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The Iron Triangle

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A Messy Business: Cleaning Up the Junk

By COREY KILGANNON - March 4, 2004

Iron Triangle Audio Slideshow, requires free registration with NYTimes.com.

The Iron Triangle, a 13-block area between Shea Stadium and the Flushing River in Queens, is the largest single stretch of junkyards in New York City, with more than 100 auto salvage yards, repair garages and automotive shops. Wedged amid bustling commercial areas in Corona and Flushing, the triangle is an auto salvage theme park.


Here, business bustles against a backdrop of stacked, crumpled cars and a slum landscape. The streets are unpaved and lined with tire-change joints, hubcap purveyors, muffler shops, windshield installers and rim retailers. There are brake and transmission specialists, and auto body garages. The area goes back many decades, since parts purveyors first set up on these ash heaps that Fitzgerald mentioned in "The Great Gatsby."

But the Iron Triangle's days may soon be over. Under a plan to revitalize parts of downtown Flushing, the city plans to condemn the Iron Triangle and shut its junkyards. The land, bounded by 126th Street, Willets Point Boulevard and Northern Boulevard, would be bought for a fixed price under eminent domain laws.

One study projected it would cost an estimated $214 million to buy the land and clean up decades of leaked gas, oil and other contaminants. Yet the city has no specific plans for the cleaned site yet. Officials at the city's Economic Development Corporation say they have begun soliciting ideas from local groups. Informal suggestions for the area include parkland, a convention or cultural center, a retail-entertainment or office building complex, a new stadium for the Mets or the Jets, or an Olympic village if the city is selected as the host of the 2012 Games.

Politicians are on board and the plan has the widespread support of many business and community groups.

But like many business owners in the Iron Triangle, Danny Sambucci Jr., 46, of Sambucci Brothers Auto Salvage, complains that no politician, city official or civic leader has called or visited to brief them on what is going on.

"You got thousands of people here making a living and landowners who have paid taxes for decades, and we have to hear second-hand that we're going to have our land seized?" said Mr. Sambucci, whose father, Danny Sambucci Sr., 73, opened the business in 1951.

Mr. Sambucci strips cars for parts and sells what is left to scrap metal dealers for $2 for every 100 pounds, or about $70 per stripped car. The parts can be lucrative. A BMW transmission can bring $1,500, he said, and a Mercedes engine can sell for $2,700. A Nissan Maxima engine can go for $250. The engines are cleaned in a special washing machine that filters out the toxic runoff.

"People think its 'Sanford and Son' down here, but it's serious business," said Mr. Sambucci's cousin Sammy Sambucci, 34.

Danny Sambucci Jr. said that he pays $72,000 in property taxes each year on his 2.5 acres of land but gets little back in services. The city has let the area deteriorate, he said, by not paving the streets and failing to install or offer sewers, sidewalks, signage, street lights or proper garbage pickup.

"They never wanted us here, so they ignored us, to make it make it look like a jungle, like a blight," he said. "I can't relocate this business. Where am I going to go? Is there another community in Queens that will welcome us?"

The area is as thriving a business community as the garment or meatpacking districts in Manhattan or the Hunts Point market in the Bronx, he said. But city officials say the triangle has long been an eyesore and a waste of valuable property close to subway and bus lines, major highways and both La Guardia and Kennedy International Airports. The triangle is a lapse in proper civic planning, they say, and its demise is long overdue. They say the Flushing redevelopment plan will expand retail, office and residential space, improve transportation and recreation spaces and revitalize the Flushing Bay and Flushing River waterfront.

In a letter last month to the Empire State Development Corporation, the Queens borough president, Helen M. Marshall, wrote that the plan could "transform a vastly underutilized tract of land into a thriving commercial center."

Almost as long as the Iron Triangle has existed, business owners have heard rumblings about development. In the 1960's, business owners hired the young Queens lawyer Mario M. Cuomo, who successfully stopped Robert Moses from redeveloping the land. But there seems to be no such unity this time, and longtime politicians say the project has political and economic momentum.

Hiram Monserrate, the city councilman representing the area, said he recognizes the need to clear out the Iron Triangle.

"Clearly there is a better usage for that land, that would benefit the residents," he said. "No one would want to build anything that is going to overlook those junkyards."

But he also cautioned, "The city needs to be conscientious that workers will be displaced and that relocation is necessary."

City officials, including Mr. Monserrate and Councilman John C. Liu, say many Iron Triangle businesses have long been operating illegally and constantly violate city regulations. Business owners counter that this is an exaggeration and that many violations come from hard conditions the city imposes by neglecting the area.

Officials at the Economic Development Corporation say they want to help Iron Triangle companies find ways to stay in business. "We will be working with businesses there to identify relocation options," said Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for the corporation.

In the Iron Triangle, everything is on display: chrome bumpers, rusted-out car chassis, tires, mirrors, windshields. Planes to La Guardia fly low overhead and collated car hoods cut jagged profiles against the sky. There is hot food at the small delis squeezed among the auto shops, and back behind the auto shops is a spice warehouse and a waste transfer station.

In the streets, there are junkyard dogs, and workers jousting for customers by aggressively flagging down cars. Mechanics in greasy jumpsuits enjoy lunchtime soccer games around crumpled cars and crater-size potholes.

The tremendous ethnic diversity in Queens is reflected in the names here: Zura's 1000's of Auto Parts, the Stubborn Tire Shop and 14 Stars Auto Glass. There is the Mexecu auto repair shop and El Salvador Auto Glass. New Pancho Auto Glass sits next door to New Pamir Auto Body. Nearby is Ebukune Transmissions and New Brother Auto Body.

High-end Korean auto body shops fix sports cars for well-to-do businessmen from Flushing. Young, hip Japanese men flock to certain Japanese shops to soup up their low-riding sports cars. Hindi- and Arab-speaking livery cabdrivers bring their black Town Cars to garages with Afghan, Middle Eastern or South Indian owners. A Spanish-speaking customer looking for window tinting might go Colombia Auto Glass, owned by Hector Ospina, 45, a Colombian immigrant from Woodside.

"For Spanish people from poor cities, this does not look so strange," he said recently, looking over Willets Point Boulevard. "The city does not care about this, but I'm worried because I have to support a lot of people."

Nearby at Aryana Auto Body, Salman Ali, 30, an auto body repairman, leaned on a Mitsubishi Galant with a bashed-in quarter panel.

"The only time the city comes down here is to ticket us; they take our taxes and don't fix anything," said Mr. Ali, an Afghan immigrant who supports his family in Flushing. "Now they say they're going to move us out? Where will they put us? We have no place to go. We're poor people. We're not rich."

At Sambucci Brothers, there are hundreds of totaled cars that are stacked, waiting to be stripped.

"I came down here as a barefoot kid collecting junk in a wagon," Danny Sambucci Sr. said.

He hoped his son Danny Jr. would become a doctor, but now Danny Jr. owns the business and plans on passing it to his son, also named Danny, who is 16.

"They took Manhattan from the Indians,'' Danny Sambucci Sr. said. "Now they want to take this from us."

From The New York Times

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I used to ride by it on the train everyday. Coulda Shoulda Woulda :unsure:

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Wow the largest concentration of junkyards!! btw-The New York Times has a huge printing facility on College Point.

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That would make a a very different "before & after" set of pics. Junkyards before, development after. And now I know where the author was speaking of when I read The Great Gatsby last year. LOL.

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btw-The New York Times has a huge printing facility on College Point.

Yup, a giant building right on the Whitestone Expressway. The big ass movie theatre where everyone in Queens takes their kids is right next to it.

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