The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for September 2009

alive and well, just busy as heck

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Haven’t disappeared or anything, folks, the next batch of photos is in development right now. I’ll be back with a new post within the next day. -Mitch

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 29, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Posted in newtown creek

A few more photos of folks

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I have climbed over, crawled under, floated through and scuttled across a lot of New York City during the last few months. Sometimes, I take photos of the people I see as I’m wandering around.

Cretan Lottery Seller 01 by you.

I don’t know any of these folks, they just caught my eye when I was ambling about. All of them are shot in “public”. If you or someone you know is in the shot, and don’t want it displayed for any reason, contact me.

Cretan Lottery Seller 02 by you.

Cretan Lottery Seller  1 and 2 – photo by Mitch Waxman

Chania Harbor, Crete

Brazilian lady dancing by you.

Brazilian Lady Dancing – photo by Mitch Waxman

Broadway, Astoria

Hail to the chief by you.

Hail to the Chief – photo by Mitch Waxman

36th avenue 5 alarm fire, Dutch Kills.

Shwarma Joe by you.

Shwarma Joe – photo by Mitch Waxman

34th avenue, corner of Steinway.

There’s no editorial meaning ascribed to them, and a few are taken as far away from the Newtown Pentacle as you can get. They’re just shots I like, and periodically I’m going to just post a few of them here.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 27, 2009 at 10:58 am

Posted in Photowalks

Odds, Ends… a few weekend photos

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I have climbed over, crawled under, floated through and scuttled across a lot of New York City during the last few months. A keen awareness that everything is about to change has driven me to focus on what was, where it happened, who did what and when, and offered conjecture as to why. My search for understanding has taken me far afield, sometimes, I take photos of the people I see as I’m ambling about.

5 alarm fire in astoria, 01 by you.

5 Alarm Fire in Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

I don’t know any of these folks, they just caught my eye when I was wandering around. I try not to take pictures of people I don’t know, as I think its kind of rude, and because my camera has a really shallow zoom. However, I do it sometimes and seldom show them, as my best shots are always of the metroscape.

from Park avenue at 19th street by you.

from Park avenue at 19th street – photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m somewhat shy about this sort of street photography business. All of them are shot in “public”, by the way. If you or someone you know is in the shot, and don’t want it displayed for any reason, contact me.

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Astoria Family – photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s no editorial meaning ascribed to them, and a few are taken as far away from the Newtown Pentacle as you can get. They’re just shots I like, and periodically I’m going to just post a few here. Check em out.

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Astoria Couple – photo by Mitch Waxman

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 26, 2009 at 11:57 am

Posted in newtown creek

The Bright Passage

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Hell Gate Bridge, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

Some Context about the patch of the East River called Hells Gate,

quoting from the Newtown Pentacle posting of June 5, 2009- The River of Sound

“…christened the eddies and whirlpools of this widow making area “The Bright Passage”. In Dutch- Hellegat, in English- Hela’s Gate- or Hells Gate.”

“Common Dutch seafaring terminology for any whirlpool was Hellegat. Sailors in that time had an expansive vocabulary that was passed man to man for water and weather- not unlike the famous 64 words used to describe different kinds of snow conditions used by the Esquimaux in their polar wastelands. (esquimaux is an archaic and somewhat racist french term. apologies for usage, the tribes prefer to be referred to as Inuit, Yupik, or Aleut and to be greeted with smiles).

Incidentally, Hel is the goddess of Death to those of the Norse way of thinking. She was the daughter of Loki- the trickster god who was born of the Jotun (giants) and adopted by Odin. Her silent mead hall was where those who died peacefully waited for Odin to climb Yggdrasil and sacrifice himself physically (he gave his right eye to the well of protean Mimir as payment) in return for revelations of Ragnarok- which would bring about Valhalla. This of course is a standard grain king/matriarchal queen of life-birth-death sort of myth, same as some… more modern stories. -I’m kind of a mythology geek too-

By the 1890’s- hundreds of ships had gone down at Hell Gate and the US Army Corps of Engineers Major General John Newton was tasked with fixing Hell Gate.

Irregular reefs and whirlpools have claimed dozens of ships in this part of the river and the commercial interests of New York City demanded that the Corps of Engineers render the area navigable. After the efforts of the French engineer, M. Benjamin Maillefert failed in 1856, the task of taming Hells Gate fell to John Newton, lieutenant- colonel of engineers, brevet major-general of the Army Corps of Engineers. His men dug tunnels branching downwards from a coffer dam and under the river itself. These tunnels were packed with explosives and the reefs were detonated from below. The work was made manifest in two detonations. The latter, 1885 event was the largest manmade explosion in human history. The explosion was heard as far away as Princeton, New Jersey- and was unsurpassed in destructive intensity (by WW1 and WW2 mind you) until the explosion of the atom bomb over Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.”

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Hell Gate Bridge, Viaduct in Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

The New York Connecting Railroad Bridge, aka the East River Arch Bridge- or commonly the Hell Gate Bridge- is estimated to be the most permanent of all the structures garlanding Manhattan- according to Discover Magazine’s Feburary 2005 issue- it would take a millennium of environmental decay for Hell Gate to fail and collapse as compared to a mere 300 years for the other East River crossings. A target of no small strategic importance, Hell Gate was a mission objective for the Nazi saboteurs who were landed in Amagansett, Long Island by a Submarine (U-Boat 202- the Innsbruck) during the second World War’s Operation Pastorius. The legal consequences of Pastorius, by the way, are the precedent setting United States Supreme Court decision of Ex Parte Quinn.

Ex Parte Quinn is the legal pretext that underpins the detention of and trial by military tribunals of “foreign combatants” in the United States, a central tenet of our modern Terror War.

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Hell Gate Bridge, Viaduct in Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

The viaduct structures that allow egress to the river crossing, when combined with the 1,017.5 foot span of the actual river crossing, complete a 3.2 mile rail transit between the Bronx (which leads to the rest of America) and Queens (leads to Sunnyside Yard, and ultimately Long Island through the New York Connecting Railroad).

Click here for a Google map, offered in the name of providing some sort of scale for this structure, whose size is suggestive more of a geologic formation than a manmade object.

Gustavus Lindenthal and Henry Hornbostel were the designers and architects of this bridge complex, and began construction of it in 1902. Hell Gate was built from a new technology, carbon steel, and from a new perspective- intellectually speaking.

from nycroads.com

Mr. Lindenthal conceived the bridge as a monumental portal for the steamers that enter New York Harbor from Long Island Sound. He also realized that this bridge, forming a conspicuous object that can be seen from both shores of the river and from almost every elevated point of the city, and will be observed daily by thousands of passengers, should be an impressive structure. The arch, flanked by massive masonry towers, was most favorably adapted to that purpose.



A great bridge in a great city, although primarily utilitarian in its purpose, should nevertheless be a work of art to which science lends its aid. An elaborate stress sheet, worked out on a purely economic and scientific basis, does not make a great bridge. It is only with a broad sense for beauty and harmony, coupled with wide experience in the scientific and technical field, that a monumental bridge can be created. Fortunately, the Hell Gate Bridge was evolved under such conditions, and therefore may be said to be one of the finest creations of engineering art of great size that this century has produced.

For a just the facts and photos biography of Gustav Lindenthal, who is also the designer of the Queensboro and Bayonne bridges-

check out this page at en.structurae.de.

Or this one from the American Society of Civil Engineers at asce.org

Gustavus Lindenthal, at en.structurae.de

This is Lindenthal, here’s a picture of his grandaughter in 2009 at the Queensboro Centennial event.

Hells Gate Bridge arches by you.

Hell Gate Bridge, Viaduct Arches in Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hell Gate is primarily an artery, these days, for Amtrak and CSX rail lines but many smaller companies also traverse it. The Bridge itself is Amtrak property.

from wirednewyork.com

The massive beauty and advanced technology of the Hell Gate Bridge (more properly the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge) contrast sharply with nineteenth-century descriptions of the channel that it spans. Named for the dangerous rocks and perilous waters at the confluence of the East and the Harlem Rivers, Hell Gate is surrounded by Manhattan, Queens, and three islands: Wards, Randalls, and Roosevelt (formerly called Blackwell’s, then Welfare). Philip Hone (1780 -1851), writing of an 1844 visit there, described “the delightful scene: the clumps of fine old trees clothed in the gorgeous foliage of autumn, the lawn still bright and green, the mild, refreshing breeze, the rapid waters of Hell Gate covered with sailing vessels and steamboats -all combined to present a picture of consummate beauty.”
The construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad tunnel under the Hudson River and into Pennsylvania Station replaced the time-consuming and expensive water route for New York -bound passengers and freight from New Jersey and points south. Hell Gate Bridge -from the Sunnyside Yards in Queens across the Hell Gate to Wards Island, then across the Little Hell Gate to Randalls Island, and then over the Bronx Kill to the Bronx -was built to complete the linkage of the New York, New England, and Long Island rail lines with the Hudson River crossing. Together, tunnel and bridge created a direct route over the Bronx Kill to the Bronx.
The longest, heaviest, strongest steel arch bridge in the world at that time and the only four-track long-span railroad bridge ever built, Hell Gate Bridge marks the apogee of American railroad power and prosperity. Government regulation, poor management, and a proliferation of alternative methods of transportation -private cars, trucks, buses, and airplanes -eventually undercut the railroad’s primacy

The massive beauty and advanced technology of the Hell Gate Bridge (more properly the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge) contrast sharply with nineteenth-century descriptions of the channel that it spans. Named for the dangerous rocks and perilous waters at the confluence of the East and the Harlem Rivers, Hell Gate is surrounded by Manhattan, Queens, and three islands: Wards, Randalls, and Roosevelt (formerly called Blackwell’s, then Welfare). Philip Hone (1780 -1851), writing of an 1844 visit there, described “the delightful scene: the clumps of fine old trees clothed in the gorgeous foliage of autumn, the lawn still bright and green, the mild, refreshing breeze, the rapid waters of Hell Gate covered with sailing vessels and steamboats -all combined to present a picture of consummate beauty.”

The construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad tunnel under the Hudson River and into Pennsylvania Station replaced the time-consuming and expensive water route for New York -bound passengers and freight from New Jersey and points south. Hell Gate Bridge -from the Sunnyside Yards in Queens across the Hell Gate to Wards Island, then across the Little Hell Gate to Randalls Island, and then over the Bronx Kill to the Bronx -was built to complete the linkage of the New York, New England, and Long Island rail lines with the Hudson River crossing. Together, tunnel and bridge created a direct route over the Bronx Kill to the Bronx.

The longest, heaviest, strongest steel arch bridge in the world at that time and the only four-track long-span railroad bridge ever built, Hell Gate Bridge marks the apogee of American railroad power and prosperity. Government regulation, poor management, and a proliferation of alternative methods of transportation -private cars, trucks, buses, and airplanes -eventually undercut the railroad’s primacy

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Hell Gate Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria Park provides the setting for the Queens side of the Hell Gate. Its looming masonry and gigantic presence are impossible to ignore, and watching a baseball game being played with the bridge as backdrop is a unique sight. A lot of people love this bridge.

Check out a pdf at trains.com detailing the building of a scale model Hell Gate Bridge for Lionel model railroad enthusiasts that has a 28 foot arch.

from nycgovparks.org

Throughout the centuries the stunning natural beauty of this location has attracted visitors and settlers. Before the arrival of European colonists, a trail passed by the site, and an Indian village flourished at Pot Cove. Local inhabitants grew maize on the shores, fished in Hell Gate, and drew water from Linden Brook, a small stream that still flows under Astoria Park South. In the mid-1600s the Dutch parceled out this land to various owners, including William Hallet whose grant embraced hundreds of acres. During the American Revolution, several British and Hessian regiments were stationed in the area. On November 25, 1780 the frigate Hussar and its five-million-dollar cargo sank to the bottom of Hell Gate, where despite some removal of cannons, the treasure still remains.

During the 19th century, fashionable families like the Barclays, Potters, Woolseys, and Hoyts located their country houses on the heights along the shore. Although attempts were made to remove the dangerous rocks in Hell Gate in the 1850s and 1870s, the waters were the site of New York City’s worst maritime disaster on June 15, 1904. En route to Long Island’s North Shore with the congregation of St. Mark’s German Lutheran Church on board, the steamer General Slocum caught fire. At least 1,021 passengers out of 1,300 burned to death on the ship or drowned in the turbulent waters of the East River before the ship grounded on North Brother Island.

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Hell Gate Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

The southern tracks carry the Amtrak traffic- which is seen hurtling through the shot above on its way to the Bronx and beyond. It is also one of the few official landmarks in Queens.

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Hell Gate Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Click this link, and go nypl.org, where a nearly identical photo to the one above (shot in 2009, late summer), from the early 20th century  (my guess would be the late 1920’s or early 1930’s) can be accessed.

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Hell Gate Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Municipal indifference and neglectful shortsightedness have taken their toll on the Bridge. Declining rail traffic and budgetary constraints have forced the managers of the bridge to allow 2 of the bridge’s tracks to fall into disrepair. 9/26/09- ERRATA: Incorrect! There are 4 tracks on the bridge, not 6, which is a transposed number that appeared solely in my head. One of the 4 tracks is not used, not 2 of the 6. Thanks to the better angels of the Pentacle for the editorial notations. Said angels prefer to remain confidential.

Local politicians offer complaints about falling debris and accumulations of storm water runoff, ice, and other windblown debris.

from nycroads.com

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who spent his childhood near the bridge in Astoria, lobbied to have the Hell Gate Bridge refurbished. Although the nearby Triborough Bridge was being maintained and repainted constantly, the Hell Gate Bridge had not been painted since it opened in 1916 except by the skillful hands of graffiti artists. Since the bridge was deemed structurally sound by Amtrak president W. Graham Claytor, Jr., he saw little need for spending money for “cosmetic purposes.” Buttressed by a 1991 article in The New Yorker on what Moynihan called “a great engineering miracle,” Congress appropriated $55 million to repair and refurbish the Hell Gate Bridge. A unique color was even selected for the bridge paint: “Hell Gate Red.” The restoration project was completed in 1996.

In 2008, Amtrak began a $10 million project to refurbish the concrete viaducts on both sides of the main arch span. The project, which was delayed by two years and cost reviews (it originally had been estimated to cost $3 million), seeks to remedy water leaks and falling concrete that had endangered pedestrians and damaged vehicles underneath the viaducts. It is scheduled for completion in mid-2009, at which time a new coat of paint will be applied to the main arch span under a separate contract.

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Hell Gate Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

It is a juggernaut, which at the time it was erected, was one of the largest manmade objects on earth. Of course, that would mean divorcing it from the far larger object it serves, which is the megalopolis called Greater New York.

Here’s a video from “acelafella” I found at youtube, which rides along in the engine of a train going over Hell Gate, moving east

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Hell Gate Bridge and Randalls Island Viaduct- photo by Mitch Waxman

Any interesting perspective on the Bridge can be found at ltvsquad.com (these guys are urban explorers, and are in serious trouble if caught by Amtrak security while in pursuit of kicks. Remember, the Newtown Pentacle way is to never trespass)

Growing up in astoria in the 1970s, it was impossible to not hear the ghost stories and urban legends – the tales of kids going up there, seeing lights of trains that just never seemed to come, and when they did, they were filled with the lost souls of the Spanish and Dutch explorers who’s boats legend has it sank in the turbulent currents directly below the bridge for which it was named after. It is here that long island sound, as well as the east and Harlem rivers converge – making for currents that have claimed many a live and made the location an ideal dumping ground for victims of the Mafia over the decades. An occasional skull or bone has been known to wash ashore…

And while not drowning in the water below the bridge or being chased by demons on the bridge span itself, there were legends of a child molesting homeless rapist, who would grab kids and drag them into the massive chamber in the base of the bridge blindfolded. According to legend, when the police finally figured out where he was dragging the kids to and stormed the place, they found areas covered wall to wall of photos of said kids being raped. The sickly smell sent investigators out to the park to throw up in the nearest trash can.

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Hell Gate Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Carnegie Steel fabricated most of the steel used in the Hell Gate, and found many problems transporting the oversized loads all the way from Pittsburgh. Click for a nytimes.com article from 1912.

Andrew Carnegie was, of course, the second richest man in all of recorded history, right after John D. Rockefeller. He also, incidentally, was the owner of the Keystone Bridge Company. Keystone, when it was absorbed into US Steel, was the contractor for the construction of the Hell Gate Bridge.

quoting from an earlier post on John D. Rockefeller- just for context

…is also the year that John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil. For those of you who are young-ins and unfamiliar with the original archetype for “American Villainy”, John D. was a real life combination of Mr. Potter from “its a wonderful life”, Mr. Burns from “the simpsons”, and Daniel Day Lewis’s character in “there will be blood“- and he made Dick Cheney look like a cuddly old man. Fifteen years after he started Standard, John D. Rockefeller was the dominant player- in North America- in the fields of railroads, natural gas production, oil drilling, oil refining, and copper refining. He created, and controlled what would become “Big Oil“.

His buying power and predatory instincts were such that he controlled the price of industrial commodities nation wide. His fortune was so large when he died that he is considered to have been the richest person in recorded history. In 1902 an audit showed his personal fortune was worth nearly 5% of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States. Standard Oil would eventually become known as Exxon, and the bank account grew into Chase Manhattan Bank

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Hell Gate Bridge and Randalls Island Viaduct – photo by Mitch Waxman

Andrew Carnegie was no John D. Rockefeller, mind you, but he did have a bit of a dark side.

from pbs.org

Carnegie was unusual among the industrial captains of his day because he preached for the rights of laborers to unionize and to protect their jobs. However, Carnegie’s actions did not always match his rhetoric. Carnegie’s steel workers were often pushed to long hours and low wages. In the Homestead Strike of 1892, Carnegie threw his support behind plant manager Henry Frick, who locked out workers and hired Pinkerton thugs to intimidate strikers. Many were killed in the conflict, and it was an episode that would forever hurt Carnegie’s reputation and haunt the man.

Still, Carnegie’s steel juggernaut was unstoppable, and by 1900 Carnegie Steel produced more of the metal than all of Great Britain. That was also the year that financier J. P. Morgan mounted a major challenge to Carnegie’s steel empire. While Carnegie believed he could beat Morgan in a battle lasting five, 10 or 15 years, the fight did not appeal to the 64-year old man eager to spend more time with his wife Louise, whom he had married in 1886, and their daughter, Margaret.

Carnegie wrote the asking price for his steel business on a piece of paper and had one of his managers deliver the offer to Morgan. Morgan accepted without hesitation, buying the company for $480 million. “Congratulations, Mr. Carnegie,” Morgan said to Carnegie when they finalized the deal. “you are now the richest man in the world.”

Triborough Bridge  and Hell Gate Bridge Stitched Panorama- photo by Mitch Waxman

Right next door to the Hell Gate Bridge is mighty Triborough. You may want to call it the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, were you a politically weakened Governor who was trying to cozy up to the Kennedy’s and convince an unqualified and inexperienced daughter of a former President to fill a vacant Senate seat in order to shore up his positioning in the national party via association with the “Kennedy Mystique“, but I won’t. I am not a fan, and I believe that in their own way, the Kennedy‘s are as profoundly dangerous to the Republic as are the Bushes. Feh.

It’s Triborough, mighty Triborough, as far as the Newtown Pentacle is concerned. Because that’s what Bob Moses said it was called.

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Triborough Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

As seems to be the case with the last several posts, this one ends with a promise of more to come, as Triborough and its champion- Robert Moses- form a very BIG story.

here’s a taste, from nycroads.com

Here was a project to kindle the imagination In size, its proportions were heroic. For all Moses’ previous construction feats, it dwarfed any other single enterprise he had undertaken. Its approach ramps would be so huge that houses – not only single-family homes but also sizable apartment buildings – would have to be demolished by the hundreds to give them footing. Its approaches, the masses of concrete in which its cables would be embedded, would be as big as any pyramid built by an Egyptian Pharaoh, its roadways wider than the widest roadways built by the Caesars of Rome. To construct those anchorages and to pave those roadways (just the roadways of the bridge proper itself, not the approach roads) would require enough concrete to pave a four-lane highway from New York to Philadelphia, enough to reopen Depression-shuttered cement factories from Maine to the Mississippi. To make the girders on which that concrete would be laid, Depression-banked furnaces would have to be fired up at no fewer than fifty separate Pennsylvania steel mills. To provide enough lumber for the forms into which that concrete would be poured, an entire forest would have to crash on the Pacific Coast on the opposite side of the American continent Triborough was not really a bridge at all, but four bridges which, together with 13,500 feet of broad viaducts, would link together three boroughs and two islands.

Triborough was not a bridge so much as a traffic machine, the largest ever built. The amount of human energy that would be expended in its construction gives some idea of its immensity: more than five thousand men would be working at the site, and these men would be putting into place the materials furnished by the labor of many times five thousand men; before the Triborough Bridge was completed, its construction would have generated more than 31,000,000 man-hours of work in 134 cities in twenty states. And the size of the bridge is also shown by the amount of money involved. With $5,400,000 already contributed by the city and $44,200,000 promised by the PWA (Public Works Administration), the amount promised for its construction was almost equal to the combined cost of all the projects Robert Moses had built on Long Island during the previous ten years.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 23, 2009 at 10:17 pm

An Iron Road, St. George, and the Copts

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from Northern Blvd. by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

When heading east along Northern Blvd. – after navigating and exiting the traffic choked Queensboro bridge complex of off ramps, elevated trains, and vehicular approaches – the elevated iron and steel tracks make a sharp screech of a turn, transiting along the centuries old borderline between those calloused declinations found in semi industrial Dutch Kills- and the tree lined hillocks of sun kissed and sharply tragic Astoria.

from nycsubway.org

The Astoria Line did not come into being until the era of the Dual Contracts, when it and the Corona (Flushing) Line were constructed to serve the northern part of Queens. These were perhaps the most cooperative portions of the project since both the IRT and BMT would share the routes and operate them jointly.
The original arrangement, beginning around 1920, was that the IRT (now the 7) ran through the Steinway Tunnel, and the Second Avenue El ran over the Queensboro Bridge, and met at Queensboro Plaza. From there, trains ran to either Flushing or Astoria.
Queensboro Plaza Station was built with eight tracks on two levels, served by four island platforms. The BMT operated the northern half of the station and the IRT ran the southern half. The north station had two platforms that fit the wider ten foot BMT subway cars and two for the narrower el cars. The southernmost pair of tracks connected to the Steinway Tunnel, while the next set north connected to the Second Avenue El. Both of these could serve either line in Queens via scissors crossovers west of the platforms on either level. The northerly pair of tracks curved to the Astoria Line and the southerly pair connected to the Flushing Line.

The Astoria Line did not come into being until the era of the Dual Contracts, when it and the Corona (Flushing) Line were constructed to serve the northern part of Queens. These were perhaps the most cooperative portions of the project since both the IRT and BMT would share the routes and operate them jointly.

The original arrangement, beginning around 1920, was that the IRT (now the 7) ran through the Steinway Tunnel, and the Second Avenue El ran over the Queensboro Bridge, and met at Queensboro Plaza. From there, trains ran to either Flushing or Astoria.

Queensboro Plaza Station was built with eight tracks on two levels, served by four island platforms. The BMT operated the northern half of the station and the IRT ran the southern half. The north station had two platforms that fit the wider ten foot BMT subway cars and two for the narrower el cars. The southernmost pair of tracks connected to the Steinway Tunnel, while the next set north connected to the Second Avenue El. Both of these could serve either line in Queens via scissors crossovers west of the platforms on either level. The northerly pair of tracks curved to the Astoria Line and the southerly pair connected to the Flushing Line.

from the Elevated Subway Platform by you.

31st street, Astoria Elevated Subway- photo by Mitch Waxman

A critical artery, the elevated tracks are also a loud, noisome, and exasperating neighbor for those forced to live near it. The tracks currently carry the N and W subway lines from their Manhattan duties back to the marble cloaked Ditmars section of Astoria, which hurtle along sounding like the chariots of hell itself. Interestingly, the stations along this mechanical Appian Way bear the nomenclature of old Astoria’s street names, – Beebe Avenue, Grand Avenue etc.- which are otherwise extinct and atavist usages. I’ll refer you, once again, to forgotten-ny’s excellent “Street Necrology of Astoria” page- which describes the perplexing maze of street designations far better than I can.

Click here to hear what its sounds like on the street, under the elevated train. (that’s me doing the voiceover time stamp at the end).

note: this is being served by my comics site, and is quite safe for work- its a quicktime movie around 500K, audio only.

Elevated Subway Tracks, Astoria by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

A movie or two have used 31st street as their location. I specifically have to mention one of my favorite NY flicks- A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints- which is a good representation of what New York street life used to be like in the 80’s and is a GREAT Astoria movie. The graphic and often violent action in the movie, however, is set on the Ditmars side of 31st street, not below Broadway- where these photos were shot. Seriously… rent it… it doesn’t suck.

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31st street, Astoria “the other Shunned House” – photo by Mitch Waxman

Some of the buildings lining 31st street, like this enigmatic and quite large home which has been abandoned for years, have recently seen new fencelines erected and DOB permits affixed. If the normal patterns of destruction and construction observed in modern Queens play out over the coming months in predictable fashion, an enigmatic structure will be obliterated and replaced by some towering rectangular pile of rebar and cinder blocks.

Rare Political Statement from fence sitter Mitch:

We Plebeians can’t stop the money of the Patrician and Equestrian classes from pushing their plans along except in very rare cases- this is historically true.

The currency that the Political class trades in, ultimately, are votes. If chimpanzees voted, and did so “reliably”, we’d have a lot of bananas growing in Queens and a dedicated effort to bring more Chimpanzees into the neighborhood. The government would ignore the horrific realities of chimpanzee attack.

Community equals constituency. Constituency means that the Politicians will come to YOU, because you vote- reliably. If we can supply a torch bearing mob of angry constituents to a Politician to exploit- anything can happen- because the game rules have changed and the community can out “tweed” the other side. Only 15% of eligible voters went to the polls in the last democratic primary… during wartime.

Community equals constituency.

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31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

The Dutch Kills side of 31st street hosts a series of automotive service shops, collision remediation specialists, and large warehouses which offer glimpses of a more prosperous time in fading signage and ornate masonry. These grand structures testify to the wealth and prosperity carried into the area by the elevated tracks. Just a century ago, this was farmland.

31st street, Astoria by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

All along the southern borderlands of 31st street, the shadows of the “El” part to reveal relict buildings which have been either been cross purposed to modern usage- or just abandoned. Near 36th avenue, there is an avian abattoir.

There are also many churches clustered along 31st street- including the notable St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox institution. The neighborhood I grew up in was Irish, Italian, Jewish, and African American, with a sprinkling of Boricua here and there. I went to a lot of communions, weddings, and confirmations as a result. This “Brooklyn experience”, and a lifelong fascination with diabolical oppression as represented by Hollywood, my perspective on Christianity is an intrinsically Roman Catholic one- but that might be because of Dio.

note: I was lucky enough to be allowed to take photos inside the St. Demtrios Cathedral back in May, and was given a tour of the place by a young priest. You’ll get to see the photos sometime this winter

As a result, I find the other branches of the cross fascinating- warning- I’m about to go off on a tangent here- might as well go get yourself a coffee because you’ve got links to click.

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31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

In the beginning -which in this case is around the 3rd and 4th century AD- there was a great civilization built around an ocean sea that spread out along the coastlines onto three continents.

This civilization had just spawned a new religion, based ultimately around three places
– the civilizations capitol city in the west,
– its intellectual heartlands in the east,
– and in its breadbasket to the south.

As is the case with ecclesiastical communities, disagreements over doctrinal practice and liturgical rites caused schisms to form between various camps. As time went by, and the civilization crumbled into constituent states at war with each other, these schisms widened. The branches of the roseated cross were separated and they became part of emerging nation states.

The western capitol- where the northern barbarians called Normans (specifically Lombards) would rule- was Rome, and its branch of the cross is called Roman Catholic. The intellectual heartland, and the eventual seat of the Greek Roman Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire, whose citizens called themselves Romoloi) was Constantinople. and its church became known as the Orthodox. The southern branch, which is based in Alexandria, is called the Coptic Orthodox. The people who grew up in this tradition can be referred to as Copts.

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31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

St. George was a noble born Roman citizen from Cappadocia (modern day anatolia) who joined the legions and made a name for himself during the reign of Diocletian. The emperor found it politically convenient to purge his ranks of noble christians, and George found himself in direct conflict with the world’s most powerful man.

from st-george-church.com

Diocletian gave orders for the issue of a formal edict against the Christians on February 23, in the year 303 A.D., being the feast of Termhlalia. The provisions of this edict which was published on the next day in the market place, were as follows: “All churches should be leveled to the ground. All sacred books to be burned. All Christians who hold any honorable rank are not only to be degraded, but to be deprived of civil rights. Also, All Christians who are not officials are to be reduced to slavery”.

from wikipedia:

Recognizing the futility of his efforts, Diocletian was left with no choice but to have him executed for his refusal. Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords in which he was resuscitated three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s city wall, on April 23, 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr

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31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

There is a large Copt community in Astoria (as well a large Egyptian Muslim neighborhood near Steinway and Astoria Blvd.).

Culturally similar (recipes, style of life, role of women) to the long habitated Greeks, the Copts own many shops and restaurants along Broadway. They often offer a version of the Greek Taverna- an inn which offers light meals and various beverages to weary travelers- but with the addition of Hookah pipes filled with flavored tobaccos and other aromatics. There really does seem to be a Mediterranean culture which crosses state boundaries, but never gets more than 200 miles away from that ancient waterway which was the navel of the world.

There are other ancient branches of the cross out there which also survived the fall of their Roman Empire. The Nestorians, The Chaldeans, The Monophysitists, amongst many others. I haven’t found them yet, however, I’m still searching for the Yazidi- who have got to be somewhere in Astoria.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 23, 2009 at 1:42 am

Leave the 27th of September open, if you’re an Astorian

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St Joseph's, Astoria by you.

St. Joseph’s Church 30th avenue bet 44 and 45 streets, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

Founded in 1878 by German Catholics, St. Josephs is clad in the yellow Kreischer brick so typical of this part of Astoria. A massive complex, the church also maintains a school and (or, used to maintain) domestic residences for both Priests and Nuns. On the 27th of September, at 1 in the afternoon, they will enacting the procession of San Pio. This is not dissimilar to the Orsogna Society Parade I was lucky enough to catch last month, but on a grander scale. In past years, I observed Catholic offices as high as Deacon represented and in attendance at this marching of the Saint’s statue. This parade will kick off a sequence of celebratory events at St. Joseph’s- which I’ll be covering in some detail- as it’s around the corner from my house.

from wikipedia

St. Pio of Pietrelcina (May 25, 1887 – September 23, 1968), also known as Saint Padre Pio, was a Capuchin priest from Italy who is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. He was born Francesco Forgione, and given the name Pio when he joined the Capuchins; he was popularly known as Padre Pio after his ordination to the priesthood. He became famous for his stigmata.

St. Joseph's Parade by you.

St. Joseph’s Church parade- 2006, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s a short Queens Tribune report on the 2006 event. Pio was renowned as an exorcist and stigmatic, which is kind of interesting all on its own. More to come…


Written by Mitch Waxman

September 18, 2009 at 10:17 pm

Posted in Astoria, Things to do

Proof and Postulates

with 4 comments

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Elevated Subway Tracks leaving Queens Plaza, with Queensborough offramp in background- from 23rd street, LIC – photo by Mitch Waxman

One day in August of 2009, a time when the rainy and cool weather that had typified the early summer was finally ended, and under the burning thermonuclear gaze of god itself – which once again stared down upon the Newtown Pentacle unoccluded- I decided to take a little walk down to LIC.

Given the star born waves of heat observed as they shimmered up from the pavement- on my journey from splendor filled Astoria- I opted to navigate down 23rd street and take advantage of the shade as provided by an elevated track tenanted by the 7 line subway, which springs about the area and hurtles noisomely overhead.

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Citibank Megalith from 23rd street, LIC – photo by Mitch Waxman

This street is “behind the curtain” down in Long Island City, and I refer to it in my notes as “the fedora district”. The latter nomenclature is purely my own whimsy, as it looks just like a relict set piece from some 1930’s movie, and in that cinematic era- men wore hats (fedoras in particular). 23rd street is festooned, appropriately, with security cameras and other devices whose function it is to vouchsafe both the subway tracks and… the megalith… from the attentions of anarchists, vandals, and foreign elements who have all sworn expiation and vengeance upon the multinational financial institution residing in the megalith, whose activities they will describe as being some sort of rapacious pillaging of the developing world.

The megalith with its dark lord- a blood drinking juggernaut thing that does not think… or breathe… but which stares down, in the manner of a predator, upon the world of men- with its unblinking and flame shrouded eye- will be discussed in later posts.

I would rather direct you to Heidi Neilson’s “LIC sundial” project, which has caught my fancy and which I believe to be quite a clever bit of thinking.

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Warehouse Operation 23rd street – photo by Mitch Waxman

An industrial stretch, 23rd street is home to many warehouse and small factory operations. A theater group maintains a space nearby, and there are multiple Taxi depots along its length, taking advantage of its proximity to the “back door” onramps of the Queensboro bridge which leverage a drivers trip into Manhattan down to mere minutes. Silvercup studios is nearby, as well as a few vocational schools which are operated by local trade unions. Its a fairly deserted area from a pedestrian vantage, but considerable amounts of vehicular traffic are often observed. Not too long ago, these buildings housed elephantine examples of industry. In modernity, they have been divided up for the industrial mice who formerly scurried about on the streets and habitated back alleys.

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23rd street, Project Firebox 7838 – photo by Mitch Waxman

Glimpses of the megalopolis beyond the river can be had along 23rd street, but I’ve always found it to be a difficult exposure to pull off. Perhaps, someday, as I develop technical acumen and acquire more sophisticated equipment… but my shortcomings are often the result of my own nature. Drawn to the esoteric and bizarre, since the first postings here at Newtown Pentacle- a common gnomen and meme espoused by your humble narrator has been “who can guess, what it is, that may be hidden down there?”.

Also, in detail choked and exasperatingly phrased paragraphs, you’ve been subjected to the haunting revelation that the ground in New York is “not actually the ground”, but the roof of a vast structure which is anywhere between 15 and 30 feet from the actual surface.

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Construction site at confluence of 23rd street, 45th road, and Jackson Avenue – at the 45th rd. Courthouse stop on the 7 elevated subway station – photo by Mitch Waxman

This is one of the ancient places. Along Jackson Avenue, a block from the rail- less than a mile from Newtown Creek- a couple of blocks from the courthouse- 4 blocks from the Queensboro bridge.

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Construction site at confluence of 23rd street, 45th road, and Jackson Avenue – at the 45th rd. Courthouse stop on the 7 elevated subway station – photo by Mitch Waxman

Hazy, and somewhat enigmatic- the facts of this project seem to stem from two municipal endeavors. One is a track replacement being conducted by the MTA for the elevated subway, the other is some sort of combined sewer replacement and sidewalk widening project being shepherded by the Queens Borough President’s office and the DOB. For my purposes though, this project serves as a cutaway diagram for the underworld of Long Island City.

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Construction site at confluence of 23rd street, 45th road, and Jackson Avenue – at the 45th rd. Courthouse stop on the 7 elevated subway station – photo by Mitch Waxman

Several large building projects are underway in nearby Queens Plaza, and the second avenue subway extension combined with the East Side Access LIRR project are furiously moving forward. If all goes according to plan, a new LIRR station will be sited at the Skillman Avenue/Queens Boulevard intersection at the Sunnyside Railyard. The large hotels that have been springing up in Dutch Kills and Queens Plaza are symptomatic anticipations of the future presence of tens of thousands of commuters and tourists in the area. Unfortunately, all of these projects face Manhattan and ignore that rust choked loam of the good earth here in Queens.

The picture below, I think, is the best illustration of one of those central postulates which governs the logic by which the Newtown Pentacle operates- once more- Who can guess, what it is, that may be hidden down there? Click the photo to go to flickr, and click the all sizes button, to zoom into the image and explore the underworld.

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Construction site at confluence of 23rd street, 45th road, and Jackson Avenue – at the 45th rd. Courthouse stop on the 7 elevated subway station – photo by Mitch Waxman

Anecdote-

I used to live in Manhattan. A building I resided in was the Whitehall Hotel, where once the NY Giants maintained rooms close to the legendary Polo Grounds. One of my many college jobs was as a third shift doorman at this place, which secured a generous arrangement with the owner on leasing an apartment there years later, and on one occasion I was asked to go find the superintendant of the building who was down in one of the sub-basements. Now, the oil room resovoir in this place was (1980’s) a noxious brick pit with an open surface, loosely covered with ill fitting and rusty hinged iron plates. Said petroleum, when hatches had been thrown back, collected a varied assortment of vermin which had been trapped in the sticky fuel. Forming a sort of upper west side Labrea Tar Pit, there were several chambers below it- allowing egress to oil valves, pumps, and ancient sewer connections. This was 5 flights down below the lobby.

Slime dripping timbers were visible in the lowest level, which the Super – an affable southerner, navy man, and former pugilist named Cappy (who had come to New York in the 1950’s as part of that well commented-upon 20th century migration enacted by African American southerners to the cities of the industrialized north) – said the visible timbers were but a section of those piles that had been driven down during construction of the enormous structure in the early part of the century. In his syrupy and pleasant patois, Cappy told me to put my head close to the wood and listen, and to my astonishment, the sound of tidal action could be heard. Cappy reported this as being the sound of the nearby Hudson, and mentioned that a river or stream ran under Broadway to this day. This Broadway water was no small nuisance for him, causing flooding during snowmelt and storms.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 17, 2009 at 4:40 pm

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