The Newtown Pentacle

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Once, you’d tell the operator you wanted to speak to Hunters Point 3342.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walter E. Irving opened for business along Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC back in 1907, but at first his operation was just another iron and steel works. It wasn’t until 1914 that the company became commonly known as either “Irving Subway Grating” or “Irving Iron Works.”

Their honeycomb steel walkways were offered to both the Subway (as the name would imply) people and to maritime customers. It was the maritime world which made the company rich. Irving, a structural engineer, actually started his business in Astoria in 1902, but it was here on Dutch Kills in “America’s Workshop” that he had both rail and maritime access, and that’s why the company centered its operations in LIC.

Here’s a shot of the place from back in 1915.

IMG_1393

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back then, and by then I mean 1914, 51st avenue was called Third Street, and 27th street was called Creek Street.

There was no Long Island Expressway or Midtown Tunnel, and railroad freight tracks snaked around on every street. If you’re in the neighborhood today, you can still find a lot of those old tracks blistering up through the modern day asphalt. There’s “Belgian Blocks” paved streets here in what I’ve long referred to as “the empty corridor” as well. Belgian Blocks are colloquially referred to as “cobblestones.” 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At its height, when their patented honeycomb steel lattice plates were being installed on merchant and naval ships, and into factorys and industrial boiler rooms, Irving’s facility commanded some 22,000 square feet of the most valuable industrial bulkheads in America here in LIC.

It remains one of the largest properties along Dutch Kills to this day, but as you’ve noticed by now, Irving Subway Grating has left the proverbial building.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the early 20th century, Irving employed a staff of about 300, and the facility produced something like 50,000 feet of the honeycomb flooring material a month. The value of the grating was that water, light, and air could move through it – making it perfect for the exterior decking and ladder steps on ships – and that while it had the same strength as a plate of steel, it weighed a significant amount less. It was also appropriate for use in boiler rooms and other industrial applications due to its permittance of ventilation.

Irving also found a place for his products in the steel decking on vehicle and rail bridges, and the United States military would lay his grating down into sand and soil to create stable runways for aircraft in battle zones. Irving received accolades from the War Dept. for his industrial contributions to the Aliied forces’s victory during the Second World War. The NY Subway system, as the name of the product would imply, ate Irving’s products as fast as he could make them. If you work in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, the Tenderloin, or Herald Square, you’re probably already familiar with Irving. 

Build a better mouse trap, I guess.

IMG_1394

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Mexican conglomerate called HARSCO bought Irving, and its portfolio of patents, back in 1966. Irving continues as their IKG Industries division today, and they still manufacture those steel grids. I cannot seem to determine exactly when the Irving Plant at Dutch Kills was shut down, nor accurately ascertain the current owners of the property beyond some LLC holding company. There was an enormous fire here in 2009, which burnt away a lot of what was left of the site.

Here’s what I saw of the pre fire Irving Works back when I first starting getting into this whole Creek thing, in a post that clearly illustrated my neophyte status back in 2009.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the last seven years, I’ve watched the Irving site being slowly harvested by metal collectors – The Crows – who have grabbed every inch of copper and aluminum that they can reach. There’s a security fence with a giant hole cut in it along 27th street, but the chained up shopping carts and well fed cat colony nearby the hole indicate that somebody is living here in the ruins.

As I was by myself when these shots were gathered… well… let’s just say it’s not a great idea to barge into a homeless camp in LIC when you’re all alone, so I stuck to the front of the site nearby the hole in case I had to exit quickly. Next time I have a chum along with me, however, I plan on doing a bit more exploring – mainly because there is a lot of cool graffiti in there I want to check out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scenes familiar, and loved, in Long Island City.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

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