The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

these realms

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Occasion called for me to meet up with Our Lady of the Pentacle deep in the far eastern (from the perspective of Astoria, at least) neighborhood of Flushing over the last weekend. The obviate path would demand navigating and enduring the exquisite ironies visited upon the hapless weekend customer of the MTA here in western Queens, and though my patience was thin- my wallet is thinner so a cab was out of the question and… it was a really nice day.

Hence, I walked… and walked… and walked… from Astoria to Flushing.

The master, Kevin Walsh over at Forgotten-NY offered a “slice” of Roosevelt Avenue in 2008

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This isn’t one of the “deep history” or “occluded past” kind of posts by the way- it’s more a series of surface observations made on a very long walk.

Roosevelt Avenue is a very, very interesting place and not just because of the elevated subway tracks which dominate its experience. Roosevelt starts off at the East River in Brooklyn as “Greenpoint Avenue” and transforms into “Roosevelt” as it hurtles over Queens Blvd and ultimately ending at Northern Blvd. way out in Flushing.

My route out of Astoria followed Broadway southeasterly toward Jackson Heights, and then East on Roosevelt.

The inestimable and inexhaustable Mr. Walsh of Forgotten-NY presented a post detailing the Woodside to Greenpoint side of things, which be accessed here

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Aforementioned, the elevated tracks of the 7 line really do make you understand why Manhattan tore down its elevated tracks as soon as it was feasible. Loud, the structure is a shadowy and dripping mess, providing a home to what must be entire nations of pigeons. Sidewalk and crosswalk intersections resemble the mad excesses of certain Abstract Expressionist painters popular during the 20th century, and the vast structure dominates and demands an oppressive pall over the street.

The Woodside section of Roosevelt Avenue was given a short and sweet “once-over” a while back in this May of 2010 posting, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

Additionally, the Flushing River just beyond Roosevelt Avenue was explored from the water in this November 2009 posting, and intriguing municipal machinery was observed along Roosevelt Avenue at Flushing’s Corona Yard in this posting from February of 2010.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Roosevelt Avenue, and a few of the neighborhoods it passes through are a subject of much conversation amongst area wags. The whole stretch is home to such a vast agglutination of nationalities and ethnicities, representing what seems like a statistical sampling of every variation which the planetary human infestation might take, that it’s hard to say exactly who lives here.

In the section between Woodside and Flushing though, a LOT of people speak Spanish.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding these neighborhoods, with long time Queens residents pointing accusing fingers and offering dire prophecies for the future of the borough based on the presumed moral and legal failings of this new population. The spanish speaking community has exploded in the last decade along Roosevelt Avenue, growing by an astounding estimation of 450% since the last Census. That number, of course, is the official one. There is probably a larger number of people extant, but hazy immigration patterns and reticent newcomers leery of government officials contribute to a less than full accounting.

I can tell you from observation, however, that the economic doldrums affecting other commercial streets (like Steinway Street in Astoria, for instance) in the so called “more affluent” sections of Queens does not seem to be affecting this area.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps its because the folks who live here will do just about anything they can to make a few bucks, often working multiple shifts, starting work at a lumber yard in the morning and busing a table in a restaurant at night for instance. A buddy of mine lives around here who came to New York from Ecuador, allows himself only 4 hours of sleep a day at the dormitory like and quite illegal rooming house which serves as his address in Corona. He’s sending money back home when he can, and trying to save what he has left over to do “something” with when opportunity presents itself to him.

I’m not going to gloss over the crime and gang life that is here, it’s just that I don’t know too much about it, and thankfully haven’t had any experience with that side of these neighborhoods.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The newer buildings you see along Roosevelt Avenue are slapdash affairs, and would seem to fit the term “Queenscrap” coined by our friends over at the blog of the same name. The charming early 20th century detached 2 and 3 story homes which were familiar to multiple generations of…

What is the term for Queens natives anyway? Is it “Queensites” or “Queensipolitans” or “Queensicans” or something? If you’re from Brooklyn or Manhattan it’s “ites”, but what about Queens?

At any rate, the newer structures have one governing principle, and it’s that form follows function. The function seems to be a desire to use every square inch of the property lot and build to maximum height allowable by zoning regulations (and often beyond all law). In a lot where one or possibly two families historically declared their address, there can be as many as 10 or 12 today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The effect that this huge surge in population has had on area institutions like schools and hospitals has been profound. The usual problems arising from urban life are compounded by the fact that these are a “working class” group of people- often the so called “working poor”, who suffer from a well known and commented upon series of cultural “Gotcha’s” as it is- many amplified by speaking a different language and differing expectations for the future than those born to the culture they’ve joined.

The largely “middle class” (and often college trained) population of surrounding neighborhoods sneer at the Roosevelt Avenue corridor as being populated by illegal immigrants, call everyone here the “Mexicans“; the males of which are all gangsters- and accusing their women as scheming to spawn “anchor babies” in order to guarantee citizenship in “El Norte” and then allowing their lawless spawn to run wild in the streets. It’s blatant, more than a little racist, and I hear it all the time- even from sources you wouldn’t expect. One neighbor recently opined that “mexicans shit in the street”.

And that’s crap, Lords and Ladies. I’m tired of hearing it, frankly, and that’s what this post is really about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In no uncertain terms, understand this- what the “Lower East Side” and “Five Points” were to the Irish, Italians, Germans, and Jews 125 years ago is what Roosevelt Avenue is to this “immigrant wave”. As you’re reading this, a future President of the United States is eating Churros in her baby carriage somewhere on Roosevelt Avenue around 100th street. A Supreme Court Justice is kicking a ball around with a future incarnation of Al Capone in some dusty lot near Linden Park. Roosevelt Avenue is where America is being retooled, and you can safely watch it happening from the sidewalk, while the cowboys and arabs draw down on each other in the cool dusty air of some faraway land.

For reasons I can’t really attribute, the necessity of saying this out loud and in public is important to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Running late, it was decided that to save a few steps and cut through Flushing Meadow Corona Park instead of continuing down Roosevelt Avenue, and I was forced to make a right turn instead of my usual left. Some interesting sights were had, which will be discussed and presented in some future (and less grandstandlingly Progressive!) posting of this- your Newtown Pentacle.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 23, 2011 at 5:09 pm

One Response

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  1. Mitch,

    I love Queens and Astoria, more than any other place in the world.

    You and your blog are definitely one of my favorite places on the net.

    Personally, I am interested in more industrial places. Check out some Queens pictures in my website:

    I plan to shoot and document the electronics and hi-tech history of the area.



    February 24, 2011 at 12:17 am

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