2017-03-29 / Front Page

Hell Gate Centennial

BY DAVID MICHEL


During the Hike to Hell Gate, a guided historical photo-walk commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Hell Gate Bridge, sponsored by the Greater Astoria Historical Society (GAHS), in collaboration with Queenscapes, Richard Melnick of the GAHS explains the engineering feats involved in the Hell Gate's construction. 
Photo Walter Karling During the Hike to Hell Gate, a guided historical photo-walk commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Hell Gate Bridge, sponsored by the Greater Astoria Historical Society (GAHS), in collaboration with Queenscapes, Richard Melnick of the GAHS explains the engineering feats involved in the Hell Gate's construction. Photo Walter Karling Socrates Sculpture Park was the rallying point on March 25th for a group of some 75 people who braved cool weather for the Hike to Hell Gate, a guided historical photo-walk commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Hell Gate Bridge. The walk was sponsored by the Greater Astoria Historical Society, in collaboration with Queenscapes, a community-based organization that creates photography programs for schools and community organizations, and A Story of Astoria, an Instagram account (@astoryofastoria) devoted to the Astoria neighborhood.

Participants were of all ages, some with children in strollers and even a few pet dogs. The common denominator was the camera: the group included many amateur and professional photographers.


Participants in the Hike to Hell Gate 2017, including guide Richard Melnick, Adolfo Steve Vazquez, founder of Queenscapes, Greater Astoria Historical Society Board member DeeAnne Gorman, and Tony Meloni in Astoria Park with the bridge in the background. 
Photos David Michel Participants in the Hike to Hell Gate 2017, including guide Richard Melnick, Adolfo Steve Vazquez, founder of Queenscapes, Greater Astoria Historical Society Board member DeeAnne Gorman, and Tony Meloni in Astoria Park with the bridge in the background. Photos David Michel The event began at noon, with opening comments from Richard Melnick, the walk’s guide, Greater Astoria Historical Society board member and historian; Adolfo Steve Vazquez, freelance photojournalist and founder of Queenscapes; DeeAnne Gorman, member of the board of the Historical Society; and Audrey Dimola, poet and Director of Public Programs at Socrates Sculpture Park. Photographer Dave (“the Bridge Man”) Frieder was there to provide interesting technical commentary. The group also included Allan Renz, the grandson of Hell Gate Bridge designer Gustav Lindenthal.


A freight train approaches the Hell Gate Bridge over the viaducts on Randall’s Island. A freight train approaches the Hell Gate Bridge over the viaducts on Randall’s Island. The first stop was Hallet’s Cove, near the Astoria Houses Playground, to view and learn about the construction currently underway to prepare the pier at the Astoria landing of the Citywide Ferry System, scheduled to begin service here this summer.

The group then moved on for a stroll through Welling Court and the adjacent area, home to the Welling Court Mural Project and some of Astoria’s best street art. A short pause in the hike gave all participants plenty of time to study, admire and photograph the murals they found most photogenic.

Moving up 12th Street towards Astoria Park, Melnick took the group past more colorful murals, as well as the red sandstone First Reformed Church of Astoria, whose cornerstone was laid in 1888, and several beautiful older houses along the street descending towards Astoria Park.


A commemorative mural, by Japan’s Dragon 76, on the Astoria Park abutment of the Hell Gate Bridge. A commemorative mural, by Japan’s Dragon 76, on the Astoria Park abutment of the Hell Gate Bridge. Circling around to the back of the Shore Towers apartments, Melnick assembled the group on the plaza overlooking the East River. Framed by beautiful views of the RFK Bridge, and behind it, the Hell Gate, Melnick retraced the history of navigation on the upper East River, all the way back to the early colonial period, and described the dangers presented by this particular passage: treacherous currents and hidden shallow reefs. He spoke of the difficulty of removing those dangerous reefs and dredging the river to make navigation safer. Reef blasting with dynamite began in 1849, and continued intermittently through the 1880s, with the Army Corps of Engineers playing a major role. The biggest blast, which took out Flood Rock in 1885, shook the entire neighborhood, shot water up some 200 feet into the air, and is recognized as the biggest man-made explosion prior to the use of the atomic bomb.


"The Bridge Man" photographer Dave Frieder who has, with official permission, climbed to the top of the Hell Gate for camera views, also provided historical insight into the significance of the bridge 
Photos Walter Karling "The Bridge Man" photographer Dave Frieder who has, with official permission, climbed to the top of the Hell Gate for camera views, also provided historical insight into the significance of the bridge Photos Walter Karling A short walk took the group down Shore Boulevard and under the RFK Bridge, where Dave the Bridge Man, who has scaled and photographed all of New York City’s major bridges since 1993, provided technical details about the RFK/Triborough Bridge. Melnick reviewed the history of its construction, begun in 1929 but delayed by the Great Depression, through its entry in service in 1936, funded in great part by the New Deal’s Public Works Administration.

From there, the guides took the group into Astoria Park, with stops at the skate park in the shadow of the RFK Bridge, the upper tier of the viewing pavilions above the Astoria pool, and the Great Lawn. An Amtrak train made the crossing during the group’s short pause underneath the viaducts leading to the Hell Gate Bridge, allowing participants to experience the echoed roar of steel wheels meeting the rails.


Gustav Lindenthal, the Hell Gate's famed architect and engineer (c.), and his construction team in 1917. One hundred years later, the Hell Gate hikers, including guide Richard Melnick, Adolfo Steve Vazquez, founder of Queenscapes and Greater Astoria Historical Society Board member DeeAnne Gorman, in Astoria Park with the bridge in the background, duplicated the historical group photo. Gustav Lindenthal, the Hell Gate's famed architect and engineer (c.), and his construction team in 1917. One hundred years later, the Hell Gate hikers, including guide Richard Melnick, Adolfo Steve Vazquez, founder of Queenscapes and Greater Astoria Historical Society Board member DeeAnne Gorman, in Astoria Park with the bridge in the background, duplicated the historical group photo. Melnick led the group down to the East River and into Ralph Demarco Park, in the shadow of the great 100-yearold bridge, where he and Frieder delved into more information about the construction of Hell Gate, its technical specifications and current function as an Amtrak asset. Vazquez reminded the photographers in the group of the details of the photo contest associated with the hike, and passed out restaurant vouchers to the winners of a drawing for those hikers who had registered in advance.


At the hike's conclusion, (l. to r.); famed NYC bridge photographer Dave Frieder; tour guide and historian Richard Melnick of the Greater Astoria Historical Society; and Tony Meloni, who is planning a celebration of the Hell Gate Bridge’s 100th anniversary again in September, posed in front of the recently painted commemorative mural under the bridge. At the hike's conclusion, (l. to r.); famed NYC bridge photographer Dave Frieder; tour guide and historian Richard Melnick of the Greater Astoria Historical Society; and Tony Meloni, who is planning a celebration of the Hell Gate Bridge’s 100th anniversary again in September, posed in front of the recently painted commemorative mural under the bridge. The three-hour hike ended on Shore Boulevard under the Hell Gate Bridge, across from its abutment in Astoria Park. The group admired the colorful new murals recently painted by Dragon 76, Benny “FCEE” Guerra and Eli Lazare, with details provided by Antonio Meloni.

Some participants adjourned for a debriefing, sharing stories and a beer or two, at the Hell Gate Bar on Ditmars Boulevard, just above the park.

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