Waterside Generating Plant

In 1901, the largest generating plant of its day opened in New York City. Called the Waterside Generating Plant, it was one of the first at that time to implement cogeneration, using a generator plant to produce both heat and electricity. The Waterside Generating Plant operated in a nine-acre expanse along First Avenue and between 35th and 41st streets. In its heyday, it produced no less than 120,000 kilowatts for use by Manhattan. By the time it closed, it could produce much more than that: 163 megawatts of electricity and 2.4 million pounds of steam.

The Waterside Generating Plant was initially owned by Brooklyn Edison. However, Con Ed later became the owner and operator. The original concept of the Waterside Generating Plant was that it should work as a power supply to their DC distribution system in the same area. In 1938, Con Ed took over the Long Island City Station, and Waterside supplied power to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s AC system from that point until the 1950s, when the Long Island City Station went defunct. Though Waterside was built with three single-phase steam turbine generators, these were all replaced by two transformers in the 1970s due to safety concerns.

Like many turn-of-the-century generating plants, Waterside used asbestos as a safety precaution against fire. Asbestos could be found in insulating material inside the high-temperature walls and workings of many plants and buildings. The problem with asbestos was that once it was breathed in or ingested, health risks such as mesothelioma cancer arose. Workers also frequently took the fibers home with them on a daily basis, exposing their families to the same dangerous risks.

By the end of World War II, around the same time, the area where Waterside sat slowly began to transform into an upscale residential neighborhood. Nevertheless, the plant was named specifically in the 1988 lawsuit filed by the federal government against Con Ed as a site with asbestos violations. Con Ed later sold off most of its properties, and the Waterside Generating Plant was included. It was closed at last, and destroyed in 2006. The planned demolition cost $25 million and allowed for the development of more luxury residential high-rises.