Along the course of East River, there are numerous indentations in its coastline that indicate former and existing streams that flowed into it. This week’s selected photo is a Fairchild Aerial survey of Long Island City, found in the NYPL Digital Collections.
It looks familiar but the tip of Long Island City is very industrial and low-rise, predating the condo towers by nearly 90 years. Near the edge of the industrial district was a 500-foot inlet puncturing the shore for nearly one city block. This is the story of Anable Basin.
How it began
In contrast to Newtown Creek or Bushwick Inlet, Anable Basin is entirely the work of man, carved into the shoreline in 1868 by developer Henry Sheldon Anable, a prominent figure in local business and politics. Anable’s ancestors were among the early Puritan settlers of Massachusetts, arriving in 1623. At the time of its creation, a mastodon bone was found on the site of the basin.
As the above 1852 Drips Map of Queens and Brooklyn shows, there was no Anable Basin at the time of the map’s publication. Hunter’s Point was also known by its Dutch colonial name Dominie’s Hook, a moniker that survives on a pub on Vernon Boulevard. Long Island City would not form until 1875, when Dutch Kills, Ravenswood and Astoria united to form the municipality. Anable sat on the committee that incorporated this city, which in 1898 merged into New York City.
In its first century, Anable Basin’s shore was home to oil refineries and factories. Most of them belonged to Standard Oil, the monopoly of the Rockefeller family. To its immediate south was a freight transport yard, where barges carrying boxcars docked. The boxcars were coupled with waiting locomotives and taken east to destinations on Long Island. On many maps from this period, there was an alternative name for the inlet, Eleventh Street Basin, in respect to Long Island City’s early street grid. After its consolidation into Greater New York in 1898, a larger grid was adopted for the borough and Eleventh Street became 45th Road.
For much of the 20th century, the major industrial property on the basin was Pepsi-Cola, which had its bottling plant at the point where Anable Basin meets the East River. In 1937 the prolific advertising firm Artkraft-Strauss Sign Corporation installed the cursive ruby-colored neon-on-metal Pepsi-Cola sign atop the bottling plant and it became an instant point of reference for Manhattan residents and passing ships.
When the bottling plant was demolished in 1999, the iconic 120-foot-long sign was dismantled and reassembled at a nearby site by Rockrose Development Corporation. The sign is a city landmark and part of Gantry Plaza State Park, which lines the shore of East River between Anable Basin and Hunters Point. Part of this state park is the promenade along Anable Basin between the East River and Fifth Street.
A Ferry on Anable Basin
The largest developer along Anable Basin today is Plaxall, which owns a collection of industrial and commercial properties in the neighborhood. Along with its real estate portfolio, Plaxall still manufactures plastics from its factory on 46th Avenue. As the neighborhood changes from industrial to residential, the condo dwellers need places to play.
In 2012, Plaxall purchased the Prudence Ferry, a decommissioned Bristol, Rhode Island ferry for $70,000 and parked it at Anable Basin. The intention was to operate it as a floating beer garden, but to date that hasn’t yet happened. That year, the nonprofit Coalition for Queens proposed to transform the 127,000 square foot Plaxall packaging warehouse on the basin’s shore into a tech incubator for start-up firms. That also has yet to happen.
Art at Anable Basin
Anable Basin’s moment in artistic representation arrived in 2012 with Chico MacMurtrie sculpture A Tree for Anable Basin which was introduced in October 2007. The 24-foot-high aluminum tree was set atop a floating island planted with native grass species. MacMurtrie is the founder of the Brooklyn-based workshop Amorphic Robot Works.
In sustainable agriculture, Anable Basin made news in August 2012, When Cooper Union architecture student Karim Ahmed designed a hydroponic garden atop a 20-foot raft. Waterpod, as the project was called, grew sunflowers, kale, corn, and a baby nectarine tree. The project was inspired by the chinampa floating farms used in Aztec society. Ahmed’s raft was moored at the northwest corner of the basin where Anable Basin Sailing Bar & Grill is located.
The basin is the launch site for public canoe tours organized by the LIC Community Boathouse. Below is a photo from the group’s Facebook page. Prudence Ferry and the Four Freedoms Park at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. Behind them is Midtown Manhattan.
As Long Island City’s skyline grows, the status of Anable Basin is also on the rise. Properties along the basin are capitalizing on views of Manhattan and cleaner water to attract customers.
In the summer of 2015, I gave tours of Anable Basin for Local Finds Tours, operated by my friend Richard Mumith. A walking food tour, its nearby stops include Rockaway Brewing Company and Sweetleaf Coffee. It’s one way to explore this neighborhood and know its history while enjoying foods created by Queens residents operating small businesses.
In the news: Italian architect Piero Lissoni won the ideas competition sponsored by by Arch Out Loud, envisioning an aquarium and outdoor pool for Anable Basin. I doubt that Lissoni’s aquarium will ever be built, but the competition is like a concept car or a fashion show, created to fuel the imagination on the creative reuse of an urban waterfront.
To see the finalists’ redesigns and all 178 entries for Anable Basin, click here.