The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Lower East Side’ Category

smartly curled

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A visit to Manhattan, in today’s post.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For reasons that I’d rather not go into, one had several hours to kill recently while immersed in an elevated and overtly emotional state of mind. Wandering around First Avenue and its side streets, between 14th and 23rd street, happenstance carried me to 415 14th street where one may notice that the Church of the Immaculate Conception stands. The address once belonged to a Presbyrterian outfit that called itself “Grace Chapel” but after the construction of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village annihilated the Roman Catholic original “Immaculate Conception” across the street, the Catholics purchased the building and moved in. They’ve been here since 1946, I’m told.

from immaculateconception-nyc.org

In 1914, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company embarked on one of the most successful urban renewal projects in the history of New York City. It created Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town to address a projected housing shortage among returning World War II veterans. The Met, as it was known in those days, bought up block after block of the area between 14th and 23rd Streets, from First Avenue to Avenue C. Included in the purchases were Immaculate Conception Church, its rectory, convent and school buildings.

The Archdiocese of New York then purchased an Episcopal mission settlement, Grace Chapel, on the south side of 14th Street, East of First Avenue. It was renamed “Immaculate Conception.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Lower East Side, along with Harlem, barely resembles the neighborhood I remember from the 1980’s. This particular corner used to be a good place to die, or at least catch a scorching case of death, and there was a bit of a fortress mentality to the area back “in the day.” Junkies, addicts, and the whole crew of loathsome indigents who called the L line Subway station on 14th “HQ” used to pollute the sidewalks hereabouts. It was odd to see the gates to the church open, and a sign promised that there was a cloister back here, so I scuttled onto the property to take a look.

from wikipedia

A cloister (from Latin claustrum, “enclosure”) is an open space surrounded by covered walks or open galleries, with open arcades on the inner side, running along the walls of buildings and forming a quadrangle or garth. The attachment of a cloister to a cathedral or church, commonly against a warm southern flank, usually indicates that it is (or once was) part of a monastic foundation, “forming a continuous and solid architectural barrier… that effectively separates the world of the monks from that of the serfs and workmen, whose lives and works went on outside and around the cloister.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, the so called cloister seems to have converted over to a parking lot, so there wasn’t too much to see. There’s also a parochial school back here, and for some reason – unaccompanied middle aged men with cameras seem to set off alarm bells when the subject of school children comes up so I headed back out to 14th street. I did stop into the chapel, but there were bunches of adherents praying in there and I didn’t want to disturb their reverie or violate their privacy by taking photos.

It’s quite lovely in there, however.

from wikipedia

Stranger danger is the danger to children presented by strangers. The phrase stranger danger is intended to sum up the danger associated with adults whom children do not know. The phrase has found widespread usage and many children will hear it (or similar advice) during their childhood lives. Many books, films and public service announcements have been devoted to helping children remember this advice. The concept has been criticized for ignoring the fact that most child abductions and harm result not from strangers, but rather from someone the child knows.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

On the front of the church, there’s a public fountain. There aren’t many of these 19th century artifacts left in Manhattan – I can think of one in the west village and a couple down near the City Hall/Canal Street area that was once known as the Five Points, but it’s a rare thing to spot them anymore. I’m far more surprised that it survived the urban renewal period of the 40’s and 50’s than our current era of gentrification, actually. It’s more than likely that there used to be a common cup chained to the fountain, not unlike the one displayed in a period photo at ephemeralnewyork in the link below.

from ephemeralnewyork

This 1913 photo shows a boy at a public water fountain in Madison Square Park; he’s drinking from a common cup attached to a chain. Of course, no one today would ever drink from the same cup thousands of strangers also put their lips on. But back then, in pre-germ-awareness times, not everyone realized how unsanitary it was.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m no metallurgist, but to me the fountain seems to be bronze. There’s a basin and two ornamental fishes, the latter were where the water was dispensed into the former. If you think its difficult finding a place to sit down or use a toilet in 21st century Manhattan, you couldn’t imagine how rough it would have been back in the late 19th century.

Back then, this part of the Shining City was a thriving immigrant neighborhood of tenements and small factories that extended to the East River. The other side of the street, where Stuyvesant Town currently squats, was once a slum called “The Gaslight district.” Amenities like this drinking fountain were acts of charity offered to the affected masses by the well off. On the masonry above it is the legend “Ho, everyone that thirsteth.”

from wikipedia

In 1842, one gas storage tank at East 23rd Street and the river was erected, quickly followed by the construction of other gas tanks, and by the late 19th century, the site of the complex had become known as the Gashouse District because of the many tanks that dominated the streetscapes. The tanks, which sometimes leaked, made the area undesirable, as did the Gas House Gang and other predators who operated in the area. With the construction of the FDR Drive, the area began to improve. By the 1930s, all but four tanks were gone and, while shabby, the area was no more blighted than many parts of the city after the years of the Great Depression; crime in the district had been endemic, however. When Alexander S. Williams was promoted to police captain and assigned to the area, he met the gangs’ violence with equal force of his own, putting together a brute squad that beat up gangsters with clubs. He commented: “There is more law at the end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

At the base of the bronze fountain is a legend offering the birth and death dates for a person named “Fanny Garretson Russell.” I looked around the web for information on this inscription, which you’d think would be well documented due to its presence in Manhattan, but found nothing.

“OK” thought I, and utilizing some of my “find the hidden history of Queens” skills, I got to work-

Fanny was the grand daughter of Charles Handy Russell, of Providence Rhode Island. Russell’s father was a Major in the continental army during the American Revolution, and the family history goes all the way back to the Mayflower on one side and the founding of Woburn, Massachusetts in 1640 on the other.

Charles Handy Russell came to New York in the 1820’s, rising to a position of financial and political prominence. Russell was a railroad man, the President of the Bank of Commerce, dabbled in maritime insurance, was part of the original board of directors in charge of Central Park, and a husband to Caroline Howland. The couple had children: Charles Howland Russell – who was the Private Secretary of the United States Secretary of State during the administration of President Hayes, and Samuel Howland Russell were amongst them.

Samuel, a mining engineer who graduated from Columbia University, married Elizabeth Watts Garretson in June of 1884. Their first daughter was named Fanny, who died on the 23rd of August in 1894. This fountain’s dedication is to her.

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mad and fantastic

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Busy bees, and misanthropy, in today’s post.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The insect above was busily raiding Our Lady of the Pentacle’s herb garden one recent afternoon. Accordingly, I chased it around from blossom to blossom with a camera and flash. Soon, it was chasing me around. Such is my lot. The bee was merely attempting to shoo a representative of NYC’s human infestation away, something for which I can hardly blame it. There’s too many of us.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One shouldn’t be surprised at the various indignities and inequities commonly experienced along the daily round, I suppose, given that many of the places I find myself have the word “hell” in their place names. Over in Manhattan’s Hells Kitchen, for instance, this taxi garage was queerly devoid of human habitation. A good start, I guess, but there’s still too many of us.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Down on the Lower East Side, in an area once known as “Jew town,” this laundromat scene reminded me of certain Edward Hopper paintings. The facility was offering the humans housed therein a chance to remove the soils and bodily excreta which had accreted into their textile garb – using a variety of semi caustic chemicals, detergents, and mechanically agitated hot water. There’s way too many of us, and I fear that what this city could really use is a good plague.

Someday a real rain will come and wash these streets clean…

Sorry for the misanthropy, I get a bit “Travis Bickle” when my back hurts…

“You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?”

photo courtesy wikipedia

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, September 27th, 13 Steps Around Dutch Kills
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, September 28th, The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek
Walking Tour with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 16, 2014 at 12:18 pm

extended indefinitely

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Manny hatty keeps on forcing me to visit.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For someone who actually loathes visiting Manhattan, preferring the ruinations of western Queens and devastations of northern Brooklyn to the Shining City, I do seem to be spending an awful lot of time there of late. Another recent series of events demanded that I visit the Bloody Sixth Ward and Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so down the hole and into an electrically driven aluminum box of monkey meat did I go.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The visit to Old St. Patrick’s was all business, introducing a certain engenue to the Church’s resident historical hierophant. While on site, I snapped a few quick shots, all the while wishing that I had brought my tripod along with me. Unfortunately, the bulky tool is a bit of a carry, and unless I expressly know that I’m going to be utilizing the thing it gets left home. When I’m not on that rattling contraption that hurtles beneath the streets, I’m walking, after all.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

While doing some of that walking, on my way back to the underground monkey mover, this absolutely cliche “little italy” shot appeared before me. It looked so incredibly staged, couldn’t help but record it.

Note: A holiday schedule of single images will be presented here next week, although I’m going to be solidly ensconced in Queens as no one will have me. Time for a little break, and to mix things up a bit. You may have noticed that Maritime Sunday hasn’t splashed into port the last couple of weeks- which is mainly due to my inability to get out on the water during the cold months, precluding the gathering of fresh and or interesting content for the feature. It’ll return in the future, when I’m able to get out there again.

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granite portal

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One step forward, two steps back.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Once upon a time, this charming section of Manhattan was home to cattle yards, rendering plants, and an enormous industrial sector which ran on coal. It was described as smokey, stinky, and not very pleasant by the Knickerbockracy. By the time of the Civil War, that had all changed, and this area which came to be called Union Square had begun to gentrify. Shedding itself of dirty or noisome industry is something the folks over in the City have absolutely excelled at over the years. These days, the place drowns in sentiment, seems fairly underutilized, and would benefit from some of the thinking and urban planning which guides the burgeoning shorelines of the East River in Brooklyn and Queens. Have you noticed that there are few buildings around Union Square which are under 20 stories?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Obligation carried one to the Shining City again just last week, for a lunch meeting this time, and I spied this crew of fellows tearing up a substantial chunk of 18th street. They seemed to be having a great time, using esoteric equipment and enjoying a ribald orgy of demolition. When I was a younger and less humble narrator, around the age of 5, my ambition was to drive a bull dozer. It is good to see that, for some, the dreams of childhood did not suffer the brutal euthanasia which mine have. The City people did not seem to notice the crew, presumptively this scene was just another obstacle for them which impeded rushing about and spending. It’s enough to drive one into the arms of a mixologist.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Profoundly unpopular, physically repulsive and societally unacceptable, one such as myself desires nothing more than to be included in things. How one wishes that parties such as the one witnessed in today’s post were the sort of thing for which an invitation might be offered. This looks like so much fun, tearing into the concretized firmament with powerful engines of modern design. Long have I been curious about what might lie below, but such obsessions are denied me, and one can only photograph that which occurs in a brightly lit world illumined by the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself, here in the Shining City.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday- September 28, 2013
Newtown Creek Boat Tour with the Working Harbor Committee- tickets on sale now.

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale soon.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

 

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 25, 2013 at 12:19 pm

idle curiosity

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In today’s post- The New York Marble Cemetery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

If your view of second avenue in Manhattan’s East Village looks like what you see in the shot above, there’s only one place you can possibly be.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

You would be standing on the other side of these gates, found at the end of an alley, and within a walled off corridor which was established in 1831- the same year that the French Foreign Legion first deployed and Charles Darwin left England for the Galapagos onboard the Beagle.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the perks of working with Atlas Obscura is that I can sometimes insert myself into somebody else’s adventure, and in this case, it was Allison Meier’s walking tour excursion to the New York Marble Cemetery at 41 1/2 Second Avenue. She graciously allowed me to attend her sold out tour.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Check out this page, which I think Allison wrote- at the Atlas Obscura- for the full history of the place (there’s no point in me paraphrasing it). The tombs are all underground, with the grave markers arranged on the walls in the form of stone plaques. The surrounding neighborhood has literally risen around the place, with every building style from 19th century tenement to ultra modern luxury hotel represented around it.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The president of the cemetery association was there to talk to the attendees, and she described the walls as being quite fragile and in bad condition. Nearly two hundred years of New York air, and vibration, have taken their toll on mortar laid down just ten years before Mary Rogers “the beautiful cigar girl” was found in a trunk floating along on the Hudson- sparking the interest of none other than Edgar Allen Poe.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the plaque denoting the tomb of Uriah Scribner, father of the eponymous founder of the publishing house “Charles Scribner’s Sons.” Uriah died in 1853.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

1830’s New York City is literally the stuff of legend.

It’s Poe’s town, as well as the NYC that Herman Melville and Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant knew, a city which had less than a quarter million inhabitants. What we call the lower east side was farmland back then, and the center of town was down near the Battery.

The river fronts were described as a “forest of masts” for all the merchant trading vessels found docked there.

Check out the New York Marble Cemetery here.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Want to see something cool? June 2013 Walking Tours-

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

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

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

hollow voice

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Consolidated Edison facility on 13th street and avenue D in Manhattan famously exploded during Hurricane Sandy. Oddly, just a few months prior to this, I had found myself perched upon the DEP property across the street- when the shot above was captured. Embedded below is a video which seems to have been captured from a vantage in Long Island City (by someone else) which depicts the explosion.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm

raised place

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Marie J. Turecamo, a Moran tug, getting all iconic on the East River. This tug has been discussed in earlier posts at this, your Newtown Pentacle, specifically the posting “Circumnavigation 1” from which the following is quoted:

…along came the Marie J. Turecamo tugboat- a 2,250 HP twin screw tug operated by Moran Towing. It was originally built as the Traveller in 1968, by Tangier Marine Transport which operated out of the Main Iron Works facility in Houma, LA.

from morantug.com

Moran is a leading provider of marine towing and transportation services, a 150-year-old corporation that was founded as a small towing company in New York Harbor and grew to preeminence in the industry. The cornerstone of our success has been a long-standing reputation for safe, efficient service, achieved through a combination of first-rate people and outstanding vessels and equipment.

Over the course of its history Moran has steadily expanded and diversified, and today offers a versatile range of services stemming from its core capabilities in ship docking, contract towing, LNG activities and marine transportation. Our tug fleet serves the most ports of any operator in the eastern United States, and services LNG terminals along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts and the West Coast of Mexico. The Moran barge fleet serves the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, the Great Lakes, the inland waters of the U.S. eastern seaboard, and the Gulf of Mexico. We also provide worldwide marine transportation services, including operations in the Caribbean and periodic voyages to South America and overseas waters.

Another appearance of the tug, wherein it played a similar iconic role and chewed a different bit of harbor scenery was in the posting “curious customs“.

Also- Upcoming tours…

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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