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Gantry Plaza State Park, a Place that Matters

Directly across the East River from the United Nations, Gantry Plaza State Park has stunning views of Manhattan, but it was nominated to the Census of Places that Matter for its main attraction: restored gantry cranes. Now dramatic industrial sculptures, these gantries were the nexus for providing goods and supplies to Long Island via the Long Island Rail Road tracks that used to run to the water’s edge. Built in the 1920s, the gantries hoisted rail cars from floats and barges onto land and vice versa, opening up the Long Island waterfront for industrial activity and inland for residential communities.

But the gantries are just one feature that pays homage to the Long Island City waterfront’s industrial past, which is quickly giving way to residential buildings. The Long Island City waterfront was originally a site for tanneries and other factories, including the Pepsico bottling plant in Hunters Point. The iconic ruby-red Pepsi Cola sign was dismantled late in 2008 to be re-situated further north in the newest section of Gantry Plaza State Park, which just opened July 1, 2009.

While restoring these industrial artifacts, Gantry Plaza State Park goes beyond reminding visitors about the waterfront’s past by bringing them to the water itself. The gantries are surrounded by four refurbished piers, where people can stroll to the water’s edge, fish, and take in unparalleled views of Midtown Manhattan. The gantries themselves act as picture frames for the stages beneath them where concerts and performances are regularly held. The waterfront promenade is equally inviting with quirky features like hammocks and wooden deck chairs. The park has already become a popular destination for recreation (the park includes playgrounds, basketball and handball courts) and watching the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks – until they moved over to the Hudson River, that is.

Gantry Plaza State Park is an excellent example of creating active open space on New York City’s waterfronts, while respecting and educating people about the area’s industrial history.