The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Adventures upon the East River 3

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The last bit of the Queensboro Bridge Centennial Celebration was a narrated river cruise that circled from the 23rd street docks in Manhattan up the East River, past Roosevelt Island, under the bridge, and then turning at Hells Gate and returning to 23rd street.

Here’s what I saw:

Chrysler Building from East River by you.

Chrysler Building Manhattan Skyline, from the East River -Photo By Mitch Waxman

It was one of the few sunny days in June 2009, the 6th, that the Marco Polo Boat tour left for its short journey up the river. The narrators onboard the trip were Bernard Ente, and Dave Frieder. We slid up the west channel at first for the initial part of the trip and were greeted by panoramic views of iconic New York architecture like the 77 story Chrysler Building. The second tallest (surviving) building in NYC- construction began in september of 1928 at the behest of the Chrysler automobile company, and it was designed by William Van Alen.

United Nations from East River by you.

United Nations Building, from the East River -Photo By Mitch Waxman

Oh… LeCorbusier and Niemeyer- this is one you got right- other than the leaky roofs and windows. I am not a fan of Le Corbusier, let me just say.

His idiotic notion of stacking communities into vertical spires surrounded by parkland (modern Long Island City’s Queens West near Gantry Park comes to mind) is the greatest formula for the destruction of civic awareness and “neighborhood” since… ever. The urbanist theory that the monolithic public housing projects manifested by the 20th century’s obsession with Urban Renewal would somehow benefit the urban poor comes from LeCorbusier. The rich live in their own version of this concept- the condo building.

LeCorbusier is responsible- ideologically and in some case literally- for the ring of poverty surrounding Paris, the council housing of London, the housing complexes of Chicago, and of course- New York’s rather disastrous experience with “the projects”. He was the Ayn Rand of architecture.

here’s what he wanted to do in Paris, from wikipedia:

Theoretical urban schemes continued to occupy Le Corbusier. He exhibited his Plan Voisin, sponsored by another famous automobile manufacturer, in 1925. In it, he proposed to bulldoze most of central Paris, north of the Seine, and replace it with his sixty-story cruciform towers from the Contemporary City, placed in an orthogonal street grid and park-like green space. His scheme was met with only criticism and scorn from French politicians and industrialists, although they were favourable to the ideas of Taylorism and Fordism underlying Le Corbusier designs. Nonetheless, it did provoke discussion concerning how to deal with the cramped, dirty conditions that enveloped much of the city.

here’s what his politics were, also from wikipedia:

Le Corbusier moved increasingly to the far right of French politics in the 1930s. He associated with Georges Valois and Hubert Lagardelle and briefly edited the syndicalist journal Prélude. In 1934, he lectured on architecture in Rome by invitation of Benito Mussolini. He sought out a position in urban planning in the Vichy regime and received an appointment on a committee studying urbanism. He drew up plans for the redesign of Algiers in which he criticised the perceived differences in living standards between Europeans and Africans in the city, describing a situation in which “the ‘civilised’ live like rats in holes” yet “the ‘barbarians’ live in solitude, in well-being.”[10] These and plans for the redesign of other cities were ultimately ignored. After this defeat, Le Corbusier largely eschewed politics.

Until he designed the United Nations Secretariat, a 39 story building and complex located in Turtle bay, Manhattan. This part of Manhattan is not part of the sovereign territory of the United States, incidentally, its legally international territory and not subject to the laws of New York City or the USA unless the U.N. says so. Here’s the proviso:

United Nations, Pub. L. No. 80-357, 61 Stat. 756 (1947): “Except as otherwise provided in this agreement or in the General Convention, the federal, state and local courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction over acts done and transactions taking place in the headquarters district as provided in applicable federal, state and local laws.”

Interesting note:

The land that the complex sits was purchased from William Zeckendorf (a mid 20th century real estate baron) in a deal brokered by the Chase Manhattan Bank. Chase, of course, was the instrument of future New York Governor and United States Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Grandson of John D. Rockefeller, and inheritor (with his brothers) of the Standard Oil fortune. The Rockefellers had already offered some of their own land- the house that Standard Oil built- and Rockefeller family castle,in Westchester, for use as the potential seat of a world government- but it was “too far away” for the diplomats. So, he had his father- John D. Rockefeller Jr. buy Turtle Bay and donate the land to the city for the UN.

The area called Turtle Bay was where the Draft Riots of 1863 started, and it was a neighborhood of tenements, butchers, slaughterhouses, and dangerous organized crime controlled docks which handled the traffic coming to and from Long Island City via rail and barge. The United Nations building was completed in 1950.

1950 is also when the decline of the economic infrastructure of North Brooklyn and Western Queens, especially the area around the Newtown Creek in Queens and Red Hook in Brooklyn, began in earnest. Connected? Maybe.

U Thant or Belmont Island by you.

U Thant (or Belmont Island) with Commorrant Nursery. LIC in background, from the East River -Photo By Mitch Waxman

This was cool.

In the 1890′s, the redoubtable William Steinway was attempting to establish trolley service to Manhattan via an East River tunnel. A granite outcrop near Turtle Bay, the Man’O’War, was built up with landfill from a shaft tunneled from the subaqueous worksite below. The result was Belmont Island – the 100×200 foot patch of rock right in front of the modern UN building. In 1977, Sri Chinmoy renamed the island after the then Secretary-General of the United Nations- U Thant. Hence- U Thant island. The weird curvy structure, in addition to being a bird sanctuary, is a “Oneness” arch. The Steinway Tunnel is currently owned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and carries the 7 train into Manhattan from Queens.

And the MTA was established in 1965 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Here’s the system.

Queensboro by you.

Queensboro bridge, as it enters Manhattan, from the East River -Photo By Mitch Waxman

I always have to ask. That apartment that’s on eye level with the subway track, and the one 2 flights up that’s level with the roadways… who lives there? Is it ever dark, or quiet?

Queensboro by you.

Queensboro bridge, Roosevelt Island tower, from the East River -Photo By Mitch Waxman

Queensboro used to have an enormous vehicular elevator building which carried cargo down to the “hospitals” here on Roosevelt (welfare) Island

Roosevelt Island Bridge with Queensboro by you.

Queensboro bridge and Roosevelt Island Bridge, from the East River -Photo By Mitch Waxman

A concurrence of arches greeted us after the turn, the boat is now traveling in the East Channel of the river.

Roosevelt Island Bridge with Big Allis by you.

Roosevelt Island Bridge and the Big Allis Power Plant, Ravenswood shoreline, from the East River -Photo By Mitch Waxman

The only way, by land, to get to Roosevelt Island is this 1955 vintage lift bridge. It lifts to 100 feet off the river, severely limiting the size of ships which can cross from Long Island Sound and New York Harbor and creating a traffic bottleneck on the west channel. Big Allis, or Ravenswood 3, looms over the crossing.

Big Allis from the River by you.

Big Allis Power Plant, Ravenswood shoreline, from the East River -Photo By Mitch Waxman

I did a post on Big Allis a little while back, but I’ve never quite seen it from the river. These are fuel barges, apparently, in the process of delivering the fuel that will generate 16% of New York City’s electricity each and every day.

Queensboro by you.

Queensboro bridge, Ravenswood tower shoreline, from the East River -Photo By Mitch Waxman

Deplorable. Look at this riverfront, locked away from the public by Citibank and Consoldiated Edison and the City of New York. Used as a dump and vehicle storage area by the City, ConEd has a high security set of picnic tables set up here, and Citibank is allowing the landmarked Terracotta House to crumble. Queensbridge park ends on the left side of this image and its “boardwalk” is a half submerged, fenced off mastaba of cement collapsing into the East River. Shame.

That’s the swank new Ravel Hotel, on the right, which is where I got to watch the fireworks from.

Queensboro by you.

Queensboro bridge, Ravenswood tower shoreline, from the East River -Photo By Mitch Waxman

For the rest of the Queensboro Bridge event stuff, click here

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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 23, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Posted in East River

4 Responses

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  1. [...] John Reinauer tugboat- that’s what- moving a fuel barge north on the East River, through the bright passage at Hells [...]

  2. [...] Here’s the scoop of Nelson Rockefeller and LeCorbusier from a Newtown Pentacle posting of June 23, Adventures upon the East River 3 [...]

  3. [...] effect of siting these massive silos of poverty on the surrounding communities- however-  manifesting the radical crypto fascist architectural theories of LeCorbusier- was an unintended consequence. The third incarnation of [...]

  4. [...] “LeCorbusier’s United Nations building now faces out on the grandest realization of his vision” was what I was thinking when I heard that horrible croaking voice again, the hallucination that something was calling my name… Addled by my paranoid fantasies about the enigmatic notation on that official post I received and the imaginings they had spawned, I became light headed, and found myself staggering away from their facade. [...]


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