MacFelder Plumbing: 610 11th Avenue, and George Breslaw & Sons: 559 West 45th St
In this very special edition of “Love Thy Neighbs,” we bring you the most charming pair of plumbing businesses we’ve ever come across. George Breslaw & Sons and sister company MacFelder Plumbing are located on the corner of 11th Avenue and 45th Street, and the former has been in the same location since 1952. We were attracted to the building on 45th Street because of its outstanding signage. “‘If I had my life to live over again, I’d be a PLUMBER.’ — Albert Einstein,” reads one banner (this is an actual quote). Another declares proudly, “‘The plumber protects the health of the world’ – Richard Breslaw.” This banner hangs beneath a strange sort of mascot on the roof: the happiest little plumber imaginable, made entirely of pipes, and carrying a wrench and a cup of tools. Kim, the receptionist at George Breslaw & Sons, says of the mascot, “I been here so long I don’t see him anymore.”
George Breslaw established his eponymous company in 1929, and it’s been in the family ever since. Michael and Seth Breslaw are the grandsons of the George, and in 2002 their sister, Amy Breslaw, bought MacFelder Plumbing. Since then, Amy Breslaw has trumpeted on a giant billboard on 45th street that “Behind this wall is the office of MacFelder Plumbing, the first and only union affiliated certified woman owned licensed plumbing contractor in New York City.” And ten years later, they’re still the only union-affiliated WBE qualified plumbing company in Manhattan.
Before Richard Breslaw—Michael, Seth, and Amy’s father—moved the family business to 45th Street in 1952, they weren’t far. “I can’t recall if we were on 47th street or 51st street. But we were always pretty much in Midtown,” says Michael. Clearly, the Breslaws have seen the Hell’s Kitchen myriad changes since way back. In fact, his father missed out on the chance to own what is now obscenely valuable property. “At one point, somebody was—you know where the Hess station is? This is actually a pretty good story. Years ago, I mean probably in the ’50s, ’60s, probably soon after he built this, they offered him to buy the Hess station. Well, it wasn’t really the Hess station, it was just land. Land back then, I guess people were just giving it away. Now you’re trying to get it.”
Michael isn’t fazed by the fluctuating neighborhood. When asked how he feels about the neighborhood’s growth, he says “Fantastic. Bring it on. The more the better. I know that it might be harder to conduct business, but we’ll see what happens. my thing is that it was always Midtown, Midtown, Midtown, and East Side, East Side, East Side, and in the last six or seven years, you started to see the transformation where people are coming to the West Side more and more. There was nothing here. We had a parking lot right in front of here, UPS was always here. The Intrepid, now that we’re getting the Space Shuttle, this whole area is just exploding. Residential out the gazoo, you know.
“We always came down with my father, when we didn’t have a school day. I remember there was an elevated West Side Highway at one point. You see the West Side Highway ramp now? Okay, picture that going, that elevated portion, all the way down to the Trade Center. That’s how it was. Westway, it was called the Westway. Basically, it was to get downtown quicker, and it was like––wasn’t it like the biggest disaster?”
“It never went anywhere,” chimed Randy, another MacFelder worker. “It was our bridge to nowhere.”
Michael’s father, Richard Breslaw, is the one quoted on the side of the building. Says Michael, “My father actually came up with that quote. If you really think about it, he does. We drink water, we have to go to the bathroom, stuff like that. The plumber does protect the health of the nation.” Richard Breslaw was something of an abstract plumber. He plumbed the depths of what it means to be a plumber, if you will. “If you want,” says Michael, “I can show you my father’s office.”
We follow a low-ceilinged hallway, from MacFelder, which faces 11th Avenue, back through to George Breslaw & Sons, facing 45th Street. Michael flips on a light.
“This is his—this is him.” The office of Richard Breslaw, who passed away in February, is literally filled to the bursting with collectable cars, toys, a life-size replica of Marlon Brando, model airplanes, mobiles, the creature from the Black Lagoon, photos, and countless odds and ends. A desk sits in the middle. “Usually what would happen is the clients would come here, all upset about something, and this would calm them down. Then my father takes over the conversation, and that was it.”
“Change could be negative or it could be positive. I think that if you’re fixing up the whole area, that’d be a positive thing. It means people are saying, ‘Boy, look at the West Side.’ Everybody always talked about the Upper West Side, the Lower East Side, the Upper East Side, Midtown. Nobody ever talked about Hell’s Kitchen. And then it started to be, you know, ‘Where are we going? We’ve got to go to the West Side.’ So then you go to Hell’s Kitchen.”