Hunters Point Bridge Crosses Its Second Century
Span Tells Story Of Local Industry
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge in Long Island City, the New York City Bridge Centennial Commission (NYCBCC) and the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA) joined forces on Saturday, Dec. 11 to sponsor a free walking tour of the structure and its surrounding area.
On the way to the two-lane bridge, NCA’s Bernie Ente and Mitch Waxman focused on the history of 49th Avenue, also referred to as Hunters Point Avenue, and explained how the low-lying roadway consisted of nothing but marshland up until the start of the 20th Century. Those same swamps fields were built up and now serve as the Long Island City portion of Sunnyside Yard.
“This is the west end of Sunnyside Yard, which goes as far as 48th Street. Everything was raised here when the yard, the subways, the railroads were put in,” said Waxman.
“After Mr. Steinway made his money in pianos, he wanted to be a railroad man and built trollies all over Queens. He was the original contractor to build the subways in Manhattan; it was originally going to be a Steinway company rather than a municipal company.”
Steinway, as the story goes, went bankrupt, which led to the city taking over the installation of tracks and train infrastructure.
The contractor for Sunnyside Yard was Michael Degnon, who went on to build his own railway, Degnon Terminal, in the same area leading to the bridge.
Hunters Point Avenue, which extends from 21st Street to the Long Island Expressway/Brooklyn Queens Expressway interchange soon became a stretch chock full of factories and warehouses that stored many of the goods that were transported via rail.
Ente pointed out that the buildings along Hunters Point Avenue and 27th Street (formerly known as Creek Street) were low and spread out due to the swampy lands they rested on.
Both tour guides marveled at the magnificent view of the Queensboro Bridge at the Davis Court intersection.
Upon entering the bridge, located between 27th and 30th streets, tour participants learned that the dark greenish hue of Dutch Kills below the overpass wasn’t the result of any oils spills that have plagued nearby Newtown Creek. Rather, detailed Ente, it was the gas and anti-freeze spilling out of vehicles that have affected its color.
Originally, the Hunters Point Bridge was first erected as a wooden structure in 1874 before it was replaced by the double-leaf bascule iron version in 1910.
In 1983, the bridge was rebuilt as a single-bascule roadway with a span measuring 21.8 meters long.
“The 1910 version was still a drawbridge that you opened with two leaves. This is a single-leaf bridge. A lot of people think it doesn’t work. Until 1998, different owners still crossed with barges. This bridge in opened up 1,700 times a year from 1913 to 1920,” detailed Ente, who works as a professional photographer when he isn’t busy conducting walking tours.
Waxman made listeners aware of the Borden Avenue Bridge, lying only four blocks away and is actually a few years older than the Hunters Point Bridge. Recent repair work to the Borden Avenue Bridge has caused traffic volumes to increase on the Hunters Point Bridge.
“They’re all about from the same time. This area received a lot of attention right after the consolidation of New York (1898). That’s basically when the Tammany guys in Manhattan had some money to spend. You’ll notice a lot of the infrastructure around New York City ends up emerging in 1910 or 1915,” he added.
After treating everyone to a view of the bridge opening, Ente identified remnants of the stonework left over from the old bridge.
Currently, the vistas offered by the Hunters Point and Borden Avenue bridges are often used as a source of inspiration by local artists.
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