The Newtown Pentacle

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August 23rd is the Night of the Living Dead, as established in the Romeroverse.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 23, 2009 at 3:48 am

Posted in newtown creek

Headed for the grave… or Astoria to Calvary 3

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Just in case you want to refer to a google map.

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43rd street and 37th avenue -photo by Mitch Waxman

In the first installment of this photowalk- we scuttled through western Queens, which is the northern ventricle of our Newtown Pentacle- descending from the heights in Astoria into the milieu of 19th century teutonic progressivism- and then stumbled in front of a long forgotten relict of the 1920’s gilded age in the 20th.

In the second, we lurked, fearfully, down 37th avenue and found an anomalous municipal building which does not exist- as well as a fortress church.

Today, we enter a place of vine encumbered trees which abut vast fields of machinery, and we shall gaze upon an unforgettable sight. But first, we must cross the angles found between neighborhoods, crossing a bridge and avoiding its troll- only to stand revealed in the dappled light of the Sunnyside.

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43rd street and 37th avenue, make a left -photo by Mitch Waxman

A desperate precipice, whose slimy walls- comically adorned with painted signs declaring that “these walls are under video surveillance” drip with an obsidian jelly whose composition is a cocktail of fecund decay and petroleum byproduct. The prodigious twin elevated tracks of the LIRR define the eastern borders of industrial Long Island City, residential Astoria, and the vernal lanes of Sunnyside. Make the left on 43rd street, and proceed into its fuligin shadows. These tracks are critical infrastructure for the forthcoming East Side Access project.

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Crossing the angles between spaces -photo by Mitch Waxman

To your right is a turnaround track for the one and 3/4 mile long Sunnyside Yard, and a stout fence which bars entry to the great railhead. An odd smell hangs in the air, mildewed garbage and long dead pigeons mixed with an ozone smell from the vast electrical works beyond the fenceline. Also, there is a human smell. In a few pockets, here and there, you will observe signs of an unclean and debased occupation.

I will refer you to this document, found at nyc.gov, specifically to section Q80 for the development plans being discussed for the Sunnyside Yard after the East Side access project is complete. Its implications are staggering.

Next paragraph, incidentally, is where the Newtown Pentacle steps squarely upon one of “the third rails” of modern politics…

Homeless camp near railroad by you.

Homeless camp by Railroad -photo by Mitch Waxman

First- this is not a rant or anything- just personal observations and opinions

As part of the recent migration enacted by those born south of the United State’s border with the ancient nation of Mexico, a large population of spanish speakers have emerged in the Newtown Pentacle within recent years. Whereas the vast majority of those involved in this 21st century diaspora are following in the solid familial and social traditions typified by those fabled “ethnic waves” of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries which are the foundation of our modern city- camp followers, debased mendicants, and criminal organizations have also followed the huddled masses that have made the arduous journey to “El Norte”. Just like similar characters followed populations of workers and poets, during earlier times. Such hubris and hope is the immigrant’s song.

This “dark side” of our new countrymen, which is unapologetically visible, colors the perception of area residents about the new neighbors. Hard working former peasants who have often assumed jobs of the most menial type, this population of Latinos are adopting the familiar immigrant patterns- large families living in crowded apartments, ethnic concentrations coagulating around a certain neighborhood or subway stop, a vibrant and overtly public street life, and an uphill battle with the institutional and linguistic barriers to financial security and class mobility that are familiar stories to any 2nd or 3rd generation Italian, Jew, or Boricua.

“The street signs are in Spanish over there” is heard often when referring to nearby Corona, arousing the spectre of the United States’s greatest sin- social class based racism and its bloody consequence. The same could have been said about my father’s old neighborhood in Borough Park, transposing Spanish with Italian or Yiddish- or modern Astoria with usage of the Greek language.

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Homeless camp by Railroad -photo by Mitch Waxman

Careful observation of the baser individuals who poison the reputations of this new group, often found in an alcohol fueled stupor on one’s stoop or sidewalk, leads me to recall the Hobo culture of the 20th century (which plagued the American rail system for much of its history, until the age of containerization). Cruel and malicious, the nickname attached to these pathetic individuals (in Astoria, at least) is “Los Caballeros“.

A particularly daring trio of these men made camp in the backyard of a vacationing octogenarian acquaintance recently. This distinguished woman, whose father was one of the original residential developer-builders of this area in the 1920’s, was forced to invoke the massive powers of the NYPD to evict them from her property upon returning from a long trip abroad. All over the area- broken hip flask bottles of discount liquor and half eaten meals can be observed, casually discarded on sidewalk and stoop, public sleepers are not sought- but easily found, and encounters with inebriated gatherings of debased men in the dark of night are becoming a common experience.

A statement of opinion and “I grew up in NYC during the 80’s” wisdom from your humble narrator is “there is a difference between being homeless and being a BUM”.

Like much of the addled and disingenuous public dialogue exchanged between the citizens of the City of Greater New York these days, the word “homeless” is part of an agenda of orwellian newspeak and sociological engineering propagated by an academic class which speaks from the safety of gleaming towers and air conditioned offices in Manhattan.

(I distinctly remember when the term was first coined in the 1980’s, and it was no longer polite to call them Bums (drunks or addicts) or Tramps (nutjobs). It was decided by these professor/doctor types to distinguish between the drunken and pitiless vagrant, and the “down on her luck single mother who was sleeping on a steam grate with her two children by Grand Central” meme. These sort of images, while actual, were used to illustrate- on a national political stage- how the disastrous fiscal policy called “Reaganomics”  had led America astray. The term “homelessness” has stuck on as a polite society catch all, and describes a varied crowd of people whose problems run the gamut of human experience, not a homogenous population with a one size fits all solution. This was also before hyphenated american naming conventions became standardized in 1988).

Such gentle and obtuse manipulations of the political landscape is not applicable to conditions found upon the mean streets of New York City, however, and sadly- in the end it will most likely fall to the tender mercies of the NYPD to decide the fate of these “Caballeros”. Just like it always does, in the end.

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Bum -photo by Mitch Waxman

The particular troll (anyone who lives under a bridge can be described as a troll, even those who live in the tony condos of DUMBO) is an aberrant creature whose skin has been rendered to leather from exposure to the sun. I was glad to see him asleep, and gingerly walked past him, as sleeping dogs should be allowed to lie. In other crossings of this angle between neighborhoods, he has been aggressive with me and demanded I pay a toll to cross. A natural victim and physical coward, what choice could I make, and I gave the mocking troll his due- a handful of my hard earned coinage. I don’t condemn his type, just him. He is a jerk.

Enough with the opinions, back to the walk…

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43rd street from 39th Avenue -photo by Mitch Waxman

When you have passed the two rail bridges, you will see 39th avenue, which offers a titanic vista of Manhattan (this is actually a block or two away from 43rd street, looking west, just for the record). You have also just entered the lovely neighborhood called Sunnyside Gardens.

from nyc.gov

Sunnyside Gardens is a predominantly residential area encompassing part of 16 blocks following the city’s traditional grid street pattern within the larger Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens. Located between 43rd and 52nd streets, Queens Boulevard and Barnett Avenue, Sunnyside Gardens was developed between 1924 and 1928 by the City Housing Corporation and designed by architects Clarence Stein, Henry Wright, and Frederick Ackerman and landscape architect Marjorie Cautley based upon the English Garden City model. The neighborhood is comprised of roughly 600 two-story row houses in combinations of one-, two, and three-family units grouped in clusters of 10 to 12 around a series of  courts containing common gardens, in addition to eighteen apartment buildings, two community parks and neighborhood stores. The common gardens account for over 70 percent of the lot area and are a primary defining feature of the site plan, offering residents light, air and greenery.
In 1974, Sunnyside Gardens, along with Fresh Meadows in Queens, Parkchester in the Bronx, and Harlem River Houses in Manhattan, were designated Special Planned Community Preservation (PC) Districts to protect their distinctive character and site plans. General purposes of the Special Planned Community Preservation District are:
(a) to preserve and protect the Special Districts as superior examples of town planning or large-scale development;
(b) to preserve and protect the character and integrity of these unique communities which, by their existing site plan, pedestrian and vehicular circulation system, balance between buildings and open space, harmonious scale of the development, related commercial uses, open space arrangement and landscaping add to the quality of urban life;
(c) to preserve and protect the variety of neighborhoods and communities that presently exist which contribute greatly to the livability of New York City;
(d) to maintain and protect the environmental quality that the Special District offers to its residents and the City-at-large; and
(e) to guide future development within the Special Districts that is consistent with the existing character, quality and amenity of the Special District.

Sunnyside Gardens is a predominantly residential area encompassing part of 16 blocks following the city’s traditional grid street pattern within the larger Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens. Located between 43rd and 52nd streets, Queens Boulevard and Barnett Avenue, Sunnyside Gardens was developed between 1924 and 1928 by the City Housing Corporation and designed by architects Clarence Stein, Henry Wright, and Frederick Ackerman and landscape architect Marjorie Cautley based upon the English Garden City model. The neighborhood is comprised of roughly 600 two-story row houses in combinations of one-, two, and three-family units grouped in clusters of 10 to 12 around a series of  courts containing common gardens, in addition to eighteen apartment buildings, two community parks and neighborhood stores. The common gardens account for over 70 percent of the lot area and are a primary defining feature of the site plan, offering residents light, air and greenery.

In 1974, Sunnyside Gardens, along with Fresh Meadows in Queens, Parkchester in the Bronx, and Harlem River Houses in Manhattan, were designated Special Planned Community Preservation (PC) Districts to protect their distinctive character and site plans. General purposes of the Special Planned Community Preservation District are:

(a) to preserve and protect the Special Districts as superior examples of town planning or large-scale development;

(b) to preserve and protect the character and integrity of these unique communities which, by their existing site plan, pedestrian and vehicular circulation system, balance between buildings and open space, harmonious scale of the development, related commercial uses, open space arrangement and landscaping add to the quality of urban life;

(c) to preserve and protect the variety of neighborhoods and communities that presently exist which contribute greatly to the livability of New York City;

(d) to maintain and protect the environmental quality that the Special District offers to its residents and the City-at-large; and

(e) to guide future development within the Special Districts that is consistent with the existing character, quality and amenity of the Special District.

and of course- Forgotten-NY has been through here as well.

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Sunnyside Gardens, 43rd street -photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ll be returning to Sunnyside Gardens in later posts, but today, we’re heading for the comforts of the grave.

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Skillman Avenue and 43rd street- make right -photo by Mitch Waxman

At the corner of Skillman Avenue, turn right. Skillman avenue can be a dangerous place, traffic wise, so do be careful as you move along it.

from the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce

The Sunnyside community is located in the Borough of Queens, just a few minutes from the Queensboro Bridge and the Queens Midtown Tunnel. We are one of the most trafficked areas in the city. More cars pass through our commercial district  of Queens Boulevard (Sunnyside’s restaurant row) each day than most neighborhoods see in a normal week. Located between the long-established communities of the Blissville area of Long Island City and Woodside, our unique location makes us easily accessible to Manhattan and only 15 minutes by train to Times Square or the Empire State Building.

People in our area can often reach the theatre district faster then those living in some parts of Manhattan. Sunnyside is convenient, centrally located, and a great place to live, as long-time residents are quick to tell you.
It’s believed Sunnyside got its name back in 1850 when the railroad built a station across from the Sunnyside Roadhouse Hotel.

“Sunnyside is a neighborhood in northwestern Queens, lying within Long Island City and bounded to the north by the Sunnyside Yards, to the east by Calvary Cemetery and 51st Street, to the south by the Long Island Expressway, and to the west by Van Dam Street . The area is named for a roadhouse built on Jackson Avenue to accommodate visitors to the Fashion Race Course in Corona during the 1850s and 1860s. A small hamlet was built between Northern and Queens boulevards and became known as Sunnyside.

Most of the land was low-lying and therefore cheap; from 1902 to 1905 the Pennsylvania Railroad gradually bought up all the land south of Northern Boulevard between 21st and 43rd Streets. The entire area was leveled and the swamps filled in by 1908 and the yards opened in 1910. The Queensboro Bridge opened in 1909 and from it was built Queens Boulevard , which ran to the center of the borough through Sunnyside, where streets were built along the boulevard. Sunnyside Gardens (1924-29), a complex of attached houses of two and a half stories, with front and rear gardens and a landscaped central court, was on e of the nation’s first planned communities, hailed for its innovative design by such scholars of urban life as Lewis Mumford (a onetime resident). During the following years the neighborhood became middle class, and largely Irish. During the 1940s and 1950s its large apartments enticed many artists and writers and their families to leave their cramped quarters in lower Manhattan , and the area became known as the “maternity ward of Greenwich Village .” Sunnyside during the 1980s attracted immigrants from Korea , Colombia , Romania , and China , though on the whole fewer immigrants than some of the surrounding neighborhoods in northeastern Queens .

The Sunnyside Railyards are used by the Long Island Rail Road , Conrail, and Amtrak. The Knickerbocker Laundry nearby is a striking example of art moderne architecture.”

Vincent Seyfried, Encyclopedia of New York City , Edited by Kenneth T. Jackson. New Haven , Yale University Press. 1995

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Hike New York signage -photo by Mitch Waxman

When Alexander M. Bing, of Bing & Bing, began to develop Sunnyside, there were no “Hike New York – Long Island City” signs. These plaques are everywhere, and point out directions and distances between the area’s various attractions. They are a bit “off the radar”- but here’s the scoop:

The Public Art Fund and artist Richard Deon placed 44 of these signs around Long Island City in the early 90’s to encourage people to walk around the area and take in the wonders of the place.

Hey, that’s what I do, and yes, when I started these pestilential exercises which became explorations- I did use these signs as markers and waypoints. Success, Mr. Deon.

As I wandered off the path set out by these esthetes, I began to realize that none of these signs point at the Newtown Creek- only at Manhattan and its cultural tendrils.

Here’s a Nytimes.com article on the signage

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Moakyang Presbyterian Church -photo by Mitch Waxman

Moak Yang Presbyterian is a small church on Skillman Avenue, which was recently renovated after an emergency closure by the Dept. of Buildings siting a sagging brick wall. Moak Yang translates as “Good Shepherd” I am told, and the Pastor is the Reverend Byung Ki Song. I don’t speak Korean, yet another failing of my weak intellect, but here is their website. I entered the same URL into google translate and saw evidence of a wholesome and prospering church whose agenda and programs would be familiar to any 19th century New England Yankee- even one from Providence.

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Vestigial sight line to the East River -photo by Mitch Waxman

Until recently, a sign proclaimed this lot alongside the church as being General Motors property, and it lay fallow for all the time I’ve known it. The tangle of weedy growth and rat middens that were the site’s only residents have been supplanted by a parking lot for delivery vans. If you catch the day just right, you can actually see all the way to the East River- looking over the shallow and marshy hills of Astoria from here, with both Triborough and Hells Gate Bridges in the distance.

Railyard 1 by you.

Skillman Avenue and 39th street -photo by Mitch Waxman
(this photo was run once before here at Newtown Pentacle- here’s the blurb
it ran over in this post)

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

The “big show” that is Long Island City officially begins at 49th street, when the pretense of being a neighborhood ends- and the unforgettable panorama of the East River Metroplex becomes visible. A sound will escape your lips, something like “whoof” or a “wo”, assuming you make it here before noon when the sun will be at your back and the Manhattan Skyline glitters like an enormous jewel. 39th street is Steinway street on the other side of Northern Blvd, and what you are standing on is no sidewalk- but a bridge over the titan Sunnyside Yard.

Remember- almost everywhere in the center of New York City, the ground is actually the roof of another structure- sewer, subway, or cellar- or series of structures.

from wikipedia

Sunnyside Yard is a large coach yard, a railroad yard for passenger cars, in Sunnyside, Queens in New York City.

When built by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) at the beginning of the 20th century, Sunnyside was the largest coach yard in the world. The yard served as the main train storage and service point for PRR trains serving New York City. It is connected to Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan by the East River Tunnels.

Currently, the yard is owned by Amtrak, but it is also used by New Jersey Transit. The shared tracks of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Main Line and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor pass along the southern edge of the yard. Plans for the LIRR East Side Access project to build tracks to Grand Central Terminal would have those tracks diverging in the vicinity of, or perhaps through, the Sunnyside Yard.

Northeast of the yard there is a balloon track which is used for “U-turning” Amtrak and NJ Transit trains which terminate at Penn Station. Leading eastward, this balloon track switches off at the southernmost portion of the yard. It then turns left under the LIRR/Amtrak tracks, turns left once again, and merges with the Sunnyside yard track to turn the train west toward Penn Station.

Railyard 4, Extensive Security by you.

Skillman Avenue -photo by Mitch Waxman

For such an important facility, the security at the Sunnyside yard is abyssmal. This, for instance, is the security fence on Skillman. Graffiti observed along the tracks and the numerous reports of urban explorers speak to the time and opportunity afforded trespassers- who ignore the dangers of crossing active tracks, electrified rails, and all sense of personal safety. Let’s be clear- without special training and equipment- you can easily get killed down there. I also think its the greatest unused location for a motion picture I’ve ever seen.

click here for trainsarefun.com’s LIC and Sunnyside yard page (with historical photos and maps!!!)

Railyard 2, Citbank and Empire State by you.

Skillman Avenue -photo by Mitch Waxman

Anywhere you point a camera on Skillman Avenue, you will find a great shot. The only hassles I’ve ever had here (a deserted street on the weekends, especially holidays) were from union guys asking me what I was doing, which wasn’t really a hassle. They were pretty cool, they were just checking I wasn’t “an environmentalist” trying to jam them up. Amtrak security rolls by, but never stops to ask questions. Cops breeze by and don’t even slow down as they pass your humble narrator while he is using a tripod.

Here’s what one of the MTA’s architects proposes for the far end of the Yard.

Citi megalith from a Sunnyside Yard Fencehole by you.

New York City skyline and Sunnyside Yard from Skillman Avenue -photo by Mitch Waxman

Not that long ago, this was the most important place in Queens, and the gateway for freight into Manhattan from all points east. It is still a critical part of the transportation infrastructure of New York City, but the empty factories- and worse- the subdivided ones speak to the economic might which was won, and has since been lost around the Sunnyside Yards.

Skillman Avenue Industrial Building by you.

Skillman Avenue -photo by Mitch Waxman

Quoting from one of Newtown Pentacle’s earlier posts– and yes, I know the Degnon terminal is at the other end of the Yard close by the Dutch Kills:

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.

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Turn Left on Skillman Avenue at 36th street  -photo by Mitch Waxman

Wow, some walk so far. Dutch Kills is so close, and so is the residential section of Long Island City… but we need to make a left on 36th street and south toward the Boulevard of Death…

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 22, 2009 at 3:43 am

The Newtown Creek Cruise… a 3 hour tour

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In a mere 23 days- on September 12th, an elite cabal of historians, ecologists, and educators will be exiting Manhattan by ship- acting as a modern day incarnation of the Smelling Committee. Details for ordering Newtown Creek Cruise 2009 tickets will be found below.

The ship, a comfortable and professionally staffed tour boat (which is completed by ample seating, a cash bar, and comfortable restrooms), will leave its berth at 23rd street and the FDR drive and proceed across the East River. The craft will mark a course directly into the mouth of the Newtown Creek, for a three hour tour exploring the historic waterway’s past, present, and future.

This year, the cruise is open to the public,
and tickets are on sale-
Lords and Ladies of Newtown.
On that day, more will enter the Newtown Creek,
than leave it by the landward side. That could be you!!!

Fabled and maligned, the Newtown Creek is the borderline between Brooklyn and Queens, and the Newtown Pentacle- on behalf of the Working Harbor Committee and the Newtown Creek Alliance (both of whom need your continued attendance at these events to continue offering such outings in these dire economic climes) invites you to sign on for a three hour tour hosted by those who know the historic waterway better than anyone else.

Check out Forgotten-NY’s tale of cruising the Newtown Creek aboard the Fireboat John J. Harvey here

Newtown Creek cruise (retouch) by you.

view of East River, from Newtown Creek- photo by Mitch Waxman

In 2008, during my nascent appraisals of the antiquarian community here in Queens, I managed to attach myself to a boat tour of the Newtown Creek, a prior incarnation of this years outing. Onboard, with “Our Lady of the Pentacle” and the pale enthusiast known as the Hermetic Hungarian, I encountered for the first time a preeminent authority on the Newtown Creek- Bernard Ente.

Check out the NYTimes report, who got onboard in 2007.

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view of Manhattan, from Newtown Creek- photo by Mitch Waxman

Ente, a tall man with piercing eyes and a sardonic wit, was the host of the first half of the tour. This son of Queens is possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the Newtown Creek’s history that might best be described as existential, and, as well as being a talented and prolific photographer- Ente is also one of the driving forces the Newtown Creek Alliance and a familiar figure within the historian communities of the greater City.

His narration made the past a living thing, and phantoms were manifest along the bulkheads. At the halfway point, Ente surrendered his podium to a shifting collage of speakers who updated the crowd on various cases currently in court and the latest environmental findings and news. 

To me, it was a revelation of all that is hidden back there, behind the rusted plate of industrial fences and security cameras. The Newtown Creek is entering a period of intense change in the next year, don’t miss your chance to see the birthplace of the industrial revolution before its irrevocably altered by bridge construction and development. This is a truly extraordinary experience, order tickets today, as it will soon be too late. 

Newtown Creek cruise (retouch) by you.

Newtown Creek- photo by Mitch Waxman

To see what I saw that day, click here for a flickr slideshow. I warn you, this is a long presentation, but its the literal sequence of photos as I shot them. If you’re a photographer, consider it location scouting. If you’re interested in the Newtown Creek as a neighbor, a cause, or are just curious what all the fuss is about- come on board. Details for ordering Newtown Creek Cruise 2009 tickets below.

 

from the NCA website:

Newtown Creek Cruise

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Departs at 1:00 P.M. sharp from Skyport Marina, East River at 23rd Street, Manhattan.

Ticket Price $50.00             Length of Tour: Three Hours

Souvenir Tour Brochure with historical information and vintage maps. Narration by experienced
historical and environmental guest speakers. Complementary soft drinks will be served.

Come aboard for an intense Newtown Creek exploration! Our comfortable charter boat will travel the length of Newtown Creek.
We will also cover English Kills. The tour will pause at interesting locations for discussion.
Guest narrators will cover historical, environmental, and conservation issues.
The Greenpoint Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue bridges will open on our signal so we can view the furthest reaches of English Kills.
Cruise runs rain or shine.

Cruise sponsor is The Working Harbor Committee. Cruise co-host is the Newtown Creek Alliance.

To order tickets click here  

For more information, contact Tour Chairman Bernard Ente: bernard@workingharbor.org

Newtown Creek cruise (retouch) by you.

Newtown Creek- photo by Mitch Waxman

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 20, 2009 at 2:39 am

Posted in newtown creek

Lurking… in fear- or Astoria to Calvary, part 2

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Here’s a google map (including part 1 of this walk).

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Dwyer Square -photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps…

The world knows all that it ought to know of Western Queens, and would remain merry in the satisfied ignorance of modernity- were it not for we Newtownicans who force it to disgorge its centuried secrets to feed the ravenous panopticon. Shudder at revelations of this history, found at our altar of a forgotten cosmos, for its implications may force one to experience monstrous alterations of dream. No rock in this part of the great city can be overturned without portent, or absent the mocking laughter of those who once walked these titan arcades of the Newtown Pentacle. 

from the nyc.gov website

Located in the northwestern Queens neighborhood of Astoria, Dwyer Square lies near an old Native American trail (Woodside Avenue) that served as the main road from western Queens to the village of Newtown during the early American Colonial Period. The road ran along a tongue of dry land between the swamps of Long Trains Meadow (towards present day Jackson Heights), Wolf Swamp (towards present day Maspeth), and Burger’s Sluice (along present day Northern Boulevard). Hessians during the American Revolution (1775-1783) garrisoned this strategic point. In 1713 Isaac Bragaw, a descendant of one of the earliest French Huguenots in New Amsterdam, purchased this land. During the early 19th century, William Gosman purchased the farm. (Gosman is also known for having surveyed and laid out the area’s streets around 1875). Also nearby lies Northern Boulevard, an important six mile road connecting Flushing to Hunters Point.

It was originally named Jackson Avenue for Turnpike President John C. Jackson, whose leadership and efforts made the road possible. Costing nearly $40,000 and opening on July 13th, 1860, the highway was originally composed of milestones, a gravel roadbed and a tiny tollhouse and gate where travelers would pay a nine cents fee for passage. Foot traffic, however, was free.

In September 1980, the City of New York rededicated Dwyer Square. The square contains a flagpole with a yardarm that flies the United States, City of New York, and Parks flags; brick and concrete walkways; benches; and five trees, including three Japanese pagoda trees (Sophora japonica), a honey locust (Gleditsia tricanthos), and a green ash tree (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).

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48th street between Northern Blvd. and 37th avenue looking west -photo by Mitch Waxman

At the commercialized intersection of 48th street and Northern Blvd. make a right and find the spot where- in 1932 the Madison Square Garden Bowl attracted a degenerate population of gamblers and all those friends and companions of night who accompany the sporting life- and near the spot selected by the US Army in WW2 to locate its titanic mail sorting and postal concentration operation– and close to where Ronzoni’s Pasta Mill stood- is today a shopping mall anchored by discount stores and an ice cream shop.

Gaze west upon the terrible grandeur of the shield wall of Manhattan, lying beyond Newtown across the River of Sound. By the 1970’s, this industrial complex had decayed and fallen prey to the greater malaise which infected New York until just recently. Described to the Newtown Pentacle as abandoned buildings and brick lots, it was home to vermin of all descriptions.

Apocryphal stories passed down by native Astorians speak of queer pock marked and needle scarred characters conducting odd rites in these ruined industrial sites as early as the 1970’s, with the officials in City government only intervening in these midnight gatherings when carelessly lit fires began to plague the area and a jump in the rate of suicide and violent robbery was commented on by many. A whispered Queens patois answers questions put to these lifelong Newtownicans about the place, apocryphally saying that it was where drug fiends and street gangs would hold congress, spending their nights amongst the oddly shaped shadows cast by streetlight streaming through broken windows (typical of similar vacant properties in the greater city, during that degenerate period of shattered and diminished expectations).

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LIRR crossing at 48th street and 37th avenue -photo by Mitch Waxman

A side effect of the medications which maintain my frail physique in some semblance of balance- an exotic cocktail representing the highest pinnacle of the chemist’s art- is a vulnerability to an outward bodily manifestation of my subconscious notions- both gross and ridiculous. Without obvious provocation, a series of terrified and hysterical shrieks may emerge from my throat, owed entirely to my nervous and cowardly temperament. These nervous attacks are some surface manifestations of a deeper sensitivity, and suggest the buried neuroses which compel my quixotic and noisome nature. I have learned, when this humiliating condition is approaching, that by changing my course and altering my visual environment, I can often prevail against these terrors by resetting my nervous equilibrium.

It is terrible to have one’s mind couched in such an inferior physical example of the specie, and I have often considered alternatives. Oh, mankind, like a leaf- you.

So, we’re making a left onto a vestigial remnant of an earlier street grid, one that existed before the 800 pound gorilla and the Sunnyside Yard came to town- 37th avenue.

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S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard -photo by Mitch Waxman

On the south side of the street lies the elevated trackbed of the LIRR, and a series of garages which until recently served the nearby Sunnyside Yards. Many businesses in this area, which is defined by the gargantuan rail yard, have had their leases vacated by the MTA and LIRR recently. Sunnyside Yards is about to expand. On the north side of the street are two enormous structures, the first of which is a municipal building- the S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard. Its yard, which consumes most of its lot, houses stores of street furniture and municipal hardware- and the sturdy employees of the place reveal their kind hearted nature by the carefully cared for colony of cats seen stalking the yard fencelines. Obviously capable hunters, some of the cats carry half eaten things that squeal and scream. 

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S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard -photo by Mitch Waxman

I couldn’t find much out about this enigmatic and clearly decaying structure, but I did find a link to the New York City DOT Street design manual. (6.8 meg pdf). Other than that, I can find no proof at the Dept. of Buildings that this structure exists. It is anomalous, but clearly it can be photographed, which confirms it is no phantasmagoria nor an hallucination. 

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S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard -photo by Mitch Waxman

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“No Photography Allowed” -photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the street from the anomalous facility are a recently emptied series of garage sheds which were utilized by the Sunnyside Yards as some sort of machine shop. Signage disallows photography, but should mention grafiti instead. Such street scrawls, the joy of adolescent boys worldwide, is evidential of the lack of attention paid to security by civil and private authorities to these places that are not visible from their shining towers in Manhattan. Disturbingly, the graffiti writers are provided with both time and opportunity to pursue their art, which adorns every train viaducts and even the offshore Brooklyn Bridge moorings. One wonders who and what else may wander these streets looking for just such an opening, and what esoteric desires they may be seeking to fulfill.

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LIRR -photo by Mitch Waxman

Like Jason tied to his mast before the fabled Sirens, my attention was suddenly centered and transfixed. My eyes blurred as the powerful air horn of a LIRR train heading for eastern Long Island passed a construction site- screaming wildly in accordance with federal regulations. Unbalanced by the sudden rush of air and sound, I staggered forward several steps to avoid falling, and became transfixed by the nearby construction site. Such variability and inability to stay focused in the face of visual stimuli is undoubtedly the end product of an undisciplined childhood, an upbringing upon which I insisted on despite the best efforts of my simple parents. 

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LIRR track work -photo by Mitch Waxman

Up until just a year ago, this was a weed choked dumping ground for area residents and passing building contractors. The engineers of the LIRR have recently reinforced the track bed with structural steel and are in the process of armoring it in a wall of cement tile, as part of the larger East Side Access Project . I am not sorry, for I hated both antique wreckage and hellish vegetation which polluted the artificial ridge and occluded viewpoints of these gleaming trains as they carry their mutitudes back and forth to Manhattan.

New York Presbyterian Church – “stitched panorama” photo by Mitch Waxman

click here to see the ridiculously large original- warning-BIG FILE

Across the street is an enormous Church complex, the New York Presbyterian. It has all the appearance of a fortress, complete with a guardhouse possessed of mirrored windows and a retinue of antennae and cameras, but this would be normal for any structure of this size which abuts one of the largest and most important rail yards in North America. The curious asiatic script found on the church’s signage, and indeed the characteristic wide grin and relaxed countenance of the members of the congregation I have observed show all the hallmarks of origins on the Korean Peninsula. This is an assumption of course, based solely on study of New York’s ever shifting demography.

Here’s what archi-tourist had say:

This massive church is located in a strange area between the suburban, automobile landscape of Northern Boulevard and the planned community of Sunnyside Gardens. The LIRR passes alongside the church and 37th Avenue, adding to the feeling that the church doesn’t really belong to any place, any neighborhood.

 

The plan is basically split into three areas: a large congregation space fronted by the large wall of translucent panels and the church’s entry, the art-deco front on 37th Avenue now containing classrooms and other small spaces , and a series of metal-clad shells concealing the exit stairs required for the large, 2,500-seat sanctuary. All is surrounded by acres of parking, some at the level of the entry, some one-story below grade on the building’s north side.

 

It’s the building’s north side and its series of angular, metal scallops that gives the church its most striking feature, even though this facade is the most removed from the entry, the road, and the railway. It’s also ironic that so much effort was expended on a feature that’s rarely used, as these pieces cover the exit stairs from the sanctuary. But perhaps that’s the point; that the design needed some sort of POW or hidden surprise that couldn’t find its way into the art deco piece or the main sanctuary.

They seem like very nice people, despite the forbidding appearance of the structure that houses their church. The adoption of Protestant Christianity by a large segment of the Korean population was facilitated relatively recently, as it turns out.

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New York Presbyterian Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

from wikipedia

In 1884, two American missionaries came to Korea: Henry Appenzeller, a Methodist, and Horace Underwood, a Presbyterian.[2] Emphasizing the mass-circulation of the Bible (which had been translated into Korean between 1881 and 1887 by the Reverend John Ross, a Scottish Presbyterian missionary inManchuria), the Protestant pioneers also established the first modern educational institutes in Korea. The Presbyterian Paichai School (배재고등학교) for boys was founded in 1885, and the Methodist Ehwa girls’ school (이화여자고등학교) followed a year later. These, and similar schools established soon afterwards, facilitated the rapid expansion of Protestantism among the common people, and in time enabled the Protestant faith to overtake Catholicism as the leading Christian voice in Korea.

and

Korean Americans in America have historically had a very strong fundamentalist and conservative Christian heritage. Between 70% and 80% identify as Christian; 40% of those consist of immigrants who were not Christians at the time of their arrival in the United States. There are about 2,800 Korean Christian churches in the United States, as compared to only 89 Korean Buddhist temples; the largest such temple, Los Angeles’ Sa Chal Temple, was established in 1974.

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Stop, make left on 43rd street -photo by Mitch Waxman

A wall of shadowed brick will greet you as you reach 43rd street, and you must choose as I am forced to- do you return to Northern Blvd. and the greater world beyond- whose every path leads to the great gleaming metropolitan city and its myriad pleasures? Or will you choose to take a left handed path, and plunge deeper- ever deeper- worming your way into the darker heartlands of the Newtown Pentacle? 

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43rd street and 37th avenue -photo by Mitch Waxman

Steadying myself and resolute to continue, I stopped on the corner to consider 37th avenue and noted the sudden change in environmental conditions after crossing the street. A tenebrous darkness clings to this corner- the smell of mildewed wood and nitre dripping cement- mixed with urine- colors the air a yellowish brown. Somewhere nearby, is something that reeks of degenerate humanity.

note: I’m not kidding about the weird darkness here, check it out in google street view.

Moving south on 43rd street, and passing beneath a steel bridge which is manned by an actual troll… a sort of creature whose name the local Croatians might roughly translate into english as a “Sin-Eater“.

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Crossing the angles between spaces -photo by Mitch Waxman

But brave this trollish hazard we will, my ladies and lords of Newtown, for the strange energies which course through the ground in these intermediate zones- which are neither one neighborhood nor another– these places- they are just existential hinterlands which reside in the angles found between them

And we are on the verge of entering the most progressively designed, rationally proportioned, and ultimately verdant section of the long walk from Astoria to Calvary. Netownicans, we are about to pass under and over and enter into the Sunnyside.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 19, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Catching up with the Pentacle

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creek fungus by you.

Newtown Creek Bulkhead Fungus – photo by Mitch Waxman

Terms coined by the Newtown Pentacle in recent posts for future usage by the Real Estate Industry when the economy cycles back up- 

DUPBO– Down under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp

DUGABO– Down under the Greenpoint avenue Bridge Onramp

DULIE– Down under the Long Island Expressway

DURFKO- Down under the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge Onramp
aka
DUTBO–  Down under the Triborough Bridge Onramp

DUKBO– Down under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp

DUTZBO– Down under the Tappan Zee Bridge Onramp

DUGWO– Down under the George Washington Bridge Onramp

Sorry for the “clip show” today, I’m running a little late on my schedule, and the next “Astoria to Calvary” photowalk installment will be ready tomorrow.

also: Click here for a fascinating experience one pedestrian had down by Gantry Plaza Park. This is precisely the sort of thing that I’m constantly droning on about…

Also, something I found while doing research on Northern Blvd.- or how Robert Moses almost did to western Queens what he did to the South Bronx.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 18, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Astoria zen

with 5 comments

Astoria Matthews Model Flats, 30th avenue and 44th st by you.

Astoria Matthews Model Flats, 31st ave. and 44th street – photo by Mitch Waxman

31st avenue and 44th street is very close to being the apex of an enormous hill which is buried deep below the masonry of modern Astoria. 1 block from the ancient pavings of Newtown Road, which knew British and Hessian armies- and later carried an iron ribbon of Trolley Tracks, and is 2 blocks from Broadway.

31st avenue was, in gentler times, called Jamaica Avenue and 44th street was called 14th avenue. Broadway and 30th (Grand) avenue nearby are the main commercial strips. 

Now, I’m taking a shortcut today, and will refer you to Forgotten-NY’s page on the Street Name Necrology of Astoria rather than try to explain the whole affair, as it confuses me, and they are brilliant and own an encyclopedic collection of old maps. 

This is an interesting neighborhood, and it is where our Newtown Pentacle is headquartered. 44th street between 30th and 31st avenues is bookended by 1928 vintage Matthews Model flats– “model new law tenements” which fill nearly half of the block in an unbroken line of Kreischer yellow brick. There are 6 units in each building, with the 4 story bookends on each corner. It is a working class section of the ancient village, and it always has been. The surrounding blocks were farms as late as the early 20th century, and despite a long period of abuse and neglect beginning in the late 1950’s the current property owners are performing careful maintenance on these historic structures.

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44th street between Newtown Road and Broadway – photo by Mitch Waxman

As you walk down the hill toward Northern Blvd., which is actually a striking drop in elevation for so short a space, the building stock becomes typical of the early 20th century. Enormous, well designed apartment houses line 44th street beginning at Newtown Road- giving way on the Broadway intersection to 3 and then 2 family houses with garages. One or two relict examples of the federal style townhouse, so popular in Long Island City, incongruously continue to stand in centuried glory beneath the burning eye of the Newtown sun.

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LIC Turn Verein detail – photo by Mitch Waxman

After the civil war, Long Island City incorporated and became a haven for heavy industry and mechanized production in the Hunters Point, Dutch Kills, and Ravenswood neighborhoods. Astoria developed along the lines of a bedroom community, with the exception of the Steinway factory on the North side. 

The huge populations that teemed into New York from European origins in the 19th century, to serve as labor in the new factories, often arrived in tsunami waves of a single ethnicity- resulting in the classic perception of “the XXX’s are taking over!”, followed by the next generation of the “XXX’s” declaring “the YYY’s are taking over!”.

A teacher of mine at college was a genius named Will Eisner, and he did a novel on this phenomena called “Dropsie Avenue” about his old block in the Bronx. If you dig this blog, you will LOVE Dropsie Avenue, available at amazon and other places.

In 1875, Astoria was a German town. Deutche was spoken on the streets, taught in schools, and the population of the area read newspapers shipped in from Vienna and Berlin. They were very much in tune with a radical new political theorem called trade-unionism, which promised to unite the workers of the world against the decaying masters of the middle ages- the aristocracy- and a new menace to the working man called the Industrialist. They also believed that mankind could be bettered and brought into communion with god- by exercise and good diet and education and abstention from the sins of the industrial world. 

One must comment on what must have been going through the minds of these people- the whole world was at war, the greatest empire ever known was crumbling, and an antichrist (himself a Turner) had crowned himself emperor of France. And here they were, in post civil war New York City, safe as houses.

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LIC Turn Verein detail – photo by Mitch Waxman

So, these Germans built a Turn Verein in Long Island City, on the corner of Broadway and 14th avenue (44th street) near Schuetzen Park, to better mankind through the example of Physical Culture.

The structure currently serves as a catering hall for the Chian Federation, a local Greek ethnic society (island of chios). There are some surprising events here at times. Last winter, for instance, a high ranking member of either the Pakistani or Bangladeshi government held a rally here and was feted amongst the expatriate communities who emigrated into the neighborhood. Mostly, it just seems to do private parties and neighborhood events. This represents two more demographic shifts in Astoria, one finishing up and one just beginning

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LIC Turn Verein detail – photo by Mitch Waxman

The “Turners’, as they call themselves, are still around- here’s their website, and the Newtown Pentacle is pleased to let them tell their own story.

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LIC Turn Verein detail – photo by Mitch Waxman

These folks are the inheritors of a genteel middle class society, industrial workers who were considered skilled craftsmen. Known world wide for their skills in working metals and wood alike, the Germans of the 19th century were recruited in large numbers to come to New York, and they were glad to leave behind the catastrophic events which were in living memory of these new Americans. The concept of the coming “fin de siècle” was very much in their minds. It’s part of the reason behind the 19th century religious revival movement, suffrage (New York allowed women to vote in 1917), anti-slavery, and temperance movements all were at their apogee in the final years of the 1900’s. The 20th century is all “-ism’s” in the same way the 19th century is all “movements”, and the 21st seems to be about the “-ists”. 

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44th street between Northern Blvd. and 34th avenue- photo by Mitch Waxman

Leaving the 19th century, and heading south toward Northern Blvd. the neighborhood suddenly turns a bit seedy, and at night- queer groups of adolescent troublemakers congress with baser elements of Astoria’s underworld in the desolate shadows of sodium light. That’s the west side of the street, though, and on the east- you’ll find some lovely typography adorning the cavernous garage that serves Major Auto World.

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Northern Blvd, 44th st., 35th avenue intersection- photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking to your right, you’ll see the Citbank megalith, and Manhattan hidden behind that white sign on the right hand side. We’re not going this way, just reminding you- gentle reader- to look both ways before you cross. Northern Blvd. is more properly described as a six lane highway which is a primary artery connecting vehicle traffic in western Queens with Manhattan via the Queensborough Bridge and the highways leading eastward to Long Island which intersect it on the north shore of Queens. It also serves as a shortcut route to LaGuardia airport for knowledgeable taxi drivers.

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Northern Blvd at 44th street, south side- photo by Mitch Waxman

Directly in front of you will be the major world entrance. If you’re an automotive enthusiast, buy a hot dog and go shopping, they have a LOT of used cars.

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Northern Blvd at 44th street, looking east- photo by Mitch Waxman

From the appearance of the automobile, this section of Northern Blvd., formerly the Trolley car thoroughfare called Jackson Ave.– and before that the Jackson… oh no…

…alright, here we go-

John C. Jackson was president of the Hunters Point, Newtown and Flushing Turnpike Company, which built Jackson Avenue as a toll road. It allowed ships from Long Island Sound to drop their cargo on the North Shore of Queens, allowing them to avoid the dangerous and crowded East River and Hells Gate- and the infamously criminal controlled docks of Long Island City and Manhattan. Cargo traffic was first transported by mule barge, then wagon team, and eventually electrified Trolleys and automotive vehicles. It also connected the isolated villages of the north shore of Queens with the economic superpowers of the East River metroplex and the world beyond through the Port of New York. It is precisely the freight that the Long Island Railroad was originally sited to carry.

in 1921, Jackson ave. was renamed Northern Blvd., which fit the rational, progressive, and scientific spirit of a world recovering from the shattering horror of the Great War

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Northern Blvd at 45th street, looking east- photo by Mitch Waxman

I first noticed this place a few years ago. It is very well wrought, and has the appearance of a hollywood set piece. I’ve been looking around for quite a while, and scrounging through the usual sources, but I kept on coming up blank on the history of this place. Were I not such an awkward and contentious being, I would have considered calling the realtor advertising the edifice as available. You may have noted my preferences in referential hyperlinking to public information, as I subscribe to the Cory Doctorow theorem that “information WANTS to be free”, but in this case, I need to refer you to copyrighted materials.

Luckily, the footsteps I take around the Newtown Pentacle have been walked by others with an eye for the strange- the antiquarian- the hidden.

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Northern Blvd at 45th street, Packard building- photo by Mitch Waxman

A significant resource to the amateur antiquarian here in the Newtown Pentacle is the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the officers of which hold the key to vast archives of historical artifacts and esoteric knowledge. Close examination of their publications, and websites, revealed an identity for this enigmatic holdout from the early 20th century.

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Northern Blvd at 45th street, Packard building- photo by Mitch Waxman

This was a Packard dealership in 1929.

Packard Automobiles – from wikipedia

Packard was an American luxury automobile marque built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, and later by the Studebaker-Packard Corporation of South Bend, Indiana. The first Packard automobiles were produced in 1899 and the last in 1958.

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Northern Blvd between 45th and 46th streets, Packard building- photo by Mitch Waxman

The building currently houses a series of shops and small offices, and is carved up into small spaces. The GAHS photo below shows the structure in its heyday of 1929, as a two level automotive showroom. Amazing- I love Astoria. 

Check out this link to the Greater Astoria Historical Society’s smugmug page– this is the same building, in 1923.

I cannot recommend highly enough the purchase of their excellent Long Island City book.

astoriahistory > Long Island City photo

We’re plunging into a new photowalk, Lords and Ladies of Newtown, from Astoria to Calvary. This has been part one.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 17, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Walking down the street, one day…

with 5 comments

Click here for a quicktime movie (not quite a megabyte) of the band playing as the parade passed by- I promise, this is as close to multimedia as we will ever get- but the sound of the parade really does add a lot of punch to the photos and text.

note:
File is served from my currently inert comic book site-
weirdass comics, which is actually quite safe for work and all that netnanny stuff. It’s a giant mess right now, I can’t even find things there anymore. A redesign will be taking place over the winter. Suggestions are welcome.

Check out the Story of Phil comic or our dumb youtube video for why we called the comics site by such an outlandish name. This is the comic everybody always wants to see, by the way, the autobiographical one about the “health issue” I’ve alluded to in previous posts that led me into this whole “walking the earth with my camera” thing…

So, as I was scuttling around the edges of man’s world at Robert Moses’s greatest creation today, suffering from the diaphoresis I am so prone to as we await harvest moon here in the Newtown Pentacle and suffer through these riotous days of riotous August. I was wearing a ridiculous white “Renegade” brand cowboy hat (purchased at Boot World in Las Vegas, no less, where I didn’t pay anything even close to what the link is asking for it) and carrying my trusty camera around, preparing for a future post on the magnificent Hell Gate Bridge-

 – when I spied a gathering group of Italian devotees accompanied by a Police Escort.

Astoria Orsogna Mutual Aid Society Parade 01 by you.

Orsogna Mutual Aid Society -photo by Mitch Waxman

The band started to play as it turned the corner, and I gambled I could outpace the parade to gain a vantage point from which to photograph it further up 21st street.

Astoria Orsogna Mutual Aid Society Parade 02 by you.

Orsogna Mutual Aid Society -photo by Mitch Waxman

I also thought to turn on the griffin italk app on my iphone. The music in the link above (here it is again).

Astoria Orsogna Mutual Aid Society Parade 03 by you.

Orsogna Mutual Aid Society -photo by Mitch Waxman

Later, after the parade had turned the corner onto 18th street, a gregarious woman approached me and we talked briefly about who they were and who I was.

Astoria Orsogna Mutual Aid Society Parade 04 by you.

Orsogna Mutual Aid Society -photo by Mitch Waxman

A vital intellect was alive in her eyes as she explained the long history of the Orsogna Mutual Aid Society (which is located on 18th street here in Astoria), and its filial ties to their ancient homelands in the fable shrouded and castellated towns of the Abruzzo region, in the Italian province of Chieti, as well as the story of how the statue came to New York City.

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Orsogna Mutual Aid Society -photo by Mitch Waxman

She was very nice and invited me to visit the Society to see him in his proper place, sometime.

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Orsogna Mutual Aid Society -photo by Mitch Waxman

I love Astoria. A Roman from 2,000 years ago would recognize these traditions, and this kind of gathering. The Roman would probably think the Triborough Bridge onramp was an aqueduct.

(hey, this part of Astoria is “Down Under the Triborough Bridge Onramp” aka “Down Under the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge Onramp”- I like DUTBO, but reject DURFKO)

Astoria Orsogna Mutual Aid Society Parade 07 by you.

Orsogna Mutual Aid Society -photo by Mitch Waxman

Soon, the statue of the Saint appeared. I’m not at all qualified to say which saint it is, of course- if someone reading this can fill that in- please leave me a comment and I’ll incorporate your information.

Astoria Orsogna Mutual Aid Society Parade 08 by you.

Orsogna Mutual Aid Society -photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYTimes briefly mentions the Orsogna Mutual Aid Society in an article related to Italian-America efforts at aiding the victims of an earthquake in Italy in April of 2009.

Astoria Orsogna Mutual Aid Society Parade 09 by you.

Orsogna Mutual Aid Society -photo by Mitch Waxman

Turns out that August 15th in 2009 is a feast day for both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 16, 2009 at 4:05 am

Posted in Astoria

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