AUSTELL PLACE, Long Island City

by Kevin Walsh

AUSTELL PLACE is one of a cluster of short streets in Long Island City south of Sunnyside Yards and west of the Dutch Kills turning basin. I have always had a curiosity of these streets, which after manufacturing and shipping largely moved out of the area sat quiet as back offices, warehousing took over, and buildings were left to slowly become slipshod.

For me, one of the chief attractions of Austell Place comes from its position directly across Sunnyside Yards from the 1989 Citibank Tower, now home to Altice USA, which has slapped its logo on the building’s crown. Thus far, the view hasn’t been populated by additional glass towers, but odds are that it will.

There are stirrings of life on Austell Place and the still largely industrial side streets here, as a residential-office development called Austell Place, same name as the street, has occupied what is formerly a printing plant built in 1916. The basic foot print was left alone, but two stories and new elevators were added.

I frequently take pictures on Austell Place from the roadbed and I can say that this is one of the most difficult Belgian blocked streets to walk on I’ve experienced. Be careful you don’t twist an ankle. Thus far the Department of Transportation has let them alone, but in DUMBO there has been a Belgian block and rail removal project going on, and if this area develops as DUMBO had, I don’t doubt there will be some changes made.

The Austell Place Belgian blocks are unique. If you look carefully you will see they are multicolored, some lighter, some darker. Most remaining Belgian blocks around town are uni-hued.

You can also add to the DUMBO similarities with these railroad tracks. They’re legit railroad, not trolley tracks.

They are a remnant of an extensive railroad network through this industrial area. Trains would connect from these tracks via a routing from the Sunyside Yard over the Montauk Cutoff overpass over Skillman Avenue just north of 49th Avenue, and would run on a trunk line along Skillman and 47th Avenues with spurs along many of the side streets.

This small freight line served warehouses of NYC’s great department stores such as Gimbels, Kleins, and Macys; some of their names can still be seen on buildings. Sunshine Bakeries, American Chicle gum and Swingline, with its famous neon sign were here as well. Swingline decamped to Mexico in the mid 1990s.

This was originally a private railroad operated by the Degnon Realty & Terminal Improvement Company.  The LIRR absorbed it in 1928, and while all official rail activities ceased here in 1985, it’s still possible to run trains on some of the trackage; the connection at the Montauk Cutoff has been preserved. The Cutoff, which runs on an elevated track out of the Yards, has been discussed as a shorter version of the High Line for Queens.

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10/23/21

3 comments

Punto October 23, 2021 - 1:36 pm

Kevin,

Funny to see this posting. I passed Austell a number of times on my way to Smiling Hogshead Ranch a block away on Skillman during the decade that I worked on Thomson, across from LaGuardia CC. Each time, I noted the undisturbed expanse of Belgian paving blocks and the visible remnants of railroad tracks and thought of your strong interest in both. At the time, the sign at Skillman and Austell was so totally sun-bleached that I had to do some research to figure out exactly what was on it. Presumably it was a newer, more contemporary, one that you saw. I have followed the rails as they ran through the center of Smiling Hogshead and they appear to join the Montauk Cutoff a bit down the line a bit beyond where it seems advisable, safety-wise and legal-wise, to walk. I was a member of another community garden on 47th Ave. between 29th and 30th streets, in close proximity to a branch of Mitch Waxman’s beloved Newtown Creek. Though you can no longer see any evidence of railbed, that garden is also technically still railroad property.

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christopher thomas brady October 23, 2021 - 2:07 pm

I had no idea Belgium was a principal maker of blocks.Guns and waffles I could

I have heard that Belgium was a big manufacturer of guns and waffles but
I never imagined that they also made blocks

Reply
Peter October 23, 2021 - 7:46 pm

Regarding the decline of industry, consider this: NYC has about 100 million square feet of industrial space. While that may seem like a lot, it’s about the same as far smaller Indianapolis.
And Chicago has 1.1 *billion* square feet.

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