Tour Recap: Edison Price Lighting Factory

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“Our niche is people who want quality lighting that will last a long time,” explained Emma Price, the President of Edison Price Lighting, when asked about her company’s specialty. “You have to do high-quality [if you want to manufacture things] in New York City. You can’t just make cheap stuff, here.”

Established in 1952, Edison Price has over 60 years of experience designing and manufacturing high-quality energy-efficient lighting fixtures at their factory in Long Island City, Queens, in the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge. The company has completed many high-profile projects, including the refurbishment of the lighting fixtures for the United Nations, and lighting the new 9/11 Memorial Museum. Emma’s father was a friend and frequent collaborator of legendary Modernist lighting designer Richard Kelly, and the company worked with him to light the Yale Art Gallery, the Seagram Building, and other architectural landmarks.

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Nina Rappaport (left) and Emma Price (right) welcome tour participants to Edison Price Lighting’s Long Island City factory (Photo: OHNY)

In that time, the company has witnessed the city’s economic and technological landscape transform dramatically, and its physical surroundings are now following suit. On July 16th, Emma and her team hosted a factory tour, organized and presented by Vertical Urban Factory curator and project director Nina Rappaport, as part of Open House New York’s (OHNY) and New York City Economic Development Corporation’s (NYCEDC) Making it Here series.

In the 1900s, Long Island City was a vibrant manufacturing center, thanks to the area’s efficient transportation networks and large skilled labor pool. But as technology advanced and outsourced labor became more economically strategic for many manufacturing firms, the area’s industrial community took a huge blow. “After NAFTA, a many cities simply let the manufacturers go,” Nina noted in her introduction. “Many planners thought that manufacturing wasn’t something that was needed in cities anymore. As a result, we wound up with land zoned for manufacturing sitting empty, which was an impetus for rezoning to other uses.”

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Just outside, glittering new residential buildings are on the rise. (Photo: OHNY)

More recently, large sections of New York’s manufacturing districts have been rezoned for residential and commercial uses as the land values of waterfront property in the city have soared due to the increased interest in urban living. This is especially true of LIC, but despite mounting pressure to leave the area, Edison Price has chosen to stay right where they are. The area’s transit access, still important to attracting skilled workers, also makes it easy for architects and lighting designers—the company’s core clients—to get to the factory themselves.

By specializing in the production of high value added goods, companies like Edison Price provide essential services to the more glamorous, high-profile sectors of the city’s economy, architecture and design among them. The symbiotic relationship between design industries and manufacturers that specialize in creating unique products is one of the mainstays of urban economies. For Edison Price, that means working directly with the people who design the lighting for the buildings in which we live, work, and play. Both architect and manufacturer are able to fine-tune what they do in order to produce better results based on their collaborative work, and are thus better off for being near each other, Nina noted.

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The factory tour was led by factory manager George Closs (left). (Photo: OHNY)

After Emma’s and Nina’s introductions, factory manager George Closs led tour participants through the almost 50,000-square-foot facility to learn more about how custom lighting fixtures are made. On average, Edison Price manufactures $20 million in product per year. George emphasized that Edison Price is “made in New York City,” and that its products are American to the core. For the past 60 years, Edison Price has done all design, research, and production work within its LIC facility. Furthermore, every material and machine used to produce light fixtures at Edison price is made in the United States.

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Bins of metal shavings are collected and sold to metal recycling firms. (Photo: OHNY)

During the tour, the factory floor buzzed with the rhythmic sounds of dozens of machines drilling and making calculated cuts and punches. George pointed out an impressive group of machines that cut and shaped metal into light fixtures, and a laser-cutting machine larger than most New York City bedrooms. “We have zero inventory,” he told the group, explaining that the factory manufactures its products using just-in-time scheduling to send out orders as soon as they’re finished being made. This cuts back on the space that the company needs to occupy, allowing for the more efficient use of space.

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A large punch press makes precise, rapid cuts through metal sheeting. (Photo: OHNY)

Edison Price also stands out for a unique factory layout that allows the company to take advantage of the city’s aforementioned skilled labor pool. The company utilizes small teams of workers who are cross-trained to be able to work on fixtures at any step in the production process, rather than using the more common assembly line model, where workers specialize in a single monotonous step. Here, employees are valued for their adaptability and flexibility, rather than serving as cogs in a machine.

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At Edison Price, employees are valued for their adaptability and flexibility, rather than serving as cogs in a machine. (Photo: OHNY)

Afterward, Nina discussed her Vertical Urban Factory project, explaining that she is working directly with manufacturers like Edison Price to think through how they might be able to continue growing in place while also taking advantage of changing trends in urban real estate like those affecting Long Island City. “Could you have a situation where Edison Price is able to develop a residential project above its factory, have mixed uses in place, which is something rarely considered, and stay in its building in the long term?” Nina asked, before hinting that she’s working with the city’s planning department to think through potential future scenarios.

A visit to a facility like Edison Price Lighting’s is an eye-opening experience. It illustrates why creating adequate space for manufacturers is still so important to New York’s economy. Creative types benefit greatly from being able to work directly with the people who make their ideas work, and vice versa. In order for the city’s creative industries to thrive, both sides of the coin have to be considered.

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A visit to a factory like Edison Price’s illustrates why creating adequate space for manufacturers is still so important to New York’s economy. (Photo: OHNY)


OHNY and NYCEDC thank Nina and Edison Price Lighting for welcoming participants into the factory for this tour.

Announcing Phase 2 of Making it Here: Learning from New York’s Industrial Legacy

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Industrial map of New York City : showing manufacturing industries, concentration, distribution, character / prepared by the Industrial Bureau of the Merchants' Association of New York. Via NYPL: http://maps.nypl.org/warper/maps/14895 

The explosive growth of manufacturing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries left an indelible mark on the five boroughs. While New York is now known for its dominance in fields like finance, media, and design, it grew up as a city of industrial districts. Back when the manufacturing sector was one of the primary forces driving the city’s economy, residential and commercial development often followed the factories. This was a time when neighborhoods were known as much for what they produced as for who lived there.

As shown in the infographic above [NYPL], which is exhibited in Vertical Urban Factory, the city’s core circa 1919 was a melange of crosshatched manufacturing clusters. Not only did many of these clusters overlap with each other, they mixed right in with the city’s residential and commercial sectors. In 1919, New York City was home to 32,590 factories in neighborhoods across the city, employing a total of 825,056 people. But while this meant that many New Yorkers were able to walk to work, the soot, smells, and clamorous sounds of the factory also followed them home. The city’s earliest zoning regulation, in part, was intended to create more distance between noxious industrial sites and the places where people lived. “Until the early twentieth century most urban areas had unrestricted uses,” explains Vertical Urban Factory‘s Nina Rappaport. “The first zoning regulations in New York were put in place in 1916 to separate noxious uses from residential areas, to provide for healthier living. This gradually placed noxious uses in low income areas, or the industrial areas that developed became sequestered. This separated industry and workers from the everyday, removing diversity from city life.”

Much of the industry that once defined neighborhoods across the city is gone. Today, more than 75,000 people are employed in the manufacturing sector in New York, less than 10% of the number from 1919; relative to population, 14.6% of New Yorkers had manufacturing jobs in 1919, while that number is now just 0.8%. Not long after World War II, the creation of the Interstate highway system, the rise of container shipping, and suburbanization all worked in tandem to decentralize industrial production across the country. Many manufacturers—in New York and nationwide—decamped from urban centers for cheaper quarters on the edge of town.

More recently, the value of the land under New York’s old industrial districts has gone through the roof as those areas have been re-zoned to make way for residential and commercial re-development. One could be forgiven for thinking that this was a simple case of supply and demand: industrial businesses left the city, and the city, in turn, re-zoned its land to respond to changing needs. The truth is a bit more complicated. While some firms were happy to leave, the story on the ground within the five boroughs in 2014 is not one of manufacturers searching for exit strategies.

In fact, the opposite is true. Today, revitalized factory complexes like those explored during the first phase of Making it Here, which have been retrofitted to provide small and mid-sized spaces needed by contemporary manufacturers catering to specialized niche markets, are typically at or near 100% leased. For a variety of reasons—including, increasingly, quality of life—these manufacturing businesses want to stay in New York. The trouble is, neighborhoods that once welcomed them have changed so dramatically that the demand for usable manufacturing space is acute. Far from fleeing the city, many companies are actually being pushed out.

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The second phase of Open House New York and New York City Economic Development Corporation‘s Making it Here series will take New Yorkers into the streets of historically industrial districts with expert guides to better understand how these areas are changing, and how the city could incorporate manufacturing spaces back into mixed-use neighborhoods. This phase will also give New Yorkers a chance to walk the factory floors of legacy manufacturing companies to learn about how businesses have adapted over time in order to remain in New York—and why they chose to stay in the first place.

Why has space for manufacturing businesses disappeared so quickly that demand now exceeds supply? And what can we learn about the nature of that demand from the legacy manufacturers who have overcome so many challenges in their effort to stay put? This summer, Making it Here will visit the following sites in search of answers to these questions:

Edison Price Lighting Factory Tour
Long Island City, Queens

Wednesday, July 16 / 2:15 PM
Edison Price Lighting has designed and manufactured innovative, energy-efficient architectural lighting fixtures since 1952. Join Vertical Urban Factory curator and project director Nina Rappaport for a tour of the Edison Price factory to learn about how the company adapted its business model over time, working directly with architects and designers and specializing in highly customized lighting fixtures. Click here to purchase tickets for this tour.

National Elevator Cab & Door Factory Tour
Woodside, Queens
Friday, August 1 / 9:00 AM & 11:00 AM
In an old art deco factory building off the R-train in Queens, National Elevator Cab & Door Corp builds the elevator cabs that carry millions of New Yorkers every day. Learn about how the city’s uniquely robust demand for vertical transportation has allowed this family-owned and operated manufacturing business to grow in place during its more than eighty-year history.

Red Hook Neighborhood Tour
Red Hook, Brooklyn

Friday, August 8 / 3:00 PM
Walk the streets of Red Hook with urban manufacturing experts from the Pratt Center for Community Development and the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation to explore a unique mix of historic spaces and innovative businesses.  This tour will focus on land use issues in an industrial neighborhood and the relationships between design and production.

Port Morris Neighborhood Tour
Port Morris, Bronx

Friday, August 15 / 12:00 PM
In response to increasing real estate speculation in industrial districts amidst the re-zonings of the mid-2000s, the Bloomberg Administration created sixteen Industrial Business Zones (IBZs) in the four outer boroughs that are preserved for industrial uses. Join Stephane Hyacinthe of SoBRO, the organization that manages all five Bronx IBZs, for a tour of three factories in the historic Port Morris area to learn more about how space for manufacturers is being safeguarded in the South Bronx.

Martin Greenfield Clothiers Factory Tour
East Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Monday, August 18 / 10:00 AM
Martin Greenfield, a Brooklyn manufacturer of hand tailored men’s clothing, founded Martin Greenfield Clothiers in 1977 when he bought the factory from his former employer, GGG Clothes, which had occupied the site since 1917. Tour the factory floor with Vice President Tod Greenfield to learn about how this family-owned and operated business has survived in New York by focusing on high-quality production, and how the company has worked with other local manufacturers to help protect industrial space in the neighborhood over the past several decades, despite mounting redevelopment pressures.

Long Island City Neighborhood Tour
Long Island City, Queens

Late Summer / Date & Time TBD
Vertical Urban Factory’s Nina Rappaport leads a walking tour of Long Island City that looks at the area’s history as an industrial powerhouse, and its evolution into a high-density, mixed-use neighborhood today. Explore a series of artisanal manufacturing spaces to see how the area’s status as a hub for the arts and design community has allowed certain types of manufacturing to thrive here despite the massive changes experienced over the past few decades.

Please visit the Schedule page for more information about registering for individual tours.

 

Tour Recap: Standard Motors Products Building

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When the 300,000-square-foot Standard Motors Products Building was completed in 1919, it was at the heart of one of the most important manufacturing hubs in the world. Situated on an ideal site with direct access to the sprawling Sunnyside Railroad Yard, the building was and remains a dominant presence on the Long Island City skyline, serving as a reminder of the area’s past role as an industrial powerhouse. But today, while Standard Motors leases space here for its corporate offices, the manufacturing of automotive parts has been moved off-site.

That’s not to say that manufacturing has left the building entirely. In fact, the opposite is true: since purchasing the building from Standard Motors in 2008, Acumen Capital Partners LLC has renovated the structure and worked to integrate a mix of light manufacturing spaces into a multi-use hive of activity, a virtual city-within-a-city. On Friday, May 16th, Open House New York toured the building with Vertical Urban Factory curator and project director Nina Rappaport, who explained how the factory’s adaptation over time reflects the larger trends that have been re-shaping urban manufacturing for the past few decades.

The tour, which kicked off OHNY’s and the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s Making it Here series on manufacturing in New York, started in the building’s lobby, an attractive space designed by Bromley Caldari Architects in 2010 that features rotating exhibits. Nina began by outlining some of the themes of her Vertical Urban Factory project, through which she has spent the past few years researching the history of urban factory architecture as well as exploring how the evolution of manufacturing into “smaller, cleaner, and greener” processes has impacted cities. Rather than being thought of as dirty and undesirable, Nina believes that factories can and should be places that enhance the communities in which they are located. “Cities,” argued Nina, “still need labor. So it’s important that we consider how we can make factories places of pride for workers.”

Brooklyn Grange’s flagship farm, which contains 1.2 million pounds of earth that were lifted into place by crane, occupies the building’s roof. (Photo: OHNY)

Brooklyn Grange’s flagship farm, which contains 1.2 million pounds of earth that were lifted into place by crane, occupies the building’s roof. (Photo: OHNY)

Brooklyn Grange, the first stop on the tour, offered a striking example of one way that Acumen has attempted to do just that. The Grange’s first industrial-scale farm opened on the roof of the Standard Motors Products Building in 2010. It took a week to lift more than 1.2 million pounds of earth up by crane, creating what is now one of the largest rooftop soil farms in the world (along with the Grange’s second farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which opened in 2012). Today, this one-acre (43,000-square-foot) farm not only produces fresh fruits and vegetables, it hosts seasonal community farmers markets, and provides educational programming to more than 7,000 kids from local schools every year through a partnership with City Growers.

The Grange takes advantage of the Standard Motors Products Building’s solid industrial architecture, which includes a concrete structural frame with “mushroom columns” that can support heavier loads—and the farm returns the favor. “The farm acts like a blanket on the roof,” explained farm manager Brad Flemming, who led the Grange portion of the tour. “It’s lowered energy costs throughout the building.”

Farm manager Brad Flemming introduces participants to the chickens that live in the Grange’s rooftop coop. (Photo: Nina Rappaport)

Farm manager Brad Flemming introduces participants to the chickens that live in the Grange’s rooftop coop. (Photo: Nina Rappaport)

Back inside, Nina led the group down to Standard Motors’ headquarters, which features a small exhibit on the company’s 95-year history that includes dozens of parts and components that were once manufactured on site. In fact, the company’s manufacturing operations—95% of which once took place in the LIC building, employing more than 2,000 people at its peak—only just left the site in 2008.

Nina leads the group through the gallery that displays almost a century’s worth of Standard Motors products, once manufactured on-site. (Photo: OHNY)

Nina leads the group through the gallery that displays almost a century’s worth of Standard Motors products, once manufactured on-site. (Photo: OHNY)

The vacancy left by Standard Motors’ relocation was quickly occupied by a variety of niche manufacturers, including Gailer, a print finishing company that specializes in foil stamping, embossing, die cutting, and laminating. Gailer occupies several thousand square feet on the third floor of the building, where they employ 45 people. In touring the space, Mike Pinciotto provided demonstrations of how various pieces of heavy machinery are used to create a wide range of high-quality printed products, from customized invitations to booklets to media kits.

Gailer’s Mike Pinciotto (second from left) explains how the various pieces of heavy machinery in the facility were lifted in through the windows, by crane. (Photo: OHNY)

Gailer’s Mike Pinciotto (second from left) explains how the various pieces of heavy machinery in the facility were lifted in through the windows, by crane. (Photo: OHNY)

Gailer was founded at a time when New York City was the center of the nation’s printing industry; today, the company works with a wide and diverse range of mostly local clients. Their competitive edge is in their proximity to their market, as the process of print finishing can be very complex, and every job is unique. “Designers will design [a job] and send it to us, and sometimes we really have to struggle with it to figure out how to make it work,” Mike explained. This requires creativity, not to mention some highly specialized skills that employees at Gailer learn over the span of their careers. “Learning the machines is like an apprenticeship. It takes years.”

Shelves full of foil await the stamping presses. (Photo: OHNY)

Shelves full of foil await the stamping presses. (Photo: OHNY)

After Gailer, the tour made several stops at smaller firms that gave participants a chance to see the range of spaces in the huge facility that once served a single massive manufacturing operation—and how different types of firms are coexisting. The tour included visits to Jenex Graphics, a commercial printer; Caples Jefferson, an architecture firm; and VanDeb Editions, a print maker that works with local artists to create works of art through etching and monotype. This range of spaces helped participants to better understand the spatial needs of manufacturing in a city where the majority of manufacturers employ fewer than ten people.

Jenex Graphics employs seven people in their facility in the basement of the building; the majority of manufacturers in NYC today employ fewer than 10 people. (Photo: OHNY)

Jenex Graphics employs seven people in their facility in the basement of the building; the majority of manufacturers in NYC today employ fewer than 10 people. (Photo: OHNY)

The tour of the Standard Motors Products Building gave participants an opportunity to experience, firsthand, how manufacturing spaces can (and do) coexist happily with office space, arts spaces, and other uses. Through the addition of amenities like the Brooklyn Grange farm (which almost all of the other businesses mentioned, fondly, at various points in their presentations) and ground-level retail spaces created in former truck bays along Northern Boulevard, Acumen has created a dynamic complex that incorporates industry while improving the surrounding neighborhood—supporting Nina’s argument that integrating “smaller, cleaner, and greener” manufacturing back into our neighborhoods can create a more equitable city by giving workers a sense of pride in the places where they work.

VanDeb Editions co-founder Deborah Freedman explains how her facility produces limited runs of prints for a variety of NYC-based artists. (Photo: Nina Rappaport)

VanDeb Editions co-founder Deborah Freedman explains how her facility produces limited runs of prints for a variety of NYC-based artists. (Photo: Nina Rappaport)


OHNY and NYCEDC thank Nina, Acumen, and all of the businesses that welcomed participants into their spaces for the inaugural Making it Here tour.

Introduction: Making it Here

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How does manufacturing occupy space in the city today? The massive factories that made New York City a productive powerhouse around the turn of the last century are mostly gone, but the city’s unique complexity has allowed a host of increasingly specialized manufacturing firms to thrive and proliferate. Indeed, after decades of decline, parts of the city’s manufacturing sector are starting to grow again as a host of new social and technological forces are transforming the manufacturing sector into something more diffuse, diverse, and dynamic.

Open House New York is excited to announce the launch of Making it Here, a yearlong series of programs that explores manufacturing in the city today: what it looks like, how it works, and why it is so important to the future of New York. Through tours, talks, and other programs, New Yorkers will have a chance to visit and learn about how older industrial buildings, once considered outmoded, are being retrofitted to create spaces that reflect the changing needs of a manufacturing ecosystem that better integrates the design and production processes, as well as how some legacy manufacturers have adapted their businesses to shifting market dynamics, allowing them to thrive in place over time. Making it Here will also tour the spaces where entrepreneurs, technologists, and inventors are re-imagining manufacturing right here in the heart of the city through the development of new technologies like peer-to-peer platforms and 3D printing.

Making it Here marks the first time that OHNY has organized an entire series of programming around a specific theme, leveraging OHNY’s capacity for offering access and experience to give the public the unique opportunity to explore a single issue over many months. “As we know from the enormous audiences that attend OHNY Weekend and our other year-round programs, there is an intense interest among the public in better understanding New York: its buildings, its systems, its public spaces,” explains OHNY executive director Gregory Wessner. “In exploring a subject as broad as manufacturing, our goal is to give people a chance to learn about the city through the same kind of direct experience we offer in all of our programs, especially about an issue that is so important to the health and vitality of the city.”

In providing access to a system that often exists off of many New Yorkers’ radars, Making it Here will serve as a platform for a public discussion about how manufacturing fits into the five boroughs. The popular conception of the factory as a place of soot-belching smokestacks and dreary assembly lines obscures a fast-changing reality that necessitates a deeper public understanding of what making space for manufacturing in our neighborhoods means for our quality of life.

“While the noise and pollution associated with production has often isolated manufacturing to the city’s urban edges and the hinterlands, significant technological changes could make re-integration of manufacturing spaces into more mixed-use neighborhoods possible, and even desirable, in the near future,” says architecture critic and Vertical Urban Factory curator and project director Nina Rappaport. “When people actually have the chance to visit the manufacturing spaces that exist in New York City today and see them firsthand, it becomes evident that zoning needs to accommodate new and diverse uses for new kinds of manufacturing.”

Brooklyn Army Terminal_Nicolas Lemery Nantel

To expand the reach of Making it Here, the OHNY Blog will feature interviews throughout the year with a broad range of experts to shed light on what each site in the series illustrates about the forces at work in urban manufacturing. Through additional web content, Making it Here will also explore the land use and urban design challenges facing the manufacturing sector, as well as the unique benefits that an urban context offers manufacturers. In a city like New York, where many hyper-specialized economic sectors coexist in a densely populated space, demand is diverse and sophisticated, and more flexible production and distribution networks become vital. Given the high environmental costs associated with mass production and globalized supply chains, the “new manufacturing” spaces springing up across the city could even become a critical component of New York’s expansive sustainability goals, turning the old trope of dirty industry on its ear.

“Tremendous economic, technological and cultural forces are reshaping manufacturing, and that bodes well for cities” said Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and founder of the buy-local Made In NYC campaign.  “The need to reduce energy consumption, the benefits of having designers and producers clustered closely together so that they can innovate new products, and growing consumer demand for local products are driving the growth of local companies.  However, if the city wants to reap all of the benefits of this process we have to make sure that companies are able to scale up locally, which requires adequate industrial space among other things.”

In a city where demand for space is so high, where does manufacturing fit in? And in the age of globalization, when you can make something anywhere, what are the benefits of making it here? We look forward to exploring these and other questions with you over the coming year.

Making It Here is organized by Open House New York in partnership with NYCEDC, as well as with the Pratt Center for Community Development and Vertical Urban Factory. Click here to view the  schedule of upcoming events.