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An Iron Road, St. George, and the Copts

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from Northern Blvd. by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

When heading east along Northern Blvd. – after navigating and exiting the traffic choked Queensboro bridge complex of off ramps, elevated trains, and vehicular approaches – the elevated iron and steel tracks make a sharp screech of a turn, transiting along the centuries old borderline between those calloused declinations found in semi industrial Dutch Kills- and the tree lined hillocks of sun kissed and sharply tragic Astoria.

from nycsubway.org

The Astoria Line did not come into being until the era of the Dual Contracts, when it and the Corona (Flushing) Line were constructed to serve the northern part of Queens. These were perhaps the most cooperative portions of the project since both the IRT and BMT would share the routes and operate them jointly.
The original arrangement, beginning around 1920, was that the IRT (now the 7) ran through the Steinway Tunnel, and the Second Avenue El ran over the Queensboro Bridge, and met at Queensboro Plaza. From there, trains ran to either Flushing or Astoria.
Queensboro Plaza Station was built with eight tracks on two levels, served by four island platforms. The BMT operated the northern half of the station and the IRT ran the southern half. The north station had two platforms that fit the wider ten foot BMT subway cars and two for the narrower el cars. The southernmost pair of tracks connected to the Steinway Tunnel, while the next set north connected to the Second Avenue El. Both of these could serve either line in Queens via scissors crossovers west of the platforms on either level. The northerly pair of tracks curved to the Astoria Line and the southerly pair connected to the Flushing Line.

The Astoria Line did not come into being until the era of the Dual Contracts, when it and the Corona (Flushing) Line were constructed to serve the northern part of Queens. These were perhaps the most cooperative portions of the project since both the IRT and BMT would share the routes and operate them jointly.

The original arrangement, beginning around 1920, was that the IRT (now the 7) ran through the Steinway Tunnel, and the Second Avenue El ran over the Queensboro Bridge, and met at Queensboro Plaza. From there, trains ran to either Flushing or Astoria.

Queensboro Plaza Station was built with eight tracks on two levels, served by four island platforms. The BMT operated the northern half of the station and the IRT ran the southern half. The north station had two platforms that fit the wider ten foot BMT subway cars and two for the narrower el cars. The southernmost pair of tracks connected to the Steinway Tunnel, while the next set north connected to the Second Avenue El. Both of these could serve either line in Queens via scissors crossovers west of the platforms on either level. The northerly pair of tracks curved to the Astoria Line and the southerly pair connected to the Flushing Line.

from the Elevated Subway Platform by you.

31st street, Astoria Elevated Subway- photo by Mitch Waxman

A critical artery, the elevated tracks are also a loud, noisome, and exasperating neighbor for those forced to live near it. The tracks currently carry the N and W subway lines from their Manhattan duties back to the marble cloaked Ditmars section of Astoria, which hurtle along sounding like the chariots of hell itself. Interestingly, the stations along this mechanical Appian Way bear the nomenclature of old Astoria’s street names, – Beebe Avenue, Grand Avenue etc.- which are otherwise extinct and atavist usages. I’ll refer you, once again, to forgotten-ny’s excellent “Street Necrology of Astoria” page- which describes the perplexing maze of street designations far better than I can.

Click here to hear what its sounds like on the street, under the elevated train. (that’s me doing the voiceover time stamp at the end).

note: this is being served by my comics site, and is quite safe for work- its a quicktime movie around 500K, audio only.

Elevated Subway Tracks, Astoria by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

A movie or two have used 31st street as their location. I specifically have to mention one of my favorite NY flicks- A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints– which is a good representation of what New York street life used to be like in the 80’s and is a GREAT Astoria movie. The graphic and often violent action in the movie, however, is set on the Ditmars side of 31st street, not below Broadway- where these photos were shot. Seriously… rent it… it doesn’t suck.

g10_img_7487_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria “the other Shunned House” – photo by Mitch Waxman

Some of the buildings lining 31st street, like this enigmatic and quite large home which has been abandoned for years, have recently seen new fencelines erected and DOB permits affixed. If the normal patterns of destruction and construction observed in modern Queens play out over the coming months in predictable fashion, an enigmatic structure will be obliterated and replaced by some towering rectangular pile of rebar and cinder blocks.

Rare Political Statement from fence sitter Mitch:

We Plebeians can’t stop the money of the Patrician and Equestrian classes from pushing their plans along except in very rare cases- this is historically true.

The currency that the Political class trades in, ultimately, are votes. If chimpanzees voted, and did so “reliably”, we’d have a lot of bananas growing in Queens and a dedicated effort to bring more Chimpanzees into the neighborhood. The government would ignore the horrific realities of chimpanzee attack.

Community equals constituency. Constituency means that the Politicians will come to YOU, because you vote- reliably. If we can supply a torch bearing mob of angry constituents to a Politician to exploit- anything can happen- because the game rules have changed and the community can out “tweed” the other side. Only 15% of eligible voters went to the polls in the last democratic primary… during wartime.

Community equals constituency.

g10_img_7493_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

The Dutch Kills side of 31st street hosts a series of automotive service shops, collision remediation specialists, and large warehouses which offer glimpses of a more prosperous time in fading signage and ornate masonry. These grand structures testify to the wealth and prosperity carried into the area by the elevated tracks. Just a century ago, this was farmland.

31st street, Astoria by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

All along the southern borderlands of 31st street, the shadows of the “El” part to reveal relict buildings which have been either been cross purposed to modern usage- or just abandoned. Near 36th avenue, there is an avian abattoir.

There are also many churches clustered along 31st street- including the notable St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox institution. The neighborhood I grew up in was Irish, Italian, Jewish, and African American, with a sprinkling of Boricua here and there. I went to a lot of communions, weddings, and confirmations as a result. This “Brooklyn experience”, and a lifelong fascination with diabolical oppression as represented by Hollywood, my perspective on Christianity is an intrinsically Roman Catholic one- but that might be because of Dio.

note: I was lucky enough to be allowed to take photos inside the St. Demtrios Cathedral back in May, and was given a tour of the place by a young priest. You’ll get to see the photos sometime this winter

As a result, I find the other branches of the cross fascinating- warning- I’m about to go off on a tangent here- might as well go get yourself a coffee because you’ve got links to click.

g10_img_7479_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

In the beginning -which in this case is around the 3rd and 4th century AD- there was a great civilization built around an ocean sea that spread out along the coastlines onto three continents.

This civilization had just spawned a new religion, based ultimately around three places
– the civilizations capitol city in the west,
– its intellectual heartlands in the east,
– and in its breadbasket to the south.

As is the case with ecclesiastical communities, disagreements over doctrinal practice and liturgical rites caused schisms to form between various camps. As time went by, and the civilization crumbled into constituent states at war with each other, these schisms widened. The branches of the roseated cross were separated and they became part of emerging nation states.

The western capitol- where the northern barbarians called Normans (specifically Lombards) would rule- was Rome, and its branch of the cross is called Roman Catholic. The intellectual heartland, and the eventual seat of the Greek Roman Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire, whose citizens called themselves Romoloi) was Constantinople. and its church became known as the Orthodox. The southern branch, which is based in Alexandria, is called the Coptic Orthodox. The people who grew up in this tradition can be referred to as Copts.

g10_img_7480_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

St. George was a noble born Roman citizen from Cappadocia (modern day anatolia) who joined the legions and made a name for himself during the reign of Diocletian. The emperor found it politically convenient to purge his ranks of noble christians, and George found himself in direct conflict with the world’s most powerful man.

from st-george-church.com

Diocletian gave orders for the issue of a formal edict against the Christians on February 23, in the year 303 A.D., being the feast of Termhlalia. The provisions of this edict which was published on the next day in the market place, were as follows: “All churches should be leveled to the ground. All sacred books to be burned. All Christians who hold any honorable rank are not only to be degraded, but to be deprived of civil rights. Also, All Christians who are not officials are to be reduced to slavery”.

from wikipedia:

Recognizing the futility of his efforts, Diocletian was left with no choice but to have him executed for his refusal. Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords in which he was resuscitated three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s city wall, on April 23, 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr

g10_img_7477_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

There is a large Copt community in Astoria (as well a large Egyptian Muslim neighborhood near Steinway and Astoria Blvd.).

Culturally similar (recipes, style of life, role of women) to the long habitated Greeks, the Copts own many shops and restaurants along Broadway. They often offer a version of the Greek Taverna– an inn which offers light meals and various beverages to weary travelers- but with the addition of Hookah pipes filled with flavored tobaccos and other aromatics. There really does seem to be a Mediterranean culture which crosses state boundaries, but never gets more than 200 miles away from that ancient waterway which was the navel of the world.

There are other ancient branches of the cross out there which also survived the fall of their Roman Empire. The Nestorians, The Chaldeans, The Monophysitists, amongst many others. I haven’t found them yet, however, I’m still searching for the Yazidi– who have got to be somewhere in Astoria.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 23, 2009 at 1:42 am

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