The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Flushing Creek 2

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A new friend, whose family could trace ancestry back to the colonial settlers of Flushing, was searching for the spot where her forebears had settled on the Flushing Creek (or river, depending on who you ask). Armed with serious historian muscle, and having hired an experienced mariner to shepherd the journey, She mentioned to a mutual colleague that there was room for one more on the ship, and proffered that He join her party. Busy with professional obligation, this colleague of ours suggested your humble narrator ride along, which is how I ended up leaving the strict borders of the Newtown Pentacle and found myself on Flushing Creek.

from wikipedia

The current site of the airport was originally used by the Gala Amusement Park, owned by the Steinway family. It was razed and transformed in 1929 into a 105-acre private flying field. The airport was originally named Glenn H. Curtiss Airport after the pioneer Long Island aviator, and later called North Beach Airport.

The initiative to develop the airport for commercial flights began with a verbal outburst by New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia (in office from 1934 to 1945) upon the arrival of his TWA flight at Newark — the only commercial airport serving the New York City region at the time — as his ticket said “New York”. He demanded to be taken to New York, and ordered the plane to be flown to Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field, giving an impromptu press conference to reporters along the way. At that time, he urged New Yorkers to support a new airport within their city.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Factual inconsistencies and wild conjectural fantasies aside, one of the stated goals of this project is documentarian in nature (in the notion that someone in the future will be looking for photos of “Queens in the Past”), and the vantages of the northern Queens shoreline are largely blockaded and hidden from land. I leapt at the opportunity. The security apparatus and extensive fencing of (starting at the east river) an electrical power plant, a sewage treatment plant, prison complex, and airport enforce a cordon (and appropriately so) of the shoreline from the landward side- at least.

note:

Your humble narrator takes a lot of heat from the Urban Explorer types for the “Do Not Trespass” mantra here at Newtown Pentacle. Its my firm belief that – like a vampire- you have to be invited in before you can really do your work. The nervous thrills experienced in penetrating an abandoned factory or condemned hospital or active rail trackbed are outweighed by both the physical and legal dangers to yourself, and exhibit a real lack of empathy toward the poor bastards at NYFD who will have to figure out a safe way to rescue you. I’ve described the attention paid me by radio patrol car police officers as I squat down on the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge trying to get a picture of pollen settling into sticky waters at the Dutch Kills, and been chased for blocks by a hysterical Greek woman screaming “terrorist” at me around Ditmars. I roll under a flag of “if you can see it in a public place, you can take a picture of it, as long as you don’t imply some editorial meaning to it that wasn’t there” and “ask”. I do take a lot of pictures I don’t run, though, and often slightly obscure locations if the subject is so wildly and criminally vulnerable that I had time to set up a tripod and shoot dozens of photos.

And… I never show anyone the images, of all the dead things.

from nytimes.com, an article from 1895

A number of Long Islanders have been quietly considering for some time the feasibility of cutting a ship canal from Newtown Creek to Flushing Bay, and have now reached the conclusion that the work should be done.

Best – photo by Mitch Waxman

The aura of Flushing Creek, as viewed from the water, might best be described as “Dickensian”. The modern steel highways, sweeping in elegant curves over the storied waters, produce tenebrous shadows pregnant with sinister implication. What horrors may have transpired here, under sodium light, fills your humble narrator with wonder. Heavy industry, like this concrete company, seems to dominate this part of Flushing Creek. It all feels somewhat atavist, yet, these are the sort of “mills” that built New York City.

from osc.state.ny.us

Flushing, named for the Dutch village of Vlissingen, was the first permanent settlement in Queens, and was founded in 1645. In 1657, the town fathers issued the “Flushing Remonstrance,” which defied Governor Peter Stuyvesant’s demand that the town expel Quakers, Jews, and other religious groups. Flushing was the first town in the Western hemisphere to guarantee religious freedom for its residents.

The Flushing Railroad, which later became part of the Long Island Rail Road, opened in 1854, as urbanizing influences gradually penetrated the more rural portions of Queens. Urbanization accelerated in the early 20th century, when the Queensborough Bridge opened in 1909 and the subway system was extended to Flushing in 1928. In the 1930s, a former ash dump on the west side of the Flushing River became the site of the 1939 World’s Fair and, later, the third-largest park in New York City—Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The park hosted the 1964 World’s Fair.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Built by Robert Moses to house the 1939 Worlds Fair, Flushing Meadows Corona Park cuts the Flushing Creek from its original flow. From 1946 to 1951, the United Nations General Assembly was held at the New York City Pavilion, said Pavilion is now the Queens Museum of Art. Said Museum houses the Panorama of the City of New York, and the United Nations meet in a house that Rockefeller and Le Corbusier built over in Manhattan.

Here’s the scoop of Nelson Rockefeller and LeCorbusier from a Newtown Pentacle posting of June 23, Adventures upon the East River 3

LeCorbusier is responsible- ideologically and in some cases literally- for the ring of poverty surrounding Paris, the council housing of London, the housing complexes of Chicago, and of course- New York’s rather disastrous experience with “the projects”. He was the Ayn Rand of architecture.

here’s what he wanted to do in Paris, from wikipedia:

Theoretical urban schemes continued to occupy Le Corbusier. He exhibited his Plan Voisin, sponsored by another famous automobile manufacturer, in 1925. In it, he proposed to bulldoze most of central Paris, north of the Seine, and replace it with his sixty-story cruciform towers from the Contemporary City, placed in an orthogonal street grid and park-like green space. His scheme was met with only criticism and scorn from French politicians and industrialists, although they were favourable to the ideas of Taylorism and Fordism underlying Le Corbusier designs. Nonetheless, it did provoke discussion concerning how to deal with the cramped, dirty conditions that enveloped much of the city.

here’s what his politics were, also from wikipedia:

Le Corbusier moved increasingly to the far right of French politics in the 1930s. He associated with Georges Valois and Hubert Lagardelle and briefly edited the syndicalist journal Prélude. In 1934, he lectured on architecture in Rome by invitation of Benito Mussolini. He sought out a position in urban planning in the Vichy regime and received an appointment on a committee studying urbanism. He drew up plans for the redesign of Algiers in which he criticised the perceived differences in living standards between Europeans and Africans in the city, describing a situation in which “the ‘civilised’ live like rats in holes” yet “the ‘barbarians’ live in solitude, in well-being.”[10] These and plans for the redesign of other cities were ultimately ignored. After this defeat, Le Corbusier largely eschewed politics.

Until he designed the United Nations Secretariat, a 39 story building and complex located in Turtle bay, Manhattan. This part of Manhattan is not part of the sovereign territory of the United States, incidentally, its legally international territory and not subject to the laws of New York City or the USA unless the U.N. says so. Here’s the proviso:

United Nations, Pub. L. No. 80-357, 61 Stat. 756 (1947): “Except as otherwise provided in this agreement or in the General Convention, the federal, state and local courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction over acts done and transactions taking place in the headquarters district as provided in applicable federal, state and local laws.”

Interesting note:

The land that the complex sits on was purchased from William Zeckendorf (a mid 20th century real estate baron) in a deal brokered by the Chase Manhattan Bank. Chase, of course, was the instrument of future New York Governor and United States Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Grandson of John D. Rockefeller, and inheritor (with his brothers) of the Standard Oil fortune. The Rockefellers had already offered some of their own land-the house that Standard Oil built- and Rockefeller family castle,in Westchester, for use as the potential seat of a world government- but it was “too far away” for the diplomats. So, he had his father- John D. Rockefeller Jr. buy Turtle Bay and donate the land to the city for the UN.

The area called Turtle Bay was where the Draft Riots of 1863 started, and it was a neighborhood of tenements, butchers, slaughterhouses, and dangerous organized crime controlled docks which handled the traffic coming to and from Long Island City via rail and barge. The United Nations building was completed in 1950.

1950 is also when the decline of the economic infrastructure of North Brooklyn and Western Queens, especially the area around the Newtown Creek in Queens and Red Hook in Brooklyn, began in earnest. Connected? Maybe.

from time.com

“What do you want to go to Flushing Meadow for, honey?” a Manhattan taxi driver asked a TIME researcher last week. “I’m going to the United Nations,” she said. “Well,” he said with a wink, “that used to be quite a lovers’ lane in my day.”

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 18, 2009 at 2:08 pm

5 Responses

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  1. […] Thanks to Mitch Waxman for his series on the Flushing Creek over at the always fascinating Newtown Pentacle. […]

  2. […] Airports, railroad yards, maritime facilities, petrochemical storage and processing, illegal and legal dumping, sewer plants, waste and recycling facilities, cemeteries. The borders of the Newtown Pentacle’s left ventricle are festooned with heavy industry and the toll taken on the health of both land and population is manifest. A vast national agglutination of technologies and a sprawl of transportation arteries stretching across the continent are all centered on Manhattan- which is powered, fed, and flushed by that which may be found around a shimmering ribbon of abnormality called the Newtown Creek. […]

  3. […] Airports, railroad yards, maritime facilities, petrochemical storage and processing, illegal and legal dumping, sewer plants, waste and recycling facilities, cemeteries. The borders of the Newtown Pentacle’s left ventricle are festooned with heavy industry and the toll taken on the health of both land and population is manifest. A vast national agglutination of technologies and a sprawl of transportation arteries stretching across the continent are all centered on Manhattan- which is powered, fed, and flushed by that which may be found around a shimmering ribbon of abnormality called the Newtown Creek. […]

  4. […] Airports, railroad yards, maritime facilities, petrochemical storage and processing, illegal and legal dumping, sewer plants, waste and recycling facilities, cemeteries. The borders of the Newtown Pentacle’s left ventricle are festooned with heavy industry and the toll taken on the health of both land and population is manifest. A vast national agglutination of technologies and a sprawl of transportation arteries stretching across the continent are all centered on Manhattan- which is powered, fed, and flushed by that which may be found around a shimmering ribbon of abnormality called the Newtown Creek. […]

  5. […] These postings describe what I saw while onboard a boat heading into the waterway – one, two, and […]


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