacular of those sky flung monoliths and hybrid pestilences which typify the City of Greater New York in these dawning years of the 21st century. Gaze in despair upon the waste meadows of Dutch Kills, from high above.
Just south of Sunnyside Yards is Degnon Terminal, operated by the Degnon Realty & Terminal Improvement Company. A subsidiary, Degnon Terminal Railroad Corporation operated a switching terminal. It received and delivered cars from and to connections and switched them to the various industries, also the reverse operation. This carrier’s only railroad connection was with the Montauk Cutoff of the Long Island Rail Road at Pearson Street [Hunterspoint Avenue], Long Island City. Degnon constructed its tracks about 1919, although land reclamation and grading began about 1907.
- photo by Mitch Waxman
My vantage was from within the cyclopean Degnon Terminal, a once mighty industrial center and railhead which has been transmogrified into a community college. The occasion which brought me here will be explored in later postings, but since the ennui under which your humble narrator currently suffers precludes any notion of positive thought, it was decided to just display these images for your consideration and not engage in some some long winded and depressing monolog about it.
The NYDesigns staff know that summer’s truly over when, after two introspective weeks in a silent fructarian monastery in Appalachia, we spy the godzilla-sized, tomato-red IDCNY sign halfway through the 7-minute walk from the trains at Courthouse Square. We share the building with LaGuardia College CUNY and E. Gluck Corporation, a watch manufacturing company.
In 1908, however, the “Thousand Window Bakery,” a best practice factory showcase for the Loose-Wiles Biscuit company originally of Kansas City was the building’s sole tenant. All 10 stories of the building housed production, sales and management as well as 2500 employees in a Fabian, sun-infused proletarian paradise, complete with a lending library and a clubhouse. Trading under the name Sunshine Biscuits, the cookies were baked in the shape of Popeye, Olive, Swee’pea, Wimpy, etc. and distributed in tin boxes which are now modestly priced collectibles. Animal crackers originated here. Now a subsidiary of Keebler, Sunshine is now best known for producing the Cheez-It brand of snack crackers.
The “Thousand Window Bakery” was one piece within the larger industrial park of Degnon Terminal, the brainchild of Michael Degnon, entrepreneur and railyard contractor for the Sunnyside Yards, which abut the building’s northwestern facade. Degnon Terminal was attractive to companies including the Packard Auto Company, Ever Ready, and Chicle (of Chiclets gum) because of the ease in shipping just-manufactured goods via rail straight to distributors.The Sunnyside rail lines haven’t seen any traffic since 1989 and the industrial occupants have long moved on to more affordable real estate climes. Sunshine left in the mid ’60s.
- photo by Mitch Waxman
The water you see in the center of these photographs is the logical end of Dutch Kills, a tributary of the oft maligned Newtown Creek. The first bridge you see is the Hunter’s Point Avenue Bridge, which nears its 100th year of service to the municipality in uncommented anonymity (not if I have anything to say about that), and the large white structure is the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the Long Island Expressway which hurtles high over the empty corridor of long Island City.
Beyond is infinite Brooklyn, with the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility just left of center in centuried Greenpoint.
Long Island City is comprised of five separate neighborhoods: Ravenswood, Astoria, Steinway, Sunnyside, and Hunter’s Point. Engine Company No. 258 is located on 47th Street in Hunter’s Point, about halfway between Newtown Creek and the Queensboro Bridge. Though someearly nineteenth-century legal documents refer to the area as Long Island Farms or Long Island City, it was not until the 1850s that the current name was widely used. Popularized by a local newspaper, the Long Island Star, when the five villages were incorporated as an independent municipality in 1870, the neighborhood was officially named. Hunter’s Point became the commercial and political center of the new city, served by the Long Island Railroad at 2nd Street, near the East River, and multiple ferries to Manhattan. The seat of Queens County moved here from Jamaica, and two years later, in 1872, the New York Supreme Court Building for Queens County (reconstructed 1904-8, a designated New York City Landmark) was built on Jackson Avenue, now called Court Square. Long Island City grew quickly and the population tripled between 1875 and 1900. Among the various houses built in the area, a fine group survives on 45th Avenue, between 21st and 23rd Streets, in the Hunter’s Point Historic District. Faced in brick, brownstone, and Tuckahoe marble, these Italianate, Second Empire,and Neo-Grec structures, were collectively known as “White Collar Row.” Hunter’s Point had nearly 18,000 residents in 1905, a number that has never been exceeded.
Queens became a borough of Greater New York in 1898 and Long Island City became theseat of the borough president, with offices in the Hackett Building (c. 1885) on Jackson Avenue until 1916. Various transit projects that proved critical to real estate development in Queens were completed during this period, including the opening of the Queensboro Bridge (1909, a designated New York City Landmark), tunnels linking Manhattan with the vast Sunnyside Yards (1910), and the beginning of regular IRT subway service (1915) to Corona, and later, Flushing. Access to the general area was greatly improved, attracting large factories and warehouses that benefited from spur lines that allowed freight cars to travel directly to the loading docks. Various examples can be found in the Degnon Terminal area, along Thomson Avenue, where the Adams Chewing Gum and Loose Wiles Sunshine Biscuit companies located in the 1910s. These improvements, however, had a downside, creating barriers that isolated Hunter’s Point from the rest of the borough, while making it easier for commuters to reach new residential districts to the east, in Sunnyside, Jackson Heights, and other neighborhoods.