The Newtown Pentacle

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gleam and grin

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Checking in on that little bit of construction occurring down in DUKBO.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project is in full swing these days, and there’s a small army of optic orange clad construction workers at work in that shallow valley between Laurel and Berlin Hills which has always provided a border betwixt LIC’s Blissville and West Maspeth’s Berlin neighborhoods. The old blue gray mare was built by the “House of Moses” back in 1939 as the “New Meeker Avenue Bridge,” carries the Brooklyn Queens Expressway over Newtown Creek, and is considered as being dangerously deficient from the structural integrity and the traffic engineering points of view – so the NYS DOT is overseeing the implementation of its replacement.

Nobody else seems to be paying any mind to this mega project, but a humble narrator is not at all like anybody else.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots are all from the Queens side of the project, which will see the new bridge rise nearly one city block to the east of the 1939 model’s footprint. One has begun to refer to the street it will adjoin as “used to be 43rd street.” The shot above was captured on Laurel Hill Blvd., and depicts one of the many elevated piers which will carry the BQE towards its intersection with the Long Island Expressway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Closer to “used to be 43rd street” you’ll notice that the NYS DOT engineers have had the orange clad fellows jamming big bits of steel deep into Queens. The substrate which the bridge(s) sit upon is the elluvial flood plain of Newtown Creek – which is basically a giant agglutination of mud and aggregate. The piles need to be sunk down around one hundred and eight feet to meet bedrock, with the anchoring mechanisms for the piers going far deeper – from 160-180 feet depending on location.

Who can guess all there is, that might be buried down there?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An unoccluded view of the metal bits, which are marked off with gauge measurement indications. This is the corner of “used to be 43rd street” and 54th avenue, for the curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Same corner, but looking to the south rather than the antipode displayed in the former shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Skanska crews working on the site, who are the aforementioned “fellows dressed in orange,” have a disturbing habit of leaving their fences open – given the fact that the BQE continues to run along the span offered by the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge.

No big “whup” of course, as this section of the highway has never really been “secure” in any real manner and has been a target for graffiti and illegal dumping enthusiasts for multiple generations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The project continues along Laurel Hill Blvd. and includes the Kosciuszko Bridge approaches. The Meeker Avenue side of the approaches, which roll through Greenpoint and Williamsburg, have been receiving quite a bit of attention from the fellows in orange in recent months. The work on the Queens side is just getting started, in comparison.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Phase One of the project will see the eastern half of the new bridge erected, followed by the dismantling of the 1939 era Kosciuszko Bridge. Traffic on the BQE will be rerouted onto the new span, and the construction on Phase Two will see the western section of the new bridge erected – whereupon traffic patterns on the BQE will be given their new and permanent form – with the eastern “Phase One” section carrying the South to North (Brooklyn to Queens) flow and the western “Phase Two” section allowing North to South (Queens to Brooklyn) traffic.

The good news is that Phase Two will include a pedestrian and bicycle path, which will overlook my beloved Newtown Creek.

“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 26, 2015 at 1:33 pm

sepulchral adorations

with 10 comments

Tour announcements, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On August 22nd, your humble narrator will be offering a walking tour of First Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood. First Calvary was founded in 1848 by the Roman Catholic Church and is one of the most amazing spots to experience in the Borough of Queens. It sits alongside the Newtown Creek, and is hemmed in by automotive expressways.

The walking tour will meet up at the corners of Greenpoint and Review Avenues at 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 22nd and will be two hours long (give or take).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The narrated walk will play out over several shallow grassy hills. If mobility is a issue for you, this might not be the tour for you, accordingly. We will enter the cemetery on the Newtown Creek side, and exit on Greenpoint Avenue nearby the Bantry Bay Public House and the Long Island Expressway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the path through First Calvary Cemetery, several noteworthy New Yorkers who are interred there will be discussed, and amongst other attractions we will visit a theoretically unique place on the Earth – the colonial era Alsop Cemetery, which is a Protestant burying ground entirely enclosed within a Roman Catholic cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Calvary hosts multiple valleys of mausolea which are amongst the finest examples of Victorian era funerary architecture found in NYC, and certainly so in Queens. Closed toe shoes are highly recommended, as is a hat or parasol to shield you from the late August sun. Dressing appropriately for late summer weather goes without saying. Bring your camera, as this landscape is spectacular, and a visual feast.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Commanding views of the NYS DOT’s Kosciuszko Bridge reconstruction project will also be experienced.

Additionally, my pal from Newtown Creek Alliance – Will Elkins – and I, will be narrating on two Newtown Creek Boat tours on September 3rd for the Open House NY organization. Ticketing links for both excursions are found below.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 22nd, 2015
First Calvary Cemetery – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
click here for details and tickets.

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

perhaps retreat

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In LIC, the night time is the right time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that I found myself on Hunters Point Avenue in LIC at around 11 p.m. with both Our Lady of the Pentacle and our little dog Zuzu is immaterial. Suffice to say that the whole family was present in the concrete devastations last weekend, and that as we were making our way back to a world less inchoate, called Astoria, Queens was putting on a bit of a show for us down in LIC. The 7 train was rising from the rotting concrete of its subterranean corridors, and riding noisily on the elevated tracks which overfly the Sunnyside Yards.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As longtime readers will attest, one of my projects for the last couple of years has been to master the art of low light photography sans the use of a camera support like a tripod or portable illumination like flash or battery lights. Tripod shots are awful at capturing a fast moving shot anyway, as the long exposure technique employed with that methodology produces motion blur. There’s something to be said for that, of course, but preparation and set up of the equipment removes all spontaneity from the shot and Queens comes at you “a mile a minute.” In pursuit of this technical goal, I’ve been shooting down in the Subway’s underground system and have developed certain “go to” ratios of exposure and ISO which have proven somewhat reliable in capturing fast moving shiny things as they pass through dark environments.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Employment of these techniques in the night time streets of NYC are now underway, and all of the shots in today’s post were captured while Our Lady of the Pentacle and Zuzu patiently waited for me to conclude my incessant recording of the extant world surrounding us.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

debased patois

with one comment

America’s Workshop, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marching involuntarily down Borden Avenue in LIC recently, one decided to head east on Review Avenue towards Calvary Cemetery. Along the way, the striking architecture of the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the larger Long Island Expressway caught my attention. This section of Borden Avenue rose out of a swamp shortly after the Civil War, originally manifesting as a courdoroy or plank toll road for horse and ox carts. Its purpose was to connect Hunters Point with upland farms in Maspeth (Borden… as in dairy) “back in the day.” This is the sort of thing you’ll hear about if you come on tomorrow’s “13 Steps around Dutch Kills” tour, btw, with ticketing links found at the bottom of the post.

At any rate, one elected to head in a generally easterly direction, leaving the great steel expressway which was installed over Borden Avenue in 1939 by the House of Moses behind.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of the old General Electric Vehicle complex was demolished a couple of years back, and as is the case with many of the “development” properties in this section of LIC, the lot sat dormant for a while. Construction has started up on the property, which I believe is going to host yet another self storage facility.

One could not help notice the hookup to a fire hydrant which the construction guys on the lot had set up, as it was geysering a spray of water into the afternoon sun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news is that this is a part of town which could really use a good wash, or at least a nice rinse. The bad news is that the water in this hose was under serious pressure – fire fighting pressure, as it were – and an uncountable amount of water was escaping from the hydrant system. This, no doubt, reduced the amount of water available for… y’know… fire fighting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The hydrant itself was burbling and gushing as it fed the construction hookup, feeding a small but growing pond on Review Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The water was ultimately being fed into this unknown device, which seemed to be some sort of hydraulically driven piston. Can’t tell you what it’s purpose was, but it made a sound which I can try to describe as “shish clack whirrsh clang shish.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sensing the presence of humans moving around behind me, one noticed that the geyser of water was serving another purpose on this warm afternoon in LIC. The pause that refreshes, indeed.

So, whatcha doing tomorrow morning? Want to come along on the walking tour I’m conducting with Atlas Obscura of the Dutch Kills tributary of the fabled Newtown Creek? The weather should be perfect, btw, and quite similar to today. Ticketing link is just below.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

ordinary interpretation

with 5 comments

First Calvary Cemetery, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s been a while since a post about my favorite place in Queens has been offered at this, your Newtown Pentacle. For those of you who have recently arrived, Calvary was the official burying ground of the Roman Catholic Church  for about a century. There are four sections, which contain more than six million interments, and the oldest section (First Calvary) was consecrated in 1848 by the Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes. It adjoins the lugubrious Newtown Creek, a century of its expansion has largely consumed a 19th century community called Blissville, and it is the final resting place for mobsters, governors, and the rightful king of Ireland.

Calvary Cemetery is a movie star, having provided Hollywood with the setting for funereal scenes in multiple films. Fictional characters buried here in the movies range from Don Corleone in the Godfather to both Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacey in Sony’s Spider Man franchise. Bruce Wayne’s parents are buried here as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Calvary Cemetery is a built environment, the crown of what was once known as Laurel Hill. A broad slope rises from the former swamps found along Northern Blvd., gaining altitude and moving through what is now called Sunnyside, and cresting at the former family farm of the colonial era Alsop family. Laurel Hill’s altitude then drops precipitously to the flood plains of Newtown Creek. In the 1850’s and 60’s, Church laborers extensively remodeled Laurel Hill to fit its mission, creating a private drainage system and removing millions of tons of top soil. By the late 19th century, Calvary had become a major destination for mourners from the largely catholic population of lower Manhattan and it was served by both ferry and trolley lines. Along its borders – road houses, saloons, and hotels were found.

That is, until the age of industry really kicked into gear along the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of Calvary’s neighbors was a company originally called General Chemical, but which is better known today as Phelps Dodge. General Chemical manufactured sulphuric acid (amongst other things) and Phelps Dodge, which was engaged in the copper business, acquired General Chemical at the start of the 20th century. They would use the acid produced here to free valuable metals from the ore it was laced into. General Chemical was not popular with its neighbors, due to the effluent which would drift out of its smoke stacks.

According to anecdotes from the time, coming from both Blissville and the town directly east of it – Berlin (now known as West Maspeth) – this effluent would wither gardens, ruin laundry hung out to dry, and in the case of Calvary Cemetery right next door – dissolve the tombstones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marble is particularly vulnerable to acidification, and visibly rots away when exposed to ph’s high enough to be classified thusly. Pictured today is an 1866 monument dedicated to a person named “Mary Kiernan.” This monument bears the classic “rot” and weathering exhibited by acid damaged marble. Touching the stone, you’d pull your hand away and discover a sandy grit sticking to your fingers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

General Chemical found itself in a real pickle on this issue, as “public relations” hadn’t been invented yet, and the Church was pressuring the largely Irish political establishment of Tammany Hall to do something to help them. The company’s response was to build the tallest smoke stack to be found anywhere in the United States (at the time), with the goal of keeping the noxious emanations of the plant as far away from the ground as possible. They also planted a series of vegetable gardens in Blissville and Berlin, and began inviting reporters to witness the thriving patches of cabbage growing within throwing distance of their acid factory.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s the inscription on the Kiernan monument, and as you’ll observe, most of the fine detail in the carving has the appearance of melted ice cream. Like General Chemical, and so many other of the great corporations which once distinguished Newtown Creek – Phelps Dodge has come and gone.

Of all that was here along the Creek in the decade leading up to the Civil War, only the genuine antiquity that is  Calvary Cemetry remains.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the cemetery, you’ll notice statuary bearing similar damage. The main source of acidification today comes from the exhaust of automobile traffic, as it mixes with atmospheric humidity, which eats away at the stone. Calvary Cemetery is bounded by the Long Island Expressway on its northern side, and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway is found less than a half mile to the east. Greenpoint Avenue, and Review Avenue are local truck routes which host extremely heavy traffic.

All told, nearly a half million vehicles a day pass by the cemetery every single day of the year, here in the Netwon Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

irresistably borne

with 4 comments

Spock was wrong, for the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Allow a humble narrator to make this predicate statement, before the condemnations begin: I think Bike Lanes are both necessary and a good thing. I have no fundamental nor ideological objection to dedicated vehicle lanes reserved for human powered transportation. Friends of mine actually sit on the board of Transportation Alternatives, and although I’m not a bicycle commuter (dedicated pedestrian, me), it’s a worthy pursuit to encourage folks to get around under their own steam rather than use a motor vehicle. Saying that, there’s a lot of people who cannot get around under their own steam because… y’know, not everybody is 25 and in perfect health.

A set of bike lanes has recently appeared on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, which spans the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens and the lugubrious waters of the fabled Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When these bike lanes opened, websites like Gothamist, Curbed, and the rest of the Brooklyn Gold Coast elites applauded the addition. The bike lanes were a personal project for some of the elected officials who I am honored to consider friends on both sides of the Creek as well. These are what is known as “protected bike lanes,” meaning that they have these little plastic bollards running along them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Problem here is that mid span on the bridge, which is a primary crossing between the two boroughs, the two motor vehicle lanes that cross the span on both sides now merge into a single lane. The day these shots were captured, I observed three near misses as automobiles were trying to pass heavy trucks (manufacturing zoning on both sides). 

The other problem is that while there are a fair number of people who bike over this bridge on a daily basis, their numbers are eclipsed by the cyclopean numbers of trucks and cars that do so as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Several instances of southbound traffic straying into the northbound lanes were observed, and vice versa, and more than one of the heavy trucks had to jam on their air brakes to stop in time to avoid a collision. The problem, as observed, is that there are protected bike lanes for both directions of travel instead of a single dedicated path for bicycle traffic, which necessitates the 4 automotive lanes becoming two at mid span.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above, you’ll notice the white auto is forcing the dump truck onto the median “no go” area as traffic merges near the center of the span.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the Queens side, the north bound bike lane terminates at a cross walk and then disappears. Just to the east of the bridge’s bike lane is an access road used by the trucks that are exiting from the recycling and waste haulage companies found along Railroad Avenue.

This is a high volume sort of intersection, btw, where Review and Greenpoint Avenues intersect with Van Dam Street and traffic is literally coming at you from six different directions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking up Van Dam in the general direction of Queens Plaza, the bike lane is intersected by a turn lane for trucks and other vehicular traffic. The Fed Ex truck is in that turn lane and making the left onto Review Avenue, no doubt heading for the enormous Fed Ex facility on Borden Avenue under the Long Island Expressway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s a shot of the intersection which is clear of traffic, where the confusing and rather byzantine striping of the traffic indicators is fully revealed. This looks pretty dangerous to me. Notice that the turn lane used by the Fed Ex truck in the previous spot goes right through the bike lane which feeds the south bound lane of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funny thing is, despite all the work and expense of installing these bike lanes, and the series of vehicular hazards introduced to automotive and truck traffic by that center span merge – the bicyclists still seem to prefer using the pedestrian sidewalks – just as they’ve always done.

So, now is the time for the bike people to start attacking me for pointing out that these bike lanes are imperfect and dangerous. Recriminations will include accusations of Fox News style distortion, fealty to a regressive authoritarian system dominated by motor vehicles, and the other usual character assassinations favored by the scholastic and socratic elites who occupy air conditioned offices in lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn.

Hold your sophistry, the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge needs bike lanes, but these ain’t good. We need to do better. I’m talking to you, NYC DOT.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 2nd, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek – Bushwick & Mapeth Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 29, 2015 at 10:45 am

often hath

leave a comment »

As detailed in this recent post, my camera was destroyed in an accident.

For those of you who have offered donations to pay for its replacement, the “Donate” button below will take you to paypal. Any contributions to the camera fund will be greatly appreciated, and rewarded when money isn’t quite as tight as it is at the moment.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Queens, particularly Western Queens, is far and away my favorite place in NYC to wander through. It’s actually difficult to go more than a block or two without having some sort of eye candy appear. The best thing about Manhattan is not being in it, as you can see the heroic skyline of the Shining City. Brooklyn is fun, mind you, but full of busy body’s and wise asses asking “what are you taking pictures of” while the petitioner is sizing you up for how much he or she can get if they boiled you down for elements. Staten Island… well… it’s largely a residential zone and I don’t like taking pictures of people’s houses so I stick to the shorelines for maritime stuff. Rumor has it that there is some incalculably northern locale known as the Bronx, but I regard that as mere legend.

Queens is the place for me, bro.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, at the Queens Plaza E/M/R station, I discovered that we need to install bike lanes on the subway platforms. One of my daring suggestions for the de Blasio administration to consider is that once half of all NYC surface streets have been converted over to bike lanes, we should consider digging trenches in the remaining vehicle lanes which would be flooded for the usage of kayakers. Also, zip lines should be considered for commuters to fly over the East River to alleviate Subway over crowding.

Why? Affordable housing. This Mayor and his henchmen justify any of their crazy schemes simply by answering “affordable housing.” Pissing on the street? “Affordable Housing.” Reverse twenty five years of crime reduction and return the City to the era of identity politics which nearly destroyed it?  “Affordable Housing.” Allow Al Sharpton to be the person vetting Municpal policies?  “Affordable Housing.” Operate City Hall as the second coming of the Dinkins adminstration? “Affordable Housing.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Sunnyside, alongside the Sunnyside Yards (“Affordable Housing”) the native art form of Queens is expressed daily. Illegal dumping is accomplished in Queens with a compositional panache you just don’t see in the other members of the pentateuche which composes our civic archipelago. In Brooklyn, a van door slides open and trash is roughly thrust onto the street. In Queens, refuse is carefully arranged, and the negative space of the environs incorporated into the “work.”

In western Queens, illegal dumping is curated, and really should be considered to be an installation. Why? “Affordable Housing.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Why do I love shooting in Queens so much? Perhaps it’s the fact that “Affordable Housing” hasn’t entirely blotted out the sky yet and you can still feel the sun on your face. The sepulchral shadows of Manhattan, and the gathering shadows of Brooklyn, the residential splendors of… Staten Island…, even the supposed existence of the Bronx… you can have them. I’ll take Queens.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 18th, 2015
Newtown Creek City of Water Day Boat Tour 
with Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 16, 2015 at 11:00 am

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