The nickname I’ve assigned to the section of Northern Boulevard, which begins at the Jackson Avenue/31st Street intersection and rolls out in an easterly direction towards Woodside and Jackson Heights, is “The Carridor.” References to the area as “Detroit East” in the historic literature is the reason why. This was one of the birthplaces of the American Automotive industry, right here in Long Island City. A general description of this forgotten industrial zone was offered back in February of this year, in this Q’stoner post.
Today, we’re zeroing in on a particular manufacturer, the Pierce Arrow factory and service center building, which still stands on 38th Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets.
More after the jump.
Pictured above, the Harrolds Motor Car Company’s Pierce-Arrow Building as it appears in modernity. It was built in 1913, and is found at 34-01 38th Avenue. A four-story industrial building, it sports multi-colored brick facades which are fancied up by brick and terra cotta string courses. There’s diamond pattern spandrels with red brick on the rear walls.
Designed by New York architects Griffin & Wynkoop as a “daylight factory,” the building is built around a U-plan.
Here’s a historic shot of the place from a similar vantage point, which is an unfortunately terrible scan (Via Google Books)
The Harrolds Motor Car Company, who were the agents for Pierce-Arrow automobiles, operated the facility. Luxury automobiles and PA trucks were maintained here. Contemporaneous descriptions boast that this building could house 500 cars and had the capacity to service 150 vehicles at one time. According to municipal records, Pierce-Arrow fell into bankruptcy at the start of the Great Depression (of the 1930s) and the building was sold off in 1935. The manufacturer ultimately threw its towel into the ring in 1938, and its assets were bought by the Seagrave company, who manufacture fire trucks to this day.
In the 1940s, the Olympic Radio & Television manufacturers were housed here. It served as a warehouse for much of the 20th century, and a couple of small businesses operating out of its ground level retail spaces have been observed over the years, although this is kind of a tough spot for foot traffic if you ask me. There’s an artist space in there, called Studio 34, and I’ve observed what looks like an office space and some light manufacturing going on in the PA building as well.
The 36th street Subway stop of the R and M trains are directly across the street.
The Pierce-Arrow was a status symbol, owned by many Hollywood stars and tycoons. Most of the royalty of the world had at least one Pierce-Arrow in its collection. Some have described Pierce and two of its rivals among American luxury cars, Peerless and Packard, as the “Three P’s of Motordom.” Industrial efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth extolled the virtues of Pierce-Arrow, in both quality and in its ability to safely transport his large family. Its wheelbase was 12 ft 3 in (3.73 m).
The building is potentially eligible for NYC Landmark status as “a relatively intact and representative example of the multi-story auto-related industrial buildings that were a dominate fixture in this section of Long Island City during the 1910s and 1920s” according to City Planning documents which were reviewed in preparing this post. One feature on the structure which requires some note are the surviving terra cotta ornaments that are found along its upper stories.
That’s Pierce Arrow branding, and the winged arrows with the truck tires incorporated into them are all that remains to indicate what the place once was used for.
Here’s a shot of the 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow (courtesy Wikipedia), a V12 engine Limousine coupé, which was the last Pierce Arrow car. Only five of them were ever produced.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.