142 River Street, New Haven

Bent Out of Shape

Bending metal pipes at will is hard. Bending them indeliberately is easy. All you have to do is leave them alone, waiting for gravity and corrosion to do the work.

The 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, warped, rusted and crumbling, it looks like it’s been abandoned for decades. But a series of phonebook-type listings fossilized by Google indicate the structure’s last tenant, Abcon Environmental, was here well into the internet age. Incidental newspaper reports suggest Abcon, which specializes in some of the structural remediation services 142 River desperately needs, 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.

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That would pin the building’s vacancy at a decade, which hardly seems enough to explain its decrepitude. Through a gap in one door, you can see hardwood gone soft, dipping here and collapsed there, just as spots of the roof have. Along the western edge where, incredibly, the outer wall’s almost completely missing, you can see a lot of those pipes I was just talking about, a few of them feeding 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 and a couple of large plywood patches courtesy of the city.

Despite its demerits, the site remains interesting and beautiful and evocative, a fact that becomes clear about 90 minutes before dusk on a clear summer day, when a low sun beams its golden aura through western-facing windows, lighting hard-to-reach places in the complex and, quite indeliberately, in ourselves.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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