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Project Firebox 18

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Badder than you, this urban survivor owns the corner of Vernon Vlvd. and Queens Plaza South. Scarlet, its backdrop is mighty Queensboro itself, and the mysterious doorway into its tower. Rumored by area wags and historical enthusiasts alike to have once led to elevators and stairways which carried potential passengers to a trolley platform high above on the bridge itself, local legends abound as to the true purpose of the entrance. Who can say?


Queensboro trapeze

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Oh, how I love it when they forget to close the gates…

recently observed was this aerial ballet beneath the Queensboro bridge in LIC. They seemed to either be ConEd or one of its subcontractors, busily working on some byzantine facet of… what I suspect… to be the steam pipes that follow the underside of the great bridge from the Ravenswood Station (aka Big Allis) to Manhattan.

from wikipedia

The New York City steam system is a district heating system which carries steam from central power stations under the streets of Manhattan to heat, cool, or supply power to high rise buildings and businesses. Some New York businesses and facilities also use the steam for cleaning and disinfection.

The New York Steam Company began providing service in lower Manhattan in 1882. Today, Consolidated Edison operates the largest commercial steam system in the world, now known as Con Edison Steam Operations, providing steam service to nearly 2,000 customers and serving more than 100,000 commercial and residential establishments in Manhattan from the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan to 96th Street uptown. Roughly 30 billion lbs. (just under 13.64 megatons) of steam flow through the system every year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pithy comments were overheard from the crew’s supervisor regarding your humble narrator, and I can’t necessarily blame them. Who wants to be photographed by some stranger while at work?

from wikipedia

In 1823, Con Edison’s earliest corporate entity, the New York Gas Light Company, was founded by a consortium of New York City investors. In 1824 New York Gas Light was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, it has the record for being the longest listed stock on the NYSE.

In 1884, six gas companies combined into the Consolidated Gas Company. The New York Steam Company began providing service in lower Manhattan in 1882. Today, Con Edison operates the largest commercial steam system in the world, providing steam service to nearly 1,600 commercial and residential establishments in Manhattan from the Battery to 96th Street.

Con Edison’s electric business also dates back to 1882, when Thomas Edison’s Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York began supplying electricity to 59 customers in a square-mile area in lower Manhattan. After the “War of Currents”, there were more than 30 companies generating and distributing electricity in New York City and Westchester County. But by 1920 there were far fewer, and the New York Edison Company (then part of Consolidated Gas) was clearly the leader.

In 1936, with electric sales far outstripping gas sales, the company incorporated and the name was changed to Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. The years that followed brought further amalgamations as Consolidated Edison acquired or merged with more than a dozen companies between 1936 and 1960. Con Edison today is the result of acquisitions, dissolutions and mergers of more than 170 individual electric, gas and steam companies.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 4, 2010 at 9:12 am

highly visible

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Broadway near Steinway Street – photo by Mitch Waxman

As your humble narrator scuttles from place to place, turning over rocks to see what blind albino abnormalities might lurk beneath, a significant amount of road construction is encountered. New York is always in a state of near collapse and an army of municipal and contractor labor is kept busy filling in the cracks. Conflicted over sneaking pictures of these folks, I nevertheless find them fascinating, for the high visibility colors they wear excite the eye.


Title: ANSI/ISEA 107-2004: Revised American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and HeadwearAbstract: This standard provides a uniform, authoritative guide for the design, performance specifications, and use of high-visibility and reflective apparel including vests, jackets, bib/jumpsuit coveralls, trousers and harnesses. Garments that meet this standard can be worn 24 hours a day to provide users with a high level of conspicuity through the use of combined fluorescent and retroreflective materials. The revised version of the standard expands the product coverage to include high-visibility headwear. It also contains additional testing procedures for knitted fabrics used as background material, and eliminates tests from the previous edition that added no value. Publisher: International Safety Equipment Association

Third Avenue Manhattan – photo by Mitch Waxman

If it won’t blind or distract the crews, don’t forget that this is heavy industry and quite dangerous work, try turning on the camera flash when photographing them. The reflective fabrics, technically retroreflective fabrics (which function like a Cat’s eyeshine), will blaze up and be the brightest point in the photo. New York City street signs also function in a similar fashion, and even the weakest flash will light them up from blocks away. Try it, especially on a dark and stormy day, the effects are somewhat unpredictable and often produce a prismatic and surreal photo.


Class 1: needs to be conspicuous and use retroreflective materials not less than 25mm in width.

  • Used when workers are well separated from traffic
  • Vehicle speeds of less than 25 mph
  • Parking attendants
  • Shopping cart retrievers
  • Warehouse workers
  • Roadside/sidewalk maintenance workers
  • Delivery vehicle drivers

Class 2: maintains superior visibility and are more conspicuous than the Class 1 garments. Minimum width of retroreflective material used on these is not less than 35mm.

  • Used when workers are on or near roadways
  • Vehicle speeds of 25 to 50 mph
  • Roadway construction workers
  • Utility workers
  • Survey crews
  • Law enforcement personnel
  • Crossing guards
  • High-volume parking lot or toll-gate attendants
  • Airport baggage handlers and ground crews
  • Railway workers
  • Emergency response personnel
  • Accident site investigators

Class 3: has greatest visibility. Maintains more retroreflective material than Class 2 and must have sleeves with retroreflective material between the shoulders and elbows. Not less than 50mm wide of retroreflective material.

  • Used for workers in high risk situations
  • Allows them to be seen from a minimum distance of 1,280 ft.
  • Vehicle speeds of greater than 50 mph
  • Roadway construction workers
  • Utility workers
  • Survey crews
  • Emergency response personnel

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

All of the municipal and construction rules are meant to conform to the national OSHA specifications, but individual city organizations have their own wrinkle on safety gear. MTA workers, for instance, are often observed wearing goggles and ear protection as they work. No doubt, this is due to individual union agreements and task specific requirements.


All DOT employees, contractor employees and visitors must wear protective helmets and high visibility construction apparel while working within a highway right of way or contract limits.  Flaggers must wear high visibility traffic control apparel when directing or spotting traffic.  High-visibility apparel is not required for employees and visitors when they are within a completely enclosed cab constructed of steel frame and glass, or inside a motor vehicle.

37th avenue, Dutch Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman

NYFD, of course, has the most stringent series of rules for its crews. In the shot above, a 5 alarm fire at an industrial warehouse was belching black smoke into the street, but the firefighters are clearly identifiable through the murk- due to camera flash. Be careful around NYFD however, as they’re kind of busy people, and you don’t want to distract them. Also, should there be any piezoelectric activated equipment in use- DO NOT use your flash for fear of activating something.


Back in November of 2008, there was a lot of confusion about the use of high-visibility vests at roadway incidents due to a new Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Rule.  The new regulation, Rule 634, stated that “All workers within the right-of-way of a Federal-aid highway who are exposed either to traffic (vehicles using the highway for purposes of travel) or to construction equipment within the work area shall wear high-visibility safety apparel.”

That regulation created a dilemma for fire departments who were truly interested in protecting their personnel.  The training classes and material used by the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI) for years has suggested the use of high-visibility garments for public safety personnel when working around traffic.  NFPA 1500, the Firefighter Health and Safety Standard has included a requirement for firefighters to wear safety vests at traffic incidents in the last two most recent editions.  NIOSH Line of Duty Death Investigations have also included recommendations for responders to wear highly visible flagger vests when exposed to moving traffic.  In the fire service community it was generally understood that the vests were not appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for personnel who were actively engaged in firefighting operations because those garments are not designed for exposure to fire, heat flame or hazardous materials.  Rule 634, as originally published however did not outline any exemptions for firefighters engaged in direct firefighting operations and that created the dilemma.

Bridge Plaza North, Queens Plaza – photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is fascinating to me, for reasons that have little to do with the safety equipment exhibited. The trench that this trio is working in is down by Queens Plaza, and the cutaway shows a historical record. Notice the top layer of asphalt, then two distinct layers of cobblestones, then dirt and rock fill. Asphalt- modern, cobbles 1- the construction of the Queensboro bridge and associated roadways, cobbles 2- the pre bridge street, dirt and fill- that’s a 19th century, civil war era street. I’d love to have an archaeologist sift through this trench, but there’s nothing of historic importance in Queens… according to the City.

Note- the Charles Rudebaker wiki quote below… I’m a little squirrely on this particular wikipedia entry. The only info I could find on Rudebaker, a New Yorker who supposedly invented the Traffic Cone, parroted this exact wording all across the net. Take it with a grain of salt, until I can find out more. It very well might be a “false meme” which is a sort of “Lulz“.

from wikipedia

Traffic cones, also called road cones, highway cones, safety cones or construction cones, are usually cone-shaped markers that are placed on roads or footpaths to temporarily redirect traffic in a safe manner. They are often used to create separation or merge lanes during road construction projects or automobile accidents, although heavier, more permanent markers or signs are used if the diversion is to stay in place for a long period of time.

Traffic cones were invented in 1914 by Charles P. Rudebaker. Although originally made of concrete, today’s versions are more commonly brightly-coloured thermoplastic or rubber cones. Not all traffic cones are conical. Pillar shaped movable bollards fulfil a similar function.

The Terracotta House, or… what is that?

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Terracotta House by you.

New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works, LIC -photo by Mitch Waxman

After an apocalyptic fire in 1886, the New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works needed a new headquarters. One that befit its role as the preeminent manufacturer of architectural ceramics.

Built in 1892 as an office for the company that supplied terra-cotta for Carnegie Hall and the Ansonia Hotel, among others. The company went out of business in the 1930s, and the building became vacant. It was eventually bought in 1965 by Citibank. Its ruins can be found at 42-10 – 42-16 Vernon Avenue, across the street from the sumptuous hedonism of the newly opened Ravel Hotel, and next door to the venerable and recently feted span of the Queensboro Bridge. It was landmarked in 1982.

Two and one half stories, the structure is actually the front office of an industrial complex that was once surrounded by a 12 foot high wall of brick, which enclosed an open storage yard, a 5 story factory, and the kilnworks one would expect to find at such a large endeavor. Its satisfying design was crafted by Francis H. Kimball, architect of the celebrated Montauk Club in Brooklyn, and it is in the Tudor Revival Style

Terracotta House from above by you.

New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works, LIC -photo by Mitch Waxman

In preparation of the forthcoming Silvercup west project, the City of New York is compelled to conduct archaeological surveys by state law, seeking any evidence of pre-contact native american artitfacts. The area is a likely choice for such artifacts, as 10th street (800 ft or so from here) is the site of a former stream that ran though an elevated section of the marshy land typical of western Queens on its course to the East River. Nothing aboriginal was found, but the presence of large scale 19th century industry would have likely obliterated anything that might have been there.

Notable forebears of the Terra-Cotta works in this area were the Wallach Mansion, and the Long Island Farms Orphans Schoolhouse – a city owned 4 building asylum which burned to ash in 1847. Ravenswood was a neighborhood of fine riverside estates by the 1860’s, and Willy Wallach wanted the site for one of his own. By the late 1880’s, after the 800 pound gorilla came to Long Island City, an ideal place for locating an industrial operation was in this neighborhood of former mansions. The New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works company purchased the Wallach estate and the neighboring Gottlieb estate.  

Terracotta House from above by you.

New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works, LIC -photo by Mitch Waxman

After the Terra-Cotta Works ended its incorporation, no doubt due to the seismic collapse of the national economy in 1932, the facilities enjoyed a diverse career under its owner- RIchard Dalton. First- it continued manufacture of terra cotta ornaments for use in New York City Parks (when Robert Moses was in charge) as the Eastern Terra Cotta Company, second- in 1950 it began to serve as a sorting center for plastic waste and the bailing of waste paper, and finally- in something curiously named “electronics operations”. Dalton used the building for his personal offices until he died in 1965, and his heirs sold the property to Citibank. Spared demolition in 1976, Terra-Cotta House was orphaned when the rest of the site was obliterated by a wrecking crew.

The building was landmarked in 1982, and is maintained by Citibank. The Silvercup West people plan on this being a charming feature for their development of the area. At the time of its glory, New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works was the fourth largest employer in Long Island City. By the early 1970’s the place was abandoned and overgrown, forgotten by area residents. Local activists fought for and gained it landmark status in 1982.

Be sure to check out this FEIS link, they’ve got a photo on the last page of the place in its heyday.
Click here for the Silvercup West FEIS

Check out an old New York Times article on the Terracotta House here.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 12, 2009 at 1:21 am

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