The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

puerile symbolism

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s difficult for me to not interpret what I found on my camera card for this leg of my “Grand Walk”, a panic induced fugue through starry pathways which carried me from St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan back to Astoria, as not being influenced by street car lines which haven’t existed since the early 20th century. These streets are relict, not that important anymore, and have served Brooklynites simply as short cuts to the bridge for quite some time. The BQE served to silence and humiliate Williamsburg mid century and nearly destroyed the place.

from the Brooklyn daily eagle almanac, courtesy google books

- photo by Mitch Waxman

By diverting traffic around Williamsburg, just as the Long Island Expressway does in the “Empty Corridor” of Long Island City, the local streets are starved of the economic benefits they once enjoyed from the Manhattan bound traffic. When still a child, the family would pack into the Plymouth periodically and head to north Brooklyn for so called “Italian cookies”. The trip was justified by the existence of relict bakeries in the area which hadn’t changed their menus in decades as no new customers were appearing.

The entire coast line of Long Island that faces the East River spent most of the 20th century asphyxiating in this manner and one man in particular is responsible for it.

from wikipedia

Robert Moses’s power increased after World War II, when, after the retirement of LaGuardia, a series of politically weak mayors consented to almost all of Moses’s proposals.Named city “construction coordinator”, in 1946, by Mayor William O’Dwyer, Moses also became the official representative of New York City in Washington, D.C. Moses was also now given powers over public housing that had eluded him under LaGuardia. Moses’s power grew even more when O’Dwyer was forced to resign in disgrace and was succeeded by Vincent R. Impellitteri, who was more than content to allow Moses to exercise control over infrastructure projects from behind the scenes.

One of Moses’s first steps after Impellitteri took office was killing the development of a city-wide Comprehensive Zoning Plan, underway since 1938, that would have restrained his nearly uninhibited power to build within the city, and removing the existing Zoning Commissioner from power. Impellitteri enabled Moses in other ways, too. Moses was now the sole person authorized to negotiate in Washington for New York City projects. He could now remake New York for the automobile. By 1959, Moses had built 28,000 apartment units on hundreds of acres. In clearing the land for high-rises in accordance with the tower in a park scheme, which at that time was seen as innovative and beneficial, he sometimes destroyed almost as many housing units as he built.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Robert Moses was responsible for the construction of the Throgs Neck, the Bronx-Whitestone, the Henry Hudson, and the Verrazano Narrows bridges. His other projects included the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Staten Island Expressway, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the Belt Parkway, the Laurelton Parkway, and many more. Federal interest had shifted from parkway to freeway systems, and the new roads mostly conformed to the new vision, lacking the landscaping or the commercial traffic restrictions of the pre-war ones. He was the mover behind Shea Stadium and Lincoln Center, and contributed to the United Nations headquarters.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As is the case in cities across the world, when the rents went down, crime went up. In modernity, while New York City was experiencing a serious decline in crime statistics – Nassau County and Newark experienced an explosion of illicit activity. This is a largely uncommented phenomena, of course, as the lowering of crime in NYC is largely attributed to the NYPD rather than a socioeconomic migration of problematic populations from one part of the megalopolis to another. The same is true of the “gentrified” sections of Brooklyn and Queens, when crime dropped in Long Island City- it rose in Jamaica.

Why? The rent is cheaper in Jamaica than it is in Tower Town.

from wikipedia

New York became the most populous urbanized area in the world in early 1920s, overtaking London, and the metropolitan area surpassed the 10 million mark in early 1930s, becoming the first megacity in human history. The difficult years of the Great Depression saw the election of reformer Fiorello LaGuardia as mayor and the fall of Tammany Hall after eighty years of political dominance.

Returning World War II veterans created a postwar economic boom and the development of large housing tracts in eastern Queens. New York emerged from the war unscathed as the leading city of the world, with Wall Street leading America’s place as the world’s dominant economic power. The United Nations Headquarters (completed in 1950) emphasized New York’s political influence, and the rise of abstract expressionism in the city precipitated New York’s displacement of Paris as the center of the art world.

In the 1960s, New York City began to suffer from economic problems and rising crime rates. While a resurgence in the financial industry greatly improved the city’s economic health in the 1980s, New York’s crime rate continued a steep uphill climb through the decade and into the beginning of the 1990s.[83] By the 1990s, crime rates started to drop dramatically due to increased police presence and gentrification, and many American transplants and waves of new immigrants arrived from Asia and Latin America. Important new sectors, such as Silicon Alley, emerged in the city’s economy and New York’s population reached an all-time high in the 2000 census.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What fascinates, however, are the lost connections between the ancient villages and once upon a time cities of this original gold coast found along the River of Sound. Manhattan avenue, looking off in the direction of Greenpoint is pictured above. The street car lines which shuttled shoppers and commuters from the Grand Street Ferry back to Newtown Creek’s greatest city ran along here, and would have turned off Grand north toward Greenpoint and Long Island City via the Vernon Avenue Bridge.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Another line would break off at Bushwick Avenue, carrying passengers south and east. Ultimately, a rider could travel all the way to Canarsie from here. Mention must be made that I’m no expert on the topic of street car lines in Brooklyn, and that the subject has only recently gained any paramount in my researches on the history and underlying structure of this- your Newtown Pentacle.

Which brings me to something I get asked a lot these days- what exactly do you mean by “Newtown Pentacle”?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The European mind of the 17th, 18th, and early 19th century delighted in geometry and esoteric symbolism. Famously, Christopher Wren laid London’s churches and palaces out in a colossal pentagram when rebuilding from the Great Fire of London in 1666. Certainly, defensive fortifications and strategic thinking in these ages followed certain long standing geometries- stars and pentagrams especially. Washington D.C. Fulfills some freemasonic ideal of urban planning, with White House and Capitol Building occupying particular location and relationship to obelisk and parade grounds. Western Queens and North Brooklyn are no exception to this rule.

from wikipedia

Little also is known of Wren’s schooling. The story that he was at Westminster School from 1641 to 1646 is unsubstantiated. Parentalia, the biography compiled by his son, a third Christopher, places him there “for some short time” before going to Oxford (in 1650). Some of his youthful exercises preserved or recorded (though few are datable) showed that he received a thorough grounding in Latin; he also learned to draw. According to Parentalia, he was “initiated” in the principles of mathematics by Dr William Holder, who married Wren’s elder sister Susan (or Susanna) in 1643. During this time period, Wren manifested an interest in the design and construction of mechanical instruments. It was probably through Holder that Wren met Sir Charles Scarburgh whom Wren assisted in his anatomical studies.

On 25 June 1650, Wren entered Wadham College, Oxford where he studied Latin and the works of Aristotle. It is anachronistic to imagine that he received scientific training in the modern sense. However, Wren became closely associated with John Wilkins, who served as warden in Wadham. Wilkins was a member of a group of distinguished scholars. This group, whose activities led to the formation of the Royal Society, consisted of a number of distinguished mathematicians, original and sometimes brilliant practical workers and experimental philosophers. This connection probably influenced Wren’s studies of science and mathematics at college. He graduated B.A. in 1651, and three years later received M.A.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Start a line at the Williamsburg Bridge, or let’s just call it the Wallabout. Trace it to Broadway’s intersection with Jamaica Avenue, and follow the Interboro (Jackie Robinson Parkway) to the remains of Flushing Creek at the Grand Central. Follow Grand Central north, past Strong’s Causeway, to the extant of historic Newtown in Elmhurst at “North Beach” which is modern day LaGuardia airport. Trace the line west along the original coastline of Queens to Hells Gate, and then south back to the Wallabout. This area encapsulates the entire colonial network of roads and villages which grew up isolated from the rest of the island by the Cripplebush of Brooklyn and other natural obstacles like the Flushing River, Newtown and Sunswick and Wallabout Creeks, and which developed into three of the four great municipalities of Long Island’s western coast- Greenpoint, Long Island City, and Williamsburg.

The 4th was the actual city of Brooklyn, of course, but that’s another story.

Pictured above is Morgan Avenue, where another street car would break from the Grand Street line to carry workers to the mills and factories of English Kills in the 3rd ward of Williamsburg, known to modernity as East Williamsburg. God’s gift to pain is found in this direction, and this image signals that my unremembered and unconscious walk had carried me to the Creeklands.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The colour is noticed here, the iridescent sheen which is neither black nor white nor describable by use of any wholesome Pantone swatch. The prismatic coating which adorns every rusted fencepost and worm eaten piece of wood and the sinister faces of oddly hostile children is like nothing of this earth, rather it is like something from beyond- like a colour from space. A manifestation of dissolution and decay, this colour signals that the Newtown Creek flows lugubriously nearby.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In this place, where Grand Street meets Metropolitan, another rail car would slip off the main line and head toward Ridgewood, while the Grand Street line would continue toward Maspeth and eventually the center of Newtown itself- crossing the creek via the Meeker Avenue, or Penny, bridge for the electric cars and Grand Street Bridge for the horse drawn.

In this place, what looks like sand is powdered automotive glass, that which appears to wholesome soil is congealed soot and ash, and the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Unknown aerosols drift from open sewer and automotive tailpipe mixing freely in a petrochemical haze as the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself stares down on the concrete desolation. Its emanations causes these humors and industrial liquors to combine chemically in unknown and unstudied ways- depositing more of the colour as they precipitate onto every available surface.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It wasn’t until I saw these images on my camera card that realization set in as to where my panic induced perambulation was headed, and that I hadn’t been following trolley routes or anything normal like that. There was only one place I could be going along this route, one that millions had followed in the 19th century, a journey that started at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, crossed the River, and continued up Grand Street to it’s final destination in Queens.

For now, though, I seem to have wandered into DUMABO.

from nyc.gov

Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Over English Kills

Metropolitan Avenue is a two-way local City street in Kings and Queens Counties. The number of lanes varies from two to four along the entire length of Metropolitan Avenue, which runs east-west and extends from River Street in the Southside section of Brooklyn to Jamaica Avenue in Queens. The bridge, the only one over English Kills, carries both Metropolitan Avenue and Grand Street. The bridge is situated between Vandervoort and Varick Avenues in the East Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The Metropolitan Avenue Bridge is a double leaf bascule bridge with a span of 33.8 m. The general appearance of the bridge has been significantly changed since it was opened in 1931. The bridge provides a channel with a horizontal clearance of 26.2 m and a vertical clearance, in the closed position, of 3.0 m at MHW and 4.6 m at MLW. The bridge structure carries a four-lane two-way vehicular roadway with sidewalks on either side. The roadway width is 16.2 m and the sidewalks are 1.8 m. There are no height restrictions on the bridge.

After the City acquired Metropolitan Avenue from the Williamsburg and Jamaica Turnpike Road Company in 1872, the existing bridge was replaced by a swing bridge, which was also used by the Broadway Ferry and Metropolitan Avenue Railroad Company. Growth in the area made the bridge inadequate by the early 20th century. The current bridge was built in 1931. Modifications since then have included upgrading the mechanical and electrical systems and the replacement of deck, bridge rail, and fenders. The stringers were replaced and new stiffeners added in 1992.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 14, 2011 at 4:42 pm

3 Responses

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  1. [...] down Delancey Street, went over the Williamsburg Bridge, staged into Williamsburg, and continued up Grand Street in the direction of that assassination of joy called the Newtown Creek- is the ideation that [...]

  2. [...] across the East River from St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan into Williamsburg and up Grand Street to Maspeth and the baroque intrigues of the Newtown Creek- wound down into it’s final steps [...]

  3. [...] across the East River from St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan into Williamsburg and up Grand Street to Maspeth and the baroque intrigues of the Newtown Creek- wound down into it’s final steps on [...]


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