Underexposed | 7

Wythe Avenue manufactured gas plant site, Brooklyn, 2017. Photo courtesy of Stanley Greenberg

Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) sites once abounded in New York City, supplying locally-produced gas for the city’s street lighting systems, then expanding to meet fuel demand for heating, lighting, and cooking. But, as World War II approached, longer interstate pipelines were constructed, and the last active MGP site in New York State closed in 1972. Between 1903 and 1965, the parcel between Wythe and Berry and North 12th and North 13th Streets in Williamsburg was a gas storage station operated by Brooklyn Union Gas Company (now National Grid). In 2007, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) identified the site for remediation, and National Grid, as the utility associated with the former plant, was required under state law to investigate any residual wastes in the parcel’s groundwater, soils, and sediments, and to take responsibility for its cleanup.

In the midst of National Grid’s site investigations, the developers Wythe Berry LLC became interested in building a new hotel on the western end of the site. Breaking ground in 2015, they removed 18,000 tons of contaminated soil and approximately 90,000 gallons of contaminated water alongside the utility’s remediation efforts. In July 2016, the William Vale Hotel was complete, and, save for an old gas pressure regulator, sprouting from the sidewalk in front of a line of parked cars, the only evidence of the site’s legacy seems to lie deep below the surface.

Stanley Greenberg is the author of Time Machines (2011), Under Construction (2010),  Waterworks: A Photographic Journey Through New York’s Hidden Water System (2003), and Invisible New York: The Hidden Infrastructure of the City (1998). Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, and lives there now.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.



Photographer Stanley Greenberg’s monthly dispatches trace the myriad paths of the city’s infrastructural networks in great breadth and close detail.