The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

racing ahead

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Happy Birthday, Marine Parkway Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I first mentioned the Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Bridge a few years ago, on its 75th birthday, in this post (I also lifted the shot above from that 2012 post). The post discusses the creation and opening of the vertical lift span (it was the largest specimen of this particular form of movable span in the world in 1937) and a bit of my personal history as well.

The Marine Parkway Bridge was one of Robert Moses’s early projects, and when it was built, it was constructed by the Marine Parkway Bridge Authority. An “Authority” was and is an unholy combination of private corporation and government which is allowed to issue bonds and keep its records away from private or press scrutiny (like a corporation) and also possesses the power of eminent domain and all the other stuff you’d associate with governmental agencies. The Authority was meant to be dissolved once it paid back its bonds, which were guaranteed by toll revenues, and the contractual relationship between lender and Authority was guaranteed by the State constitution as inviolable. This vouchsafed the “Authority” from circumspection by the public and press, and insulated it from the interference of Elected officialdom.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Marine Parkway Bridge Authority, like the Triborough Bridge Authority, was ruled over by Robert Moses. Moses ensured that whenever his various Authority bonds were about to come due a new round of financial offers would be tendered, and these bonds would be readily bought up by financial institutions which knew a “sure thing” when they saw it. Moses offered his bonds at a couple of interest points higher than Municipal bonds, and since the instruments were backed up by ever growing toll revenues and the Master Builder’s reputation, they were highly desirable. If Moses picked your bank as a lender, he also expected you to play ball with him on future projects. For more than forty years in NYC, Moses used this technique to control the building of highways, bridges, tunnels, and eventually housing in NYC. It took Nelson Rockefeller to break Moses’s grip on the system, and shatter the power of the “Authorities” by bringing them under the control of Elected officialdom.

Robert A. Caro called Moses “the Power Broker.” We all live in the aftermath of Moses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Marine Parkway Bridge is owned and operated today by an Authority set up by Governor Rockefeller back in the 1960’s – called the MTA. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, like the Port Authority, has the special government/corporate status that the Triborough Bridge (later the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority) and Marine Parkway Bridge Authorities enjoyed, but have little or no control over their own financing.

As Moses opined often, once the callow forces of the political parties and electoral politics got control over the Authorities, they’d reduce them down into patronage machines which would practice what was and is known as “good honest graft.” Of course, this is exactly what Moses did, and he never had to face the wrath of voters (except for a disastrous campaign for Governor, his one foray into “politics”). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Moses had a system. When he was issuing a bond offer, or doling out insurance contracts, the sealed documents would go to favored financial institutions. These favored institutions often had silent partners who happened to be Borough Presidents, Aldermen, or later in the game – City Council members. When he received his bonds, whose terms extended the life of his Authorities decades beyond their anticipated longevity, he’d dole out contracts to “connected” companies who would then hire workers based solely on political patronage. Ever notice that highway and big infrastructure projects always seem to start during election years? That’s Moses’s legacy at work. The Marine Parkway Bridge Authority, like the TBTA, was folded into the black box that is the MTA Bridge and Tunnels division decades ago by John D. Rockefeller’s grandson Nelson, and the Authority bonds were handed off to and underwritten by his brother – who was the CEO of Chase Manhattan.

It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just the way that it is. 

Welcome to New York City, here’s our shit sandwich, so take a bite – and happy birthday, Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Bridge.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 3, 2015 at 11:00 am

tricky twists

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Part of America’s Maritime Super Highway, Newtown Creek is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some of my friends in the “human powered boating” community (kayakers, but they prefer the “human powered” nomen, and trust me on this – don’t argue with the kayak people, as they are kind of like a cult) had an event a couple of weeks back. Long Island City Boat House and Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and a few Queens based organizations including Green Shores, paddled from Anable Basin on LIC’s East River frontage over to North Brooklyn Community Boat Club on Newtown Creek in Greenpoint and they asked me to get shots of them doing so.

Me, I’m a maritime industrial guy. Kayak shots ain’t my kind of thing, but if a friend asks for a favor…

After capturing their departure from Anable Basin, I headed over to the Boat Club in Brooklyn’s DUPBO (Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp) and along came the tugboat Dory. Whew, praise Superman.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A 1978 vintage tug, Dory is owned by Coastal Gulf and Marine Transport of Syossett, New York. You can find out all the details on her prior owners, tonnage, and onboard capabilities at the excellent tugboatinformation.com site. Dory was towing an empty barge eastward along the barge, and I would hazard the guess – based on the sort of barge unit employed – that they were heading for either Brooklyn’s Allocco recycling or Queens’ SimsMetal recycling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kayak Crew arrived, and the sun set over DUPBO. Pictured above is the Pulaski Bridge, and as the North Brooklyn Boat Club folks acted hospitably towards their guests from the North the sky grew dark.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, just as a humble narrator was packing up the lenses and camera, Dory returned and was towing a flat top barge while headed westerly towards the East River. Score!

As a note, it’s referred to as towing whether the tug is pushing or pulling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also, as a note, this whole environmental craze – epitomized by a tree growing from the Brooklyn side of the fabled Newtown Creek – tends to be ruinous in certain shots. Freaking nature, occluding the Empire State Building. Bah!

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 30, 2015 at 11:00 am

quaint fusion

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Shots from a recent boat trip to the Gowanus.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few weeks back, I conducted the Working Harbor Committee Newtown Creek boat tour, which was followed by an excursion to the Gowanus Canal. Both boats were solidly packed with harbor enthusiasts, curious explorers who welcomed the opportunity to visit some of NY Harbor’s less well known spots. Obviously, I didn’t get any shots on the Newtown Creek tour (my curse) but since my pals Joseph Alexiou and Eymund Diegel were handling the narration on the Gowanus trip, I was able to have some #superfun for once.

Pictured above, the push boat Emerald Coast in Gowanus Bay.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

John Quadrozzi Jr. was also onboard, and he jumped onto the microphone once or twice during the voyage. Seeing as how JQJr. actually owns big giant chunks of Gowanus Bay, he had a few things to say about this and that – offering the Working Harbor audience insider insights from his unique point of view.

One of the “this’s” Mr. Quadrozzi discussed was his Grain Terminal building, and one of the “that’s” was the ship Loujaine – both pictured above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I do like the point of view one is offered by the entrance to the Gowanus Canal, don’t forget that Gowanus Bay is kind of a separate banana from the Gowanus Canal, whose navigable entry point is found at the Hamilton Avenue Bridge.

That hulking monstrosity you’ll notice lurking above the bridge, in all its neighborhood blighting glory, is the Gowanus Expressway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our vessel’s passage required the Hamilton Avenue Bridge to open, and while we waited for the redoubtable employees of the NYC DOT to actuate its mechanisms, I noticed this bit of former maritime industrial glory sitting on the poison shoreline. First thought that entered my head when I saw it was “this is the dreidel of the gods.” For those of you reading this who are “goyem,” a dreidel is that little Jewish spinning top thing with the Hebrew lettering on it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The HMS Liberty, observed as it passes by the SimsMetal facility and a windmill on the southern shore of Gowanus Bay. Liberty is a tugboat, as opposed to the Emerald Coast found in the first shot of today’s post – which is a push boat. Both are towing vessels, of course, and tug versus push is pretty descriptive of the different approaches to the mission which they’re engineered for.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

far within

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A bright, light, sunshiney day, in Today’s Post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, the Federal NOAA agency placed a plaque at Bushwick Inlet’s U.S.S. Monitor Museum site, signifying the launch site of the United States’ first ironclad war ship from the spot in Greenpoint. One made it a point to arrive early, there was an event planned which involved dignitaries speaking and children singing, and take a bit of time to get “artsy – fartsy” with the camera and grab some shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The one above is a stitched panorama, representing around 200 degrees of view. Just to the right of center are some of the big condo buildings in Williamsburg, and at far right are the tanks of Bayside Fuel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s Franklin Street on the other side of the fence, btw, behind an overgrown fence line which one didn’t explore except with a zoom lens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was, indeed, a duck of some kind there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rotting timbers found in the littoral zone, which look quite a bit different than the ones you’ll find along my beloved Newtown Creek. These are green and teeming with life, as the East River is actually quite a bit cleaner here than in its northern tributary.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were lots of rusty bits sticking up out of the ground, but heck – this used to be Continental Iron Works after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continental Iron Works, in addition to building the Monitor, also fabricated the caissons of the Brooklyn Bridge here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of this stuff doesn’t date back to the 1860’s, obviously, there’s a large MTA warehouse and workshop on the landward side and this was the industrial coast of North Brooklyn. Nothing laid fallow here until pretty late in the game – the 1960’s at the very earliest. The experts on this site are George and Janice from the Greenpoint Monitor Museum, who can tell you all about it here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My interest in Bushwick Inlet is Newtown Creek oriented, of course. The historical definitions of the wetlands surrounding my beloved Creek always mention Bushwick Creek (here) to the south, and Sunswick Creek (Hallets Cove) to the north.

The area between Newtown and Bushwick Creek was called “the Cripplebush,” which is a fun fact.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking past the mouth of Bushwick Inlet, one finds the Freedom Tower, rising from the LeCorbusier inspired NYCHA housing which rings the Shining City.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 18, 2015 at 11:00 am

green banks

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Checking on the scene in DUKBO, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, one attended an excursion with the NYC DEP, the EPA CSTAG committee, and whole lot of other alphabetical agency types. This was a part of the Superfund process, and I was along in my capacity with Newtown Creek Alliance and the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group. This post won’t discuss the various bits of pedantry and maneuvering between the various entities onboard, and is instead a progress report centered the Kosciuszko Bridge construction and replacement project underway at my beloved Newtown Creek.

From the landward side, it’s difficult to see what progress has been made here, but as with all points of view around the Newtown Creek – all is revealed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Skanska is the principal on the project, and they are drumming right along.

As you can see, on “used to be Cherry Street” over in Greenpoint, steel frames for the concrete legs of the new bridge have risen. My understanding is that the foundations for the bridge footings were laid back during the winter, and that despite the freezing conditions, work was well underway by the time things began to warm up in April.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new Kosciuszko Bridge is going to be significantly lower in height than the current span, but will incorporate several design features to alleviate the congestion which has been found at the intersection of Long Island Expressway and Brooklyn Queens Expressway for generations. The project is playing out in several phases, with the first one being the construction of the new bridge and rerouting of its 2.1 miles of approach roads and the demolition of the 1939 era bridge.

When all that’s done, they start on the easterly half of the new Kosciuszko Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new Kosciuszko Bridge is going to be of the “cable stay” type, which will make it a novelty in NYC. Most exciting for me is the promise of a pedestrian walkway on the western side of the span, which should make for some interesting visuals – “I should only live so long enough to see it finished” is what my Gradmother would have said.

Personally, I’m going to refer to it as “climbing K2.”

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 7th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

June 11th, 2015
MADE IN BROOKLYN Hidden Harbor Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee, click here for details and tickets.

June 13th, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

historical realities

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From the Magic Lantern show…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Welcome to DUPBO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

mixed anger

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Detestation of convention, polity, and custom

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has mentioned the amazing sense of finality felt when encountering the soon to be absent Kosciuscko Bridge before. This bridge is significant, and its replacement more so, as its opening in 1939 signalled the beginning of the era of Robert Moses in NYC, and the replacement of this first link in his chain of intracity highway projects that would become the Brooklyn Queens Expressway means that Moses is finally gone.

Don’t mention that to our current Mayor, of course, whose grandiose plans for “affordable housing” are essentially the “urban renewal” projects of our modern age. For those of you not in the know on that term, “Urban Renewal” was the blanket term used by Mr. Moses and his cohorts for destroying existing neighborhoods and replacing them with federally funded housing projects.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A creature such as myself loathes the souless nature of the “towers in the park” concept promulgated by the French Crypto Fascist LeCorbusier and his mid century devotees, like Robert Moses. It is my belief that many of the underlying societal forces which drove and continue to drive crime in public housing emanates from the depersonalization and alienation from the surrounding neighborhoods which is engendered by life in the “houses.” Urban Renewal era projects like Stuyvesant Town or the Ravenswood or Cooper houses destroy the street grid and eliminate the sense of ownership residents of traditional blocks feel for their corner or block. Jane Jacobs was entirely correct about this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bridge replacement is entirely necessary, of course, as the old gray truss bridge over my beloved Creek is in a sorry state. One wonders what unexpected consequence the new span will bring us – will the corrected patterns of “flow” for automobile traffic do to the southern extents of Sunnyside or northern edges or Greenpoint?

Only time will tell, I guess. When the Queensboro or Alfred E. Smith housing projects went up they were meant to stem a wave of crime and youth violence thought to be caused by life in dilapidated tenements. Within twenty years of their construction, both of these projects ending up becoming bigger problems than those which they sought to solve, and the slum conditions which they sought to clear had expanded and intensified around these projects to encompass entire regions of the greater City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is truly astounding, seeing that none of the lessons of the 20th century seem to be part of our current Mayor’s agenda. There is a dearth of affordable housing in NYC, you just cant get there and back again from Manhattan easily as this building stock is found in central areas of Brooklyn and Queens which are only accessible by the automobile – thanks to Mr. Moses.

If we have the municipal bucks to even consider decking the Sunnyside Yards, why not think in truly grand terms and extend or create new Subway lines for the first time in nearly a century. If you build it, the forces of the capitalist market will take care of all the housing you need. Building Soviet style blocks in the LeCorbusier style will only magnify the problems of NYC’s most vulnerable classes, not solve them. Then again, maybe thats what the Bureaucrats want – job security.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

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