31-42 Vernon Boulevard
Despite the area’s picturesque views of Hell Gate, the site of Socrates Sculpture Park remained an abandoned riverside landfill until artist Mark di Suvero led the effort to convert the space into an outdoor sculpture garden. The coalition named the sculpture garden after the famous Greek philosopher Socrates (469-399 B.C.), paying homage to the large Greek community living in nearby Astoria. The park’s tenuous existence depended on a short-term lease from the city until a proposed luxury apartment and marina complex prompted Mayor Giuliani to declare it a permanent park site in 1998. Founded as a unique space for artists to design and display large-scale sculpture and multimedia installations that engage with the public, the park has hosted the work of over one thousand artists. A large billboard presiding over the entrance features one or two new installations each year that reference the other exhibits inside the park.
9-01 33rd Road
c. 1920s; addition: Isamu Noguchi, 1985 |
The Noguchi Museum is set within a converted photo-engraving plant dating to the 1920s, and connected to an additional building and interior garden designed by Isamu Noguchi himself. Noguchi, a renowned Japanese-American sculptor known for fusing Modernism with Japanese influences, envisioned the museum as not only a permanent home for his work, but as a work of art in itself. Moving to a small brick building across from his future museum in 1961, Noguchi was one of the pioneering artists that helped to establish Long Island City’s cultural community. The two-story industrial building, with its cement floors and exposed ceiling beams, contrasts with the artist’s stone, metal and wood sculptures. Originally housed in two separate buildings, the museum underwent a massive renovation in 2001-04 that connected the historic red brick building to its modern concrete block neighbor to create a more unified space for the 2,383-piece collection.
37-18 Northern Boulevard
When this building was completed in 1921, S. Karpen & Brothers, a Chicago-based upholstered furniture manufacturing company claimed that it was “the finest structure devoted exclusively to furniture making in this country” with over 150,000 square feet of floor space distributed over six stories. The factory’s unadorned concrete façade, consisting of 21 bays punctured by raised piers, is complemented by the decorative brickwork found at the cornice line and top story. In addition to its sheer size, the building stands out for the way it angles to conform to the curve of Northern Boulevard. Out of all of the factory’s occupants, Standard Motor Products had the longest history at this site, moving into the building in 1936 and manufacturing automobile engine parts here until 2008. Converted to small-scale commercial use between 2010 and 2014, the structure hosts a number of tenants, including the headquarters of Standard Motor Products, the Jim Henson Company’s New York office and a one-acre organic farm on its rooftop.
Albert Kahn, c. 1914; expansion: John Graham, c. 1914
Now known as the Center Building, 33-00 Northern Boulevard was completed in 1914 as the Ford Assembly and Service Center of Long Island City. This section of Queens was nicknamed Detroit East in the early 20th century due to its concentration of automobile concerns, including Brewster, Ford and Standard Motor Products. The original section of the building, designed by Albert Kahn, primarily fronts Honeywell Avenue and only stretches along Northern Boulevard for three bays. An expansion designed by John Graham increased the factory’s capacity by 400%, but the building was sold in 1921 and saw a variety of tenants including Goodyear Tires, the Durant Motor Company and Roto-Broil, an electric kitchen appliance that debuted in the 1950s. The dark red brick building, enhanced by white terra cotta ornamentation throughout the façade, features a series of iconic balconies that serve as a “fire tower” and means of egress in case of emergency.
38-27 30th Street
c. 1951; conversion: Max Gordon, 1991
Originally a parachute harness factory, the home of the Fisher Landau Center for Art is an unassuming three-story concrete building. The austere white façade features minimalistic ornamentation, including geometric crosses at the top of each pier and a stylized pediment over the entrance. Emily Fisher Landau, a Manhattan native who married into a prominent real estate family, began purchasing art in the 1960s, accumulating a collection of over 1,500 paintings, photographs and sculptures. Needing a large space to house her collection, Landau purchased the 25,000-square-foot factory in 1989 and opened it to the public two years later as the Fisher Landau Center for Art. Although architect Max Gordon transformed the industrial space into museum galleries and a library, the open plan and flared concrete columns remain as a testament to the building’s past.
29-27 Queens Plaza North
Colloquially known as the “Long Island City Clock Tower,” this neo-Gothic style building was designated as a New York City Individual Landmark in 2015, but it is a landmark in every sense of the word. Standing at 14 stories tall, the structure was Queens’ tallest until the construction of the Citigroup building at One Court Square in 1990. Its location in one of the borough’s busiest transportation hubs has made the building a prominent fixture. Queensboro Bridge Plaza (now Queens Plaza) became an important commercial center after the 1909 completion of the Queensboro Bridge and the construction of numerous elevated transit lines that converged here. The Manhattan Company, founded by Aaron Burr in 1799 and a precursor to J. P. Morgan Chase & Co., merged with the Bank of Long Island in 1920, and established 40 branches in Queens over the next decade. This building, located in the heart of the borough, would be a showpiece for the company. Its grand, 14-foot diameter, four-faced clock has provided subway riders with a time check on their commute to work for roughly 90 years. The clock tower itself occupies the top three stories of the building. When it opened in 1927, the Bank of the Manhattan Company occupied the basement, ground floor and mezzanine, and the rest of the building was rented as office space. The banking hall’s interior, finished in marble with brass hardware throughout, remains largely intact, though covered in gypsum wallboard. The exterior is clad in buff brick with limestone trim, and its verticality is emphasized by bands of contrasting brick that draw the eye to the highly ornate clock tower. In addition to the clock faces, this section features reliefs of the god Oceanus, a symbol of the bank, and monograms of the bank’s initials, as well as a crenellated roofline. The Bank of the Manhattan Company Building was designated a NYC Individual Landmark in 2015.
29-28 41st Avenue is an eleven-story Art Deco commercial building, built in 1929 and converted to open-plan apartments in 2013. Mimicking the contemporary skyscrapers being built across the East River in Midtown Manhattan, this office building possesses a strong sense of symmetry and verticality, culminating in a crowning central “tower.” Enhancing the otherwise austere applied brick façade are stylized floral motifs on the belt course above the second story and at the tops of the piers. Originally known as the Chatham & Phenix Building, named after the now-defunct bank based in New York City, the tower was touted as the largest office building in Queens upon its completion. In addition to the bank, tenants included law firms and real estate companies, as well as the local branch of the World War II Rationing Board. At the time of its completion, 29-28 41st Avenue was one of many financial buildings that opened in Queens Plaza, which capitalized on the area’s excellent transit connections and the borough’s explosive growth.
28-11 Queens Plaza North
This nine-story Italianate building flanking Queens Plaza houses the New York City Department of Education and the New York City Department of Transportation, including the Bureau of Traffic Operations and its Traffic Management Center, which controls all of the city’s traffic lights. The building’s façade consists of a four-story limestone base topped by five floors of unadorned brown brick, enlivened by arched windows on the central seven bays at the eighth story and crowned by a dentilled cornice with brick corbelling. The empty steel framework sitting on the rooftop survives as a reminder of the large neon signs that once crowned this building.
27-01 Queens Plaza North
Stephenson & Wheeler
This massive 400,000-square-foot red brick building was built in 1910 to serve as the factory for Brewster & Company, an automobile manufacturer, which was based in Times Square. Six stories tall, the building features a simple design typical of industrial structures at the time. The building once featured a central “constructivist” clock tower embellished with tracery that asserted its presence over the landscaped expanse of Queens Plaza. In its four decades as the home of Brewster, the factory-produced horse drawn carriages, Rolls-Royce luxury automobiles and the Brewster Buffalo, a carrier-based fighter plane that served in World War II. After the war, Brewster & Company closed and the building saw a variety of uses, including garment manufacturing, until it was bought by Brause Realty and converted to office space in 2001.
11th Street and Bridge Plaza North and Bridge Plaza South
NYC IL, NR-P |
Plans for a bridge across the East River at Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island) were submitted to the City in 1877, but it would take another thirty years for the bridge to come to fruition. The Queensboro Bridge was the third bridge to span the East River, preceded by the Brooklyn Bridge (completed in 1883) and the Williamsburg Bridge (completed in 1903), and followed closely by the Manhattan Bridge (completed in 1909). Architect Henry Hornbostel studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and was influenced by Jean Resal’s design for the Pont Mirabeau in Paris, which was completed in 1895 while Hornbostel was a student there. The steel superstructure for this roughly 7,000-foot-long bridge was furnished by the Pennsylvania Steel Company. Originally, the bridge contained four elevated railroad tracks for the Second Avenue “El” on the upper level and four trolley tracks and a roadway on the lower level. On the Manhattan side, the bridge is famous for its arcade of tile vaulting designed by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino. The bridge’s rough-faced masonry piers included elevators and stairs to accommodate pedestrians on the Manhattan and Queens sides, as well as at Roosevelt Island. The construction of the bridge transformed this part of Long Island City and led to the widening of streets to accommodate traffic from the bridge. Queensboro Bridge Plaza, now Queens Plaza, was created in what was formerly known as the hamlet of Dutch Kills. The plaza became – and remains – an important transit and commercial hub in Queens. The Queensboro Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a NYC Individual Landmark in 1974.