Places that Matter
Gantry Plaza State Park
Place Matters Profile
On the Long Island City waterfront stand two large, corroded gantries, all that remains of industrial structures that once teemed with life. Manufacturing jobs brought workers from all over the world to the city’s shores. The gantries, built in the 1920s, hoisted freight cars from trains that pulled in from Long Island, then hoisted them on to East River barges that supplied the nation. Towering structures with pulleys and cranes that raised transfer bridges eighteen feet up or down, they accommodated hundred-ton cars and were topped with corrugated black metal control rooms. As manufacturing dwindled and decayed, the gantries rusted.
In 1998, they found a new purpose, as the centerpiece of the Gantry Plaza State Park, created by Queens West Redevelopment and the landscape architecture firm of Thomas Balsley Associates. Repainted black, the two giant structures retain the words Long Island in bright red letters, giving Manhattanites something to gaze at from midtown and Queens residents a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline. The 10-acre park still has railroad tracks in the ground, but also Adirondack chairs, hammocks, lawns, and a children’s playground. Four elegant piers jut out into the East River, the southernmost used for fishing, with an undulating wooden bench that rises and falls like a wave. At the park’s northern end, the beloved landmark Pepsi-Cola sign marks the site of a bottling plant, now vanished.
All around, new apartment buildings reflect the changing character of the area: The Powerhouse luxury condominiums, for example, have literally enveloped a once-glorious 1909 building with four majestic smokestacks. Designed by McKim, Mead & White, it was built as a power station for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and more recently housed the Schwartz Chemical Company. The developers who converted the dilapidated building promised to retain as much of the structure as they could. Karl Fisher, the architect, said, “Since we were working with an existing building and wanted to keep its uniqueness, we wanted to save the four chimneys, which have been rebuilt with metal and glass and are in some of the living [rooms] and bedrooms.” Another way of remaking elements of the city’s past.
Sources: Jeff VanDam “A Famed Skyline Fixture, Standing Tall Another Day” The New York Times, February 6, 2005.
Directions: To get to Gantry State Park Plaza you take the 7 train to Vernon-Jackson, which lets you out on Vernon Blvd. Make a left-hand turn on 48th or 49th Street, walk two blocks toward the water, and there you are.