The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Borden Avenue

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It’s National Prime Rib Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent afternoon found one wandering about the waterfront in LIC whereupon FDNY’s Tiller Ladder 175 truck was encountered. For those of you not in the know, Tiller Ladders are those “old school” fire trucks with a driver at both ends. This one was Ladder 175, which normally spends its time over in East New York, but based on the patches worn by the FDNY guys driving it, I’d say that Ladder 175 was in the possession of the Fleet Services unit that day.

Fleet Services have several properties in Maspeth and in Greenpoint, all within spitting distance of the fabulous Newtown Creek, and you can often spot interesting equipment awaiting mechanical or esthetic attention.

from wikipedia

In the United States, a tiller truck, also known as a tractor-drawn aerial, tiller ladder, or hook-and-ladder truck, is a specialized turntable ladder mounted on a semi-trailer truck. Unlike a commercial semi, the trailer and tractor are permanently combined and special tools are required to separate them. It has two drivers, with separate steering wheels for front and rear wheels.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As opined many times in the past, a historically minded fellow is a fool if he tries to fill in the blanks when the subject is the FDNY. Every firehouse has an active duty resident historian who can tell you EVERYTHING about the units therein and the pre consolidation history of the individual firehouse, and there are legions of retired firefighters who know literally EVERYTHING about the department in excruciating detail. When the City created itself in 1898, all fire units in Brooklyn and Queens saw their unit numbers raised by “100,” so… if there was a Brooklyn Fire Department ladder unit back then it would have been “Ladder 75.”

Saying that, I don’t know if East New York was part of the BFD, or if it was an independent operation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The design and purpose of the tiller models is built around turning the ladder unit around narrow street corners, which is accomplished through the use of the double steering mechanisms. The trucks are also quite a bit longer than the tower ladder units, which extend and telescope their ladders from a turntable. This means that the tiller trucks can carry more equipment and muster more firefighters than more traditional units.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the rear operators cabin, with steering wheel and other controls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As they drove away, I yelled out “are ya lost?” and “east New York is that way” while gesturing to the southeast.

You literally never know what you’re going to encounter in LIC, so it’s best to carry a camera, just in case.

Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

April 27, 2017 at 11:00 am

“The Street” by H.P. Lovecraft

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All text in today’s post from “The Street” by H.P. Lovecraft, courtesy wikisource

There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I will tell of the Street.

Men of strength and honour fashioned that Street: good valiant men of our blood who had come from the Blessed Isles across the sea. At first it was but a path trodden by bearers of water from the woodland spring to the cluster of houses by the beach. Then, as more men came to the growing cluster of houses and looked about for places to dwell, they built cabins along the north side, cabins of stout oaken logs with masonry on the side toward the forest, for many Indians lurked there with fire-arrows. And in a few years more, men built cabins on the south side of the Street.

Up and down the Street walked grave men in conical hats, who most of the time carried muskets or fowling pieces. And there were also their bonneted wives and sober children. In the evening these men with their wives and children would sit about gigantic hearths and read and speak. Very simple were the things of which they read and spoke, yet things which gave them courage and goodness and helped them by day to subdue the forest and till the fields. And the children would listen and learn of the laws and deeds of old, and of that dear England which they had never seen or could not remember.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was war, and thereafter no more Indians troubled the Street. The men, busy with labour, waxed prosperous and as happy as they knew how to be. And the children grew up comfortable, and more families came from the Mother Land to dwell on the Street. And the children’s children, and the newcomers’ children, grew up. The town was now a city, and one by one the cabins gave place to houses—simple, beautiful houses of brick and wood, with stone steps and iron railings and fanlights over the doors. No flimsy creations were these houses, for they were made to serve many a generation. Within there were carven mantels and graceful stairs, and sensible, pleasing furniture, china, and silver, brought from the Mother Land.

So the Street drank in the dreams of a young people and rejoiced as its dwellers became more graceful and happy. Where once had been only strength and honour, taste and learning now abode as well. Books and paintings and music came to the houses, and the young men went to the university which rose above the plain to the north. In the place of conical hats and small-swords, of lace and snowy periwigs, there were cobblestones over which clattered many a blooded horse and rumbled many a gilded coach; and brick sidewalks with horse blocks and hitching-posts.

There were in that Street many trees: elms and oaks and maples of dignity; so that in the summer, the scene was all soft verdure and twittering bird-song. And behind the houses were walled rose-gardens with hedged paths and sundials, where at evening the moon and stars would shine bewitchingly while fragrant blossoms glistened with dew.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So the Street dreamed on, past wars, calamities, and change. Once, most of the young men went away, and some never came back. That was when they furled the old flag and put up a new banner of stripes and stars. But though men talked of great changes, the Street felt them not, for its folk were still the same, speaking of the old familiar things in the old familiar accounts. And the trees still sheltered singing birds, and at evening the moon and stars looked down upon dewy blossoms in the walled rose-gardens.

In time there were no more swords, three-cornered hats, or periwigs in the Street. How strange seemed the inhabitants with their walking-sticks, tall beavers, and cropped heads! New sounds came from the distance—first strange puffings and shrieks from the river a mile away, and then, many years later, strange puffings and shrieks and rumblings from other directions. The air was not quite so pure as before, but the spirit of the place had not changed. The blood and soul of their ancestors had fashioned the Street. Nor did the spirit change when they tore open the earth to lay down strange pipes, or when they set up tall posts bearing weird wires. There was so much ancient lore in that Street, that the past could not easily be forgotten.

Then came days of evil, when many who had known the Street of old knew it no more, and many knew it who had not known it before, and went away, for their accents were coarse and strident, and their mien and faces unpleasing. Their thoughts, too, fought with the wise, just spirit of the Street, so that the Street pined silently as its houses fell into decay, and its trees died one by one, and its rose-gardens grew rank with weeds and waste. But it felt a stir of pride one day when again marched forth young men, some of whom never came back. These young men were clad in blue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

With the years, worse fortune came to the Street. Its trees were all gone now, and its rose-gardens were displaced by the backs of cheap, ugly new buildings on parallel streets. Yet the houses remained, despite the ravages of the years and the storms and worms, for they had been made to serve many a generation. New kinds of faces appeared in the Street, swarthy, sinister faces with furtive eyes and odd features, whose owners spoke unfamiliar words and placed signs in known and unknown characters upon most of the musty houses. Push-carts crowded the gutters. A sordid, undefinable stench settled over the place, and the ancient spirit slept.

Great excitement once came to the Street. War and revolution were raging across the seas; a dynasty had collapsed, and its degenerate subjects were flocking with dubious intent to the Western Land. Many of these took lodgings in the battered houses that had once known the songs of birds and the scent of roses. Then the Western Land itself awoke and joined the Mother Land in her titanic struggle for civilization. Over the cities once more floated the old flag, companioned by the new flag, and by a plainer, yet glorious tricolour. But not many flags floated over the Street, for therein brooded only fear and hatred and ignorance. Again young men went forth, but not quite as did the young men of those other days. Something was lacking. And the sons of those young men of other days, who did indeed go forth in olive-drab with the true spirit of their ancestors, went from distant places and knew not the Street and its ancient spirit.

Over the seas there was a great victory, and in triumph most of the young men returned. Those who had lacked something lacked it no longer, yet did fear and hatred and ignorance still brood over the Street; for many had stayed behind, and many strangers had come from distance places to the ancient houses. And the young men who had returned dwelt there no longer. Swarthy and sinister were most of the strangers, yet among them one might find a few faces like those who fashioned the Street and moulded its spirit. Like and yet unlike, for there was in the eyes of all a weird, unhealthy glitter as of greed, ambition, vindictiveness, or misguided zeal. Unrest and treason were abroad amongst an evil few who plotted to strike the Western Land its death blow, that they might mount to power over its ruins, even as assassins had mounted in that unhappy, frozen land from whence most of them had come. And the heart of that plotting was in the Street, whose crumbling houses teemed with alien makers of discord and echoed with the plans and speeches of those who yearned for the appointed day of blood, flame and crime.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of the various odd assemblages in the Street, the Law said much but could prove little. With great diligence did men of hidden badges linger and listen about such places as Petrovitch’s Bakery, the squalid Rifkin School of Modern Economics, the Circle Social Club, and the Liberty Cafe. There congregated sinister men in great numbers, yet always was their speech guarded or in a foreign tongue. And still the old houses stood, with their forgotten lore of nobler, departed centuries; of sturdy Colonial tenants and dewy rose-gardens in the moonlight. Sometimes a lone poet or traveler would come to view them, and would try to picture them in their vanished glory; yet of such travelers and poets there were not many.

The rumour now spread widely that these houses contained the leaders of a vast band of terrorists, who on a designated day were to launch an orgy of slaughter for the extermination of America and of all the fine old traditions which the Street had loved. Handbills and papers fluttered about filthy gutters; handbills and papers printed in many tongues and in many characters, yet all bearing messages of crime and rebellion. In these writings the people were urged to tear down the laws and virtues that our fathers had exalted, to stamp out the soul of the old America—the soul that was bequeathed through a thousand and a half years of Anglo-Saxon freedom, justice, and moderation. It was said that the swart men who dwelt in the Street and congregated in its rotting edifices were the brains of a hideous revolution, that at their word of command many millions of brainless, besotted beasts would stretch forth their noisome talons from the slums of a thousand cities, burning, slaying, and destroying till the land of our fathers should be no more. All this was said and repeated, and many looked forward in dread to the fourth day of July, about which the strange writings hinted much; yet could nothing be found to place the guilt. None could tell just whose arrest might cut off the damnable plotting at its source. Many times came bands of blue-coated police to search the shaky houses, though at last they ceased to come; for they too had grown tired of law and order, and had abandoned all the city to its fate. Then men in olive-drab came, bearing muskets, till it seemed as if in its sad sleep the Street must have some haunting dreams of those other days, when musketbearing men in conical hats walked along it from the woodland spring to the cluster of houses by the beach. Yet could no act be performed to check the impending cataclysm, for the swart, sinister men were old in cunning.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So the Street slept uneasily on, till one night there gathered in Petrovitch’s Bakery, and the Rifkin School of Modern Economics, and the Circle Social Club, and Liberty Cafe, and in other places as well, vast hordes of men whose eyes were big with horrible triumph and expectation. Over hidden wires strange messages traveled, and much was said of still stranger messages yet to travel; but most of this was not guessed till afterward, when the Western Land was safe from the peril. The men in olive-drab could not tell what was happening, or what they ought to do; for the swart, sinister men were skilled in subtlety and concealment.

And yet the men in olive-drab will always remember that night, and will speak of the Street as they tell of it to their grandchildren; for many of them were sent there toward morning on a mission unlike that which they had expected. It was known that this nest of anarchy was old, and that the houses were tottering from the ravages of the years and the storms and worms; yet was the happening of that summer night a surprise because of its very queer uniformity. It was, indeed, an exceedingly singular happening, though after all, a simple one. For without warning, in one of the small hours beyond midnight, all the ravages of the years and the storms and the worms came to a tremendous climax; and after the crash there was nothing left standing in the Street save two ancient chimneys and part of a stout brick wall. Nor did anything that had been alive come alive from the ruins. A poet and a traveler, who came with the mighty crowd that sought the scene, tell odd stories. The poet says that all through the hours before dawn he beheld sordid ruins indistinctly in the glare of the arc-lights; that there loomed above the wreckage another picture wherein he could describe moonlight and fair houses and elms and oaks and maples of dignity. And the traveler declares that instead of the place’s wonted stench there lingered a delicate fragrance as of roses in full bloom. But are not the dreams of poets and the tales of travelers notoriously false?

There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I have told you of the Street.

nature transmutes

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator just can’t get enough of the Long Island Railroad yard in Long Island City.

Back in January of this year, while “wondering uneasily“, we established that the LIRR station in Long Island City accomplishes tasks which it would take some 30,000 horses to accomplish on a daily basis. Last year, in October- these very tracks were visited in “Deeply Hidden“.

Simply put, I’m kind of drawn to this spot.

from wikipedia

This station has 13 tracks, two concrete high-level island platforms, and one wooden high-level island platform. All platforms are two cars long and accessible from Borden Avenue just west of Fifth Street. The northernmost one, adjacent to tracks 2 and 3, is the only one used for passenger service. The other concrete platform adjacent to tracks 6 and 7 and the wooden one adjacent to tracks 8 and 9 are used for employees only. All tracks without platforms are used for train storage. The southernmost four tracks are powered by third rail while the remaining tracks are used only by diesel-powered trains.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once upon a time, street grade rail crossings were pretty common in Western Queens, but these days there are only a few that I know about. As always, never will I claim to be an expert on this subject, as there’s too many alphanumeric terms involved for me to remember. As mentioned in the past, mathematics isn’t my strong suit, and I’ve always been cursed by a sort of numbers based dyslexia. I’m all ‘effed up.

from wikipedia

The Long Island Rail Road owns an electric fleet of 836 M7 and 170 M3 electric multiple unit cars, and 134 C3 bilevel rail cars powered by 23 DE30AC diesel-electric locomotives and 22 DM30AC dual-mode locomotives.

In 1997 and 1998, the LIRR received 134 double-decker passenger cars from Kawasaki, including 23 cab control cars, and 46 General Motors Electro-Motive Division diesel-electric locomotives (23 diesel DE30ACs and 23 dual-mode DM30ACs) to pull them, allowing trains from non-electric territory to access Penn Station for the first time in many years, due to the prohibition on diesel operation in the East River Tunnels leading to Penn Station.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Arithmetic challenged, in a Jewish family, this marks one as worse than an idiot. The stereotype which opines that Jews are possessed of a certain aptitude for mathematics is fairly accurate (or at least it generally is in my family), and black sheep status was assigned me as early as second grade when they rolled out long division. Consistently low scores on the math section of standardized testing always betrayed my inadequacies to scholastic authorities, and was a great cause of concern to my parents. Reports from teachers fed their dire suspicions that I would someday end up “a bum on da bowery” or “shovelin shit on da street”.

from wikipedia

The DE30AC and DM30AC locomotives replaced aging GP38s, Alco FA1/FA2s, F7As and F9As, and MP15AC and SW1001 locomotives, with GP38s used to push and pull diesel trains and other locomotives used to provide HEP for the trains. The bodies of the DE30AC and the DM30AC are similar; the difference is the ability of the DM30AC to use electric third rail while the diesel engine is off, enabling the locomotive to use the East River Tunnels into New York Penn Station. DM30ACs have third rail contact shoes, permitting direct service from non-electrified lines in eastern Long Island via the western electrified main lines all the way to Penn Station. A few such trains a day run on the Port Jefferson, Oyster Bay, and Montauk Branches. The engines’ naming scheme: DM = Dual Mode, DE = Diesel Engine, 30 = 3000 hp, AC = Alternating Current traction motors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m told that people suffering from several different cognitive disorders spend their time memorizing train schedules and details about the rail system, and that they find some solace in the purely numerical language which governs the subject. Me, I just wander around aimlessly, and get the giggles when I’m lucky enough to randomly come across a train passing so close by. My major malfunction is taking too many pictures of trains and boats, it would seem.

from 1877′s “Long Island and where to go!!: A descriptive work compiled for the Long R.R. Co.“, courtesy google books:

Long Island City is the concentrating point upon the East river, of all the main avenues of travel from the back districts of Long Island to the city of New York. The great arteries of travel leading from New York are Thomson avenue, macadamized, 100 feet wide, leading directly to Newtown, Jamaica and the middle and southern roads on Long Island, and Jackson avenue, also 100 feet wide, and leading directly to Flushing, Whitestone and the northerly roads.

Long Island City is also the concentrating point upon the East river, of the railway system of Long Island.

The railways, upon reaching the city, pass under the main avenues of travel and traffic, and not upon or across their surface.

uncommented masonry

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

It all started when I was checking to see if I could find out anything more about the Blissville Banshee.

As the sum total of that which might be gathering dust on library shelves has not yet been digitized, categorized, and assigned metatags- there is an awful lot of stuff which is not available to the prying eyes of primarily nocturnal creatures like myself. Google books is an ongoing project, for instance, and every month or so some new (old) document appears online which is Newtown Creek oriented that I might slaver over.

from wikipedia

Google Books (previously known as Google Book Search and Google Print) is a service from Google that searches the full text of books that Google has scanned, converted to text using optical character recognition, and stored in its digital database. The service was formerly known as Google Print when it was introduced at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2004. Google’s Library Project, also now known as Google Book Search, was announced in December 2004.

Results from Google Book Search show up in both general web search at and through the dedicated Google Books site ( Up to three results from the Google Books index may be displayed, if relevant, above other search results in the Google Web search service (

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hence my periodic searches conducted for topics of which I’ve heard only hints of in the past- Case’s Crew for instance, or the aforementioned Blissville Banshee. It was one of these fishing expeditions into the ever expanding archival universe of the vast inter webs that led me to a certain structure, which sits at 30-28 Starr Avenue, just a couple of blocks from that malignant exemplar of the price of unregulated capitalism known as the Newtown Creek. It’s ordinary enough looking, branded with corporate logos and quite visible from many parts of Long Island City and Brooklyn.

from the Friends’ intelligencer, Volume 35, courtesy google books

The early history of Friends in Newtown and Maspeth Kills is marred by the irregularities of the Ranters, who claimed to be Friends, and intruded on their meetings.

Such was Thomas Case, who (1674) was forbidden by the Court to entertain the wife of William “Smith. His wife, Mary Case, was fined £5 for interrupting Rev. William Leveridge, while preaching, by saying to him: “Come down, thou whited wall that feedest thyself and starvest the people.” Samuel Scudder sent a long, scandalous letter to Mr. Leveridge.

The Court put Case and Scudder under bonds not “to seduce and disturb the people.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Let’s start at the beginning, though.

Borden Avenue is one of the older pathways in New York and particularly so for Queens, as the modern street was designated as Borden Avenue in 1868. It allowed egress from the docks at Hunters Point to the incalculably far Newtown and passed by the thriving village of Maspeth along the way. Originally a plank road set roughly into the swampy lowlands which adjoined the Newtown Creek, what would become Borden Avenue eventually progressed to the point of regular horse drawn (and then electric) street car service by the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th. It became a natural place for heavy industries to gather, and in the 1870’s and 80’s, rail road switches and “rights of way” followed their customers here.

The Long Island Railroad terminal at Hunters Point is and was on Borden Avenue, and rail tracks run parallel to Borden Avenue’s path, along what would have once been known as Creek Street. Critically, these were both freight and passenger tracks.

As of 1908, a retractile vehicle bridge crossed Dutch Kills, which we call the Borden Avenue Bridge (and which replaced the earlier wooden plank road drawbridge).

Today Borden is severed and overran by the sprawling girders of the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the much larger “Long Island Expressway”, and most of the tracks which crossed it at grade are cut or buried in the road asphalt.

from wikipedia

The Long Island Expressway was constructed in stages over the course of three decades. The first piece, the Queens–Midtown Tunnel linking Manhattan and Queens, was opened to traffic on November 15, 1940. A highway connecting the tunnel to Laurel Hill Boulevard was built around the same time and named the “Midtown Highway”. The tunnel, the Midtown Highway, and the segment of Laurel Hill Boulevard between the highway and Queens Boulevard all became part of a realigned NY 24 in the mid-1940s. In the early 1950s, work began on an eastward extension of the Midtown Highway. The road was completed to 61st Street by 1954, at which point it became known as the “Queens–Midtown Expressway”. By 1956, the road was renamed the “Long Island Expressway” and extended east to the junction of Queens (NY 24 and NY 25) and Horace Harding (NY 25D) Boulevards. NY 24 initially remained routed on Laurel Hill Boulevard (by this point upgraded into the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway) and Queens Boulevard, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue once formed the border of a community called Blissville (named for it’s founder and designer, Neziah Bliss of Greenpoint) which was meant to be an ideal residence for industrial laborers. It was, for a while.

Calvary Cemetery was sited in Blissville in 1848, which literally ate half the neighborhood, and the industrial concerns which employed the local labor had taken up valuable waterfront properties at the Newtown Creek. These industrial entities were notoriously onerous neighbors whose factories rendered Blissville a stinking slum and literally the wrong side of the tracks.

Dutch Kills and the land surrounding it to the south west were considered to be a pestilential swamp best known for malaria, and upstream from Blissville were the bone boilers and fat rendering factories so conspicuous in the historical record for a wholesale degradation of the environment. Suffice it to say that the population of Blissville declined precipitously from 1850 to 1900, from a residential point of view (although people still live here, even today).

from wikipedia

Blissville is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. It is part of Long Island City. It is bordered by Calvary Cemetery to the east; the Long Island Expressway to the north; Newtown Creek to the south; and Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek, to the west. Blissville was named after Neziah Bliss, who owned most of the land in the 1830s and 1840s. Bliss built the first version of what was known for many years as the Blissville Bridge, a drawbridge over Newtown Creek, connecting Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Blissville. It was replaced in the 20th century by the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, also called the J. J. Byrne Memorial Bridge, located slightly upstream.

Blissville existed as a small village until 1870 when it was incorporated with the villages of Astoria, Ravenswood, Hunters Point, Dutch Kills, Middletown, Sunnyside and Bowery Bay into Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, a Cambrian explosion of “scientific manufacturers” (which is an actual and atavist business terminology from the time) arose within the industrial quarters of the United States and especially around the Newtown Creek. Great corporations were born along the creek, in the fields of chemical manufacturing and metal refining, petroleum refining and distribution, electrical generation and supply, and especially the field of automotive vehicle manufacturing.

There were now machines that could fly, or mechanically navigate the seas, but it was the automobile which struck hardest in the public’s mind and ending up driving the national economy.

from wikipedia

By the early 1880 generators were beginning to power arc lamps in Britain and France, but they generated high temperatures and sparks that prevented widespread adoption. In 1880, Thomas Alva Edison developed and patented a long-lasting incandescent lamp based upon the previous work of many inventors. Like Bell, Edison immediately set about commercializing his invention through a shrewd business plan involving companies that would manufacture the whole technological system upon which the “light bulb” would depend – generators (Edison Machine Company), cables (Edison Electric Tube Company), generating plants and electric service (Edison Electric Light Company), sockets, and bulbs. As in other industries of the era, these companies achieved greater efficiencies by merging to form a conglomerated General Electric company. Lighting was immensely popular: between 1882 and 1920 the number of generating plants in the US increased from one in downtown Manhattan to nearly 4,000. While the earliest generating plants were constructed in the immediate vicinity of consumers, plants generating electricity for long-distance transmissions were in place by 1900. To help finance this great expansion, the utility industry exploited a financial innovation known as the “holding company”; a favorite holding company investment among many was the Electric Bond and Share Company (later much-changed, and known as Ebasco), created by the General Electric company in 1905. The abuse of holding companies, like trusts before it, led to the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, but by 1920, electricity had surpassed petroleum-based lighting sources that had dominated the previous century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In an age before refrigeration, being a “locavore” wasn’t an ethical or fashionable choice, it was a necessity.

The speed of a horse and wagon could never be considered dependable though, especially when carrying a heavy load of perishables from say… Bosjwick to Blissville. Whether it was meat, milk, or especially beer- it had a quick shelf life whether it suffered under the gaze of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself or endured the freezing temperatures of a New York winter.

Additionally, a horse needed rest and food and water, which all needed to be prearranged. Horses also had a tendency to die from overwork. The automotive craze began when the brewers of beer realized what some contrivance called a “truck” could do.

from wikipedia

The word truck might have come from a back-formation of truckle with the meaning small wheel, pulley, from Middle English trokell, in turn from Latin trochlea. Another explanation is that it comes from Latin trochus with the meaning of iron hoop. In turn, both go back to Greek trokhos meaning wheel from trekhein that meant “to run”. The first known usage of “truck” was in 1611 when it referred to the small, strong wheels on ships’ cannon carriages. In its extended usage it came to refer to carts for carrying heavy loads, a meaning known since 1771. With the meaning of motor-powered load carrier, it has been in usage since 1930, shortened from motor truck who dates back to 1916.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that so many parts of the Newtown Pentacle host a former brewery, not unlike the Ulmer site in Bushwick, is that Beer didn’t used to come in bottles or pressurized kegs but was instead shipped in barrels. These barrels were delivered daily, which meant that the brewer had to be centrally located to service the various saloons, beer gardens, and bars which formed it’s clientele. This called for an eternal struggle against random happenstance, and the relatively shallow load that a horse cart was capable of carrying created high labor and livestock costs and limited growth. Suffice to say that the beer brewers needed a more reliable form of transportation that could handle the heavy products they produced.

The automotive “truck” could work all day and night with one driver, and carry many times the tonnage possible with a carriage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Blissville had long ago rebelled against the baronial farmers of Newtown and joined with its ancient sisters in forming Long Island City, which would become an early center for automotive manufacture. The political elites of Manhattan, who had just engineered the consolidation of the City of Greater New York, were anxious to develop western Queens and land was cheap for the well connected. Vast building lots were sold, and an incredible landscape of titan masonry was flung at the sky, with the intention of capturing and controlling vast amounts of treasure and discovering untold possibilities.

from wikipedia

The City of Greater New York was a term commonly used originally to refer to the expanded city created on January 1, 1898 by the incorporation into the city of Richmond County, Kings County, Queens County, and the eastern part of what is now called The Bronx (east of the Bronx River). The west Bronx, west of the Bronx River, had been annexed to the City and County of New York in 1874, and was known as the Annexed District. The City of Brooklyn had also expanded by annexation.

The phrase City of Greater New York was never a legal or official designation as both the original charter of 1898 and the newer one of 1938 use the name of City of New York.

The consolidation movement was the work of several progressive politicians, most prominently Andrew Haswell Green so some opponents derided the effort as “Andy Green’s hobby.” The center of the plan was the consolidation of the twin cities of New York and Brooklyn, whose fire departments had already been consolidated. The addition of Long Island City and various rural areas anticipated the spread of urban sprawl to those areas. With the Republicans historically more powerful in Brooklyn and the Democrats elsewhere, partisan politics played a role, each major political party hoping to dominate the consolidated city.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By 1915, there approximately 40,000 automotive trucks plying the streets of New York City.

What’s surprising is that 25% of them were electric.

Lords and ladies of Newtown, I present to you the last mortal remains of the General Electric Vehicle Company, 30-28 Starr Avenue, Long Island City– manufacturer of a substantial number of those electrical trucks.

Here’s the way the place looked just before the time of the first World War, courtesy google books

Another historic view can be seen in this archive article

– photo by Mitch Waxman

General Electric Vehicle Company was originally the Electric Vehicle Company, until it was acquired by one of those “scientific manufacturers”- a small but growing firm which called itself “General Electric“. GE was a direct creation of a fellow named Edison, whose little power generating concern in NYC hadn’t quite “consolidated” itself yet.

General Electric Vehicle, like all automotive companies, was in competition with an upstart from the midwest named Ford. Things hadn’t been decided yet, from a consumer point of view, between electric motors or gasoline ones, but there was another company out there which had strong feelings on the subject called Standard Oil.

I’ve read allusions to some deal between Ford and Edison to stay out of each others way, but for awhile Edison was manufacturing (and driving) electric cars.

Here’s A GEVC truck from 1906, courtesy google books

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the early 20th century, this was the second largest factory space in Long Island City (after the Loose Wiles bakery) sitting on 3 entire blocks of the 19th century street grid and comprising some 8 square acres. 2,000 people worked there. The largest of the structures, which has been conspicuously displayed throughout this post, survives and serves modernity as a gargantuan self storage facility. Other structures of the complex survive, and remnants of the rail spar that served it can be observed on Review Avenue just beyond Borden. Part of its footprint is occupied by the Silvercup Studios East location.

GEVC became the premier manufacturer of Electric Vehicles here, as well as being the only concern in the Untied States licensed to build Daimler’s “Mercedes” gasoline cars and trucks.

from The American review of reviews, Volume 51 By Albert Shaw, courtesy google books

The big principle is that electricity is now the world’s best source of power, and enables business men to “team by electricity.” The Company long ago learned that the work to be performed decides the building of the vehicle. But very interesting is the fact that while all the six G. V. models but one were standardized seven years ago, each truck is built to fit the industry, the locality, and the use it will meet. Starting with a standardized chassis, a body suitable for a given business is built and placed on the chassis, but not before experts have adjusted battery, motor and speed to fit local road conditions. That is, the “power plant” of a 2-ton truck as revealed in battery, motor, etc., is specifically adapted to hilly

Seattle or level Washington, D. C, as the case may be. In the splendid Long Island City plant of the General Vehicle Company the exact facts of the customer’s condition and his locality now determine what that truck must be to succeed. And it does succeed. The haphazard peddling of job-lot trucks must disappear, just as the stock-jobbing era has passed in automobile truck manufacture.

Consequently you can buy an electric truck to-day with the same certainty of what it will do under your particular circumstances as you can buy any other staple commodity. A concern like the General Vehicle Company will actually refuse to sell you a truck which is not what your work requires. It will not promise you all kinds of free service, new tires, free bodies, and free rebuilding. It does not have to do this, as the now bankrupt concerns did have to, in order to try to offset the serious deficiencies in the service a truck was supposed to give. A General Vehicle truck does what it is built to do—and is sold on a business basis, with no secret about what will happen to the man who buys it after he has used it awhile. A table of standard costs to fit various types, conditions and requirements, works out as accurately as a multiplication table.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

General had an interesting scheme to power the trucks, which involved the shipping of batteries to and from a power plant in Connecticut, which would charge industrial base rates for charging them. A series of labor actions and the emerging predominance of the gasoline powered internal combustion engine served to weaken and eventually bankrupt General, and the company was ultimately done in by the first World War because of that Daimler contract.

Nobody wanted German cars or trucks anymore, you see.

In 1918, the War Department of the United States engineered the sale of the plant to the Wright Martin Aircraft company, in order to facilitate the manufacture of airplane engines at the factory. When Wright Martin took over, the payroll skyrocketed to include an astounding 8,000 employees.

from wikipedia

In order to overcome the limited operating range of electric vehicles, and the lack of recharging infrastructure, a exchangeable battery service was first proposed as early as 1896. The concept was first put into practice by Hartford Electric Light Company through the GeVeCo battery service and initially available for electric trucks. The vehicle owner purchased the vehicle from General Vehicle Company (GVC, a subsidiary of the General Electric Company) without a battery and the electricity was purchase from Hartford Electric through an exchangeable battery. The owner paid a variable per-mile charge and a monthly service fee to cover maintenance and storage of the truck. Both vehicles and batteries were modified to facilitate a fast battery exchange. The service was provided between 1910 to 1924 and during that period covered more than 6 million miles. Beginning in 1917 a similar successful service was operated in Chicago for owners of Milburn Light Electric cars who also could buy the vehicle without the batteries.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wright Martin Aircraft– Wright as in Wright Brothers, and Martin as in Martin Marietta, departed the place at some indeterminate point in the early 20th century. References have been found which identify the interim tenants of the structure as having been engaged in the manufacture of exotic lithographic and photographic equipment, includes both industrial landscaping and floral supply businesses, and a host of smaller operations involved in warehousing, interstate shipping, and local trucking companies also called this building home base. Ultimately, it became a self storage warehouse.

This is building 3 of the General Electrical Vehicle Complex, there were at least 7.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Contemporaneous accounts of the place describe it as occupying a spot between Review, Starr, and Borden avenues, bounded by the no longer mapped Fox and Beaver streets. Certain sources and allies were taken aback by my queries about the two streets, thinking that your humble narrator was being ribald, but such profane interpretations of my question were later greeted with scans of a historical map (which I cannot present here for copyright reasons) that confirmed the location and identity of the modern structure.

Suffice to say that Fox and Beaver follow the course set by 30th street and 31st place were they to continue to the Newtown Creek waterfront.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An effort was made to contact the employees of the self storage warehouse, and though they were thoroughly friendly and attentive, the current staff were somewhat taken aback by my queries. I displayed the historic shot of the building, but they did not have any anecdote to offer about historic remnants or curious machinery, which means that the structure must have been thoroughly gutted before modern times.

You never know what you’re going to find along the Newtown Creek, as I always say, but I’m still wondering about the Blissville Banshee.

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