The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

high doors

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Let’s get two thing straight at the start of this, ok? Van Alst Avenue and Hunters Point Avenue translates into 21st Century lingo as 21st Street and 49th Avenue- that’s the first. Second, during the four years between 1916 and 1920, this was the absolute center of Long Island City.

Whilst lingering or loitering near 2100 49th Avenue in Long Island City, you may notice that it is the former Paragon Oils and Burners building- a 108,000 square foot, 6 story former factory and manufacturing facility which serves as a document storage warehouse and pedestal for advertising billboards today.

That is, you might notice it, if you aren’t distracted by the busy train tracks and rail station it sits on top of, or the manifest wonder of the skyline of that Shining City of Manhattan which frames the scene.

from wikipedia

Paragon Oil was founded by brothers Henry, Irving, Robert, Benjamin, and Arnold Schwartz. The brothers, and their sister Bess Schwartz Levy, were first-generation Americans, all born between 1896 and 1909 in Brooklyn, New York.

Their parents were Sholem or “Sam” (Chernofski) Schwartz, born circa 1868, and Lena Krakofsky, born circa 1874, who were Jewish immigrants originally from the town of Belaya Tserkov (Bila Tserkva), near Kiev, Ukraine, who had immigrated to the United States around 1895.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Many of the monolithic constructions of the early 20th century abide in this neighborhood, which is largely given over to industrial pursuits, even today.

As is often repeated in these postings- This is where the industrial revolution actually happened, and Long Island City was not just the workshop of New York City, but America itself (!).

This view is from Skillman Avenue, by the way.

also from wikipedia

…the family was poor upon arrival in New York. Sam worked once again as a blacksmith, but now in eastern Brooklyn. When they were young, elder brothers Henry and Irving went door-to-door in Brooklyn carrying around sacks of coal on their backs, peddling it to the nearby homes and residential buildings to earn extra money for their family. At that time, some large commercial buildings had oil-fired furnaces, but residential buildings did not. A combination of factors, including the equipment available at their father’s blacksmith shop and the experience of their relatives back in Ukraine who were involved in the whale oil business, led to the brothers experimenting, designing, and finally building the first oil heaters designed for residential buildings, which eventually earned the family several patents on the design.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things which kept on popping up in my research on the place is the name “Queens Subway Building”.

The white structure which seems to be a seventh floor, according to online documentation, is some sort of “cellular telephonic” or other electronics installation.

Paragon Oil is a familiar name to some of you who may be acquainted with the story of that tortured cataract of urban infamy known to most as the Newtown Creek.

from nysdecgreenpoint.com

The former Paragon Oil Terminal property is bordered by Newtown Creek to the north, Meeker Avenue to the east, Bridgewater Street to the south, and the Apollo Street Creek parcels to the west. Beginning in 1886, two companies operated on this property; the Locust Hill Refining Company and Greenpoint Oil Refining. Both of these companies ended operation by 1905. From 1905 to 1921, a portion of the property operated as a cement works company. By 1929, a portion of the property was being operated as a petroleum storage terminal by Supreme Oil, which later became known as the Petroleum Terminal Corporation. The other portion of the property was privately owned until 1928 when it became the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company. In 1934, all operations throughout the entire property were either run by or affiliated with the Paragon Oil Company, which operated the site as petroleum storage terminal. Paragon Oil was purchased by Texaco Oil, now is known as the Chevron/Texaco Corporation, in 1960. The property was sold to Peerless Importers (now known as Empire Merchants) in 1968, which now operates the property as a liquor distribution warehouse. According to a 2005 consent agreement made with the NYSDEC, Texaco is responsible to delineate and remediate the portion of the free product plume underlying the Former Paragon Oil Terminal and control seepage of petroleum into Newtown Creek at this location.

- photo by Mitch Waxman, and HOLY MOLY, don’t miss this photo that nycsubway.org has.

About the “Queens Subway Building” angle-

It seems that Degnon Terminal and Realty, the folks who built the subway tunnels which the Paragon building stands over, and who later went on to build the vast industrial complex which began at Thomson and Skillman Avenues which ran all the way to Newtown Creek (the white building in the shot above is just one of the many gargantuan structures still extant) maintained offices at a “Queens Subway Building” for some period.

Add in the presence of the Borough President of Queens, a fellow named Maurice E. Connolly, who moved his offices to a “Queens Subway Building” in 1916 and there’s a whole lot of power and money all under one roof.

The use of the structure, known as “Queens Subway Building”, by both parties is confirmed by multiple sources. I just haven’t been able to ascertain if the Paragon Oil Burner building was indeed, the aforementioned “Queens Subway Building” also located at Van Alst Avenue and Hunters Point Avenue.

From “The Steinway Tunnels”, at nycsubway.org

At 2100 49th Ave., a 7-story office building was erected over the station during its construction and is known as the “Queens Subway Building” and was the former offices of Queens County & Borough. It is occupied today by the Paragon Oil Co.

Check this nycsubway.org shot out as well- WO! Is that the Paragon building going up?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Children in the streets of Long Island City take no notice of the building. Within it are stored pedantic records of business and law, not the lost ark of the covenant or a magick sword or some wizard’s cloak. Charming, the structure is often noticed by passerby that comment on quirky and quaint calligraphic advertisements which surely harken back to golden times of economic splendor and memory of a clear conscience.

from a 1987 report at nytimes.com

FLOOR after floor, row after row, thousands of cardboard boxes full of business memorabilia sit in the old Paragon Oil building two subway stops away from Manhattan in Long Island City, Queens.

Under fire sprinklers and the watchful eyes of security attendants, millions of documents and records wait for their day of destruction or, perhaps, for retrieval back to an office tower across the East River.

The seven-story building at 2100 Hunters Point Avenue is one of dozens serving as giant file cabinets for Manhattan service-sector industries.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The most detailed information on the place which I can pass on to you, lords and ladies, is the following link. It seems to be a 2005 report or proposal of some kind involving a brownfield remediation scheme, but is fairly well focused, and specific enough to claim veracity.

from aux.zicklin.baruch.cuny.edu, and fast forward to page 54

The Paragon Oils and Burners building was built in 1916 to house its growing petroleum products business. Occupied by Paragon through the 1950’s, it was used for production, warehousing, and distribution of petroleum-based products. Since the early 1960’s the building has been used primarily as a warehouse facility and most recently, a mini-storage company. The owner also generates a sizeable annual rent from exterior signage, which faces the entrance to the Midtown tunnel and the Long Island Railroad.

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4 Responses

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  1. large format cocktail table photo book of your photographs! please!!!
    what designer table sitting in a luxury high rise apartment that borders these waters would not be behooved by one?

    bowsprite

    January 3, 2012 at 5:26 am

  2. […] and are quite visible from the fence which adjoins the LIRR station on Hunters Point Avenue, near the Paragon Oil building. Surely some revelation hides back there, denied to […]

  3. […] Oil building”- was, in fact, Queens Borough Hall. Check out the January 2012 posting “high doors” for more on the […]

  4. […] January 2012- High Doors […]


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