The last thing we expect to see on a Department of Sanitation building is classical architecture, much like yesterday’s Greek temple as Manhattan Mini Storage. The Marine Transfer Station (MTS) at Pier 99, extending far into the Hudson, looks shed-like and unremarkable from a boat. But when approached from its entrance at West 59th Street, it raises a few questions. Why is the vehicle clearance structure in front of the building, for example, adorned with some very grand (albeit cheaply) recreated elements from classical architecture? Are they trying to make locals and bicyclists forget that they pass a building that deals with waste every day?
The Pier 99 MTS building was originally a passenger ship pier. In the 1950’s, the building underwent its first known major renovation to serve as a truck-to-barge waste transfer facility. Until the 1990s, the tugboats that visited this station pulled barges of landfill to Staten Island’s Fresh Kills Landfill. Now they transfer dump paper to recycling centers of an undisclosed location, but the city has recommended changing its use to handle commercial waste, like restaurant waste, in its Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP). To this end, $50 million in retrofits were called for.
If the juxtaposition of a marine transfer station and a nod to ancient Greece weren’t enough, there’s also the unexpected element of neon. Artist Stephen Antonakos, working with a renovation architect and the Department of Sanitation and following a tradition of New York waterfront neon, added an arrangement of colored neon tubes for a more recent renovation of the building. Admittedly, their glow from behind frame the otherworldly classic columns well.