East River Plaza / Washburn Wire Factory
520 E 117th St, New York, NY 10035
This site just off the FDR Drive between 116th and 118th Streets in East Harlem was the site of the Washburn Wire Factory. The complex was built in 1903 and included six buildings making wire products like springs, piano strings and fence wire. The company was founded by Ichabod Washburn (1798-1868) in Worcester, MA. Washburn was at one time the largest employer in Manhattan but the facility closed in 1976 and sat derelict and decaying for almost three decades ( Bell 2003).
For better or worse, the rotting hulk had little going for it but its age and it defied preservation or restoration efforts. By the time I got over here in early 2005, the facility was almost completely demolished for the creation of East River Plaza, a massive retail complex developed by Blumenfeld Development Group and Forest City Ratner. As befits a big-box center in this part of town poorly served by mass transit, the stores will be a driving destination and the parking garage seemed almost complete when I returned again in early 2008.
The surrounding area, amusingly named Pleasant Avenue, didn't seem particularly blighted, although it certainly was not an upscale neighborhood. The burned out hulk of an old walkup apartment building did catch my eye, but I don't know if there's any tale of landlord malfeasance involved. Marque Royale Motors (the painted wall sign on 116th Street in the 2005 photo) seems to have passed into history.
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