The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Bushwick’ Category

Project Firebox 94

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An ongoing catalog of New York’s endangered Fireboxes.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This soldier of the realm is found at the corner of Grand Street and Morgan Avenue in infinite Brooklyn, not too far from the darkest of those hillside thickets found along the Newtown Creek- which is its tributary English Kills. This is is Bushwick, historically, but the area has come to called East Williamsburg in modernity- a term which has zero historical precedence. Of course, ask a realtor where Williamsburg ends these days and they’ll tell you Lake Ronkonkoma.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 26, 2013 at 7:30 am

Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

- photo by Mitch Waxman

On Sunday -the 26th of May- the Working Harbor Committee is producing and offering a boat tour of the Newtown Creek for any interested parties to attend. A special emphasis on the waterway’s storied history and maritime legacy will be made.

I’m going to be doing the history part, speaking in my capacity as the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, and am tasked with highlighting the various points of interest encountered along the route. Anticipated to be some three hours in length, this boat tour will be delving some three miles inland, proceeding to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge crossing English Kills in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Maritime History of Newtown Creek is one largely forgotten in these decadent times, but even now an odd tugboat and barge might be spied making their way down the waterway on any given day. Property owners were considered to have been blessed by some of the finest industrial bulkheads in the world a mere century ago, yet many of the businesses based along the Creek today ignore this invaluable resource, allowing their waterfront property to decay and decline.

Nevertheless, a staggering amount of maritime traffic is still observed here, and towing companies such as Reinauer, K-Sea, DonJon, and Poling and Cutler are regular visitors.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast operations will be witnessed by those onboard, many of which are involved in the scrap metal and recyclables trade. Responsible for an enormous amount of cross harbor shipping, companies such as SimsMetal are heavily reliant on the maritime trades for their economic success.

Not all that long ago, Newtown Creek carried a greater tonnage of cargo than the entire Mississippi River.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

An active and thriving industrial zone in the center of New York City, from the water one can truly grasp the sheer scale of Newtown Creek’s busy waterfront. Normally hidden by high fences and obscured by street facing structures, the intensity of the Newtown Creek is laid bare before the admiring gaze of first time visitor and veteran urban explorer alike.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A tributary of the estuarine East River, Newtown Creek extends some 3.8 miles from its junction with the more familiar waterway, and provides demarcation for the currently undefended border of much of Brooklyn and Queens. Named to the Federal Superfund list, the Creek suffers from a history of environmental degradation and municipal neglect.

An era of great change is upon the Newtown Creek, and this trip will be one of your last chances to see it in its current form.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We will see four moveable bridges, and this year will be your last chance to see the static Kosciuszko Bridge as the NYS DOT has indicated that construction on its replacement will begin as early as the Fall of 2013.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Along it’s banks, great fortunes have risen.

Amongst others- Peter Cooper (BO Railroad, Canton Iron, and Cooper Union), Charles Pratt (Astral Oil, and Pratt University), and ultimately John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil)- all grew richer than the dreams of avarice in this place. Alongside them, the darkest mills of the industrial revolution- rendering plants, yeast distilleries, bone blackers, and acid factories provided tens of thousands of jobs to the immigrant populations of Brooklyn and Queens. Today- National Grid, BP, Amoco, ExxonMobil, and a host of other multinational companies still maintain an enormous investment in this valuable industrial canal.

Upcoming tour: Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

On May 26th, Mitch shares his unique point of view and deep understanding of the past, present and future conditions of the Newtown Creek as the narrator and expedition leader for this years’ Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

Our NY Water Taxi leaves from South Street Seaport at 10 a.m. (sharp) for a three hour tour of the Newtown Creek. From the East River we’ll move into the Newtown Creek where we’ll explore explore vast amounts of maritime infrastructure, see many movable bridges and discover the very heart of the Hidden Harbor.

Limited seating available, get your tickets today.

Tickets $59, trip leaves Pier 17 at South Street Seaport at 10a.m. sharp.

We will be traveling in a comfortable NY Water Taxi vessel with indoor and outdoor seating. There will be refreshments and snacks available for purchase at the bar.

Other upcoming tours:

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

for a full listing and schedule of tours and events, click here

The 2013 Spring and Summer Tours Schedule

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

Pana_NCA_CreekEDU_Boat_102311_013359_a

- photo by Mai Armstrong

Want to see something cool?

Odds are that a bunch of the folks who will be reading this might have no idea who Mitch Waxman is, why they should come along with him on a tour of some weird neighborhood in Brooklyn or Queens or Staten Island, nor what a Newtown Creek or Kill Van Kull are- let alone where. Who is this weirdo?

Check out the “bio” page here at Newtown Pentacle, or this profile of me from the NY Times published in 2012. My tours of Newtown Creek have garnered no small amount of interest from the fourth estate- whether it be DNAInfountappedcities.com, Queens Chroniclenewyorkview.net, the 22blog, photobycateblog.com, or Queensnyc, and I’ve turned up in a bunch of media reports, documentaries, and been interviewed for multitudinous reports on the lamentable history of the Newtown Creek.

Most recently, it was National Geographic and Curbed. Attendees on my tours come from a variety of backgrounds- photographers, history and rail buffs, maritime enthusiasts, and there always seems to be an odd and welcome concentration of elected officials and journalists about.

What is with this guy?

I’m the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, Official Photographer and Steering Committee member of the Working Harbor Committee, a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee and the Newtown Creek CAG, and am also a member of the Kosciuszko Bridge Stakeholders Advisory Committee. Newtown Pentacle, this blog, has been steadily published since 2009. I live in Astoria, Queens with my wife and our little dog, Zuzu.

In just the last few years, I have exposed thousands of people to the Newtown Creek, and its incredible history. This is where the industrial revolution actually happened, along this 3.8 mile long waterway that defines the border of Brooklyn and Queens.

t3_Atlas_PoisonCauldron_082512_012520_a

- photo by Mai Armstrong

In 2013, continuing relationships with Atlas Obscura, Newtown Creek Alliance, and the Working Harbor Committee (as well as friends like the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and others) allow me to offer the following schedule. Live ticketing links will be made available as they come online, and all dates are subject to cancellation or rescheduling due to weather or unforeseen circumstance. There are 6 unique walking tours listed here, and one boat trip in which I will be the principal speaker.

Private tours are possible, schedule permitting, and can be arranged by contacting me here. Last year, for instance, several private University classes engaged me for a day at the Creek, as did a few private groups. As mentioned, contact me and we will figure something out if you’ve got a meetup group, college class, or special request.

Here then, is my official schedule as it stands right now. There will likely be a few additions as time goes on, which I will let you know about as they occur. Best to subscribe to this blog (top right, email subscription)  or “follow” me on Twitter @newtownpentacle for news.

In April, 2013- There will be a brand new tour  of Greenpoint debuted, which I call “Glittering Realms.”

Glittering Realms- Saturday, April 20, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

In May, 2013- We start off with 13 Steps around Dutch Kills, go to the Insalubrious Valley, visit DUKBO, and finish off the month with a Working Harbor boat tour.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

NCA Birdwatch Bus tour- June 24, 2012

- photo by Mai Armstrong

In June, 2013- We visit the Poison Cauldron, return to the Insalubrious Valley, and check out the Kill Van Kull.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

In July, 2013- We visit Queens’s Hunters Point with a brand new tour. I might have another offering or two for you, but nothing I can speak about quite yet.

Modern Corridor- Saturday, July 13, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

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- photo by Mai Armstrong

In August, 2013- We return to the Poison Cauldron, repeat the 13 steps, and the Kill Van Kull walks.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, August 24, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

There are a few other dates coming in the fall, and a couple of more summer events which are still being discussed, but I’ll let you know more about them in coming posts.

Also, I will definitely be onboard but not on the microphone during the Working Harbor Committee “Beyond Sandy” Hidden Harbor tours on Tuesday nights, all summer. Hope you can come along.

Click here for more on “Beyond Sandy.”

Project Firebox 62

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

This graffito clad sentinel is found on Conselyea Street.

A tough guy, this box has stood its ground like any native son of infinite Brooklyn. When trouble pops up, it’s the first one to let the bosses know what threatens the neighborhood. They keep him out here on the corner to remind everyone back home that someone is always looking out.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 9, 2013 at 12:15 am

shallow mud

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Notice: the November 9th Magic Lantern Show with Atlas Obscura is cancelled for now. We hope to reschedule for sometime during the winter. Observatory, where the event is scheduled to take place, has been damaged by Hurricane Sandy and flooding.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Hank the Elevator Guy and I next proceeded to the Grand Street Bridge in our survey of the Newtown Creek watershed, post Hurricane Sandy. Reports during the storm itself described the area as impassible, and knowing that the low lying areas around Metropolitan and Flushing Avenues are normally prone to flooding, it was with no small amount of trepidation that we approached DUGSBO.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

On the Brooklyn side of the Grand Street Bridge, there was evidence of washouts and sedimentation from the banks, and a pile of rubble and even a wooden staircase was piled up against the fence which separates the street from the bulkheads of Newtown Creek’s East Branch.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally, the fire hydrant at the foot of the bridge was painted with muck and mire, indicating that the water overflowing the banks rose to at least its height. This is startling, as it is close to 15 feet over the normal waterline. However, given the presence of the enormous CSO back on Metropolitan Avenue, it would reasonable to assume that the surge rose from two directions here, one traveling eastward along the Creek from the East River, and another rising from the multiple vaults underlying Metropolitan.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Clearly affected by the flooding, this low lying yard which houses a school bus company was hard at work. Most of the buses had their engine hoods open, and mechanics were seen tinkering with the machinery therein. Additionally, there were people inside the buses working with cloths and mops. Another one of the subjects which I’ll likely be called to task for in the future by political wonks and area wags, one only hopes that an enormous amount of bleach will be expended by these laborers, before children are allowed onto these buses when schools open next week.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be noted, and admitted to you lords and ladies, that your humble narrator is embroiled by controversy and derision these days. Unsought but uncomfortably accepted notoriety has brought no small amount of joy to me, but there is a dark side to this as well. My notably unpleasant personality and aberrant disobedience to social norms, it would seem, is best taken in small doses. Fair enough, one must always remain and function as an outsider, for this is where I belong.

strange narratives

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Work is under way on certain subjects of a rather esoteric nature around HQ this week. A good amount of my attention is being focused on the particular section of Newtown Creek bulkhead pictured above, an area whose street facing side adjoins 47th street between Grand Avenue and 58th road. This was part of the aluminum manufacturing operation conducted by the ALCOA corporation during the second world war, spoken of at length by the departed Frank Principe. A general call for information is put forward to surviving Maspethicans and Blissvilians for any information which they might possess on the area- contact me here if you’ve got any tales to tell about the place which you can share.

I’m aware that the “office” to the plant was on the corner of 49th street at 47-10 Grand Avenue, incidentally, and know a bit about the heavy FBI presence during the 1940’s which area wags commented upon contemporaneously.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Crossing over from Queens to the Brooklyn side of the bridge, where Grand Avenue transmogrifies into Grand Street, one finds first a large shipping hub commensurate with dozens of trucks and then the Charles J. King scrap metal operation. The truck yard, it seems, occupies the footprint of a factory which built and sold prefabricated houses- a novel concept in the early 20th century. They would assemble an entire dwelling on site and then ship it out via truck or rail to all points of the compass.

An operation of some size and reputation, this is another part of the story here in DUGSBO which is in the process of research and production.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally, it would seem that the enormous Feldman lumber operation on Grand Street has been a lumber yard for literally more than a century- the business and parcel merely changing hands over the years. I’ve seen photos!

The process of discovering the history and presenting the same in a cogent fashion isn’t something which one commits to in the fashion of a police detective, at least not for your humble narrator.

It is odd sometimes, for the Newtown Creek seemingly does not like giving its secrets up easily, nor in a timely fashion that is suitable for publication.

The story of the place instead oozes out of the pages of wormy newspapers and elder tomes, suggesting rather than describing an answer to the eternal question- “who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?”.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

blurred and fragmentary

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

The scions who run the Newtown Creek Alliance declared that we all gather for a meeting recently, and not wanting to be mocked in absentia (rather in person), your humble narrator set out for the gathering. Only issue with this caucus was that it was being held in far off Ridgewood at the Onderdonk house, which is a pretty long walk from Newtown Pentacle HQ here in Astoria. After having moved things around, schedule wise, a vast scuttle was instituted. The shot above depicts the East Branch of the Newtown Creek at its terminus on Metropolitan Avenue.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Along the way, I decided to check out the Scott Avenue footbridge. This is a rusted metal and rotting concrete structure which rises over the tracks of the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch, allowing pedestrian traffic egress to Flushing Avenue- a structure seen from distance but never traversed. Due to the aforementioned distance from my quarters, it will be admitted, this is the section of the Newtown Creek watershed with which I am the least familiar and one which still offers pleasant surprises when visited. In the shot above, what you’re looking at is the northward facing tracks of the Bushwick Branch as they head towards Fresh Ponds.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The inverse view, to the south and the infinity of Brooklyn. The train cars, homogenous and numerous, are awaiting service by the NY and Atlantic freight railway. What is colloquially known as the “garbage train”, they are gathered for usage at the Varick Street Waste Management facility which is nearby and adjoins the bitter end of the Newtown Creek tributary known as English Kills near Johnson and Morgan avenues. The undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens is also present in this shot, although I cannot tell you exactly where. Additionally, I am unsure as to whether these cars were loaded with their putrescent charge when I gathered these images.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Pentacle postings “approaching locomotive” and “skillfully wafted” discuss the Bushwick Branch and the Waste Management facility at Varick Street in some detail, why not check them out? Luckily, lords and ladies, your humble narrator goes to these spots so you don’t have to. If you did want to see some of the wonders described within these postings- why not consider coming on one of the upcoming excursions I’ll be leading?

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

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