The Newtown Pentacle

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Magic Lantern Show at Brooklyn Brainery

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The Newtown Creek Magic lantern show returns.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

On February 27th, your humble narrator will be narrating humbly at the Brooklyn Brainery – here’s the details. This is the 2014 version of the thing, btw, updated with newly learned information and recently captured images. In the past, this photo presentation and info dump has been offered to political clubs, historical societies, and to the general public at a variety of venues.

Come with?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Brooklyn Brainery is a swell operation, located in the nice part of Brooklyn nearby Grand Army Plaza and several Subway lines. I’ve worked with them a few times in the last year, doing walking tours, and they’re very cool folks. Also, the space they’re located in is very nice – physical comfort wise and such.

From their website -

We host classes about all sorts of things: from physics to Australian desserts, from HTML to shorthand and just about every nook and cranny in between.

All of our course topics are dreamed up and suggested by you, and our teachers are a group of awesome people from around Brooklyn and the whole city. Anyone can teach–you just need a passion for the topic and a desire to share it with others. We do all the planning, taking care of sign ups, marketing, and materials, so you can focus on the important stuff (teaching, duh).”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The presentation will be about 2 hours long, with the actual slideshow and talk occupying roughly one and a half hours. What follows will be a Q&A session, wherein questions will be offered that a humble narrator will endeavor to intelligently answer. Brooklyn Brainery is asking $12 for the class.

There are still a few tickets left, so click on through and join the conversation about Newtown Creek on February 27th at 8 p.m.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm

2013 Newtown Creek Boat Tour

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The 2013 Newtown Creek Boat Tour.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

On Saturday -the 28th of September- 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 which carries the BQE, as the NYS DOT has indicated that construction on its replacement will begin quite soon.

- 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.

Come explore Newtown Creek by boat with Working Harbor Executive Director Captain John Doswell and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as your guides.

Boarding begins at 2:30 p.m., and departs at 3:00 p.m. sharp. The 2.5 hour, fully narrated, round-trip excursion departs from and returns to the New York Skyports Marina found at East 23rd Street & the FDR Drive in Manhattan.

There will be a cash bar onboard.

Tickets are $45.

For inquiries about group discounts please call 212-757-1600.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

September 10 Newark Bay Tour

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Want to see something cool?

-photo by Mitch Waxman

A Hidden Harbor® Newark Bay Tour is in the offing, which will take place onboard the luxury tour boat Zephyr.

Produced by the Working Harbor Committee of New York, a 501/3c non profit corporation whose mission is to strengthen awareness of the working harbor’s history and vitality today, and its opportunities for the future.

The tour will be departing from South Street Seaport’s Pier 16 in Lower Manhattan, on Tuesday the 10th of September, between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.

-photo by Mitch Waxman

Our vessel features two fully enclosed and climate controlled decks with all amenities. There is an open-air roof deck which offers panoramic views of the incredible harbor of New York and New Jersey. Snacks and beverages, including wine and beer, will be available for onboard purchase on the spacious and comfortable ship.

Hidden Harbor® Tours are presented by Working Harbor Committee in partnership with the New York Water Taxi/Circle Line Downtown.

-photo by Mitch Waxman

Visiting Brooklyn’s Erie Basin, then “Tugboat Alley” (aka the Kill Van Kull), our ultimate destination will be the Port Elizabeth and Port Newark container terminals. The Statue of Liberty will be visited on the way home, at sunset.

Tugboats, oil barges, tankers, container ships, car carriers, ocean liners and ferries ply the busy waters of New York Harbor daily, but most of their activity is hidden from land. On this cruise tour-goers will get an insider’s view of New York’s working harbor – the largest port on the East Coast and the third busiest in the nation.

-photo by Mitch Waxman

Working Harbor Committee offers boat tours from May to October. Tours are narrated by people who know the harbor intimately – tugboat captains, maritime historians and other experts. WHC’s schedule includes visits to places like the tugboat berths in Erie Basin and Kill Van Kull, container, breakbulk, oil and car ports in Brooklyn and New Jersey, Newtown Creek and many other locations.

The group has been in operation for ten years, and proceeds derived from the tour help to support educational programs for at risk youths, as well as offering free harbor programming for senior citizens.

-photo by Mitch Waxman

Onboard our comfortable NY Water Taxi vessel Zephyr, you will be delighted by a never ending parade of tugboats, cargo vessels, and see the immense cargo handling equipment which lines the shorelines. Hear the realities of keeping a 24/7 operation like this- which employs tens of thousands of New Yorkers- running from maritime experts and harbor insiders.

-photo by Mitch Waxman

The world of working maritime vessels and facilities is vitally important to the area’s economic well being.

Want to know where your Toyota came in? How the ingredients for your chocolate bar got here? How your trash is removed?

Welcome to the Working Harbor.

-photo by Mitch Waxman

This tour passes by the Red Hook Container Terminal and visits Erie Basin, home of Hughes Brothers Barges and Reinauer Tugs before crossing the harbor toward Staten Island. It then enters Kill Van Kull, the area’s busiest waterway dividing Staten Island and Bayonne, passing tug yards, oil docks and marine repair facilities.It then passes under the Bayonne Bridge and visits the giant container ports of Newark Bay: Port Newark and the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal, where the world’s largest container ships tie up.

On the way back, we pass by Military Ocean Terminal, the 9/11 Teardrop Memorial, the Robbins Reef Lighthouse and more.

The Statue of Liberty, at sunset, is our last stop before returning to Pier 16.

-photo by Mitch Waxman

The September 10th Newark Bay tour will be led by Captain John Doswell, executive director of Working Harbor Committee.

Capt. Doswell was a writer, designer, producer and software developer for many years before turning his attention to NYC’s waterfront. He serves on the board of several waterfront organizations and founded Friends of Hudson River Park. In addition, he is a waterfront consultant and event producer. Capt. Doswell runs the annual tug race on the Hudson River, and has been involved with everything from Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” to “Op Sail”.

-photo by Mitch Waxman

Special guest narrator Ed Kelly, executive director of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey, will draw on his long maritime experience to describe how the port works.

“The maritime industry delivers the American way of life. It is essential to the nation’s security and economic well being,” Ed Kelly has said. But because we have gotten so good at what we do people don’t even know we do it any more. It is hidden away. That’s why tours like this are so important.”

-photo by Mitch Waxman

To get onboard with the Working Harbor Committee, and order tickets to our September 10th Newark Bay tour with Capt. John Doswell and Ed Kelly, click here for the NY Water Taxi ticketing page.

Modern Corridor

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Want to see something cool? Bring a camera, and follow me.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

When I decided to start doing walking tours of the Newtown Creek watershed a few years ago, I found myself presented with a significant organizational issue. There’s a different story to be told about Maspeth than there is about Greenpoint (also, there are arguably two Greenpoints), yet… the two communities are inextricably linked up. Same thing with Bushwick and Ridgewood, or the residential centers at the Creek’s intersection with the East River. 3.8 miles long by around a mile wide, the Creeklands are vast when on foot. There is also SO much information to pass along, not just about the Creek’s past, but about all the stuff that’s going on right now- EPA, Superfund, the cool things my pals in NCA are doing with Green Infrastructure and Citizen Science…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My solution was to simply to connect the stories of these places up along the ancient roads or paths along which they grew, and follow the water from one borough to another. “Poison Cauldron” does the Greenpoint to Bushwick route, “Insalubrious Valley” follows a colonial era turnpike path, “Glittering Realms” moves from residential East River Greenpoint back to the industrial zone along another colonial pathway, and “13 Steps around Dutch Kills” traces the Queens tributary back to the Creek and ends at its smaller counterpart Whale Creek in Brooklyn.

The new one- “Modern Corridor”- is all about Hunters Point, one of the least known sections of New York City, which sits directly opposite the Shining City of midtown Manhattan.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This “Modern Corridor” walking tour starts at the old city center, nearby Jackson Avenue and Court Square, and explores the brave new world rising from the ashes of a 19th century industrial titan- the independent municipality of Long Island City. Writ large, the growing community of the titan real estate development which has reshaped the colonial vintage section of Queens called Hunters Point will be encountered, and one of the finest parks in the entire city visited. This park is built upon a significant piece of rail infrastructure which once allowed train cars to be loaded onto barges for maritime transport to Manhattan and points west.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Then we walk through to the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, and to the industrial machine surrounding the infamous Newtown Creek. Former home to sugar refineries and cargo docks, rail yards and powerhouses, this will be the future home of thousands who will live in the forthcoming Hunters Point South development which has already begun construction. See it as it is, before the towers rise and the land is reshaped to modern wants and desires.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Skirting along the Creek, you’ll see vast infrastructure, visit DUPBO (Down under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp), and walk over railroad tracks as we head back to the modern incarnation of Long Island City. Bring your cameras, as your friends won’t believe you when you try to describe the places you’ve witnessed. Closed toe shoes are also highly recommended, as is a hat or parasol as there will be little to no shelter from the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself. The walk will be approximately 2 hours in length and will cross all sorts of ground. There will be one flight of stairs involved.

paddy

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We’ll be passing from the 21st century all the way back to the 1600’s with particular emphasis on the late 19th century, when the fellow pictured above- the notorious Patrick “Battle-Ax” Gleason, served as the last Mayor of Long Island City. Gleason was personally responsible for the construction of the exquisite PS1 schoolhouse pictured in the second shot above, which nearly bankrupted LIC- amongst other imbroglios. Dogged by claims and accusations (and at least one conviction) of corruption- Gleason used to sit in a barber chair outside the Miller Hotel- which is today the LIC Crab House- and hold court with constituent and passerby alike. This was his favorite spot, directly across the street from the LIRR train and ferry terminal. He told those he met to avoid addressing him as “Mayor”, instructing them instead to “Just call me Paddy.”

Hope you can come along, this Saturday at 10- meetup at Court Square Station on Jackson Avenue.

Spooky Newtown Creek Tour this Saturday

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This Saturday!

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm

gleaming image

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be mentioned that under normal circumstance, the narration recited on board one of the Newtown Creek boat tours which I’ve been a part of in the recent past has been “the straight story”. By that, I mean that the normal narrative which readers of this blog have grown used to is toned down a bit, and a more mainstream presentation is offered. There are still plenty of “night soil and offal dock” stories, but as I have a relatively short amount of time to tell the story of Newtown Creek, a lot of the more… colourful… stuff gets trimmed out. Luckily, the Newtown Creek Alliance is producing a “spooky” Halloween tour this Saturday (October 27), and I get to go to town on this one.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In addition to weaving the Blissville Banshee, Maspeth Gypsies, and witch panics into my speech- there are two other factors which make this tour special. First and foremost is the price, subsidized by grant money from the NYCEF fund of the Hudson River Foundation – which allows NCA to offer the trip at an amazing price of just $25. Secondly, the time at which we will be embarking is late in the afternoon, which should offer spectacular sunset lighting of the Creek for photographers and sensitives alike.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is a two hour excursion, leaving from Manhattan’s South Sea Seaport on board a comfortable NY Water Taxi (which, yes, has bathroom facilities). NCA is encouraging the wearing of seasonal costuming to celebrate and acknowledge the Halloween holiday. Scheduled speakers include your humble narrator and NCA Executive Director Kate Zidar. Whatever there is, which cannot possibly exist, lurking in the Black Mayonnaise which underlies the cursed waters of that cataract of agony known as the Newtown Creek has refused to make an appearance sans ritual sacrifice- something NCA cannot have any involvement with due to the intricacies of its 501/3c non profit status. The thing in the megalith will be watching, however.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The question of what sort of costume I will be wearing is still up in the air. Attempts to borrow a death cloak have so far been unsuccessful, despite the fact that several people I know own such raiments. Click the banner just below this paragraph for ticketing information and fulfillment. Do you dare to enter this nightmare world of the Newtown Creek, or will you instead cling to the illusion of sanity which exists beyond its banks?

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

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

excellent care

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve recently had the honor of making the acquaintance of the Queens Borough Historian, Dr. Jack Eichenbaum, and when I heard that he was going to conduct a walking tour around a section of Newtown Creek for the Municipal Art Society- I asked if I could come along. Luckily he consented, and even introduced me to his group. They were a little taken aback, as you’d imagine, as your humble narrator is extremely horrible in appearance and manner.

from geognyc.com

I hold a Ph.D. in urban geography (University of Michigan, 1972) where my dissertation was titled Magic, Mobility and Minorities in the Urban Drama. I’m a lifelong observer of NYC and other large cities around the world. My expertise lies particularly in quantitative methods, historical urban geography, migration, ethnicity, and technological change. I maintain a storehouse of urban concepts, researched facts, and biased memories of bygone eras.

Much of what I know about digital NYC comes from a career in the Property Division of the NYC Department of Finance collecting data and modeling valuation of tax parcels. Most of whom I know in NYC comes from founding and coordinating GISMO, NYC’s GIS user group, participating in non-profit institutions like the Municipal Art Society, and teaching at Hunter College (CUNY). I continually update my familiarity with NYC by walking, walking, and walking in all five boroughs.

In June, 2010, I was appointed Queens Borough Historian. My agenda includes advising the Borough President, convening people and organizations concerned with Queens history, education at all levels, promoting Queens’ history-related attractions and changing cultures, and introducing the concept of “digital history.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing you should know, lords and ladies, is that the historical community here in Queens spends most of its time fighting with each other. Often, I’m angry at someone, who hates me back. Alternately, this historical society is at war with that one, usually over some small point of contention. Everyone is actually pretty ok, and most of the arguments- which seem like the end of the world when they’re ongoing- settle out after a period of time. Such heated discourse, however, is something which I avoid at all costs and is why I spend my time- alone- down by the Creek. I would hate having Jack’s job as Borough Historian, and don’t know how he deals with the politics and backbiting without striking out or fleeing into the night. He’s a cooler cat than I.

from wnyc.org

They give lectures and tours and help New Yorkers learn about their neighborhoods. Their positions are mandated by state law…but they don’t make a penny for the job. They’re the five city historians, one for each borough. This summer, we’ll be meeting them and finding out some of the secret knowledge about their respective ‘hoods.

Queens Borough Historian Jack Eichenbaum is the new kid on the block. He got his job in June, promising not to hide behind books.

In the Flushing apartment he’s lived in for decades, Eichenbaum looks tan and fit in a t-shirt, royal blue track shorts and running shoes. He’s lived nearly all of his 67 years in Queens — a place he believes is still undervalued by the rest of the city.

The people who act like Manhattan is the center of the known universe? Don’t even get him started.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Along the way, Dr. Eichenbaum had arranged to meet up with George Trakas at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Nature Walk. Mr. Trakas, who designed the Nature Walk, is a terrific guy and a fantastic ambassador for his inimitable public space. The Newtown Creek Armada art installation was also in place at the Nature Walk that day, which titillated the crowd.

from urbanomnibus.net

Newtown Creek’s notoriety as one of the most polluted waterways in the country belies its peculiar beauty and uncommon potential to provide vistas of New York’s industrial history and the scale of the city’s waste management machine. It’s also a wicked cool place to impress a date with a surprise picnic.

Artist George Trakas saw the potential of this canalized estuary as he navigated the waterways of New York over the past forty-five years. When the City’s Department of Environmental Protection launched a $3 billion upgrade of the wastewater treatment facility in the late 1980s, Trakas was able to seize the opportunity – through the City’s Percent for Art program – to go beyond the brief and to provide public access to the water for treatment facility employees and local residents. And by access, he means access: visitors won’t merely see the water from above, behind a fence. Rather, you can descend staged granite steps to the water’s edge and sit (or dock your boat) on a series of getdowns perforating the bulkhead along the Whale Creek tributary. It’s part amphitheatre and part shore, with horticultural and sculptural references to local history, geology, and geography. But it’s also a model of a successful community engagement process. Trakas participated in meetings with the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee every month for the past ten years, incorporating community feedback and priorities into his design. Instead of using art to conceal environmental hazards with decorative band-aids, Trakas has created a Nature Walk that provides an interpretive frame on its surroundings and invites visitors to share his delight in water, industry and the urban beauty of the overlooked.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a cool dog who came along as part of the group, said canine seemed transfixed by what he was seeing and hearing along the way. Can you imagine what Newtown Creek must smell like to a dog?

There is so much interest in Newtown Creek amongst the general public, something I learned personally this last summer, and it was quite spectacular to hear Jack’s take on the place. The Municipal Art Society sent along blogger Kate Lenahan to record the event, and her post can be accessed here. Additionally, I got mentioned in a third party’s blog post, linked to below.

from downwithtyranny.blogspot.com

First, when I first did the walk, some 15 months ago, the primary attraction was laying eyes on Newtown Creek, which to my knowledge I had never done before. You have to remember that like most industrial waterfronts it was pretty well closed off to civilian eyes and feet. But in that intervening year and a quarter I had done more walks around various parts of the creek than I can remember and also cruised the creek, mostly under the auspices of the Newtown Creek Alliance (it’s definitely worth signing up for their e-mail list), and mostly with NCA historian Mitch Waxman (whose blog, “The Newtown Pentacle,” is always worth checking out).

Second, there’s the Jack Eichenbaum factor. In all the many walks I’ve done with Jack, I can hardly remember one where I didn’t learn something of near-life-changing importance — certainly a change in my way of perceiving the city, and likely the world around me. Walking with Jack, you learn to see how basic factors of physical and human geography have shaped the way regions and neighborhoods have developed and redeveloped.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Dr. Eichenbaum led the group over the Pulaski Bridge and into Long Island City, but I had to split off and stay in DUPBO. Another event was scheduled to begin later in the day, a presentation on water quality at the North Brooklyn Boat Club. The very good news was that they had beer, and a campfire going 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

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