The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for April 2011

Back on the job…

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A reminder is offered today to those interested in spending this Saturday in the company of Mr. Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY.com to follow this link. A photographers dream, this journey will begin at an ancient train station…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

…move past a gargantuan railhead with sky flung monuments to a prior age of industrial dominance providing a backdrop…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

…and conclude in a pastoral setting on the sunny side of a vast hill. All of this in quite a short distance, with expert narration guaranteed and wry and often pithy observations promised. Your humble narrator will be coming along as well…

For more on the trip, visit this Newtown Pentacle link from a couple of days ago- “Things to do“.

Sorry for the short post, tremendously swamped with detail at the moment, but a major announcement is coming tomorrow.

Bernie

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bernard Ente died this morning. Master photographer, historian, community leader, advocate for Newtown Creek and all things maritime, Bernie is survived by his wife and daughter- who for the time being, ask Bernie’s many friends to abstain from attempts at contacting them. They know and appreciate that you want to reach out, but require some private time during which to come to terms with their loss. As does the entire City, for losing Bernie from our collective community is a body blow.

Bernie was one of the guiding lights at Working Harbor Committee, Newtown Creek Alliance, and one of my very favorite people. His knowledge of the history of New York was second to none, and Bernie was the one who encouraged and nurtured an entire generation of bloggers and photographers to step forward and publish (including your humble narrator).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bernie would call me up late in the evening and ask “So, what are you doing tomorrow?”.

No matter what, I’d say “nothing”, and resolve to clear my schedule or call in sick to work because when Bernie called there was an adventure to be had. Whether it was riding on a Fireboat, or taking a group of tourists on a walking tour of some distant and long forgotten locale, or showing off New York Harbor to a class of inner city kids- it was always an adventure. His sense of humor was legendary, and he was one of the most honest people I’ve ever met- possessed of an incontrovertible sense of “right and wrong”.

More on Bernie will be said in the coming days, but I’m a bit overcome by the loss of my friend at the moment.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 8, 2011 at 10:05 am

Things To Do!!!

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mr. Kevin Walsh, supreme and unyielding webmaster of the intrepid Forgotten-NY.com will be teaming up with Richard Melnick of the Greater Astoria Historical Society for a walking tour of Skillman Avenue, a street which begins in Long Island City at 49th avenue and ends in Woodside at Roosevelt Avenue. Your humble narrator will be along for the trip, and has been busy producing the snazzy collateral booklet for the trip, and folks- this one is a visual feast.

Photography enthusiasts will find themselves especially pleased, as will the general antiquarian community, as we move through a fast moving and epic landscape crowded with the sky flung monumental relics of an industrial revolution.

Trace the history of Queens from a civil war era rail road station, stagger through the mighty Degnon Terminal, marvel at the titan Sunnyside Yards, and experience the pastoral glories of entering the Sunnyside- all in under 3 miles on Saturday, April 16th at 11:30AM.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The price of this tour, and one just might think of it as tuition, for time spent with Mr. Walsh and Mr. Melnick often leaves one with the sense of having attended a scholarly dissertation- will be $25. This relative pittance, however, includes the price of an informative and handsome BW booklet written by Mr. Walsh and illustrated with photography whose odd style would be familiar to regular readers of this- your Newtown Pentacle.

The intended route is detailed here, or visit Forgotten-NY’s tour page here.

As mentioned, Mr. Melnick of the Greater Astoria Historical Society will be assisting Mr. Walsh, and has vouchsafed a discount of some 20% for the existing members of his esteemed group, bringing the price to a mere $20.

delicate individual

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Less than 2 weeks ago, I was wandering around in Greenpoint, heading for the street address of Continental Iron Works- the ship yard where the USS Monitor was laid down at West St. between Calyer and Quay near the Bushwick inlet. It was on Greenpoint Avenue when the shot above was stumbled across, close to where Newell crosses (or perhaps crossed) it. The big attractions in this neighborhood are the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant and the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, of course, but the acquisition of certain geographic knowledge is critical to several of my irksome studies at the moment (and even if the site has been obliterated in modernity), the efficacy of certain… theories of mine… depends on direct observation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While wandering about, the attention of several itinerant laborers became focused upon me, and although their jocular suggestions about destinations for my camera were titillating, my nervous nature took control over my ambitions for the afternoon and an effort was made to remove myself from their company in the fastest manner possible. The step of a coward is a quick one, but this odd truck trailer was spotted and demanded attention. I’m positive that someone else got this before me, likely Ms. Heather, but for a single moment your humble narrator stood tall to bring you its amusing visage.

…Also, I didn’t know the 7 train ran in Greenpoint…

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 6, 2011 at 12:15 am

ruthless conquest

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Terrible in its grandeur, the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant dominates the landscape around Greenpoint’s border with Long Island City. The Nature Walk which skirts part of its shoreline with Newtown Creek affords rare and untrammeled access to the industrial waterway, and provides an interesting vantage point to the traveling photographer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All sorts of artistic flourishes adorn the Nature Walk, one of which is pictured above that purports to show the primeval Newtown Creek and the vast meanderings of it’s course. The bottom of the frame represents the East River, and the coiling shape to the left is Dutch Kills. Note that the original course of the waterway was far reaching, and extended far beyond the modern bulkheads. In olden times, this area was referred to as “waste lands” while in modern times we call such territory “coastal wet lands”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Still under construction, the section of Whale Creek hidden from view is where the sludge handling docks will be. One can expect the enormous sludge tank at the East River on Commercial Street to be demolished when these are done, and opportunities to photograph the City’s fleet of Sludge Boats up close and personal are sure to abound.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Without a hint of irony, this section of the Nature Walk is called the Scent Garden, and it is well stocked with (often indigenous) aromatic plantings. It extends back a few hundred yards, and seems to be the spot where workers at the plant go to on breaks as evinced by cigarette butts and garbage pails full of fast food packaging. Interesting spot, but not so much visually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the Newtown Creek on the Queens side is the “big show”. The mouth of Dutch Kills is occluded by a non functioning swing bridge and a static truss bridge. I’ve been told that should the swing bridge need to be opened, it is accomplished by using Tow Trucks of the sort used for heavy vehicles which winch stout steel cables temporarily attached to the structure. Your humble narrator hasn’t observed this himself, so it is hearsay- albeit from a quite reliable source.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Dock, once the Night Soil and Offal Dock and later the LIRR Manure dock, is currently under a century long lease to SimsMetal. A global player in the recycling trade, Sims is contracted by the DSNY to receive several of the materials they collect for processing and disposal. They shred paper and plastic, shatter glass, and sunder metal.

I can sit and watch this operation go for hours at a time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I would be keen to actually visit Sims, but I’ve been told that this is another one of the VERY dangerous places to be on Newtown Creek. That giant pile of metal that is being sorted used to be automobiles, and the tiny toy dump trucks in the background are actually oversized wreckers. Enormous machines moving at industrial speed, with vast tonnages of metal being shredded? Not a place for a civilian, or so I’m told.

Still…

hoary and sinister

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in prior postings, your humble narrator has been making a dedicated effort to visit and revisit certain sites along the Newtown Creek to which access was restricted during the long and icy winter. This springtime survey is referred to as “walking the beat” around HQ, although it really should be described as “scuttling the beat”. On March 19th, my camera and I found ourselves at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant‘s Nature Walk.

Click here for more on the Nature Walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A surprisingly beautiful space, the Nature Walk is the safest and one of the most accessible vantage points along the infamous industrial waterway. Despite it’s relative remoteness, at the end of Paidge Avenue past the corner of Provost Street, people do find their way here. For some reason, I always find this surprising.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek has several access points, but most are pestilential street ends bordering industrial sites which are defended by dull eyed watchmen and aggressive private security guards. A few of them actually take you to the water’s edge, but you end up standing in contaminated mud amidst the rusting hubris of 150 years of breakneck industrial growth. The nice bit about the NCWWTP Nature Walk is that you are actually fairly safe (well… as safe as you ever are around the Creek…) and that it provides gorgeous wide open panoramas for the journeyman photographer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tributary which the sewer plant adjoins is Whale Creek. Once upon a time, this section of Greenpoint was the center of the lamp oil refinery trade, and said lamp oil was sourced from whale oil. Just down the main waterway from here were the shipyards of Neziah Bliss (and others) which supplied, augmented, and repaired the ships of New York’s whaling fleet. Additionally, the African slaves of Greenpoint and Newtown were known to join the crews of these ships, as 19th century whalers didn’t care about what color you were, just how hard you could work and how long you might survive.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The planters you see here are blocking the kayak launch, part of the controversial decision on the part of the City fathers to disallow boats to access the Creek from City property (obviously for liability reasons, in the wake of the Superfund announcement by the Federal Government). That decision has since been countermanded, and the launch is scheduled to reopen at the start of the “season” which greatly enhanced the happiness of those redoubtable kayakers emanating fromĀ the Long Island City Boathouse.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, you couldn’t get me to interact with the water here even at gunpoint, but past postings have described the vast physical cowardice which cripples me. I can tell you, from everything I know about the Creek, that the water quality here isn’t “horrible”. It’s a little dirtier than the East River in this section, except after a rain event, which demands an interval of time to allow the bacterial and colorectal dumping of Combined Sewer Outfalls to dissipate. Luckily, radiation from the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself destroys most of these pathogens within a few days, and the focus shifts from bacterial to chemical contamination.

You are insane (or a Viking), though, if you spend much time beyond the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge or in Dutch Kills, Maspeth Creek, and especially English Kills. Lots of people are thusly “insane” however, and hardily survive the experience- so perhaps I’m being over cautious.

Time will tell, and cancer is patient.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the rest of the Nature Walk, and some of it’s more interesting features, but while viewing the shield wall of the Shining City with it’s titan blocks hurled at the sky- I noticed one of those small details which often escapes casual notice. Note the fencing in the lower left corner of the shot above, and the white placards affixed to it.

One of my pet peeves about the Newtown Creek watershed can be expanded upon here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Three bits of signage, and I am assured by powers and potentates alike that these are strictly temporary, admonish and inform users of the waterfront access point about the esoteric dangers which one might encounter along the Creek. When an earlier posting at this, your Newtown Pentacle, warned the cadre of boaters docked at the Vernon Avenue Street end that they were placing themselves in “Mortal and Existential danger“- this is the sort of thing I was talking about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pet peeve, as it were, is that these signs are difficult to notice and written in English. Observations of who it is that actually fishes in Newtown Creek have revealed that it is mostly Spaniard and Slavic anglers that ply these waters- and the populations which line its Brooklyn banks are demographically disposed toward demonstrating literacy in the Spanish or Polish languages. Logic dictates, therefore, that this would be an excellent place for a multi-lingual bit of municipal signage.

As mentioned, I’ve been informed that such multilingual signage is “in the works”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The English issue is something that I’m increasingly concerned about as we move into the Superfund era, and one that I’ve raised at the Newtown Creek Alliance meetings. If someone reading this posting is fluent in either Polish or Spanish, and wishes to “get involved”- please contact me here or swing over to the NCA website to find out more about the organization. My particular focus within the group is Queens, of course, but I see the communities surrounding the Creek as being more involved with each other (Long Island City and Greenpoint are ultimately one entity, despite political sophistry. Back in the day, they lived in Greenpoint and worked in LIC) than the neighborhoods surrounding themĀ on the landward side.

Come to think of it, the Eels that this sign cautions against might explain those eyeless wriggling things that I’ve observed in Maspeth Creek- hmm.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Note: The following is a personal viewpoint, and doesn’t reflect the policies of any organization-

The world only makes sense when you force it to do so. Titanic forces and entities are on the move around the Newtown Creek, and the season of tumult and change upon the ancient waterway has begun. Whether the final shape of the place will be determined by outsiders or the community itself is ultimately up to us. The truth of Newtown Creek is that it is still one of the great economic engines of New York City, and one of the few places where someone without a collegiate degree can earn a decent living by the sweat of his brow. Do we want to lose this in the name of providing anchorages for some rich guy from Manhattan to park his yacht? What do you want the Newtown Creek to look like 20 years from now?

Paraphrasing Roger Waters- Are we destined to become a nation of waitresses, and waiters?

roughly hemispherical

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Good news permeates the City of Greater New York, as a remedy to the various financial crises has emerged. To begin with, the Mayor and City Council have voted to eliminate the wasteful practice of running mostly empty buses during non peak hours, and replacing them with smaller and more efficient vehicles like the one pictured above. Ergonomic and comfortable, the fare has been waved for these new conveyances, in order to encourage ridership and acceptance of the new scheme. Your humble narrator looks forward to “scooping” around the borough, although calling the driver “a backhoe” will be considered a hate crime and socioeconomic slur leveled against a City employee and will be punishable by 15 years forced labor at the Ratner trash mines in Pennsylvania.

Savings- $385 million!!!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Brooklyn, the “Williamsburg Financial Corridor” has proven to be such a success that the entire Third Ward has been designated an outlying district of Manhattan. Brooklyn will miss it’s emo child, but Manhattan welcomes the “Lower, extremely East Side” (LEES) to it’s family. Win Win for the City, although Brooklyn will still have to fund the schools, hospitals, and other facets of Williamsburg’s municipal infrastructure. The good news is that Billyburgers can now report that they have a Manhattan address to their families back in the Mid-West.

Benefit to Manhattan- 3 billion in property taxes!!!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Never let it be said, though, that Manhattan doesn’t share the load. In another daring and data driven decision, the Mayor and City Council have agreed to sell the Empire State Building to Dubai. The Sheikhs of that far off desert land have announced their plans to lift the iconic structure from its foundations via the use of a fleet of Skyhook helicoptors and dirigibles. The scheme involves transporting the luckily aerodynamic skyscraper to the shores of Arabia via the heavy lift capability of its Al-Zeppelins, all the way to their exotic Emirate just south of the Persian Gulf.

The City is the big winner in this story however, as both Mayor’s office and City Council members and staff will receive free vacations at the desert resort, during which time they can forget all about April 1st, and the fools they govern over back in New York.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 1, 2011 at 10:50 am

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