The New Waterfront: Gantry Plaza State Park, Long Island City

Gantry Plaza State Park in Hunter's Point of Long Island City, Queens features stunning views of midtown Manhattan across the way, but the award-winning designs of the park merit their own close-ups. Built in stages to transform an industrial landscape into a pleasing public space, the park does not erase the past. In ways that are reverential as opposed to cute and quotable, the gantries in the southern part and the grounds of the old Pepsi bottling plant in the north are not just acknowledged, they are celebrated.

The gantries of Gantry Plaza State Park

The 1998 design by landscape architecture firm of Thomas Balsley Associates accentuated Manhattan skyline views through the windows of the old railroad car float cranes (the gantries), a futuristic fishing pier, a great lawn, and stepping stone paths to the water. The lines of the paths and park ripple along in soft waves, mirroring the movement of the East River and the varying terrain of the riverfront. On the fishing pier, fishermen rest their poles in elegant notches on the railings and scrape their catch on a cleaning table worthy of a five-star New York restaurant kitchen. Their views have no peer. The 2009 additions to the park by Abel Bainnson Butz brought the park more spacious green spaces in addition to lots of lounge chairs. Future additions to the esplanade, currently under construction, include very High Line-ish features, meaning tufts of native grasses peaking up from rusty rail lines.

View from Fishing Pier 4

Through the gantry - the Chrysler Building and the United Nations Secretariat Building

We could talk about those glassy new residential towers that surround the park, but while in the park, focused attention tends to drift toward the gantries (fascinating, complicated machinery of the by-gone working waterfront), the landscaping, the river, and the Manhattan skyline rather than on the high-rises. The residents here must have nice views. If anything, the towers are most noticeable when checking out the 1936 Pepsi-Cola sign, a rather extraordinary monument of commercial signage. Both the sign and the residential high-rises are easily spotted from across the river in the streets near the United Nations and from Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. This stroll fills the need of those curious to see these sights in closer proximity.

View of the United Nations. The small island in the middle of the river is U Thant Island, named after the former Secretary General of the UN.

Gantry Plaza State Park, looking north, with the Pepsi-Cola sign.
The Queensboro Bridge (59th Street Bridge) is in the distance.

The Pepsi-Cola sign was formerly on the top of the bottling plant and was moved to this location after the building was demolished.

The NY Waterway's East River Ferry stops near Gantry Plaza State Park at the Hunters Point South/Long Island City stop. For reasons illustrated here, you way want to get off the ferry and explore the new New York waterfront in Long Island City.

A stroll in Gantry Plaza State Park

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Sunday, May 26, 2013. See also the previous post on Brooklyn Bridge Park. The two stops make a good compare-and-contrast look at the contemporary New York waterfront.

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