The Newtown Pentacle

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from Sorabji, a member of our Flickr Gorup

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This is a comment reply to my “The Cemetery Belt” posting a while back, and I didn’t want it to get buried in the comments. I started up a Newtown Pentacle Flickr Group (please join us as a member and post your stuff) and met Sorabji there. Here’s his comments and links out to some great photos from Old Cavalry.

I have been roaming Old Calvary for years, and have done a fair amount of research into the mighty Johnston Mausoleum, as well as the Civil War Memorial — the latter is one of my favorite cemetery finds in New York, while the mausoleum is an ongoing fascination of mine. 

The War Memorial is in bad shape after 150 years of exposure to the elements but in 2007 Parks began a restoration of the work, starting with a coat of paint placed on one of the 4 life-size statues. I may be in a small minority when I say this but I was excited to see this charming 
memorial get some sorely needed attention, and I anticipated that the job would mirror the restoration of a similar monument (by the same family of sculptors) at Green-Wood Cemetery several years earlier. 

Alas, the work begun on the Calvary War Memorial in 2007 seems to have halted, probably for want of financing to continue the project, and now the marker is decidedly lopsided with three of the statues looking like pulverized metal with just one of them sporting a coat of dark green paint. It seems further unfortunate that the work done on that one statue appears to be wearing away already. It is an unfortunate situation but in these strained financial times I guess it is not surprising that a relatively obscure project like this might fall off the radar of the city’s attention.

I have several pictures of the 
War Memorial (maybe a few too many pictures) at this address:

I plan to summarize the research I’ve shared in those pages into a single page, and I hope to open it up for discussion on a new message board I’m setting up at

The War Memorial is only one of the many items I have followed with interest at Calvary over the years. I love that place.

Later today, look for the second installment of “Adventures upon the East River” and the 3rd LIC post is STILL in the works. I’m having issues with conflicted sources, and with significant amounts of the information sourcing back to copyrighted materials. Working on it, and its coming soon.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 20, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Posted in newtown creek

Adventures upon the East River 1

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Tugboat and Barge by you.

This tug, the Paul Andrew, is pushing a barge of shredded autos down the East River. Most likely coming from the Newtown Creek- Photo by Mitch Waxman

A friend invited me on a couple of his recent outings on the East River (and beyond). It’s a rare opportunity for most New Yorkers, oddly enough, to get out onto the water. My host is an expert on the customs and history of the mariners of New York City’s own estuarine cataract, and I jumped at a chance to experience- in such knowledgeable company- the East River and its environs. What I encountered was a harbor, at work.

East River Tug by you.

This tug, the Dean Reinauer, was zipping quickly along- Photo by Mitch Waxman

Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges by you.

Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge with downtown Manhattan, from the East River- Photo by Mitch Waxman

A squall of black clouds and drenching rain had just pushed through New York, and a misty sky was dueling with the sun for dominance over the day. As we passed under the Williamsburg Bridge, it began to clear. Just in time to see the concurrence of suspension arcs on the downtown river skyline.

Manhattan Bridge by you.

Manhattan Bridge footings, from the East River- Photo by Mitch Waxman

New Yorkers, we lose all sense of the scale of the things we see here. We live in a cyclopean world constructed by long dead titans of science and industry. From the water, you truly gain a sense of the wondrous vision and ambitions of the men who built this enormous endeavor called The City of Greater New York.

Red Hook, Cunard Pier by you.

Cruise Ship in Red Hook, from the East River- Photo by Mitch Waxman

When we were passing Red Hook in Brooklyn, the weather mercifully began to cooperate with us. The storm was blowing out, and the burning eye of an occluded sun again stared down upon New York. Being the gigantic Lovecraft nerd that I am, I couldn’t help but think about Robert Suydam and his poor bride leaving for their honeymoon from this very Cunard Pier.

Looking up the Hudson by you.

Looking northwest, up the Hudson, Jersey city on left, Manhattan on right – Photo by Mitch Waxman

from Wikipedia:

Main article: Geography of New York Harbor

In the broad sense, the term includes the following bodies of water and their waterfronts: Upper New York BayLower New York BayNorth River (i.e. the lowest part of the Hudson River), East River,Kill Van KullNewark BayArthur KillThe NarrowsJamaica BayRaritan Bay, and Harlem River. This includes about 1,200 square miles (3,100 km2), with over a 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of shoreline. At peak it contained 650 miles (1,046 km) of developed waterfront in 11 individual, active ports in ManhattanBrooklynQueens, the BronxStaten IslandPerth AmboyElizabethBayonneNewarkJersey CityHoboken, and Weehawken. Although the U.S. Board of Geographic Names does not include the term, New York Harbor has important historical, governmental, commercial, and ecological usages.

When you reach the point where the Hudson River empties into the brackish waters of the East River, you are officially in New York Harbor. And on the shallow floor of the harbor can be found the first depressed indications of the river carved Hudson Canyon.

A word about the Hudson Canyon

The plume of pollution that trails out to sea from New York City is hundreds of miles long and miles deep. It slithers down the Hudson River and out of Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal and thousands of broken sewers into the area where the Hudson and East Rivers conjoin and mingle with those of the Atlantic- an enormous watershed called the New York Bight.

For generations, fleets of sludge ships have dumped their cargo directly into the extant oceanic borders of the Bight. These dump areas were sited above underwater depressions, and several “dead zones” can be found in these waters at multiple levels in the water column.

In the deeps below the Bight, around a hundred miles from the spot where I took the pic of the Hudson- an underwater channel eroded by the Hudson’s flow begins a diving course to the ocean floor and turns into a pleistocenal submarine crevasse- the Hudson Canyon. A subaqueous Grand Canyon, it is at least four hundred miles long and at its deepest measured point it is an astounding seven thousand and two hundred feet (two thousand and two hundred meters) below the storm tossed surface. 

Even at that crushing depth, New York City garbage and human waste have been found by scientists.The theorized end of the canyon is thought to terminate well beyond the North American continental craton where it joins with the Atlantic’s abyssal plain. Without access to the still classified sonar mappings of the deep sea floor produced by the Navy department during the Cold War- this postulate can only be conjectured. Who can truly guess what is is that lies down there, in that sunless eternity of cold and abyssal pressures?

This view of the Hudson, of course, is the one enjoyed by the Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty by you.

Statue of Liberty- Photo by Mitch Waxman

and Ellis Island

Ellis Island by you.

Ellis Island- Photo by Mitch Waxman

from wikipedia:

Ellis Island, at the mouth of the Hudson River in New York Harbor, is the location of what was from January 1, 1892, until November 12, 1954 the main entry facility for immigrants entering the United States; the facility replaced the state-run Castle Garden Immigration Depot (1855-1890) in Manhattan. It is owned by the Federal government and is now part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, under the jurisdiction of the US National Park Service. It is situated predominantly in Jersey City, New Jersey, although a small portion of its territory falls within neighboring New York City.

The family story goes like this:

Grandfather Alex got off the boat from darkest Russia at Ellis Island in 1915, and a man asked him “Do you want to be an American Citizen?”,

Grandfather says “yes”,

the man says “sign here”,

Grandfather signs,

the man says “Welcome to United States Army, son”.

Grandfather gets on another boat, does basic on the ship, and ends up as a doughboy in France. His uniform had spats.

Speeding Tug by you.

The tug John P. Brown- Photo by Mitch Waxman

More to come tomorrow- or if you don’t want to wait and just want to check out the whole sequence of photos- click here for a slideshow of the whole series

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 19, 2009 at 1:31 am

Posted in East River

Getting ahead of the curve

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Haunted? I’m desirous to collect up a series of Newtown Ghost stories for Halloween. A blood curdling tale of “the white lady” of East Astoria is already in the works, which I acquired from amongst the stout Croatians who populate this part of the Newtown Pentacle.

Got anything for Old Mitch?

Stories will be posted during the weeks preceeding Halloween, and attributed however you want me to. Any experiences with the demon that chases trespassers on the Hellgate bridge during adolescent rites of passage? Any encounters with the shades of the General Slocum disaster? Ever meet a ghoul in Greenpoint?

Send your stories to this email.

(what does this have to do with history? Not much, but ghost stories are Folklore, and add texture to our Newtown story)

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 17, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Posted in newtown creek

Seaplane landing at Newtown Creek

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This one’s a little light, still working on part 3 of the Long Island City history (part 1 here, part 2 here). Did you know there was a “newsboy legion” which hung around Vernon and Jackson and did the bidding of a mayor named “Battle-Ax Gleason”? Or that Thomson Avenue was named for the president of the Long Island Rail Road?

On a Friday, May 22, I was riding my bike around the Pentacle and decided that I would chance going past the security booth at the end of 2nd street in Hunter’s Point, down in Long Island City. This is the former site of the Budweiser distributor, and future home of 2,200 middle and high income apartments and a 350 room hotel.

Citynoise has an interesting post about what an Urban Explorer found on the other side of some of these fences (no endorsement, DO NOT BREAK THE LAW).

It was a gray, not good for photography kind of day, but I was taking a few shots anyway. I heard an engine over my shoulder and caught this sequence. (zoomed in for clarity in shot 1)

Seaplane lands on Newtown Creek 01 by you.

photos by Mitch Waxman

A seaplane just flew over Greenpoint, and was looping around for an approach to the water over Long Island City on its way across the East River to the seaplane port in Manhattan (at 23rd street and FDR drive). Interesting, New York has some of the most crowded air on earth, yet seaplanes come and go on filed flight plan only (no air traffic controllers). If you’re rich enough, I guess…

Seaplane lands on Newtown Creek 02 by you.

There’s a lot of history involving New York and seaplanes. Here’s a NY times article from 2003, which is admittedly a puff piece.

Seaplane lands on Newtown Creek 03 by you.

New York used to have a lot more options, air travel wise, than it does today. That was of course, before the Port Authority turned North Beach into LaGuardia

Seaplane lands on Newtown Creek 04 by you.

Apocryphal, but authoritative, someone who is “in the know” about the Creek and East River told me ” they ferry rich guys back and forth between the hamptons, fire island, and the city. They try to keep it quiet and not let people know that you can get to the eastern tip of Long Island in only 35 minutes. Its only for the rich, celebrities, and wall street types though”.

Wonder if the rich realize they’re landing in the Newtown Creek?

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Posted in newtown creek

A Big Dig in Queens

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Sorry for the quotidian nature of parts of this post, but if someone says it better and more succinctly than you can- just acknowledge and accredit the source I always say.

2nd best of this batch by you.

Sunnyside Yards, Degnon Terminal- photo by Mitch Waxman

An Observation:

Good old fashioned “Progress” is on the move again in the City of Greater New York.

Sunnyside Railyards by you.

Sunnyside Yards, from Skillman Avenue- 3 exposure HDR photo by Mitch Waxman

Establishing shots:

Along the east side in Manhattan, a new subway line is under construction. The project has called for an expansion of the Long Island Rail Road’s cyclopean Sunnyside railyards at the Degnon Terminal here in Queens. (ps- check this video of a ride on the 1950’s Manhattan Third Avenue El at YouTube).

Quoted content from

 sunnyside1.jpg (189388 bytes)

Sunnyside Yard  Rendering C. 1905

In 1910 the Pennsylvania Railroad had completed its terminal in New York City, which was connected by tunnels to New Jersey, and under the East River to Long Island. At Sunnyside the large yard of the Pennsylvania Railroad was constructed. An agreement was made with that Railroad and the Pennsylvania Tunnel and Terminal Railroad Company whereby the cars of the Long Island Railroad would be carried through the tunnels under the East River into the Terminal at Seventh Avenue and Thirty-second Street, New York. Thus the Long Island Railroad acquired what successive administrations had striven for in vain, a terminal on Manhattan Island. In order to reach this terminal it was necessary to electrify from Jamaica to New York, which was accomplished in 1910, and the first train run into the Pennsylvania Station on September 10th of that year.

-Felix E. Reifschneider’s  1925 Long Island Rail Road History

I REALLY have to recommend some time spent at for any antiquarian, and especially for the intrepid photographer trying to peel back a few layers. This is one of the best collections of old photos and maps on the Long Island City and Newtown Creek industrial complexes that I’ve found so far. Wow. This is the link to their LIC page (same as one on accredidation).

Sunnyside yards by you.

Sunnyside Yards, Degnon Terminal- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Plan: 

as quoted (verbatim) from the wikipedia article on the subject:

Extending between SunnysideQueens, and Grand Central Terminal, the East Side Access project will route the LIRR from its Main Line through new track connections in Sunnyside Yard and through the lower level of the existing 63rd Street Tunnel under the East River. In Manhattan, a new tunnel will begin at the western end of the 63rd Street Tunnel at Second Avenue, curving south under Park Avenue and entering a new LIRR terminal beneath Grand Central Terminal.

Current plans call for 24-trains-per-hour service to Grand Central Terminal during peak morning hours, with an estimated 162,000 passenger trips to and from Grand Central on an average weekday. Connections to AirTrain JFK at Jamaica Station in Jamaica, Queens, will facilitate travel to John F. Kennedy International Airport from the East Side of Manhattan.

A new LIRR train station in Sunnyside at Queens Boulevard and Skillman Avenue[1] along the LIRR’s Main Line (into Penn Station) will provide one-stop access for area residents to Midtown Manhattan.[2] The station may spur economic development and growth in Long Island City.

A comment:

Once again, the recurring theme of “spurring development and growth in Long Island City” emerges. Look at the photos here at the Newtown Pentacle, go to our flickr group and see what other people are compelled to record and share. Does this place look undeveloped or undergrown? These are real estate interests talking, trying to grab away what remains of New York’s industrial infrastructure. These buildings are full of companies that employ people in low paying jobs that you don’t need a diploma or even ID to get. Greasy, necessary jobs handling garbage and other things you wouldn’t like to think about. Abattoirs and crematories are part of the story, like sewers and trains, of the greatest metropolis in the history of mankind.

Toy truck in snow by you.

Sunnyside Yards, Degnon Terminal- photo by Mitch Waxman


Degnon Terminal and the Sunnyside Yards are so large and obvious from the air, so critical to the economy and strategic operational capabilities of the United States- that they were designated by the Soviet Union’s Missile Forces as the first strike target in a nuclear attack on the New York Metropolitan area, not Manhattan (which is only a mile and half away, mind you, and would have been obliterated along with the yards)

– I’m trying to back that one up right now, but its something I read a while back- perhaps at conelrad, I’ll find my source on this- I just have to stop looking

-Astoria, incidentally, is where the famous “Duck and Cover” propaganda flick was made (here’s the youtube link).

Astoria and Sunnyside provided a large number of the 16,000 employees who worked here at the Degnon Terminal, almost all of whom belonged to labor unions. These were jobs “with benefits” like health insurance or paid vacations, a rarity before the late 1970’s. The shells of the titanic companies like Adams (Beeman) Chewing Gum, and Sunshine Biscuits line the streets surrounding the yard, but modernity has largely cut their links to it. These industrial buildings- filled piecemeal with dozens of smaller companies- load their containerized goods onto trucks, not trains, and the international port that will ship their products is in Newark, New Jersey

Railyard 1 by you.

Sunnyside Yards, this street corner is actually on a bridge over the yards- notice the change in elevation at lower left- still around 30-50  feet (10-15 meters) over the tracks– The structure at horizon is another road bridge over the yards. –3 exposure HDR photo by Mitch Waxman

Railyard 6, Industrial landscape by you.

Sunnyside Yards, Degnon Terminal- photo by Mitch Waxman

An opinion:

These sort of tectonic shifts in the landscape are nothing unusual in New York City, which is not so much a series of individual structures as it is an enormous complex of infrastructure whose every perspective is ultimately centered on Manhattan and whose borders ultimately lie hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away radiating in every direction including out to sea and in the air.

Sunnyside 1 by you.

Sunnyside Yards, Degnon Terminal- photo by Mitch Waxman

Here in the Newtown Pentacle, near the very center of this Megalopolis– centuries of power, phone, water, and sewer systems weave around layered building foundations, abandoned trolley lines, and the legacy of the industrial revolution. Deep under the streets, streams and creeks that once ambled over the stubborn hills of New Amsterdam now crash through stone clad sewers in a century clad darkness, mixing with industrial runoff and raw sewage. Even under the best of circumstances, a lot of New York’s untreated waste ends up in the harbor. A significant portion of that dumping, by the City of New York, happens at Newtown Creek

IMG_2894.jpg by you.

Sunnyside Yards, Queensboro Plaza Side, also a bridge over the yards- photo by Mitch Waxman

A warning:

In the very near future, vast new residential populations are envisioned to live nearby- at Hunter’s Point, and Queensboro Plaza, and all around the Sunnyside yards, if “growth is spurred”. I’m just an observer, but I’ve watched condo developers carving bloody chunks out of Long Island City, reducing enigmatic and functional structures down to a neighborhood eerily reminiscent of Battery Park City. These new developments are not required to improve the sewers, or build subway stops, or even compel the local electric company to improve the quality of its archaic grid. Can these ancient Newtown foundations support a magnified community they were never designed for?

IMG_0012_newtowncreek.jpg by you.

Newtown Creek Bulkheads- photo by Mitch Waxman

On the waterfront(s), these waters flow into forgotten subterranean vaults, and flow through depression era landfills, swirling through long buried smuggler tunnels and abandoned building foundations on their pathway to the river– silt buried structures which await only the discovery of modernity. All the poisons which lurk in our Newtown mud leech into the water, eventually percolating into the East River and New York Harbor beyond.

Hatches abound in Newtown, what do they hide 1? by you.

Sunnyside Sewer- photo by Mitch Waxman

Who can imagine what might be buried down there, under all the layers of progress, and what the Big Dig in Queens might be stirring up?


Sunnyside Yards, Degnon Terminal- photo by Mitch Waxman

ps: Check out this video at Youtube for sound reasoning on why New York was the center of the universe– it’s Geography!

“Influence of Geography & History on Port of New York 1949”

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 13, 2009 at 2:54 am

Rare opportunities…

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Working Harbor Committee is scheduling 4 Hidden Harbor Tours this summer – we’ll be on the June 15th one. Don’t miss this, get your tickets and ready your  cameras!!!

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 11, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Big Allis is not in the Land of the Lost… or how I learned to stop worrying and love Ravenswood #3

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Big Allis

16% percent of the electricity consumed by New York City is generated at the junction of Vernon and 36th avenues in Queens where the gargantuan Big Allis power plant is found.

Big Allis

The first million kilowatt facility in the entire country, built at the behest of Consolidated Edison, Ravenswood number three first went online in 1965. Upon activation, the 
cyclopean dynamos of Big Allis were reduced to slag by volcanic emanations issuing from within its massive, natural gas driven turbines. 

Railyard with powerplant

Six months later, a rebuilt system managed to withstand a full hour and twenty-seven minutes of these cosmic stresses before it too went out of commission for a further four months. The problem was diagnosed by experts and teams of engineers to be the responsibility of a malfunctioning bearing which was producing disharmonious vibrations.


After the blackouts of the late seventies, it seemed that Big Allis had finally been tamed by the tireless labor of the indomitable employees
of Consolidated Edison. Perfected, the plant was sold by ConEd to the Keyspan Energy Corporation, which then sold it in 2008 to the TransCanada company for 2.9 billion dollars.

photos by Mitch Waxman

As always, if something you read here is contradicted by something you know, please leave a comment or contact us. Corrections and additions are always welcome.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 11, 2009 at 1:00 pm

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