Where Zippers Were Made in Long Island City

    by

    One of the many corporate giants which distinguished Long Island City at the start of the last century was known as Waldes Koh-I-Noor.

    Located at the corner of Anable Avenue and Creek Street (which is the modern day 27th Street and Austell Place), the firm was a manufacturer of dress fasteners (snaps, zippers and the like) and was known to produce all sorts of metallic devices — including war munitions, during times of national crisis. The building offers about 200,000 square feet of space and hosts multiple truck loading docks.

    From Google Books:

    Henry Waldes New York has leased the factory of the Klndel Bed Co Anable Avenue and Creek Street Long Island City NY comprising a four story reinforced concrete structure for the establishment of a new plant for the manufacture of small metal specialties The lease is for a term of years and aggregates $350,000.

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    Photo courtesy Google Books, from Queens Borough, New York City, 1910-1920: The Borough of Homes and Industry

    A large employer, the building Waldes Koh-I-Noor was housed in is actually a complex of structures which had a rail spar leading to it. The company is not to be confused with the artist material manufacturers, or the legendary diamond which Waldes named the firm after.

    From Google Books:

    STATEMENT OF WALDES & CO INC LONG ISLAND CITY NY The undersigned is the largest manufacturer of snap fasteners in the world and since 1918 have been established in the United States our plant being located at Long Island City NY. The original factory is located at Prague Czechoslovakia which employs about 4,000 men while our American plant now employs from 150 to 200 men Both these factories are equipped with up to date machinery and each one produces the same finely finished metal snap fasteners These fasteners are made either bright finish or enameled Our system of manufacturing and the articles themselves are our own inventions protected by patents by nearly every country.

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    The Waldes structure still stands, and like many of the gargantuan factories which distinguish the Long Island City landscape, it has been subdivided amongst several smaller tenants in modernity. Part of the building is used as an NYPD impounded evidence facility, another section is used by a doggy day care company, and there are several light industrial tenants found here as well.

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    From what I’ve been able to discern, the company remained in Waldes family hands for most of the 20th century. There are literally hundreds of extant patents which were awarded to both the family, and its enormous engineering staff, over the century they occupied this spot. The shot above shows the spot where the rail spar used to lie.

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    References in historic records describe a late in the game shift to tool and die manufacture, no doubt to exploit this catalogue of patents. The Sears catalog business carried several of their milliners supplies, and I’m told that they innovated the all plastic zippers which came into vogue during the Second World War and beyond, largely due to metals shortages.

    From NYTimes.com:

    Harry K. Waldes, chairman of the board of Waldes Kohinoor Inc. in Long Island City, Queens, died Tuesday in North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, L.I., after suffering a stroke. He was 73 years old and a resident of Great Neck, L.I.

    Mr. Waldes became executive vice president of the concern, which manufactures fastening devices and tools, in 1950.

    He was named board chairman in 1961.

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    Photo courtesy Google Books, from Queens Borough, New York City, 1910-1920: The Borough of Homes and Industry

    Local realtors found packaging the Waldes property a devilish proposition when the company pulled up its stakes in LIC. Selling the large structure, well after the golden age of American manufacturing had passed, to a single tenant seemed an impossibility. Pinnacle Realty came up with the notion of subdividing the structure and leasing it piecemeal. Whether intentional or not, the continuing financial viability of the complex has preserved the place.

    Pinnacle is still a familiar name in LIC realty circles today.

    From pinnaclereny.com:

    As the exclusive agent for the 100 year old Waldes Kohinoor Company located in Long Island City; Gary came up with the concept that the parts are worth more than the whole. Early in the marketing campaign Gary focused on selling the 3 buildings totaling 200,000 sq. ft. plus 50,000 sq.ft. of land to a single developer. He was disappointed with the offers being submitted by developers. However, if the property was sold off as 4 separate parcels millions of dollars in additional proceeds for ownership could be generated. The strategy worked extremely well and the Waldes Kohinoor ownership was very satisfied with the results.

    Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.

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