The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for January 2011

an odd impulse

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The Sidewalk, Barnett Avenue, Sunnyside – photo by Mitch Waxman

Apologies for recent silences are offered, for your humble narrator has found vexing distractions and urgent tasks consuming all available time. Additionally, winter has just exposed its fangs earnestly and the computer monitor lit days are blending together precipitously, causing concern that the brink of a certain madness is upon me- Cabin Fever, by name.

It feels as if one hasn’t ventured further than a block from the rented rooms in months, and the soiled sameness of all that piled snow out there just refrigerates the soul.

This long, cold, and dark time is being spent on late night historical and antiquarian researches you see, and during these sojourns into the atavist lore of ancient Newtown- certain intonations of scandal and an obscure vein of information have birthed intriguing theories about certain… things…  mentioned which might still lie extant and uncommented today.

Accordingly, at my earliest opportunity, an agenda and course is set and off I will march. The purest desperation, however, drew me out onto the streets the other day.

I didn’t stray far from the Village of Astoria, merely crossing the Hunters Point, Newtown, and Flushing Turnpike, umm… I meant Northern Blvd… and never really got too far from the house as it was really way too cold out.

I’m all ‘effed up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A post titled “Lurking… in fear- or Astoria to Calvary, part 2” was published on August 19th of 2009, and the various features and attractions of this enigmatic stretch of road were detailed. What I didn’t talk about is that 37th Avenue is a remnant of earlier times, severed from its destination by modernity and the titan Sunnyside Yards. Hazy internet images of ancient maps hint that either “Dutch Kills Road” or “Payntar Avenue” might underlay or lie very close to the present day road’s course. If correct, this was the borderline between the Second (Blissville) and Fourth (Astoria) Wards which I was walking. This is more than an angle between neighborhoods, friends, this is an actual political boundary which doesn’t exist in modernity but nevertheless explains the presence of expanses of industrial sites near this theoretical boundary.

It’s in the angles between neighborhoods where one finds the outsider churches, the uncommented prayer circles, and other odd gatherings of initiates. It’s also where the Cats are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As always, the cats of Queens remind one to look for those things that you may have overlooked due to dross senses and inattention, as their race has always enjoyed certain sensitivities which are well beyond the limited range of men. Whether it be the curiously polydactyl tabbies around the Newtown Creek or the jet black blood line that dominates at Dutch Kills, one should always follow the advice of the Cats.

The one pictured in the shot above lunged at some bird, then stared at me, and turned its head back toward the direction I was walking. Dutifully, I twisted on my heels and saw…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This gated entry point is one of the 37th Avenue portals to the NYC S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard, a facility which stores and sorts various bits of street furniture and fittings- such as lamp posts, for instance. In warmer times, this entire fence line is encased in a thorny vine whose fruit is a foul smelling purple-red berry. The edge of an evidently large facility, it seems seldom travelled by men, but shows all signs of serving as a protected haven for the many cats observed around it.

The shattered column base stored here, however, I haven’t noticed before (although- it may well have been here- just overgrown with vegetation).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Something about this object is familiar to me, and its identity eludes me, although my thoughts keep drifting toward mental catalogs of midtown Manhattan transportation centers. Grand Central perhaps?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Simple observations of the object reveal it to be metallic, and designed to exhibit a cuprous patina. Were it composed of copper or white bronze, as it is designed to appear, this would be a small fortune sitting out in the snow (from a scrap metal point of view). Sculptural ornamentation and overall design suggest “City beautiful” or “Beaux Arts” era design to me, but it is difficult at best to discern such things from an object divorced of its overall and proper setting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Its presence at the NYC S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard would also suggest that it’s some sort of ornamental base for a street light, but I can’t imagine where in Queens it would go. Most of what I’ve observed, in western Queens at least, is that this borough follows modernist and heroic design principals of Art Nouveau or Deco- think about the Grand Central Parkway and the Triborough approaches, the Queens Library, Flushing Meadow Park, even the Borough Hall for examples. What remains of historic Queens Plaza are the only examples of “City Beautiful” I’m aware of in the borough.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The column base itself is of a degenerate heterogeneity, combining “egg and dart” ornaments with ionic volutes and acanthus or papyrus leaf motif. Its multiple parts and central hollows further suggest that it is meant to act as the base of some electrical lighting apparatus.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, Lords and Ladies- Any ideas? Anyone out there recognize this object? My instinct and observations suggest it’s a product of either the late 19th or early 20th centuries, but frankly- I’m stumped.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 31, 2011 at 9:32 am

hovering above

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent business called for me to visit the facilities of a commercial printer which has established its physical plant in part of the former Degnon complex near Dutch Kills, which explains how and why I found myself on Monday morning enduring the single digit temperatures which made the day remarkable.

What was fascinating to the shivering photographer, lost in private reverie upon Hunters Point Avenue, was the realization that when it’s cold enough- the exhausts of our city’s power generating system are actually and entirely visible.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Normally, when temperatures are in the average seasonal mean, there might be a few hundred feet of exhaust visibly extant as it emanates. In extreme cold, however, one can observe long streams of heated gas pulsing upward at seemingly titanic pressure. Manmade clouds, these vertical columns retain integrity against horizontal wind shear until they achieve great height, and begin to disseminate into the swift currents of air which swirl about and over New York Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is Western Queens which is the workshop of New York City, – you cannot have the Shining City of Manhattan without a Great Machine, a Newtown Creek, or a Big Allis.

Where transformer farms abound- usually at the edge of a residency zone-, an omnipresent electrical hum is detected, and all attempts to use otherwise reliable headphones with a portable music player result in static shocks and an odd crackling sound is present in the earbud monitors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The chimney in the shot above is actually located at Roosevelt Island, some distance from my location near the 7 train and LIRR station on Hunters Point Avenue (about 2 blocks from the Pulaski Bridge). My understanding is that the gas it is emitting is actually waste steam generated from CONED‘s consolidated generating system at Big Allis, and it is included in this post purely for the extreme altitude of its projection, which- to my eye- looks to be 3 to 4 times the height of Queensboro’s highest point.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rounding the corner from Hunters Point (or 49th Avenue) onto 21st street, the dragon herself comes into view.

Big Allis…

Wait… what was that? Dragon? Exaggerating again, making mountains from molehills again? Check out this piece which displays a graphic “heat map” of air pollution in NYC which originates in this PDF from Notice that brown area of specific density in the upper left corner of Queens?

That’s Big Allis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What I find interesting in these photos of vast agglutinations of heat and gas being propelled at high pressure into the atmosphere is not that they exist, or that the plumes of Big Allis rise beyond visibility to the undoubted mile high vaults of the sky.

The remarkable thing about the 6-8 degree (fahrenheit) temperature of the surrounding air is that one can clearly observe what is normally a largely invisible phenomena- due to condensation and the interaction between hot gas and cold air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The far off plume in the shot above is rising from Astoria, where the shuttered Charles Polleti Power Plant shares a large industrial compound with six smaller and quite active ones. Astoria carries quite a load for the rest of the City, from a power generating point of view, with prerequisite tales of high childhood asthma rates and unusual concentrations of lung disease.

Luckily enough, the State of New York just approved an upgrade and expansion of one of those Power Plants on the northern rim of fabled Astoria. The report on that may be accessed here.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 27, 2011 at 12:15 am

NCA meeting update!!!

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Postponed due to weather, will the scheduled Newtown Creek Alliance meeting for tonight!

The official missive, from NCA Director Kathleen Schmid:

The Newtown Creek Alliance meeting tonight is cancelled due to weather, we will provide a new date as soon as possible. Stay warm!


Written by Mitch Waxman

January 26, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Current Events

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September “officer of the month” award presentation at 114th PCT. Community Council meeting

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of interest to those of us lucky enough to live in Astoria, the monthly 114th Precinct Community Council meeting will be taking place at 7 P.M. on Tuesday Evening at Riccardo’s by the Bridge (21-01 24th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11102). A presentation of remarkable or infamous instances within the precinct will be offered by high ranking representatives of the local constabulary, the presence of either elected officials themselves or of their official representatives or spokesmen can be counted on, and an opportunity for the citizenry to bring specific complaint and observations to the attention of the gendarme will be engendered.

There has also been, in past meetings, a nice plate of italian cookies offered by the host and hot coffee or tea was freely available. Cookies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Alliance, on the other hand, is gathering the masses on Wednesday night for the first meeting of 2011 at 6:30 PM at the “Polish Slavic Center, 176 Java St, Greenpoint Brooklyn“.

The agenda as listed is:

At the meeting we will be discussing:

  • The recent designation of Newtown Creek as a Superfund Site
  • The Greenpoint Oil Spill Settlement Agreement between the NYS AG, Riverkeeper, and ExxonMobil
  • The distribution of Newtown Creek Sewage Treatment Plant Environmental Benefit Funds
  • DEP’s signage for the Newtown Creek Nature Walk
  • The NYC Green Infrastructure Plan and its potential impact on Newtown Creek
  • The status of Newtown Creek Alliance’s application to incorporate as a not-for-profit organization.

The “NYC Green infrastructure plan” section of the discussion promises to be VERY interesting. Come and meet some truly smart people, in Greenpoint of all places.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 24, 2011 at 12:30 am

hazy unreality

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another one of those long exposure shots described in earlier posts, this enchanting bit of typography adorns a storefront here in Astoria. I’ve never taken my little dog Zuzu there for a haircut, as she tends to respond better to regular brushings and a bath here at HQ than to commercial grooming endeavors, and she is a “not fancy” kind of dog. That said, the reviews of the place I’ve received from other denizens of the ancient village lean toward the positive, and I understand that it’s owned by a local family who have been at this location for some time.

Personal joy, however, is derived from the atavist typography which adorns its signage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Show your work…

To begin with, this is hand painted -on metal- signage. The building that the little shop occupies has a proud stamp on its capital stating that it was completed in 1922, which was the approximate arrival of the cut and cover tunnel (correction- 1933, I’m told) carrying the IRT tracks beneath Broadway. This was the unremarkable corner of Purdy Street (or 14th avenue) and Broadway in ancient days, today it’s 44th street.

The signage, in my estimation, exhibits a certain late 1960’s or early 1970’s flair and seems typical of the sort of typography once common in that era (and especially throughout the Boroughs). My guesses about its vintage are based on a couple of details. First- the prefix number (the 3 digit part) doesn’t use an exchange or alphabetic name code, which signals that it was scribed at its earliest in the 1970’s. Additionally, it doesn’t use the familiar area code descriptors which began to plague New Yorkers as early as the 1980’s.

I could actually just go in there and ask, but where’s the fun in that?

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 23, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Project Firebox 19

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Decapitated, this firebox on Skillman Avenue and Honeywell Street has long been severed from its designed functionality. I’m told by certain knowledgeable sources that you simply cannot remove the stump of an alarm box from its appointed spot, as the circuitry which governs the entire system will be affected by its absence rendering the surrounding neighborhood’s chain of Fireboxes blind to urgent cries of imminent immolation.

This firebox, however, finds a new utility for the needs of the few – or in this case the one- as opposed to the many it once protected, for your humble narrator routinely uses the dinner plate sized platter which crowns it as a makeshift camera platform when photographing the titan Sunnyside Yard with its backdrop of the shield wall of that Shining City which squats squamously across the River of Sound.

profound discouragement

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

With my favored vantage on Dutch Kills, the estimable Borden Avenue Bridge, once more accessible– I’ve been making it a point to aim my wanderings toward its general direction whenever I can summon the fortitude to brave the ice. As crazy as it sounds, and regular readers of this- your Newtown Pentacle- have become fairly accustomed to crazy, I really missed this little bridge for the nearly 2 years it had been undergoing emergency repair.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps its because this is the first section of the Newtown Creek that I actively explored, researched, and made it a point of documenting. Maybe its simply because this is the most easily attained of the Creek’s tributaries for one who walks, or that it seems to be the most “down on it’s luck” section of the vast watershed and I’m drawn by nature to the runt of the litter.

English Kills in far off Brooklyn makes for far better cautionary tales, but there’s just something tragic about Dutch Kills that always draws me in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An actual “out loud gasp” escaped my food hole when I discovered that the resident Crow of the Borden Avenue Bridge had not been forced out of his shanty by the long construction project, and if anything- the fellow had been building additions to the ramshackle hut constructed from found materials.

Last time that I had pointed my lens at this character was in the February 3rd posting of 2010 titled “affordable housing development on Borden Avenue“.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The smell of a wood fire was wafting from the Crow’s slapdash of plywood, tyvek, and sheet metal- a vague scent which crowded its way into the otherwise extant perfumes normally associated with Dutch Kills.

For those of you who haven’t been reading the Newtown Pentacle since inception- “Crow” is a term I picked up from the neighborhood in Astoria that describes the armies of itinerant scrap metal collectors who find profit in other people’s waste- “put something shiny out on the sidewalk, and the crows will show up and take it” is a common aphorism around my part of Astoria.

I’ve assigned this crow a name “Blue Crow”, but both the “red crow” and the “burgundy crow” have been mentioned previously.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a bunch of these folks I’ve been spying on, and I’ve even heard rumors of a criminal group who pilfer the white bronze monuments and copper fittings of area cemeteries to sell the valuable metals on the scrap market, but I have yet to regale you with tales of the other- and quite polychromatic- crows who hold the “Green Recycling Jobs of Tomorrow, Today”.

One has also wondered, and more than wondered, at what foul congress the Blue Crow might have had with that which cannot possibly exist in the velvet deep of the malign Dutch Kills.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm


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