The Newtown Pentacle

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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.

6 Responses

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  1. So they move next to a rail yard and then complain about the noise? What do they expect? And how many of them are motorists who cause noise and air pollution with every journey?


    April 26, 2011 at 7:33 am

  2. Hey Mitch, didja get her number?


    April 26, 2011 at 10:25 am

  3. Mitch, I love the Queens moto. Should be on a shirt. One thing I always loved about the LIRR is it really wanted to make Atlantic Avenue its “Gateway” The then city of Brooklyn told the LIRR where to go, and the towns of Queens told the LIRR you are more then welcome. So the LIRR told Brooklyn where to go. It took almost 125 years for Brooklyn to get the LIRR back.
    As for the rail yard fumes, thems small potatoes compaired to what gets pumped out of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel Exhaust system every 90 seconds. Breathe deep!

    John McCluskey

    April 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

  4. Amazing; it’s like the people who buy a house next to the airport, only to complain that the planes come in too low. Caveat emptor, my friends; I’m pretty sure the trainyard was there when you first looked at the apartment. Quit bellyaching, now.


    May 2, 2011 at 3:42 pm

  5. […] the LIRR moving along the ancient rail tracks which have blessed the industries and cursed the residents of […]

  6. […] Newtown Pentacle posting of April 26, 2011 discussed the LIRR yard in some detail- click here for “Squat Creatures” 40.762767 -73.915407 GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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