B ending metal pipes at will is hard. Bending them indeliberately is easy. All you have to do is leave them alone for a good while, letting gravity and corrosion do the work.
The old National Pipe Bending Company complex at 142 River Street, built not long after the company’s founding in 1883, is a testament to that. Cracked and warped and rusted and crumbling, it looks like it’s been sitting unoccupied for decades. But a series of phonebook-type listings fossilized by Google indicate that the structure’s last tenant, Abcon Environmental—whose name is still splashed across the facade in big black block letters, and which specializes in some of the structural remediation services 142 River desperately needs—was there well into the internet age. Incidental newspaper reports suggest Abcon was still working on River Street in 2002 and perhaps even as late as 2005, when the company purchased its current headquarters at 205 Wallace.
That would pin 142 River’s vacancy at a decade, which hardly seems enough to explain its decrepitude. Through a gap in one door, you can see first-level hardwood gone soft, dipping here and collapsed there, just as spots of the roof have. Along a long edge of the western facade where, incredibly, the outer wall’s gone almost completely missing, you can see a lot of those pipes I was just talking about, a few of them feeding what looks like an old steam whistle sticking up through the roof. Back on the other side, another stretch of wall is absent but for some stubborn window framing overhead and a couple of large plywood patches courtesy of the city.
While dysfunctional, the site remains interesting and beautiful and evocative, which becomes clearest about 90 minutes before dusk on a blue-skied summer day, when a low, golden sun beams powerfully back through western-facing windows, lighting hard-to-reach places in the complex and, quite indeliberately, in ourselves.
Written and photographed by Dan Mims.