The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for February 3rd, 2010

affordable housing development on Borden Avenue

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Let me state outright, and at the very start of this post- that the individual discussed here surely must be the toughest person in Queens. The indomitable “life will not beat me, no matter what” spirit of setting up housekeeping in this particular locale signals an iron resolve. This is the Borden Avenue Bridge, entering its second year of emergency construction, spanning the malefic waters of the Dutch Kills– a tributary of the Newtown Creek.

from wikipedia

Dutch Kills is a sub-division of the larger neighborhood of Long Island City in the New York City borough of Queens. It was a hamlet, named for its navigable tributary of Newtown Creek, that occupied what today is centrally Queensboro Plaza. Dutch Kills was an important road hub during the American Revolutionary War, and the site of a British Army garrison from 1776 to 1783. The area supported farms during the 19th Century, and finally consolidated in 1870 with the villages of Astoria, Ravenswood, Hunters Point, Middletown, Sunnyside and Bowery Bay to form Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Observation over time, for this shack or shanty had been established in the first weeks of construction some 14 months ago, has revealed this fellow (I’ve only seen one man emerge from it, perhaps there are others- I can’t say) to be a “crow”. As explained in the past, the nascent recycling industries along the Newtown Creek purchase scrap metals by the pound, and a street level economy subsists on castaway steel, iron, and copper items scavenged from the surrounding industrial and residential trash. There is a small army of these metal collectors, whose blackened and soiled garments have garnered the nomen “Crows” to themselves. Some are driven by need or malice to steal, and lamp posts stripped of access doors and internal copper wire are a common sight around the area. Reports from area cemeteries also point to this population for the identity of vandals who remove the white bronze and copper ornamentation from their grounds.

from the DOT website on the history of the Borden Avenue Bridge, which spans Dutch Kills.

Borden Avenue is a two-lane local City street in Queens. Borden Avenue runs east-west extending from Second Street at the East River to Greenpoint Avenue. The Borden Avenue Bridge over Dutch Kills is located just south of the Long Island Expressway between 27th Street and Review Avenue in the Sunnyside section of Queens. Borden Avenue Bridge is a retractile type moveable bridge. The general appearance of the bridge remains the same as when it was first opened in 1908. The bridge structure carries a two-lane two-way vehicular roadway with sidewalks on either side. The roadway width is 10.5m and the sidewalks are 2.0 m. The west approach and east approach roadways, which are wider than the bridge roadway, are 15.3m and 13.0m respectively. The bridge provides a horizontal clearance of 14.9m and a vertical clearance in the closed position of 1.2m at MHW and 2.7m at MLW.

As part of the construction of Borden Avenue in 1868, a wooden bridge was built over Dutch Kills. This bridge was later replaced by an iron swing bridge, which was removed in 1906. The current bridge was opened on March 25, 1908 at a cost of $157,606. The deck’s original design consisted of creosote-treated wood blocks, with two trolley tracks in the roadway. Character-defining features of this bridge include the stucco-clad operator’s house, four pairs of rails, and a rock-faced stone retaining wall. The gable-on-hip roof of the operator’s house retains the original clay tile at the upper part. Although alterations have been made, the bridge is a rare survivor of its type and retains sufficient period integrity to convey its historic design significance.

The bridge will be closed for construction through July 2009. In addition, there will be parking restrictions in the vicinity of the bridge from January through July 2009 at all times from 25th Street to 30th Place between Borden Avenue and Hunter’s Point/49th Avenue and from 50th Avenue to 51st Avenue between 27th Street and 25th Street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, the Crow who has set up housekeeping here surely must have a strong and robust physical constitution. The Dutch Kills is one of the darkest parts of the story of the Newtown Creek, a stagnant and poison patch of murky water which exhibits open sewers. The smell of the Dutch Kills in summer, reminiscent of an aquatic reptile tank in need of a water change, is best described by using the analogy of a rotting Ham sandwich. These are nearly the head waters of the Dutch Kills- located at the end of the “empty corridor“, quite near its junction with the noisome Newtown Creek, but is hardly the worst part of it. Penetrating further back to Hunters Point Avenue and all the way to its ending at 47th avenue and 29th street, near the Degnon Terminal, one experiences the olfactory ragnarok in full (I’ll be taking us back there in a post or two, by the way).

also from the DOT website:

The New York City Department of Transportation is performing emergency repair work on the Borden Avenue Bridge. Contract work commenced in January 2009.

During the initial phase of construction, additional areas of structural deterioration in the bridge abutment were identified which required an expansion of the original contract scope of work. The expanded scope of work required excavation in areas that were previously expected to remain undisturbed.

During the excavation of one of these areas, a pocket of contaminated soil was identified. The contamination was analyzed by an accredited testing laboratory and classified as “contaminated non-hazardous”. As such, it poses no significant health risk to workers or the surrounding community. However, precautionary measures will be taken and every effort is being made to remove and dispose of the contamination quickly, yet safely, within all New York City and State guidelines. The history and nature of the industrial community surrounding the bridge revealed that one or more of the previous users of the industrial waterway is the source of the contamination.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the plus side, however, someone has already “homesteaded” this up and coming area. Urban pioneers such as this Crow were the ones who established Williamsburg and DUMBO as residential centers, with shanty villages in the 1980’s. The views in the neighborhood are fantastic, with panoramic city skylines and the noble Empire State Building looming over Borden Avenue. Also, views of area bridges, like the Queens Midtown Expressway elevated section of the LIE directly overhead are spectacular. That’s why this neighborhood, ripe for residential development, is called DULIE (Down Under the Long Island Expressway) around Newtown Pentacle HQ.


THE REOPENING of a Long Island City bridge that was closed for emergency repairs is now being pushed back because of toxic sludge found in the soil around the structure.

The century-old Borden Ave. Bridge, which handled nearly 16,000 vehicles a day before it was shut down, was abruptly closed on Dec. 31 because of structural problems.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the north, a spectacular fire recently erased a century old abandoned factory, and the ongoing saga of the Borden Avenue Bridge reconstruction has already cleared away the strip club on the corner- as well as several other area businesses which have somehow survived in this lonely corner of Queens for decades. Borden Avenue begins in Long Island City near Hunters Point, and is a local viaduct carrying vehicle traffic toward Greenpoint Avenue where a cloverleaf of onramps presents the option to entrance either the BQE or LIE which provide southern egress to Brooklyn, and all points east.


“Even though it’s not the prettiest bridge, people find beauty in it,” said Sam Schwartz, a transportation consultant and the president of the city’s Bridge Centennial Commission, a nonprofit group whose mission is to celebrate six New York bridges that are about a century old. He described the bridge’s retractile feature as “very elegant.”

The Borden Avenue Bridge has not displayed its elegance much lately, however. Commercial marine traffic along Dutch Kills is highly diminished; the bridge last opened for a passing vessel in 2005.

The Transportation Department estimated the cost to stabilize the abutment at $14 million, or, if the wall had to be rebuilt, at $37 million.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The vast majority of the population in this section of Queens- bordering Blissville, Tower Town at Hunters Point, and Laurel Hill- are “just passing through” on the elevated highway some 10 stories above the putrefaction of the Dutch Kills. The blighting effect of the Borden Avenue Bridge reconstruction has had no small effect on area businesses, which are dependent on trade from passing trucks and cars seeking a shortcut from the Midtown Tunnel traffic flowing out of Manhattan nearby the Pulaski Bridge. It has also created a barrier between the Hunters Point neighborhood and the vastness of Queens. Such disruptive traffic flow would have been anathema to the builder of the Bridge, Edward Byrne.

from wikipedia

Edward Byrne began his civil engineering career in 1886 with the New York City Aqueduct Commission on the construction of the Croton Water Supply System. It is of interest that on this project he met Robert Ridgway, who also was destined to become a distinguished engineer and an outstanding civil servant.

From 1889 to the close of 1897, Byrne worked on highways and bridges for the old Department of Public Works of New York City.

On January 1, 1898, he joined the Department of Bridges and began a striking and noteworthy service which ended in November, 1933, with his resignation from the position of Chief Engineer of the Department of Plant and Structures (the successor of the Bridge Department), in order to assume the duties of Chief Engineer of the Triborough Bridge. His thirty-six years of service in the Department of Bridges, and its successor, the Department of Plant and Structures, may be divided into two periods.


During this period, he was in charge of bridge construction and maintenance, supervizing the construction of the Willis Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River, the Vernon Avenue Bridge, the Borden Avenue and Hunters Point Bridges over Dutch Kills, and the old bridge over Flushing River.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 3, 2010 at 12:10 pm

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