The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for April 2011

time stained

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Business carried me to… Staten Island… recently, and as always the charms of the place were lost upon my dross sensibilities. To one of my peculiar fascinations, the two most interesting things about the place are what’s floating around it on the Kill Van Kull, and the queer but persistent rumors that when Garibaldi hid from the Papists on Staten Island in the last century, he was in possession of certain Masonic treasures which did not make the return trip to Italy with him and that said antiquities might lie extant still somewhere on the Island.

It’s actually a lovely part of the City of Greater New York, of course, which I bear an unreasoning prejudice against… I’m all ‘effed up.

from wikipedia

The Kill Van Kull is a tidal strait between Staten Island, New York and Bayonne, New Jersey in the United States. Approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) long and 1,000 feet (305 m) wide, it connects Newark Bay with Upper New York Bay. The Robbins Reef Light marks the eastern end of the Kill, Bergen Point its western end. Spanned by the Bayonne Bridge, it is one of the most heavily travelled waterways in the Port of New York and New Jersey.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The maritime culture of Staten Island, once a thriving and all encompassing economy, has been reduced but it still quite active. The looming question of the landmarked Bayonne Bridge, which is now considered to be an impediment to further expansion and modernization of the portages at Newark and Elizabeth continues. The latest plan I was privy to described a process which would scrub the current roadway and build a newer deck that would allow egress to the gargantuan class of ships called “Panamax” which will dominate the transoceanic shipping trade within a few years.

An inability to access the docks in New Jersey would result in Asian and European cargo being unloaded in another state and municipality, which would drive a stake directly into the heart of our local maritime industry, and chart out a declining future for the Port of New York.

from wikipedia

Seagoing tugboats are in three basic categories:

The standard seagoing tugboat with model bow that tows its “payload” on a hawser.

The “notch tug” which can be secured in a notch at the stern of a specially designed barge, effectively making the combination a ship. This configuration, however, is dangerous to use with a barge which is “in ballast” (no cargo) or in a head or following sea. Therefore, the “notch tugs” are usually built with a towing winch. With this configuration, the barge being pushed might approach the size of a small ship, the interaction of the water flow allows a higher speed with a minimal increase in power required or fuel consumption.

The “integral unit,” “integrated tug and barge,” or “ITB,” comprises specially designed vessels that lock together in such a rigid and strong method as to be certified as such by authorities (classification societies) such as the American Bureau of Shipping, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, Indian Register of Shipping, Det Norske Veritas or several others. These units stay combined under virtually any sea conditions and the “tugs” usually have poor sea keeping designs for navigation without their “barges” attached. Vessels in this category are legally considered to be ships rather than tugboats and barges must be staffed accordingly. Such vessels must show navigation lights compliant with those required of ships rather than those required of tugboats and vessels under tow. Articulated tug and barge units also utilize mechanical means to connect to their barges. ATB’s generally utilize Intercon and Bludworth connection systems. Other available systems include Articouple, Hydraconn and Beacon Jak. ATB’s are generally staffed as a large tugboat, with between seven to nine crew members. The typical American ATB operating on the east coast, per custom, displays navigational lights of a towing vessel pushing ahead, as described in the ’72 COLREGS.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Enthusiasts and colleagues always try to disabuse me of my dislike for the Island, and it’s rich history does tantalize. Vanderbilts, and Kreischers, and Willowbrook, and Snug Harbor are oft mentioned but the modern island- with it’s hideous modernist residences and consumerist population- causes me to shrink away and shun it’s charms. As mentioned, this is dictionary prejudice, and I’m not trying to start a fight with my counterparts in the antiquarian community of the Island.

Better that I stick to Richmond Terrace, with it’s spectacular maritime theatrics, than delve too deeply into the place lest I betray a mind closed to possibilities.


The Kill van Kull deepening project is part of the overall NY & NJ Harbor Deepening (50 feet) $1.6 billion project to deepen certain channels to 50 feet in order to allow the safe and economically efficient passage of the newest container ships serving the Port of NY & NJ. The first Corps contract was awarded in March 2005 for the Kill Van Kull Channel, S-KVK-2. Dredging for this contract started west of the Bayonne Bridge and worked east through the channel. Since the area along Bergen Point is made up of diabase rock, drilling and blasting was required.

May 21st

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The show must go on, as they say, yet your humble narrator is of heavy heart in announcing the Newtown Creek tour of May 21st, 2011- which is offered for your consideration by the Working Harbor Committee.

It is not the task of course, which tempers the normal ebullience experienced when an opportunity to share the wonders of the Newtown Creek with a group of enthusiasts from the comfort and safety of a modern vessel like the MV American Princess (which is outfitted with all the amenities one would expect to find during a harbor trip in a tourist Mecca such as New York City), crosses my path.

It is not that unnatural and uncontrollable timorousness which plagues me when I am asked to speak before “this group of pale enthusiasts” or “that gang of antiquarians”. Revealing and sharing the history of this amazing place is one the things I revel in, and brings me close to understanding what joy must be like.


Visit Beautiful Newtown Creek Saturday, May 21, 2011

On MV American Princess, Boat departs from Pier 17, South Street Seaport, Manhattan NYC, 10am – 1pm

Souvenir Tour Brochure with historical information and vintage maps. Narration by experienced historical and environmental guest speakers. Complimentary soft drinks will be served. Come aboard for an intense Newtown Creek exploration! Our comfortable charter boat will travel the length of Newtown Creek. The tour will pause at many interesting locations for narration and discussion. Guest narrators will cover historical, environmental, and conservation issues. Large comfortable vessel with indoor & outdoor seating. Cruise runs rain or shine. Price: $60

To purchase tickets click here

or contact Tour Chairman Mitch Waxman: waxmanstudio(AT)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is where the Industrial Revolution happened, and this trip will transverse and offer certain observations about the Newtown Creek’s present form and usage, and reveal a potentially bright future which this neglected ribbon of water- which provides the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens- were it to be revitalized and renewed, might offer the future.

After boarding at South Street seaport, Working Harbor’s maritime experts will discuss the waterfront of Brooklyn as we pass beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge, and finally passing under the Willamsburg Bridge. Our vessel will smoothly move past the neighborhoods of Dumbo, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint in Brooklyn, and offer spectacular views of Manhattan. This entire trip will be a photographer’s delight, incidentally, offering spectacular and unreal urban panoramas.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At Long Island City, your humble narrator will presume to expose you to a short history of the Newtown Creek, and offer an identity to some of the enigmatic structures arrayed around the troubled industrial waterway.

Luckily for all concerned, there are other speakers who will relieve the crowd from my droning prattle, maritime experts and environmentalists included. Around Newtown Creek Alliance headquarters, there is some buzz amongst the staff about which one of the heavyweight orators will be onboard.

Soft drinks, one to a customer, will be complimentary as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The American Princess will proceed past the titan Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant, the malign Dutch Kills, the cyclopean SimsMetal dock, the brutal symmetry of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, through the agglutinated heart of the Greenpoint Oil Spill, past the severed Penny Bridge at Meeker Avenue, and beyond the emerald devastations of Calvary Cemetery.

Then, we’re going to take a moment to remember our fallen friend… for just a moment.

I’m hesitant to mention this… as this is not what this trip is meant to be about, this is not a memorial event… but Bernie Ente is and will be so profoundly missed by many of us who will be conducting this tour, of which he is the originator and founder of… it would be in bad taste if a moment of silence to remember him, in this place which he expended so much of his attentions revealing and teaching and guiding about, were not offered. More on this in a later posting, but as the initial line says “the show must go on”, and that is exactly what Bernie would have us do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The course will continue, past the middle point of the Newtown Creek, and will plunge past the Maspeth Plank road, past the Phelps Dodge site and the Kosciusko Bridge. At the branching of the Newtown Creek which exists at the confluence of the East Branch and English Kills, we will witness the remains of the Maspeth Plank Road and approach the wicked end of the navigable section of the Newtown Creek itself and approach one the hydra like tributaries which spread languishing tendrils of rotting bulkheads and unused yet prime industrial waterfront locations all across Brooklyn and Queens.

This is not the world you know.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Witness the startling elegance of the Grand Street Bridge, a century old swing bridge connecting Brooklyn and Queens, which signals the entrance to English Kills has been reached. Industrial heartland, this is a grossly contaminated section of the waterway which has- of course- been designated as a Federal Superfund site. Seeing the Newtown Creek in this state, this bizarre half life which is neither tick nor tock- industrial nor residential, is a fairly short term proposition.

Vast changes are coming which will literally alter the very landscape.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciusko Bridge replacement, and the enormous new populations and residential conversion in progress and expected in Hunters Point South and Greenpoint, and the EPA conducting the initial stages of Superfund remediation (which will involve dredging and vast public works projects conducted by hundreds of contractors) will all be happening in roughly the same timeframe. Ten years from now, it will hard to recognize the place, and twenty more will render it a stranger to those who know it today.

In the English Kills, you will become transfixed by a waterfront frozen in some other century, and witness the extant vitality of those economies of heavy industry which build, and drain, and recycle, and dispose of. You don’t get Manhattan without a Newtown Creek, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We will proceed into the depths of English Kills near the Third Ward in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Our journey will cross the navigable sections of the Newtown Creek and begin it’s return journey to the Shining City of Manhattan and the South Street Seaport, leaving Greenpoint and Long Island City behind.

The plan for the return narration includes a full description and explanation of the Superfund situation by representatives of the Newtown Creek Alliance, and a return to Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. Personally, I’ll be at the bow during this part of the trip, as the photographic possibilities of moving languidly along the Creek with the sun behind us and illuminating both the creek lands and the Shining City as we smoothly speed across the East River beyond will be awe inspiring.

You haven’t experienced the Newtown Creek until you’ve sailed down it, and such a trip will disabuse you of viewing it with anything but wonder afterward. Simply, what is offered is a new perspective on the City of New York, one that less than 10% of New Yorkers have ever even heard of.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once again…


Visit Beautiful Newtown Creek Saturday, May 21, 2011

On MV American Princess, Boat departs from Pier 17, South Street Seaport, Manhattan NYC, 10am – 1pm

Souvenir Tour Brochure with historical information and vintage maps. Narration by experienced historical and environmental guest speakers. Complimentary soft drinks will be served. Come aboard for an intense Newtown Creek exploration! Our comfortable charter boat will travel the length of Newtown Creek. The tour will pause at many interesting locations for narration and discussion. Guest narrators will cover historical, environmental, and conservation issues. Large comfortable vessel with indoor & outdoor seating. Cruise runs rain or shine. Price: $60

To purchase tickets click here

or contact Tour Chairman Mitch Waxman: waxmanstudio(AT)

squat creatures

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting conversation with someone who had just moved into the Long Island City area, whom I met at the after party for the recent Forgotten NY “2nd Saturday” Skillman avenue walking tour, involved the environmental and health consequences of living so close to Newtown Creek and the heavy infrastructure around LIC.

She was part of that group often referred to in a denigrating manner by area wags as “tower people”, and desperate to describe her new neighborhood as “not that bad”- she began making references to far off catastrophic environmental situations. Delicate turf for one such as myself, whose taciturn visage and brusque “matter of fact” mannerisms have never proven popular in polite circles- and extra hazardous as it involves Newtown Creek.

from wikipedia

Long Island City station was built on June 26, 1854, and was rebuilt seven times during the 19th Century. On December 18, 1902, both the two-story station building, and an office building owned by the LIRR burned down. The station was rebuilt on April 26, 1903, and was electrified on June 16, 1910.

Before the East River Tunnels were built, the Long Island City station served as the terminus for Manhattan-bound passengers from Long Island, who took ferries to the East Side of Manhattan. The passenger ferry service was abandoned on March 3, 1925, although freight was carried by car floats (see Gantry Plaza State Park) to and from Manhattan until the middle twentieth century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The specific structure she dwells in is a newly realized and daring escapade which sits directly next to the Midtown Tunnel and the Pulaski Bridge, and is only a few blocks from the Newtown Creek. On the next corner one may find one of the Belmont Tunnels which carries both 7 train and Long Island Railroad to Manhattan, and the LIRR main line tracks weave through the area as well. She described the experience of living in this new building as fantastic, but overhearing your humble narrator as he proselytizes and promotes awareness of the Newtown Creek, grew increasingly uneasy as she heard an alternate description of her new home.

This is not my intention, nor what I intend when discussing the Creek and it’s environs in public.

from newtownpentacle posting of June 10, 2009

In the late 1860′s, Newtown Township was being run, politically, by a group of country hicks from eastern Long Island who wouldn’t know a good deal if it bit them on the bottom. All the sweat and blood being shed in Hunter’s Point, and along Newtown Creek- servicing the exploding populations of the two cities (Brooklyn and especially Manhattan)- it was the East River’s taxes that were building elaborate courthouses and paving roadways (in Jamaica, Queens and other unimaginably eastward points)- but what were these “New Men of industry” getting back from Newtown Township?

Was it those baronial Dutch farmers from Elmhurst who built the ironclad Monitors that redefined naval warfare? Was it they who had set up the casino riverboats, and a Turtle Bay to Hunters point ferry service to bring in the rubes, when Manhattan outlawed card rooms and horse betting parlors? Did those cloud watchers and pig farmers build the greatest and most productive shipyards in the entire world on Newtown Creek, or was it men like Cord Meyer and Daniel Pratt? The entrepreneurial explosion of the industrial revolution, the future, was happening right now on the East River and especially on the Newtown Creek, notLong Island Sound or Jamaica Bay.

These farmers from Flushing were standing in the way of progress, and holding on to an agrarian way of life that the railroad was obviously going to destroy. Besides, all the farm goods on Long Island would still have to go through the docks in Hunters Point and Astoria on their way to Manhattan anyway. The shores of Newtown Creek were bulkheaded and straightened by Newtown Township in 1868 in an effort to boost navigability.

In 1870- the leading men of the communities of Astoria, Ravenswood, Blissville, Sunnyside, Dutch Kills, Bowery Bay, and Middleton combined their considerable political patronage and their vast fortunes together and formed Long Island City. The population of the new city didn’t quite number 10,000, but the great unwashed- like we modern multitudes- were just along for the ride.

All this was far more than the men who owned and operated the 800 pound gorilla, also known as the Long Island Rail Road, could have asked for.

Industrialists and gangsters all over the new city vied for position on the train tracks, waiting for the iron road to lead the world directly to their door.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s the thing… I can’t lie to the LIC Tower people about the history of the place and the leave behinds in the ground and water that are extant still, but by the same token, don’t want to breathe fire in their direction either. Attempts were made to explain her new role not as some mere resident of LIC, but as an actual stakeholder in it’s future. Careful shepherding by the actual community, rather than some external agency, is what LIC needs. Burying ones head in the sand works badly for Ostriches, and worse for primates.

She didn’t see it that way and insisted that things weren’t so bad around these parts, and that proximity to the admittedly excellent Sweetleaf Coffee shop trumped other concerns.

We laughed.


Residents of a building in Long Island City, Queens say they are near their wits’ end over the noise from train engines that idle all day in a nearby yard, and want the MTA to put the brakes on it. Borough reporter Ruschell Boone filed the following report.

For some Long Island City residents, the sound of idling train engines plow through their day.

“I’m not here to observe it all day. I wouldn’t want to be here five days a week,” said resident Mark Goetz.

“It’s really horrible. I mean, like I wake up to this noise every morning,” said resident Lillian Marchena.

Marchena’s apartment is directly across the street from the Long Island Rail Road rail yard. She says residents have been complaining for years about the diesel engine trains that sit idling during the day.

“It’s actually gotten a little bit better from the beginning when I first moved in, but it’s still a big problem,” she said.

Over the last two years, the LIRR has turned off some of the engines during the day and placed some trains in other parts of the rail yard as part of a compromise, but some residents said the noise is starting to increase again.

“From 7:30 in the morning ’til 5:30 at night, Monday through Friday,” said Community Board 2 Chairman Joe Conley.

It is a harsh reality for new residents moving to the once-industrial area. The rail yard has been there for more than 100 years, but residents want the diesel engines turned off during the day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Greenpoint side of the Newtown Creek is actually a hotbed of neighborhood activism, which is reflected by the abundance of grant money funding community projects there. Greenpoint of course, is a multi generational community, whose population is largely anchored in place and possessed of an “institutional memory” that remembers the sins of the past. The Queens side, not so much.

A not so funny joke I tell is: the borough motto should be “welcome to Queens, go fuck yourself“.

The reason it’s not funny is that it’s largely true, and something as simple as a blizzard or a blackout will concretize that rather quickly. It’s also why our neighborhoods are viewed as transient way stations on the way east by the elites of Manhattan, and it is something that needs to addressed, should we desire to see the “American Style” of government continue throughout the 21st century.

The trains and the Creek and the commuter traffic and the noise, you see, are not going to be leaving the scene anytime soon and frankly- compared to a hundred years ago, things are just grand.


LONG ISLAND CITY, a city of New York, separated from Brooklyn by Newtown Creek, with Hunter’s Point as its southwestern portion. It is the terminus of the Long Island and the Flushing and North Side railroad. It has large oil-refineries, sulphuric-acid factories, and many other large and important manufacturing establishments.

Blissville, now incorporated within the city limits, on Newtown Creek, is the seat of large distilleries, and of factories for compressed yeast, fertilizers, etc.

Astoria, the northwestern portion of Long Island City, contains carpet and piano factories, and many good residences.

The part of the city called Ravenswood contains also many handsome residences, Long Island City has an extensive front along the East River, Newtown Creek and Long Island Sound, Newtown Creek being navigable at this point.

The city has water-works, gas and electriclight plants and street-railways. The public schools have an enrollment of over six thousand pupils. Both Jamaica and Long Island City claim to be the county capital, each having several county buildings. Population of the city 1890, 30,506.

colossal and protuberant

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

There I sat, broken hearted…

Somehow that old Brooklyn Public School aphorism was on my mind as I scuttled along the street ends of Greenpoint. These shots were attained at India Street’s junction with the East River and depict the shield wall of a Shining City as viewed from the collapsing pierages of an ancient and crumbling competitor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s difficult for us to think of the Boroughs as separate cities… well, it’s hard to imagine Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx as separate while with Staten Island it’s quite easy… but they were. This location upon which I was standing was, until quite recently (from a historical perspective), heavily industrialized. A workshop, this section of Greenpoint is in many ways responsible for the ascendency of Manhattan over not just it’s local competition but the Nation itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is another of the zones which the City fathers has designated for whatever they call “urban renewal” these days, and plans are both afoot and underway to convert certain structures to residential use (such as the “Pencil Factory”) or to clear away the existing building stock to make way for new construction.

The good news, or bad depending on your perspective, is that a condition set forward to the real estate interests by the City is that a waterfront pedestrian concourse not unlike the one nearing completion across the Newtown Creek in Long Island City must be built in return for certain laxities of enforcement regarding the zoned height of waterfront development.

At least there’ll still be a place down by the water where the kids in Greenpoint can go and dream of an age when you needn’t have to commute to get to work.

Additionally, the following event will be happening in Greenpoint on May 4th, 2011. I’ve met Shawn Shafner and he’s got a LOT of good stuff to say about some very bad stuff indeed. I’ll be there- at the Temple of Cloacina- how about you, Citizen?

Text from the flyer with links:

Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge*

Moderated by Shawn Shafner of The People’s Own Organic Power Project

Wednesday, May 4th 2011 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm Talks followed by a panel discussion

Visitor Center at Newtown Creek 329 Greenpoint Avenue Brooklyn, New York 11222

The Speakers are: Frederik Pischke Interagency Water Advisor UN-Water, Vyjayanthi Rao Assistant Professor of Anthropology New School for Social Research, New York, Jennifer Farmwald Project Manager Water Supply Infrastructure & Watershed Assessment NYC Environmental Protection.

Visit DEP’s website at Follow us at

Queensboro Pedestrian Walkway

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Forgive the lack of regular formatting, as this post is being generated through Flickr’s wordpress application. Caught this a couple of weeks ago while walking over the Bridge- the Queensboro Bridge- to Manhattan. Something about the deep shadows and bright East River air just grabs me.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Posted in newtown creek

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