Industrial Space

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Photo by Nathan Kensinger

Yet one more remnant of Queens’ manufacturing past, the West Chemical Building, a.k.a. the CN Building, has been claimed by the gods of redevelopment this week. It’s just one of many manufacturing, storage and warehouse buildings along the array of cul-de-sacs off Jackson Avenue between Queens Boulevard and 21st Street to be repurposed or razed in favor of high-rise luxury housing in recent years.

A five-story poured concrete structure, marked by a siding entering the building, housed the manufacturing plant known variously as “CN Building”, “West Chemical Products”, or “West Disinfectants, ”an arched roof parapet on its east side with a truncated corner. An angled structure, likely containing a conveyor belt connected the building from its left side to a brick/poured concrete three-story building sporting a CN logo in relief.

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Nondescript. That’s how you’d describe the structure found at the northern side of 47th Avenue, between 27th and 28th Streets, in Long Island City. You’d probably mention the fading paint of an advertisement for some sort of beer found on the facade, to distinguish it.

The modern day street address for this 1934 structure is found on the 28th Street side (46-24 28th Street), but mail sent to the offices of “E. J. Burke, Ltd., of New York, Dublin, London and Liverpool” was delivered to a long vanished secondary structure at 47-24 27th Street which was constructed around 1923. The company that resided here, a family business of sorts, built out the entire block from Skillman to 47th Avenue, and from 27th to 28th, after relocating from their digs on West 46th over in Manhattan.

At either address, you could count on the stout flowing. This was the official Guinness brewery in America, after all.

More after the jump…

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To start with, this giant was built during the winter, in 1914.

We’re used to this sort of thing these days, seeing enormous structural works of reinforced concrete being constructed willy nilly all over the place during all sorts of weather, but in 1914 – this building represented a revolutionary step forward in the construction business.

The Turner Company erected this 456-foot-long, five-story, 210,000-square-foot gargantua in Dutch Kills for the New York Consolidated Card Company, using a clever system of steam coils and heaters to keep ice from forming in the mixers and lines as they pumped the concrete into its forms. The technique they developed became the defacto standard methodology for winter construction. The structure was designed by the architecture and engineering firm of Ballinger & Perrot, of Philadelphia.

More after the jump…

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Kerosene was “invented” by a Canadian named Abraham Gesner, who built the first large scale refinery in North America along the Newtown Creek in 1854. 

He received the patents for the process, and coined the name “Kerosene” for a distillation of coal oil (like a lot of 19th century industrial product names, we moderns inherited the trademarked nomen as the descriptor for an entire category. It’s the same shorthand we use for facial tissue as being “Kleenex,” or photocopying as “Xerox,” or cotton swabs as “Q-tips”). Gesner was looking for a way to get an angle on the lucrative lamp oil trade.

In 1854, lamp oil was produced from animal fats. Ocean going fish, and especially whales, were basically boiled down to make the stuff. The collection of the raw material was hazardous and expensive, and the refined product was dangerously volatile – there had to be a better way. Chemist Abraham Gesner invented a method by which a combustible oil could be distilled from coal. In doing so, he pretty much founded what would become the American oil industry.

When the time came to set up shop and build a factory to produce his coal oil or “Kerosene,” it was along the Newtown Creek that Abraham Gesner built the first large scale refinery in North America – in the Blissville neighborhood of what we would call Queens.

More, lots more, after the jump…

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Around a week or so ago, Kevin Walsh spotlighted the Playbill Manufacturing Plant in this Q’Stoner post from May 23rd. Today, we get to see what’s happening behind the walls.

The Woodside institution has been in the neighborhood since the 1960s, and recently I was invited inside the plant. Here’s what I found when I was recently invited back stage at Playbill.

Pictured above is Claire Mangan, Playbill’s Managing Program Editor.

When you enter the place, the first thing you smell is ink. The first thing you hear is the “chugga chugga chugga” sound of high speed printing presses. Print shops are busy places, with hundreds or thousands of moving parts. Playbill has an assortment of equipment employed here, but this isn’t where the process starts, rather its where it ends.

From Wikipedia:

Playbill was first printed in 1884 for a single theatre on 21st Street in New York City. The magazine is now used at nearly every Broadway theatre, as well as many Off-Broadway productions. Outside New York City, Playbill is used at theatres throughout the United States, including in Birmingham, Alabama; Boston; Chicago; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; East Lansing, Michigan; Houston; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; St. Louis; San Diego; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.. Circulation as of September 2012 was 4,073,680.

Playbill’s writers and editors, working with graphic artists, digitally compose the magazines.

Approved files are then printed in house, as plastic printing plates.

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Hanging about and walking around Queens with a friend one afternoon last summer, our path carried us up Skillman Avenue and past the gargantuan Sunnyside Yards. Luckily, something I’d been trying to catch, as it happens, began to happen when Amtrak 934 sauntered into view.

From Wikipedia:

The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) completed construction of the yard in 1910. At that time Sunnyside was the largest coach yard in the world, occupying 192 acres (0.78 km2) and containing 25.7 mi (41.4 km) of track. The yard served as the main train storage and service point for PRR trains serving New York City. It is connected to Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan by the East River Tunnels. The Sunnyside North Yard initially had 45 tracks with a capacity of 526 cars. The South Yard had 45 tracks with a 552 car capacity.

It turns out that there is an entire industrial sector for whom the manufacture and maintenance of “train washes” is a focal point. It also seems to be the case that having a shiny clean locomotive pays a dividend in terms of aerodynamic drag and that the cleaner your train is, the more efficiently it runs.