The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for August 2009

Astoria to Calvary 4… or planes, trains, and automobiles

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Just in case you want to refer to a google map

IMG_4930_projectfirebox.jpg by you.

Skillman Avenue Firebox- photo by Mitch Waxman

(forgotten NY has lamp posts- I got Fireboxes- click here)

In the first installment of this photowalk– we began scuttling through western Queens – descending from Astoria into the milieu of 19th century teutonic progressivism- and found a long forgotten relict of the 1920’s gilded age.

In the second, we lurked, fearfully, down vestigial 37th avenue – past anomalous municipal building and fortress church. 

In the third, we marched defiantly into the Sunnyside, and were thunderstruck by the colossus Sunnyside Rail Yard. 

Another Skillman by you.

Skillman Avenue, Sunnyside Yards- “stitch panorama” photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too far from here (around a half mile east) on Skillman Avenue, during a smallpox epidemic in 1899, the city fathers built a large frame wooden building commonly referred to as “the Pest House”. This is a place of unexpected detail and obscured history, with layers upon layers of significance. I’ve read about the Sunnyside Yard, and observed it from its rotting fenceline, but I’m sorry to say that I cannot grasp the place. Its just so immense, such a huge subject. As in accordance with  Newtown Pentacle Policy on such subjects- the history of the FDNY for instance, experts must be referenced and deferred to. 

from pefagan.com

In 1899 we had a smallpox epidemic in both Queens and Manhattan boroughs, of which Long Island City had its share of victims. In order to take care of those so afflicted a large frame building was erected in the center of what is now known as Skillman Avenue, a few hundred feet west of Old Bowery Bay Road. In Woodside and on the opposite side of Old Bowery Bay Road, Louis Sussdorf occupied a large mansion. He didn’t like the idea of a wagon (not an ambulance) carrying smallpox patients making the turn opposite his gate on its way to the so-called pest house. Mr. Sussdorf went to court and tried to obtain removal of the pest house but was unsuccessful. Shortly after the epidemic ceased, Mr. Sussdorf died and as the funeral cortege passed through the gateway on his premises the pest house burst out into flames and was burned to the ground.

36th street and Skillman Avenue by you.

36th street and Skillman Avenue – photo by Mitch Waxman

99 years ago, Skillman Avenue was still farmland.

here’s a NYtimes article from 1910 discussing the nascent development of the area surrounding the Sunnyside Yards

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36th street Taxi Depot – photo by Mitch Waxman

36th street, as one moves in a roughly southern perihelion, displays an industrial neighborhood. On your right will be a fascinating multi-story taxi garage festooned with arcing ramps- reminiscent of a plastic toy service station I played with as an innocent. Its curvilinear shapes and utilitarian use of reinforced concrete suggests mid 20th century design and construction.

Curious characters- mohammedans, hindoos, and other representatives of the distant orient mill about- either waiting for a work shift to begin- or just finishing up the hypnagogic 12-16 hours behind the wheel maintained by New York’s fleet of Taxi drivers. Strong coffee and the acrid smell of tobacco hang redolant upon the air, and if one passes at an opportune time- groups of these men can be found kneeling on scraps of carpet as they perform their religious devotions while facing far off Mecca in answer to the call for prayer– heard playing from car stereos. Such adherence to tradition would be remarkable in a an American born Newtownican, and it speaks of a continuity to old world wonders.

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36th street Factory – photo by Mitch Waxman

Religion in Long Island City was and is the business of business. 19th and 20th century industrialists with their twin creeds of efficiency and profit built this place. The curious and satisfying esthetics of the area are accidental, a byproduct of utility. A growing but still small number of brave souls decide to live down here in tony condominiums, amongst the effusive whir of city-bound traffic and the hectic and noisome trainyard. For much of the last century, the reverse was true, with vast populations fleeing these neighborhoods for the safety and comforts of Long Island, Westchester, and New Jersey.  

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36th street looking northwest at 43rd Avenue- photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve coined a phase for the feeling one gets, walking these streets in the off hours when the workers who normally populate the area are enjoying their restful rustications, “a feeling of desolate isolation”. I crave such esoteric intuitions, and the loneliness of wandering a landscape whose very existence is predicated on concentrating large populations into industrial mills and factories. As I’ve mentioned in the past, my headphones are almost always in operation on these long pedestrian ambles, and audiobooks are usually my preferred company. Richard Matheson, Joseph Campbell, and particularly H.P. Lovecraft are often my companions as I walk upon the earth and view the splendors of Newtown. I also bring along a couple of early Black Sabbath albums, and just for kicks- the soundtrack to the Omen movies.

LIC corner by you.

43rd avenue looking southwest – photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing toward the fungus torn ground of Calvary, due south, the grinding noise of the Boulevard of Death penetrates through my headphones. I won’t remind you to safeguard as you cross the massive arterial thoroughfare, for signage attesting to traffic fatalities (and their number) adorns many of its crosswalks- as do tiny roadside shrines memorializing those not loquacious enough to respect the flow of automobiles moving toward the nearby Queensboro bridge.

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36th street and Queens Blvd. – photo by Mitch Waxman

Queens Boulevard is one of those places that New Yorkers just take as a given. A massive structure which carries elevated subway service from Manhattan, and allows vehicular traffic egress to and from the great city to all points east, Queens Blvd. is properly viewed as an engineering marvel and modern day Appian Way

from wikipedia:

Queens Boulevard was built in the early 20th century to connect the new Queensboro Bridge to central Queens, thereby offering an easy outlet from Manhattan. It was created by linking and expanding already-existing streets, such as Thomson Avenue and Hoffman Boulevard, stubs of which still exist. It was widened along with the digging of the IND Queens Boulevard Line subway tunnels in the 1920s and 1930s, and some speculated the plan was to transform it into a freeway, as was done with the Van Wyck Expressway. The city actually did propose converting it in 1941, but with the onset of World War II, the plan was never completed.
The combination of Queens Boulevard’s immense width, heavy automobile traffic, and thriving commercial scene made it the most dangerous thoroughfare in New York City and earned it citywide notoriety and morbid nicknames such as “The Boulevard of Death”[1] and “The Boulevard of Broken Bones.” From 1993 to 2000, 72 pedestrians were killed trying to cross the street, an average of 10.2 per year, with countless more injuries. Since 2001, at least partially in response to major news coverage of the danger, the city government has taken measures to cut down on such incidents, including posting large signs proclaiming that “A Pedestrian Was Killed Crossing Here” at intersections where fatal accidents have occurred and installing more road-rule enforcement cameras.

Queens Boulevard was built in the early 20th century to connect the new Queensboro Bridge to central Queens, thereby offering an easy outlet from Manhattan. It was created by linking and expanding already-existing streets, such as Thomson Avenue and Hoffman Boulevard, stubs of which still exist. It was widened along with the digging of the IND Queens Boulevard Line subway tunnels in the 1920s and 1930s, and some speculated the plan was to transform it into a freeway, as was done with the Van Wyck Expressway. The city actually did propose converting it in 1941, but with the onset of World War II, the plan was never completed.

The combination of Queens Boulevard’s immense width, heavy automobile traffic, and thriving commercial scene made it the most dangerous thoroughfare in New York City and earned it citywide notoriety and morbid nicknames such as “The Boulevard of Death” and “The Boulevard of Broken Bones.” From 1993 to 2000, 72 pedestrians were killed trying to cross the street, an average of 10.2 per year, with countless more injuries. Since 2001, at least partially in response to major news coverage of the danger, the city government has taken measures to cut down on such incidents, including posting large signs proclaiming that “A Pedestrian Was Killed Crossing Here” at intersections where fatal accidents have occurred and installing more road-rule enforcement cameras.

from queens boulevard by you.

from Queens Blvd. – photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always felt the Roman comparison is apt for this interconnected series of bridges and structures called Queens Blvd., due to the visual impact of the design of the elevated subway tracks- an aqueduct thrusting down the center of the great road, and the manner in which it connects so many disparate communities together as one. 

from nycroads.com

HISTORY OF QUEENS BOULEVARD: Originally called Hoffman Boulevard, Queens Boulevard dates back to the early years of the twentieth century, when the road was constructed as a connecting route between the new Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge and central Queens. In 1913, a trolley line was constructed from 59th Street in Manhattan east along the new boulevard.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, New York City began a program to widen Queens Boulevard. The project, which was conducted in conjunction with the building of the IND Queens Boulevard subway line, widened the boulevard to 12 lanes in some locations, and required a right-of-way of up to 200 feet. Once completed, local and express traffic flows were provided separate carriageways.

EXPRESSWAY PLANS: In 1941, the New York City Planning Department recommended that an expressway be constructed along eight miles of Queens Boulevard (NY 25) from the Queensboro Bridge in Long Island City east to Hillside Avenue in Jamaica. The City’s plan for the highway was as follows:

This highway is the major approach from Queens, Nassau and Suffolk to Manhattan. Its conversion to an express highway could readily be accomplished by the construction of grade separation structures at the more important intersections, and by improved mall treatment to close off access to the express roadways from minor streets.

As part of the project, the express lanes of Queens Boulevard were depressed in the area of Woodhaven Boulevard and Horace Harding Boulevard (later developed as the Long Island Expressway), while the local lanes were kept at grade level. 

However, the plan to upgrade Queens Boulevard to an expressway was delayed by the onset of World War II, and ultimately, was never implemented. In the postwar era, Robert Moses, the arterial coordinator for New York City, shifted attention to creating an express route between the Queens-Midtown Tunnel (now under the jurisdiction of his Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority), Queens and Long Island. First proposed as improvements to the Queens-Midtown Highway and Horace Harding Boulevard, the route evolved as the Long Island Expressway (I-495).

According to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), Queens Boulevard now carries approximately 50,000 vehicles per day (AADT). In recent years, speeding motorists who exceed the 30 MPH speed limit and jaywalkers have created a lethal mix along densely populated stretches, prompting officials to enact tough measures against both offending groups.

Queens Blvd. Gas Station by you.

from Queens Blvd. – photo by Mitch Waxman

A major commercial strip as well as a transportation artery, one observes all sorts of colorful chicanery and the craft of advertising at its basest operating along the strip. Many restaurants, gas stations, and bodegas operate along Queens Blvd. I would suggest a stop for supplies, as we’re about to head into another barren industrial moonscape. 

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Aviation High School – photo by Mitch Waxman

On Queens Blvd.’s southern shore you will observe Aviation High School (this is the 36th street side). I highly suggest that you detour onto 35th street at this point.

context:

Before the second world war, New York City had two classes of secondary education available. School administrators would determine, based on performance in primary school and all too often ethnicity, if one would continue on a scholastic or vocational tract. These often arbitrary and prejudiced reckonings would determine future social class and professional options, damning otherwise sound minds to a lifetime of labor based on an assumption of stereotypical ethnic predestination (the irish cop, black laborer, jewish lawyer, the white doctor, and the female nurse).

The “identity politics charismatic leaders” of the 1950’s and 60’s pointed out the unfairness of this policy and the racial and class stratification it enforced, and the vocational schools joined in the current curricula during the mayorality of John Lindsay. Aviation is a holdout from that era, although it is now listed as “specialized“.

from schools.nyc.gov

IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Our state-endorsed Career and Technical Education program provides students with a world-class education. This unique curriculum prepares students for a New York State Regents Diploma and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification as Aircraft Maintenance Technicians, leading to exciting and lucrative careers in the aerospace industry. Inherent in this, we create an educational culture that instills respect, self-discipline and strong intellectual values in meeting the demands of today’s colleges and universities. Our world-renowned reputation for academic and technical excellence reflects Aviation High School’s tradition, mission and commitment to its students, their future and the future of the aerospace industry.

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Aviation High School – photo by Mitch Waxman

The United States military has been very generous to the students at Aviation High School, and the shop yard found on 35th street houses a few things that you don’t expect to find along Queens Blvd. That’s a plane I can’t positively identify- but I think it may be some iteration of the WW2 Japanese Zero. The Revell scale model airplane kits I was obsessed with building and painting in my adolescent years have taught me nothing. Knowledge anyone?

UPDATE 8/29 – A netownican to the rescue, I don’t have permission to identify this person as yet, but it is from a trusted source

 

…the sharktoothed plane you can’t positively identify is not a Mitsubishi Zero. It’s a North American T-6 Texan, an advanced training aircraft used by the U.S. military during World War II.

You’re not completely off base with your Zero comparisons, though. Know the old movie about Pearl Harbor, “Tora Tora Tora”? All the Zeros in that film are actually modified T-6 Texans, which could be bought as surplus for ludicrously cheap prices when the war ended. Real Zeros are as rare as hens’ teeth, since most of them were either shot down, left to rot on abandoned airstrips or scrapped in Japan.

 

from Aviation High School fencehole by you.

Aviation High School – photo by Mitch Waxman

This plane, a United States Marines Corps Harrier- donated by the Corps itself- is dedicated in the name of Capt. Manuel Rivera, Jr. – the first American casualty during 1992’s Operation Desert Storm. Capt. Rivera was an alumni of Aviation High School.

AND WRONG AGAIN!!! The same source from above says

The jet aircraft is a Douglas TA-4 Skyhawk, the trainer version of a Vietnam-era attack plane.

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Hallen Steel Factory – photo by Mitch Waxman

Hallen Steel is directly across the street from Aviation. This is their website, they seem to be some sort of metal working facility. I just really like the way their front yard looks. They are very prepared for what we here at Newtown Pentacle refer to as a “night of the living dead type situation”. Given my druthers, there’s a scrap yard I know in Greenpoint that would make a better shelter against the massive infestation of flesheaters that New York would surely produce, but Hallen is closer. I also like the guard towers on the George Washington Bridge for similar duty.

We are crossed by “the cemetery belt”, after all.

What, you never thought that one through- zombies in New York? I once did a 64 page BW comic about it, called Deadworld:Necropolis.

Hunters Point avenue by you.

47th avenue – photo by Mitch Waxman

Sorry for the sporadic updates last couple of days, late summer delights and professional obligation have kept me offline. Next up, we finish the walk to Calvary…

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 26, 2009 at 2:32 am

Vulcanalia

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In addition to being “the night of the Living Dead“, August 23rd is also Vulcanalia.

from wikipedia:

Vulcan’s oldest shrine in Rome, called the “Volcanal”, was situated at the foot of the Capitoline in the Forum Romanum, and was reputed to date to the archaic period of the kings of Rome, and to have been established on the site by Titus Tatius, the Sabine co-king, with a traditional date in the eighth century BC. It was the view of the Etruscan haruspices that a temple of Vulcan should be located outside the city, and the Volcanal may originally have been on or outside the city limits before they expanded to include the Capitoline Hill. The Volcanalia sacrifice was offered here to Vulcan, on August 23. Vulcan also had a temple on the Campus Martius, which was in existence by 214 BC.

The Romans identified Vulcan with the Greek smith-god Hephaestus, and he became associated like his Greek counterpart with the constructive use of fire in metalworking. A fragment of a Greek pot showing Hephaestus found at the Volcanal has been dated to the 6th century BC, suggesting that the two gods were already associated at this date. However, Vulcan had a stronger association than Hephaestus with fire’s destructive capacity, and a major concern of his worshippers was to encourage the god to avert harmful fires. His festival, the Vulcanalia, was celebrated on August 23 each year, when the summer heat placed crops and granaries most at risk of burning. During the festival bonfires were created in honour of the god, into which live fish or small animals were thrown as a sacrifice, to be consumed in the place of humans. Vulcan was among the gods placated after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. In response to the same fire, Domitian (emperor 81–96) established a new altar to Vulcan on the Quirinal Hill. At the same time a red bull-calf and red boar were added to the sacrifices made on the Vulcanalia, at least in that region of the city.

August 23rd is also Mitch’s Birthday, look for him down on Newtown Creek today, or perhaps Calvary. He’ll be the one throwing small fish into a fire.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 23, 2009 at 10:32 am

Posted in linkage, newtown creek

Just a note

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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.

g10_img_6653_phwlk.jpg by you.

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…

g10_img_6912_phwlk.jpg by you.

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

g10_img_6672_phwlk.jpg by you.

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

g10_img_6676_phwlk.jpg by you.

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.

g10_img_6678_phwlk.jpg by you.

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.

g10_img_6688_phwlk.jpg by you.

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.

IMG_0332_newtowncreek.jpg by you..

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

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