The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

an odd impulse

with 5 comments

The Sidewalk, Barnett Avenue, Sunnyside – photo by Mitch Waxman

Apologies for recent silences are offered, for your humble narrator has found vexing distractions and urgent tasks consuming all available time. Additionally, winter has just exposed its fangs earnestly and the computer monitor lit days are blending together precipitously, causing concern that the brink of a certain madness is upon me- Cabin Fever, by name.

It feels as if one hasn’t ventured further than a block from the rented rooms in months, and the soiled sameness of all that piled snow out there just refrigerates the soul.

This long, cold, and dark time is being spent on late night historical and antiquarian researches you see, and during these sojourns into the atavist lore of ancient Newtown- certain intonations of scandal and an obscure vein of information have birthed intriguing theories about certain… things…  mentioned which might still lie extant and uncommented today.

Accordingly, at my earliest opportunity, an agenda and course is set and off I will march. The purest desperation, however, drew me out onto the streets the other day.

I didn’t stray far from the Village of Astoria, merely crossing the Hunters Point, Newtown, and Flushing Turnpike, umm… I meant Northern Blvd… and never really got too far from the house as it was really way too cold out.

I’m all ‘effed up.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A post titled “Lurking… in fear- or Astoria to Calvary, part 2” was published on August 19th of 2009, and the various features and attractions of this enigmatic stretch of road were detailed. What I didn’t talk about is that 37th Avenue is a remnant of earlier times, severed from its destination by modernity and the titan Sunnyside Yards. Hazy internet images of ancient maps hint that either “Dutch Kills Road” or “Payntar Avenue” might underlay or lie very close to the present day road’s course. If correct, this was the borderline between the Second (Blissville) and Fourth (Astoria) Wards which I was walking. This is more than an angle between neighborhoods, friends, this is an actual political boundary which doesn’t exist in modernity but nevertheless explains the presence of expanses of industrial sites near this theoretical boundary.

It’s in the angles between neighborhoods where one finds the outsider churches, the uncommented prayer circles, and other odd gatherings of initiates. It’s also where the Cats are.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As always, the cats of Queens remind one to look for those things that you may have overlooked due to dross senses and inattention, as their race has always enjoyed certain sensitivities which are well beyond the limited range of men. Whether it be the curiously polydactyl tabbies around the Newtown Creek or the jet black blood line that dominates at Dutch Kills, one should always follow the advice of the Cats.

The one pictured in the shot above lunged at some bird, then stared at me, and turned its head back toward the direction I was walking. Dutifully, I twisted on my heels and saw…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This gated entry point is one of the 37th Avenue portals to the NYC S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard, a facility which stores and sorts various bits of street furniture and fittings- such as lamp posts, for instance. In warmer times, this entire fence line is encased in a thorny vine whose fruit is a foul smelling purple-red berry. The edge of an evidently large facility, it seems seldom travelled by men, but shows all signs of serving as a protected haven for the many cats observed around it.

The shattered column base stored here, however, I haven’t noticed before (although- it may well have been here- just overgrown with vegetation).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Something about this object is familiar to me, and its identity eludes me, although my thoughts keep drifting toward mental catalogs of midtown Manhattan transportation centers. Grand Central perhaps?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Simple observations of the object reveal it to be metallic, and designed to exhibit a cuprous patina. Were it composed of copper or white bronze, as it is designed to appear, this would be a small fortune sitting out in the snow (from a scrap metal point of view). Sculptural ornamentation and overall design suggest “City beautiful” or “Beaux Arts” era design to me, but it is difficult at best to discern such things from an object divorced of its overall and proper setting.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Its presence at the NYC S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard would also suggest that it’s some sort of ornamental base for a street light, but I can’t imagine where in Queens it would go. Most of what I’ve observed, in western Queens at least, is that this borough follows modernist and heroic design principals of Art Nouveau or Deco- think about the Grand Central Parkway and the Triborough approaches, the Queens Library, Flushing Meadow Park, even the Borough Hall for examples. What remains of historic Queens Plaza are the only examples of “City Beautiful” I’m aware of in the borough.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The column base itself is of a degenerate heterogeneity, combining “egg and dart” ornaments with ionic volutes and acanthus or papyrus leaf motif. Its multiple parts and central hollows further suggest that it is meant to act as the base of some electrical lighting apparatus.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

So, Lords and Ladies- Any ideas? Anyone out there recognize this object? My instinct and observations suggest it’s a product of either the late 19th or early 20th centuries, but frankly- I’m stumped.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 31, 2011 at 9:32 am

5 Responses

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  1. Looks quite like the light stanchion that once adorned end of Queensboro Bridge wall on SE corner 2nd Av & 60th St. You can see a shot of it on NY Public Library’s Digital Gallery. Use Digital ID of 707887F in the search window. Its cousin at 59th St is still there last time I looked. Maybe someone can take a look and compare. Seem to recall a lot of time and money spent on restoration of that end about 25-30 years back. Think they took it down and lost it?

    T.J. Connick

    January 31, 2011 at 11:38 pm

  2. A glimpse at Google “street view” confirms. See also library’s picture: Digital ID of 730938F. It’s an old shot of 59th St stanchion. Matches yours, but yours has collar with the depending decorations upside down. Make a ransom note and send it to Dept of Transportation – could be a big score.

    T.J. Connick

    January 31, 2011 at 11:57 pm

  3. [...] of the Pentacle has recognized the mysterious column I mentioned in yesterday’s posting (An Odd Impulse) as being part of the Queensboro Bridge- the Great Machine itself. Following text is from the [...]

  4. [...] two posts: “an odd impulse“, and “wisdom of crowds” discuss the discovery and identification in some [...]

  5. [...] the original postings about the thing, click here for “an odd impulse” and “wisdom of [...]


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