The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for February 5th, 2010

A walk around Hallet’s Cove

with 6 comments

Feel like taking a walk? Bring your camera, and ID…

the grill on the dome light says “the lordship”- photo by Mitch Waxman

Hallet’s Cove is the area surrounding the Noguchi Museum and Socrates Sculpture Garden at the border of Astoria and Ravenswood, although it was once the name for the entire village that became Astoria.

Well known to the residents of modern Queens due to the presence of a warehouse operation called Costco, and to its ancient citizens for the ferries to Blackwells Island and Manhattan- Hallet’s Cove is less well known for its industrial history, and the machinations of real estate interests in the locale are obvious to the knowing eye. The times are a-changing, indeed.

from wikipedia

Beginning in the early 19th century, affluent New Yorkers constructed large residences around 12th and 14th streets, an area that later became known as Astoria Village (now Old Astoria). Hallet’s Cove, founded in 1839 by fur merchant Steven Halsey, was a noted recreational destination and resort for Manhattan’s wealthy.

During the second half of the 1800s, economic and commercial growth brought about increased immigration from German settlers, mostly furniture and cabinet makers. One such settler was Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, patriarch of the Steinway family who founded the piano company Steinway & Sons in 1853, which today is a worldwide piano company. Afterwards, the Steinways built a sawmill and foundry, as well as a streetcar line. The family eventually established Steinway Village for their workers, a community that provided school instruction in German as well as English.

In 1870, Astoria and several other surrounding villages, including Steinway, were incorporated into Long Island City. Long Island City remained an independent municipality until it was incorporated into New York City in 1898. The area’s farms were turned into housing tracts and street grids to accommodate the growing number of residents.

Socrates Sculpture Park – photo by Mitch Waxman

Socrates Sculpture Park presents the picture that the modern City wants you to believe about these “up and coming” corners of river front property. Middle and upper class citizens improving their minds and bodies in a clean and safe environment of esthetic esteem- the epitome of the physical culture movement’s dreams for the urban environment. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and for sporting pursuits and cookouts- the nearby Rainey Park is available to their coarser neighbors from the Ravenswood or Astoria Houses who might not be interested in Yoga- but the neighborhood is becoming a little too “Ayn Rand” for my tastes. There is another side to this place, of course, off the beaten path.

from wikipedia

Socrates Sculpture Park is an outdoor exhibition space for sculpture. It is located at the intersection of Broadway and Vernon Boulevard in the neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens, New York City, United States, North America. In addition to exhibition space, the park offers an arts education program and job training.

A block away from Socrates Sculpture Park – photo by Mitch Waxman

Aboriginal swamplands were conquered in the late 19th century, as the floods of the Sunswick Creek and the East River were tamed by the enterprise of engineers. The industrial mills and combines of Long Island City and Ravenswood extended all the way to Astoria Point, exploiting the valuable river front. In modernity, this is another corridor of dirty industry being swept aside to make room for an urban population bursting at the seams, with little regard for the past or present. Deemed underutilized, experts have named the area as an industrial relict, better demolished than preserved.

If one leaves the carefully mapped walking paths suggested by city planners, another picture emerges. Generations have quietly made lives here, in noble homes whose architectural influences suggest hints of the nautical culture of eastern Long Island and New England.


Socrates Sculpture Park was an abandoned riverside landfill and illegal dumpsite until 1986 when a coalition of artists and community members, under the leadership of artist Mark di Suvero, transformed it into an open studio and exhibition space for artists and a neighborhood park for local residents. Today it is an internationally renowned outdoor museum and artist residency program that also serves as a vital New York City park offering a wide variety of public services.

This is what the Queens waterfront used to look like, notice the small stature of the buildings, except for the Piano factory, since converted over to Condos.

photo from

Horror at Hallet’s Cove- Nelson’s Galvanizing site 2010- photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the Newtown Pentacle, where a speculative real estate bubble has recently burst, empty lots are fenced off from their environs. Unlike the abandoned lots of ground that peppered the landscape of New York in the 1970’s and 80’s before the bubble, these patches of shattered masonry are not abandoned- instead they are being held in reserve for future usage. Rapid demolition of these properties follows the quiet acquisition of said lots, to hasten the building process when economic times are better and to head off environmental or historical concerns about erasing possibly significant structures. In the case of this property, Newtown Pentacle readers may remember an examination of the “Nelson Galvanizing” site- titled “The Horrors of Hallet’s Cove“- and the multiple links to various environmental violations assigned to it by the City and State of New York. This is going to be the home of a future apartment house, incidentally.

photo from the “The Horrors at Hallet’s Cove posting”

Rusted Factory in LIC 004

Horror at Hallet’s Cove- Nelson’s Galvanizing site 2008 – photo by Mitch Waxman

Vernon Blvd. and Broadway – photo by Mitch Waxman

On the corner of Vernon Blvd. and Broadway, with the aforementioned Sculpture Park at my back, the comical Greenstreets sign on a traffic island- surrounded on all sides by “warehoused” former industrial building sites. Large tracts have been demolished to make way for future construction of multiple story, Manhattan style, apartment houses. Underserved by mass transit as it is, with a sewer system designed in the 1920’s, this is the Hallet’s Cove of 2010.

For the Hallet’s Cove of 1840, click here to check out a map and street necrology from

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Formerly one of the tallest residential buildings in the area, this enigmatic survivor of “the good old days” is dwarfed by the newly built tower rising menacingly some 2 blocks away. Just to make myself clear, I’m not anti anything, and regard such development work as inevitable and completely out of my hands. This angers and frustrates colleagues and friends in the antiquarian community, who view this pragmatism as acknowledging defeat, a tacit surrender to the princes of the city and their claims of oligarchal inevitability. In reality, I’m just trying to see all sides of the story.

Always, I must remain an Outsider.


Undaunted by the floundering housing market, a New Jersey real estate firm is looking to build 2,400 residential units on the Astoria Peninsula, the Daily News has learned.

Lincoln Equities of East Rutherford has a contract to buy five parcels of land once used for manufacturing on First Ave., along the portion of the East River waterfront known as Hallets Cove.

Lincoln plans to bulldoze several warehouses on the land and build five residential buildings, one of which would rise 40 stories, company officials said.

“We don’t know what the market will indicate, but it is our intent to have a blend of rentals and condos,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a prominent Democratic political strategist who has been hired as a spokesman for the project.

The project, known as Hallets Point Development, would require the zoning be changed from manufacturing to residential.

Formal plans, which also could include ground-floor retail space, are expected to be submitted by the end of the year.

The proposal would join a growing list of high-density residential developments under construction or planned for the Long Island City waterfront – a list led by the state’s Queens West megadevelopment in Hunters Point and the city’s proposed Hunters Point South community.

Sheinkopf said 20% of the 2,400 units will be affordable housing, but it was unclear how the prices for the project, which is privately funded, would be determined.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ultimately, the shocking scale of these new structures dwarf the surrounding neighborhoods- blocking the panoramic views and open skies of a formerly 2 and 3 story cityscape, where a large structure was 5 stories. Philosophically, I tend to regard LeCorbusier style tower parks (and gated communities on the whole) as anti-democratic and very bad for the future of the Republic, as it tends to isolate political centers away from each other and foists an unsustainable population onto local streets and sewers. Like many of these new towers, parking amenities are planned into the structure, but that too brings more traffic onto the local streets which were not designed to handle the increased load. Quality of life in the City of New York is more than just law and order, lords and ladies of Newtown, it’s streets and sewers and electrical infrastructure.

The Hallets, from the Annals of Newtown

William Hallett, their ancestor, was b. in Dorsetshire, Eng., in 1616, and emigrating to New-England, joined in the settlement of Greenwich, Ct., whence he removed to Long Island, and acquired a large estate at Hellgate. (See pp. 29, 63.) In the fall of 1655 the Indians destroyed his house and plantation at Hallett’s Cove, which induced him to take up his residence at Flushing. Here he was appointed sheriff in 1656, but the same year was deposed by Stuyvesant, fined and imprisoned, for entertaining the Rev. Wm. “VVickenden from Rhode Island, allowing him to preach at his house and receiving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper from his hands. Disgusted at this treatment, Mr. Hallett, on the revolt of Long Island from the Dutch, warmly advocated the claims of Connecticut ; and, being sent as a delegate to the general court of that colony/he was appointed a commissioner or justice of the peace for Flushing. Afterwards he again located at Hellgate, where he lived to the age of about 90 yrs. He had two sons, William- and Samuel,6 between whom, in 1688, he divided his property in Hellgate Neck.

2.. William Hallett, eldest son of William,1 received that portion of his father’s lands which lay south of the road now forming Greenoak, Welling, and Main streets, and Newtown avenue; which road divided his possessions from those of his brother Samuel on the north

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shot from the Queensboro Bridge, with mighty Triborough and Hells Gate in the background, that’s Big Allis on the left- just for scale. Hallets Cove, where the Sunswick Creek once drained into the East River, is located roughly across the street from the large new building on the right.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The strip of bare shoreline, a rarity along the East River, is the actual sandy beach of Hallets Cove. During the summer, kayaks are launched from here- I believe courtesy of the LIC Boathouse– but I may be incorrect. Looking south, one sees Blackwells- oops- I mean Roosevelt Island, and Manhattan commands the horizon. Interesting to some may be the observation that in New York, up until recent times, when an entrepreneur  was building a new venture in an existing community, it was expected that other improvements would follow- whether roads, streets, or schools.

from the Greater Astoria Historical Society

HALSEY, Stephen Alling.

He donated a tract of land, 100 by 200 feet, extending from Academy street to First Avenue, for school purposes. A commodious school house was shortly afterwards erected on this site, which is to-day used by the Fourth Ward school. He invested in other property, in almost every instance showing his progressive spirit by laying out streets, grading them, &c. The ferry (then running to 86th street) was owned by him up to 1860, and he it was who placed the first modern ferryboat on the line.

He was a great lover of horticulture, and in the garden in front of Capt. Monson’s house on Fulton street may be seen some of the largest Magnolia trees on Long Island, 75 feet in height, planted by him. He had a particular admiration for shade trees which he gratuitously gave to parties desirous of planting shade trees in front of their property. The fine Elms on Washington street and Perrot Avenue still stand as specimens of his planting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, I go to a lot of places that most people would consider insane, but the folks at have actually been down in the sewers beneath Astoria. Check out their gallery and adventures which truly do answer the question- who can guess what it is, that may be buried down there? – Click here.

The folks from watercourses have been through here as well- check out their Sunswick Creek page, with maps.

also, from the Greater Astoria Historical Society

Sunswick Creek. A drained marsh near the foot of Broadway. Scholars believe it may come from an Indian word “Sunkisq” meaning perhaps “Woman Chief” or “Sachem’s Wife.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finally- check out this 1914 article, which describes following a “forgotten-ny” style mapping and exploration of the city along a path forged by by Sarah Comstock in 1849. The map she followed was called “12 miles around New York(map at new york public library, of course- and check out Comstock’s  “Old roads from the heart of New York” at She starts with a journey on the Astoria Ferry from 86th street in Manhattan to Hallet’s point and continues through the Newtown Pentacle all the way to the ancient town of Flushing, as well as other destinations.

as it turns out, treadsoftly, a blog I like, rolled through here at the beginning of the week. Check it out.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 5, 2010 at 5:33 pm

%d bloggers like this: