August 1935 Sees Passing Of Hell Gate Bridge Designer
Get into a conversation with a long-time Queens resident and you're likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star-Journal , a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper's name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal--The Flushing Journal (1841).
On August 1, the Star reported that Gustav Lindenthal, the designer of the Hell Gate Bridge, had died at the age of 85 the previous evening at his home, the Lindens, in Metuchen, New Jersey. Lindenthal was born in Austria and came to the United States in 1874. In 1904, Lindenthal, who oversaw the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge and the construction of the ongoing Manhattan Bridge and Queensboro Bridge projects, was chosen as consulting engineer and bridge architect by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which had just acquired the New York Connecting Railroad. The Connecting Railroad was only 10 miles long when he set about to extend it over the East River to link up to New England. Bridging the Hell Gate was a problem that presented obstacles unprecedented in the history of engineering. The curved approach made impossible either a suspension or a cantilever bridge. Lindenthal therefore made it a braced steel arch with a span of 1,017 feet between the towers. When it opened in 1916, the Hell Gate Bridge was the longest steel-arch bridge in the world. It would hold that title until the Bayonne Bridge opened in 1931. The bridge, today has the 17th longest main steel arch span in the world.
The city purchased the 50-acre Juniper Valley (Middle Village) estate of murdered gambler Arnold Rothstein and began peat-mining operations in a bog there. The city estimated that the bog contained 300,000 cubic yards of peat, worth about $315,000. Juniper Valley peat was said to be superior to English or other American varieties. It assayed 90 percent organic matter, whereas its competitors assayed 40 percent. Excavations were carried out using draglines with buckets. Trenches 30 feet wide would be excavated and then filled in with ashes. Old timers remembered when huge juniper trees were clustered thickly over the area. The bog was estimated to be about 100,000 years old, and was thought to possibly contain some prehistoric bones and other relics.
On August 5, a spectacular fire threatened the huge Pratt works of Socony-Vacuum Oil Company on Newtown Creek in Blissville. It was fortunately contained to four huge tanks containing almost 400,000 gallons of crude oil. Although the blaze was under control in less than an hour, it painted the sky a lurid red and threw off a terrific heat. An alarm was sounded at 1 o’clock in the morning and soon grew to three-alarms. Fire companies from Hunters Point and Blissville were summoned, and the fire fighting staff at the works chipped in with chemical extinguishers. In total, 12 engine companies, seven hook and ladder companies and two fireboats battled the fire after the third alarm was sounded.
Also, at around 11:30 p.m. on the 5th, a four-alarm fire destroyed the paint manufacturing plant of F. E. Schundler on Vernon Boulevard between 45th Avenue and 46th Road. Damage was estimated at $100,000. The crews of 13 engine companies and five hook and ladder companies fought for more than two hours to flood the blazing interior of the Schundler building, while preventing other buildings from being set afire by sparks driven by a brisk wind from the East River, a block away. Shooting high in the air, the flames were visible for blocks and soon attracted hundreds of automobiles on the streets near the fire. Thousands in Manhattan viewed the fire from the East River waterfront.
The Parks Department’s portable farmhouse and barnyard paid its first visit to Queens. The four-room farmhouse, white and brown, came rolling into Anawanda Park in Ridgewood, and was quickly surrounded by a wire fence, hedging in a fair-sized barnyard. Then the animals were released down a runway, while children (about 300 of them) three-deep pressed against the fence. Some of the children gaped in amazement for, although they knew beef, pork and Thanksgiving turkey, they had never seen a live cow, pig or turkey.
WPA strikers were unsuccessful in attempting to hamper 28 Queens projects. One of the major projects, the paving and grading of Roosevelt Avenue in the Flushing business section, was proceeding despite strenuous efforts on the part of WPA strike leaders to tie up the project. The strikers were protesting the WPA “security” wage, which in New York was $93.50 per month or 78 cents an hour. The A.F.L. executive council recommended to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that construction work assigned to the WPA be moved to the Public Works Administration, which paid a wage of $1.50 per hour.
Former Queens resident Will Rogers and his pilot Wiley Post were killed in a plane crash near Point Barrow in Alaska. Rogers, well-known cowboy humorist, philosopher, court jester and serious advisor to United States presidents, was a former resident of both Forest Hills and Kew Gardens. He first came to Queens in 1918, when he leased a house in Forest Hills for a year. While living there he aided a local charity by putting on a cowboy show that was a tremendous neighborhood success. He later rented another house in Kew Gardens. Tragically, his car once accidentally struck and killed a grocery clerk on Northern Boulevard in Flushing. Although the incident was an accident, Rogers investigated and found that the clerk was struggling to support a family of 12 children. He became a continuing contributor of clothing and money to the family.
Playing at the movies were: “Doubting Thomas,” starring Will Rogers; “Shanghai,” starring Loretta Young and Charles Boyer; “Front Page Woman,” starring Bette Davis; and “Escapade,” starring William Powell.
That’s the way it was in August 1935!
For more information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-728-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.