2005-10-05 / Star Journal

Union Agent Reveals 1908 Threat To Queensboro Bridge

The Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company is now occupied by IDCNY and LaGuardia College.

Photo GASHS The Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company is now occupied by IDCNY and LaGuardia College. 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).

Welcome to October 1913!

Gazette Photo
Aerial view of the Queensboro Bridge.
Gazette Photo Aerial view of the Queensboro Bridge. George E. Davis, an agent of the International Bridge and Structural Iron Workers’ Association, confessed that early in the year 1908 he had planned to blow up the Queensboro Bridge, which was then under construction, for $2,500. He rented rooms near the bridge in order to be near the scene and look the ground over. He visited the bridge with Frank C. Webb, a member of the union’s executive board. “How much dynamite will it take to do the job?” Webb was alleged to have asked. “About 200 pounds,” was the reply. Fortunately, Davis finally refused to do the job. While he had dynamited 11 non-union bridges on orders from the union executive committee, he had never done a job that entailed loss of life, and he feared that the Queensboro job might kill several construction workers. He was denounced by union officials as “chicken hearted.”

Photo nycgovparks.org
Newly revamped track at Astoria Park.
Photo nycgovparks.org Newly revamped track at Astoria Park. On October 13, thousands of Queens residents were treated to an airplane race. Many, thinking they would have to be near the East River to get an unobstructed view, braved cool breezes there, but as a matter of fact any open place for five miles around offered views of the machines, which flew at altitudes ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 feet. The race began at Oakwood Heights on Staten Island, continued over Brooklyn and Long Island City, with a return leg down the Hudson River. Five planes participated. Observers on the ground could not read the numbers on the planes, so nobody could tell who was leading. But there was a winner: W. S. Luckey, who was going at the astounding speed of a mile a minute over Queens and over 100 miles an hour over the Hudson.

Queens Park Commissioner Eliot suggested changing the name of East River Heights Park, which had recently been acquired by the city, to “Gaynor Park,” in honor of late New York City Mayor William J. Gaynor. However, Astorians thought the park should be named “Astoria Park,” to reflect its location. One resident commented: “Astoria should be kept on the map. It has been a sort of out-of-the-way place for so many years that it deserves to be known as a place where there is a real park. Name the park after Astoria and the civic pride of the community will be stimulated to the end that the park will be more adequately protected from vandalism. This is going to become a park of which not only Astoria but the whole borough can be proud.” The 56-acre park was a naturally beautiful place that would lend itself readily to landscaping effects at a minimum of cost. The Star pointed out that only the Board of Aldermen, not the Park Commissioner, could change the park’s name. In the event of a hearing before the Board, Astoria was prepared to send a large delegation, which would demand that either the name remain the same or be changed to “Astoria Park.” They felt that Mayor Gaynor should be honored, but in some other way. As we know, Astoria finally prevailed on this issue.

In an address before the Flushing Association, Dr. S. Dana Hubbard of the Board of Health reported that the board had destroyed 16,918 dogs in Queens in 1912. He further stated that there were between 500,000 and 800,000 dogs in New York, 40 percent of which were ownerless, and that they bit 3,363 people during 1912, seven of whom died. Five people of the department passed opinion on each bite reported, and there were 28,000 bites in 1913. Dr. Frank S. Fielder, who was in charge of the laboratory of the Department of Health, spoke also and warned of the danger of rabies and described the Pasteur treatment. He pointed out that there had been 1,768 cases nationwide in 1908, and most were in eastern states, principally New Jersey and New York.

Under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce, an industrial inspection of the borough was undertaken. Attending were representatives of railroad, banking, manufacturing, and real estate interests. The motor trip covered 50 miles from Astoria to Flushing. But most of the interest was within half a mile of Bridge Plaza where, within the last year, there had been the largest industrial development in the city. Among the newcomers was Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, whose building was the largest plant under one roof in the city, cost $2,000,000, and employed 2,500. A new building of New York Consolidated Card Company would cost $300,000 and employ 1,000. Other investors in buildings were General Vehicle Company ($5,000,000), Ford Automobile Company ($1,000,000), Pierce-Arrow Company ($400,000), Goodyear Rubber Tire Company ($400,000) and Neptune Meter Works ($100,000). These factories would employ a total of over 10,000. Members of the party observed: “Plans are filed for at least one new factory building a week. Queens is destined to be the largest manufacturing center of the United States.”

The enormous growth was led by the automobile industry. The completion of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909 allowed auto manufacturers to build factories and warehouses in Queens and transport vehicles across the bridge to their showrooms on Broadway in Manhattan. This could be done at significantly lower initial and annual costs than in the heart of the city, and yet allow the manufacturers to distribute cars over the whole eastern territory and export them to other countries.

On October 25, Joseph Witzel, known throughout the entire city as the proprietor of Point View Island, College Point, died at the age of 79 in the café he opened at the corner of Second Avenue and Tenth Street in College Point in 1872. In 1891, after 20 years of success, he opened the Point View Island Resort on the East River between College Point and Whitestone. The place was ideally located as a summer grove for outings, and it soon became famous. Some of the largest organizations in the city held outings there. The grounds were large enough that there had been as many as four organizations simultaneously holding outings.

That’s the way it was in October 1913!

For more information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-728-0700 or visit www.astoria lic.org.

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