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Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

pale vapors

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Lower Manhattan’s FDR drive, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just prior to this shot of Manhattan’s FDR Drive being captured, a humble narrator had walked across the East River via the Williamsburg Bridge from the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg at Meeker Avenue. One enjoyed a brief sit down and contemplation of the past at Corlears Hook park on Cherry Street before continuing on. Cherry Street on the East Side is one of those spots in NYC which is writ large in the historic record, and even Jacob Riis mentions it (during its degenerate period).

According to contemporaneous reports, the absolute worst tenements of the 19th century were not found at the famous Five Points but here at Cherry street. Additionally, a gang whose specialty was river piracy operated out of this area – they were called the Swamp Angels – and it’s because of their infamy that the NYPD ultimately created the Harbor Unit. After resting for a few minutes (it’s important to give your lower back an interval of downtime on a long walk, since it’s actually doing most of the work) I crossed one of the pedestrian bridges over the coastal parkway and entered “The House of Moses.”

from wikipedia

In 1785, the four-story mansion at 3 Cherry Street was leased by the Continental Congress to serve as the Executive Mansion for Richard Henry Lee, President of the Congress under the Articles of Confederation. It continued to serve as such for the next three Presidents and, in April and May 1789 served as the first Executive Mansion of the President of the United States and Mrs. Martha Washington.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another term of my own invention, “The House of Moses” is appropriately used when you find yourself on Borden Avenue in LIC, or Meeker Avenue in Greenpoint, in certain parts of Astoria, or even here along the East River coast of the Shining City itself. Wherever NYC’s master builder Robert Moses felt it was appropriate to eliminate vast swaths of residential or industrial real estate in order to make way for a high speed road (distinguished by zero grade crossings, mind you), you’re in the “The House of Moses.”

from wikipedia

Robert Moses (December 18, 1888 – July 29, 1981) was the “master builder” of mid-20th century New York City, Long Island, Rockland County, and Westchester County, New York. As the shaper of a modern city, he is sometimes compared to Baron Haussmann of Second Empire Paris, and was arguably one of the most polarizing figures in the history of urban planning in the United States. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island and influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies across the nation. One of his major contributions to urban planning was New York’s large parkway network.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“The House of Moses” had a tendency to blight the areas surrounding it. The sections of Sunset Park and Red Hook which the Gowanus Expressway casts its shadow upon have never truly recovered, for instance. For generations, this East River waterfront was generally verboten to residents of surrounding communities, due to stink and crime. For most of my lifetime, this area was a de facto parking lot for Municipal employees, and a homeless camp. Ummm, ok – it is STILL both of those things, but there’s a lot less of the foreboding and sense of imminent doom or threat of arrest than there used to be.

The same process played out along the Hudson, and is currently underway on the western coast of a Long Island – the so called Brooklyn and Queens Greenways. The modern motivation for improving these littoral areas is that parks aid real estate development, of course.

from wikipedia

The East River waterfront in Lower Manhattan was known for heavy maritime activity, with over 40 piers in operation by the later 1950s. The busy waterfront provided easy access to New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean in the south, the Hudson River on the west, with a connection to the Erie Canal. However, the rise of truck traffic and the transfer of port activity to the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal drastically reduced maritime traffic on the river after the middle 20th century. With many piers now defunct, ambitious plans have been made to reclaim and reuse the pier space. The north-south arterial highway, the FDR Drive, was moved to an elevated location to allow convenient access to the piers. In the 1970s, the Water Street Access Plan was drafted to extend the confines of the traditional Financial District eastward and create a new business corridor along Water Street, south of Fulton Street. Noting the success of the World Financial Center, the East Side Landing plan was created in the 1980s to add commercial and office buildings along the waterfront, again south of Fulton Street, similar to Battery Park City. This plan never materialized.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The process is quite far along in the tony sections of Brooklyn’s Gold Coast like DUMBO and Williamsburg, as well as in Hunters Point. The eventual goal on that side of the East River will be a contiguous pathway which will allow you to walk or ride a bike through a modern residential corridor extending from Red Hook all the way to Astoria Park with just a few interruptions offered by obstacles like the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and certain unpleasantries – such NYCHA housing projects or Newtown Creek.

On the Manhattan side, the river walk currently extends (contiguously, I mean, as it does travel quite far north with interruptions) from 23rd street all the way south to Wall Street in the financial district and connects into Battery Park nearby the Staten Island Ferry.

Saying that, some sections of the promenade seem better used than others.

from nyc.gov

The East River waterfront has developed over the past 350 years as a central place in the city’s maritime history. The city began here, and as it grew and developed, the island expanded into the river. As population expanded, the city promoted the infill of waterfront lots to serve the growing demand for land in Lower Manhattan. As a result, the current shoreline is more than three city blocks from the original shore. The present location of Pearl Street is in fact the original East River shoreline of Lower Manhattan. As the city’s position as the premier port for trade on the east coast grew, so did the need for new piers to service the vessels coming and going out of the port. At its peak in the 1950’s there were over 40 piers along this two-mile stretch of waterfront; today there are fewer than 10 remaining.

With the decline in maritime activity over the past 40 years, various master plans have been developed for this waterfront. The Water Street Access Plan in the 1970’s envisioned Water Street as a commercial spine for modern office buildings and the expansion of the financial core. In the 1980’s, the plan for East River Landing, inspired by Battery Park City, proposed new office development on the waterfront south of Fulton Street. In the 1990’s, a new outpost for the Guggenheim Museum was proposed on the waterfront at the present location of piers 13 and 14 at the foot of Wall Street. Aside from some components of the Water Street Access Plan, none of these waterfront schemes have been realized to date.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of the planning and construction offered to the 20th century by the “House of Moses” included not just highways but block after block of “slum clearance” projects. Hundreds of acres of walk up tenement buildings were razed to make room for apartment houses whose footprint could encompass an entire city block, something you see a lot of in the eastern section of Chinatown. These apartment complexes were financed and built using Federal monies that filtered through carefully chosen banks and insurance companies. His allies in finance and government were fiercely loyal to Robert Moses and urban renewal was how he paid them back. Author Robert Caro called Moses “The Power Broker.”

It’s fantastic that those days are long over, and there isn’t some moneyed clique of real estate, insurance, and construction interests that colludes with Government officialdom to displace and eradicate whole waterfront neighborhoods. That would be awful, wouldn’t it?

from wikipedia

Caro’s depiction of Moses’s life gives him full credit for his early achievements, showing, for example, how he conceived and created Jones Beach and the New York State Park system, but also shows how Moses’s desire for power came to be more important to him than his earlier dreams. Indeed, he is blamed for having destroyed more than a score of neighborhoods, by building 13 expressways across New York City and by building large urban renewal projects with little regard for the urban fabric or for human scale. Yet the author is more neutral in his central premise: the city would have been a very different place—maybe better, maybe worse—if Robert Moses had never existed. Other U.S. cities were doing the same thing as New York in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, for instance, each built highways straight through their downtown areas. The New York City architectural intelligentsia of the 1940s and 1950s, who largely believed in such prophets of the automobile as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, had supported Moses. Many other cities, like Newark, Chicago and St. Louis, also built massive, unattractive public housing projects.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually in Chinatown where you’ll notice how thoroughly a community can embrace one of these waterfront esplanades installed by the House of Moses. Unfortunately, there are no signs installed by the State DEC cautioning against regular consumption of East River fish and crabs, and not once did I notice a bit of signage from the City DEP advising of the presence of a combined sewer outfall. Those pipes you’ll notice traveling down the supports of the FDR drive drain the elevated highway and feed directly into the East River.

Any who, that’s the House of Moses for ya.

from wikipedia

Large scale urban renewal projects in the US started in the interwar period. Prototype urban renewal projects include the design and construction of Central Park in New York and the 1909 Plan for Chicago by Daniel Burnham. Similarly, the efforts of Jacob Riis in advocating for the demolition of degraded areas of New York in the late 19th century was also formative. The redevelopment of large sections of New York City and New York State by Robert Moses between the 1930s and the 1970s was a notable and prominent example of urban redevelopment. Moses directed the construction of new bridges, highways, housing projects, and public parks. Moses was a controversial figure, both for his single-minded zeal and for its impact on New York City.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

September 3rd, 2015
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Open House NY, click here for details and tickets.

September 20th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 31, 2015 at 11:00 am

must each dwarf

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“They rob, kill and plunder all under the deceiving name of Roman Rule. They make a desert and call it peace” – Tacitus

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Moving through lower Manhattan, the long time New Yorker cannot help but notice the changes to the area beneath the FDR drive. One remembers a day when this area was used for parking, and also served as a camp for homeless folks. My mental picture of this spot – a dank, dark, dripping waterfront mess infested with dangerous, and often addled or demented, primates – was forged in the 1980’s, so admittedly – it’s thirty years out of date. I also remember a day when Carvel Ice Cream shops were ubiquitous.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What you’ve got down here in modernity is a very well used “sort of” park or public space. There’s “model chicks” jogging around in yoga pants, “stock broker” guys leading tiny dogs around on leads, and lots of people lounging about. Pier 11 has become a sort of commuter hub these days, and there are hot dog carts and other vendors set up under the highway who charge $4 or more for a bottle of Snapple Iced Tea. CitiBike has one of its bike share racks in the area, and South Street has accordingly had bike lanes deducted from it. Al Smith would hardly recognize the street he grew up on.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In contrast, there’s Queens. This is the 7 elevated subway pictured above, as it leaves Court Square toward Hunters Point in LIC. Now, this is the same block which 5ptz once occupied, and one wonders if – when the luxury condos which will replace the art institution open – some future version of myself will say that they remember an earlier iteration of reality. Of course, many have told me that I watch too many movies, but I’d really love to be able to see the future as well as the past.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, October 25th, Glittering Realms
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

inspired dreamer

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124 years ago today, an outsider was thrust roughly into the world.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If the squamous gods of our own world do not care about you, what causes you to believe that those whose realm is cosmic would even take notice of an unimportant mortal speck living on a muddy world which – from their unknowable and unguessable point of view – has only recently coalesced from star stuff and debris? Were you to find yourself lying prone, naked, and cowering before some galactic, universal, or pan dimensional deity whose regency includes whole galaxies – realizing the true horror of the universe in that moment, and the inconsequential role which terrestrial life plays in it – would you go mad with the realization of the futility of life itself or would a blood vessel burst in your brain? Would you rise to your knees, begging to join some hidden cult which worships the titan, or stare unblinkingly at its manifest radiance until your eyes boiled away? One is incapable of anticipating what ones reaction to a pulsing nucleonic horror found at the center of our universe that is called Azathoth would be, nor what beholding the so called “goat with a thousand young” which is both the gate and the key called Yog Sothoth might do to you, but one would certainly be forever altered and held under their sway afterwards. We are but men, lords and ladies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These star born – or Elder Gods – whose machinations stretch back billions of years and into other dimensions and realities where our paltry notion of the constancy of physics and the true nature of the universe are revealed as childish fantasy – enjoy the devotion of uncountable servitors. Their servants, who are the true rulers of the earth, are in the air and the water and burrow into the ground unmatched and unheralded. None inquire as to their purpose, for none have realized that theirs is a plan which has survived more than one extinction event. The cities of the Old Ones, at the so called Mountains of Madness in fabled Antarctica, and those of the ruggose cone shaped Elder Race (which drifted into their current position as the continents formed) in the deserts of Arabia and Australia demonstrate that at the end of all things – only the Conqueror Worm claims victory. The so called insects have a plan, and they created this biosphere of ours only to increase their food supply, as a stock yard. Deep below the Pacific Ocean, their paymaster lies not dead but dreaming instead.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hundred and twenty four years ago, a set of ideas was born at 194 Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island. The product of Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft and Winfield Scott Lovecraft, the child grew into a strange and lonely but quite erudite man who always considered himself an outsider in the world to which he was born. His name was Howard. His pen name was H.P. Lovecraft, and today (all this week, actually) we celebrate the day of his birth at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

spectral summer

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Damnation, hell, and other allegories plague my days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a gull catching the free ride on the Staten Island Ferry, a critter smarter than me who says “why walk (or fly) when you can ride?” Severe fatigue marks this day for a humble narrator. A freelance assignment carried one out to storied Red Hook yesterday, a trip made remarkable by the atypically wonderful weather. Having clicked the shutter while pointing the camera at my intended targets, and not having much else to do for the afternoon, one decided to walk home to Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above depicts what the City looks like from the water, at night. Walking from Red Hook to Astoria sounds insane, I know, but it’s only about 10 miles from A to B. Along the way, one gets to witness the majesty of the East River while moving out of Red Hook, into Brooklyn Bridge Park, through Vinegar Hill, past the Navy Yard, into Williamsburg and Greenpoint, over the Pulaski into Hunters Point, and then the Queensbridge, Ravenswood, and finally Astoria neighborhoods are encountered in Queens. It takes around four to five hours to do this section of the western coast of Long Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My beloved Dutch Kills, above. When you return home, a little puff of steam is released as you doff your shoes. You really do feel it the next day, mainly in the lateral part of the hips, which is where my feeling of fatigue comes in.

It’s actually so silly cool a walk that I’m considering organizing a free event on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, the 29th of November, and calling it the “Red Hook to Astoria Challenge.” This won’t be a tour, per se, it’ll be more of a hang out. More to come on this.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

This weekend-

Saturday, August 16th, LIC’s Modern Corridor
With Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

lie outstretched

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An evening trip to Staten Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For reasons that will become clear in later postings, last Saturday night, one had to get out to… Staten Island. The near to final leg of the journey is quite straightforward, as it occurs on the most reliable of all of NYC’s mass transit systems – the Staten Island Ferry. Manifest joy, however, is repeatedly encountered when negotiating the weekend subways with their schedule of FastTrack repairs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you may recall, the weather was threatening all day, and began to clear up in the afternoon. The folks who control and steward my eventual destination gave the green light for a visit, based on meteorological advice from NOAA, and off a humble narrator went. The views from the ferry never disappoint, there’s always something going on in NY Harbor worth pointing a camera at.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having made my way to Staten Island, the St. George Ferry Terminal is pictured above, one had a few moments of panic while looking for the next connection I needed to make – to a waiting automobile which would take me the rest of the way. Hold tight, lords and ladies – for tomorrow I’ll bring you to someplace entirely new.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 7, 2014 at 11:23 am

mental status

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I’m all ‘effed up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Obligation caused me to have to leave Queens the other day, and not for Brooklyn or some other attractive destination. My unfortunate destination was instead… The Shining City. Unfortunately, one has been undergoing some sort of viral attack since Sunday last which has spawned a vicious summer cold whose worst excesses were felt at the height of the recent heat wave. Regardless of how I felt, the trip was enacted, as the show has to go on no matter what.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found myself at my destination early, which is a somewhat pathological problem for me, and sitting on a block of concrete at the West Side Highway in Lower Manhattan. The concrete’s temperature was likely over a hundred degrees, so if you smelled bacon cooking while driving down the thoroughfare on Tuesday night, that was likely a humble narrator being rendered down. While slowly cooking like a piece of salmon on a hot cedar plank, anxiety steadily built up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What has happened to this part of the city… it’s as if the dreams of a boring 1970’s era fellow named Rich Whitey have been realized here. The section of Hudson River Park in Lower Manhattan looks and feels like an architects visualization – skinny young people jogging and kayaking while nannies march about with the children of the gentry in tow. Where’s the working part of the waterfront? Where the scabby, sometimes dangerous but always interesting, crew who once infested this section of the human hive? Where’s the fun?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 10, 2014 at 1:54 pm

to listen

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The changing face of NY Harbor, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As Johnny Cash used to say – “I been everywhere, man, I been everywhere.” The bizarre ideation which one such as myself call “life” carries me back and forth, forth and back, across this human infested megalopolis continually. Always an outsider, always an observer. Spectating the vast changes in the East River corridor which have been underway for the last decade or so has largely involved watching the coast of Long Island being weighted down with residential towers, a process that the folks in Manhattan have been largely indifferent about.

Now, the wave of urban rebuilding and wholesale loss of neighborhood character is starting to happen to them, and the city people are all in a panic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from February of 2013. It depicts the Pier 17 building of the South Street Seaport complex. Surely the worst shopping mall in the local vicinity, it nevertheless hosted several small businesses and employed many people. The decision, pre Sandy, was made to eliminate this structure and replace it with a shiny mirror box of a hotel. Post Sandy, it became a paramount of municipal importance to replace the building, because… Hurricane Sandy and Terrorism… or whatever they use to scare us into doing things we don’t want to do these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As this 2014 shot depicts, the demolition process of Pier 17 is quite far along at this point. The Howard Hughes corporation owns the spot, it’s private property and they can do whatever they want with it. Also, Lower Manhattan is somewhat under utilized. The hotel which will be built here will provide jobs to first construction workers and then to hotel employees. It will buoy up the local economy and act as an anchor for other businesses.

This is exactly the sort of sophistry that the powers which be have been selling us in Brooklyn and Queens over the last 20 years, while the residents of the Shining City sat on their hands watching the condos rise to the east. It’s happening to them now, and they are pissed off.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The question is not whether or not the Pier 17 structure deserved preservation or not (it didn’t). There is no room for debate regarding “growth” or “development” in the City of Greater New York (it is inevitable and unending). The question is one of empathy, and whether or not we should feel sorry for an entitled group who have finally felt a well used hammer smashing their particular nail?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

There’s a Newtown Creek walking tour, and a Magic Lantern show, coming up.

Wednesday, June 11th, Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show with Brooklyn Brainery.
Click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, June 15th, DUPBO – Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
A FREE tour, courtesy of Green Shores NYC, click here for rsvp info

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 11, 2014 at 12:04 pm

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