The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn

racing ahead

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Happy Birthday, Marine Parkway Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

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

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 3, 2015 at 11:00 am

mystery attacks

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Just a short one today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, an excursion upon the fabled Newtwon Creek with the Anchor QEA folks (they’re the scientists studying the Creek for the Superfund process) and the Newtown Creek CAG Steering Committee (which I’m a member of) was cut short by threatening weather. Anchor has all sorts of frammistats onboard which warn them of the approach of lightning, and all the gizmos began to go off as a powerful thunderstorm was approaching. The shot above is from roughly 2.5 miles back from the East River, and depicts the DUGABO side of Brooklyn as the storm blew in. We made it back to dock, but not before the first curtain of rain and hail began to pummel the Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

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

quaint fusion

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Shots from a recent boat trip to the Gowanus.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

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

far within

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 18, 2015 at 11:00 am

arduous details

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My beloved Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in an earlier post, I recently rode along with the EPA and DEP on a boat tour of my beloved Newtown Creek, and the shots in today’s post emanate from that trip. Pictured above is the scene from just west of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, at the verge of what I refer to as “The Newtown Creek Petroleum District.”

The trip was prevaricated by a meeting of the EPA’s CSTAG committee (Contaminated Sediments Taskforce Advisory Group, I think) wherein various players in the Superfund story made a presentation to a national level panel of experts regarding the handling of the “black mayonnaise” which bedevils the waterway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek CAG (Community Advisory Group) presentation was offered by Will Elkins of Newtown Creek Alliance, and the so called “PRP’s” or “Potentially Responsible Parties” who have organized themselves under the nomen “Newtown Creek Group” also offered a presentation to the August panel. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the community nor potentially responsible party documents that sparked the most conversation – instead it was a series of claims and prepositions offered by the NYC DEP which roused a certain ire in those of us familiar with the Superfund story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned ad infinitum on tours and at this – your Newtown Pentacle – NYC has a combined sewer system. During rain events, sanitary and storm water mix in the underground pipes and end up getting released into area waterways via outfall pipes which are referred to as “CSO’s” or “Combined Sewer Outfalls.” These CSO’s are all over the harbor, there’s better than 400 of them, but the 23 found at Newtown Creek are amongst the largest ones in the system and responsible for allowing millions of gallons of raw sewage a year to enter the water.

NYC DEP asserted that the solid materials transported by these combined sewers contribute nothing to the continuing growth of the poisonous sedimentation in Newtown Creek, and if they did, it wouldn’t be their fault as any solids were being transported from upland properties. The analogy is that I’m standing on a street corner and pulling the trigger on a pistol, over and over, but since somebody else loaded the bullets – it’s not my responsibility whom they strike. Something I can tell you, based on nearly ten years of dealing with DEP’s bureaucracy, is that DEP lies.

DEP lies to your face, and smirks while doing so. Their attitude is “what do you think you’re going to be able to do about it?”.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

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

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

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

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

green banks

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

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

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

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

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

staggered dizzily

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Sights from a recent East River excursion, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does not get to view Mighty Triborough from the water that often, although the Astoria Park perspective on Robert Moses’ great bridge is familiar and loved, so while onboard a boat carrying the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s annual conference, one ensured that a few shots were captured of its majesty. Moses was a gigantic jerk and a bit of a tyrant, of course, but on more than one occasion I have remarked on the particular esthetic charms his teams incorporated into their projects. The bath houses at Riis Park, and Jones Beach, the bridge pictured above – modern day planners are driven by economy and “design standards” which strip their civil works of the sort of visual panache that the depression era build outs offered. Far better than the brutalist crap of the 1960’s and 70’s which were inflicted on the public, of course, but modernity is not even close to being in the same artistic league with the earlier stuff.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of earlier stuff, the annihilation of the Domino Sugar site in Williansburg continues. Recently, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself were obliged to make an appearance at a 20 something year old’s birthday bacchanal at a bar in the former “Bushwick Strand,” and coversation with a member of the “Millennial” generation ended up being revelatory. This particular kid realized fully that the lifestyle and “scene” in Williamsburg was not just threatened but doomed by the large scale construction underway in the area, and she was wondering what life would be like in my beloved Astoria. One intoned that Astoria would make a great home for an older iteration of herself, when “going out” would indicate that you were going to have dinner at a restaurant rather than spending the night at a fashionable bar. Her section of North Brooklyn is for the young and unsettled transients struggling to define themselves, whereas Astoria is for families and is still very much a community of long term neighbors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of communities, the staggering growth of Hunters Point over the last five years is best realized from the East River. A humble narrator has been shooting the growing skyline here from the water for several years now, but with the Hunters Point South development finally becoming a reality, the “Modern Corridor” of Long Island City is beginning to reach critical mass. Any doubt as to why I refer to the East River frontage of LIC as “Tower Town” should be eradicated by the shot above.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

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

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

May 30, 2015 –
The Skillman Corridor with Atlas Obscura

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

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

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