February 07, 2005
Schwartz Chemical Company Building
A quick City Section story on theSchwartz Chemical Company Building (the former Pennsylvania Railroad Power Station) in Hunters Point yields some interesting details on the site's development, for those who are interested in such neighborhoody things:
The Long Island City skyline has but a few jewels. One, the Citigroup tower, is a tall skyscraper of aqua glass. Another is the old Pennsylvania Railroad Power Station, a brick survivor from 1909 with four smokestacks that sits in the shadow of two new condo towers.
As this Queens neighborhood experiences a revival, newer residents have championed the area's industrial past. Last year, a cafe on Jackson Avenue called Ten63 began selling shirts depicting the power plant, its smokestacks adopting the mantle of a neighborhood icon.
But recently, some intrepid Web surfers on queenswest.com uncovered an application for a permit filed last month by a developer calling for "demolition of all 4 existing chimneys" of the plant, a prelude to converting the building for residential use. Community reaction, on the whole, has not been positive.
"It would basically disfigure the building," said Monte Antrim, a co-owner of Ten63 and an architect. "At that point it's really a lump of bricks."
Mr. Antrim, along with his wife and co-owner, Talitha Whidbee, has begun a postcard campaign to get landmark status for the plant. "It is a critical part of the aesthetic character of the neighborhood and an important part of its history," said Paul Parkhill, co-director of the educational group Place in History.
Despite the hubbub over the apparent demise of the smokestacks, the developer of the project said on Friday that he had no such plans. "We have no intention to take down the smokestacks," said Cheskel Schwimmer, vice president of CGS Builders, a Brooklyn firm. "We want to try to preserve the smokestacks as much as possible."
The intention behind applying for the permit, he said, was to get permission to remove small pieces of the smokestacks and incorporate them into the design.
To that end, Mr. Schwimmer and the architect he hired, Karl Fischer, have produced a rendering that includes a cube of glass resting on top of the existing building and attached to the smokestacks, which would actually become part of the new building and be equipped with windows. "We will both reinforce the smokestacks and create good living space within the building," Mr. Schwimmer said.
For the time being, he and Mr. Fischer, who was the architect for the renovated Gretsch Building in Williamsburg, are working with the city's departments of buildings and city planning to get the cube design approved. In the meantime, it seems that the smokestacks, beacons of Queens past, will continue to point their brown spires into the sky.