The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Ice Cream Soda Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you found yourself in Queens, between two cemeteries and two highways and at the angle between Woodside and Maspeth (technically Woodside, according to the US Postal Service), at 52-35 58th street – one would be hard pressed not to notice the gargantuan building that’s operated by the NYC Department of Sanitation – which is labeled as being “Department of Sanitation Central Repair Shop.” I’m told that the interior of this industrial facility holds about a million square feet of space, and long have my eyes wished to view that which does transpire within.

The earliest mention I could find of the Central Repair Shop, incidentally, dates back to August of 1955 when the Sanitation Department Commissioner requested that the City Planning Commission include $15 million smackers in their 1956 budget to build the place. The building opened during the tenure of Commissioner Frank J. Lucia, but I’m not certain if he’s the fellow who oversaw its construction.

Wishes come true if you want them hard enough, lords and ladies, for both Commisioners and Humble Narrators.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You may recall that there was a bit of a hullabaloo here at the Central Repair Shop back in 2011 which made the news.

The building was designed, btw, by the architecture and engineering firm of Fellheimer and Wagner. By me, it’s quite an attractive structure, but I do like my “modernism” and the exterior of this structure would look very much at home if it was found in Batman’s Gotham City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The purpose of this facility, which opened during the Mayoralty of Robert Wagner and the Borough Presidency of Mario Cariello in August of 1964, is to service the vast fleet of trucks and other heavy equipment used by the Department of Sanitation. Coincidentally DSNY also handles fleet maintenance for several other City agencies here – and you’ll notice examples of the DEP, Buildings, DOT and other municipal fleet vehicles scattered throughout today and tomorrow’s posts.

I was lucky enough to score a ticket to visit this spot on a tour created by the Open House NY outfit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Central Repair Shop is immense, with literally hundreds of heavy trucks occupying maintenance bays almost as far as the eye could see. Before you ask – no, it didn’t smell. All the garbage trucks receive a power wash before they enter the building, and there was an elaborate ventilation system in place which vented the shop floors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I didn’t catch his last name, but the fellow with the shaved head pictured above was named Bob, and he was one of the managers of the shop building. He conducted the tour for the OHNY group, which hosted a fairly substantial number of folks. As is usually the case with such tours, everybody was waving around expensive camera setups.

Given the amount of low light photography which a humble narrator has been engaging in during recent years, I surmised two things rather quickly – a) I was going to have to use a flash and b) wide open apertures weren’t going to cut it in here given the levels of foreground detail and long sight lines. I angled my flash at the white ceiling for “bounce light,” and set the camera to f5.6 at ISO 6400 for pretty much the whole endeavor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lighting situation was complex within the Central Repair Shop, with combinations of sodium and flourescent overhead light fixtures above and street facing windows carrying in bright sunlight. Coupling that with metallic and reflective surfaces that ran the entire spectrum from black to white, the flash provided a fill light that brought everything together under one overarching color temperature. The narrowed aperture allowed for a certain hyper focal distance to be achieved.

Normally, I’d just shoot using ambient light and a wide open lens (f2.8 or faster) but that wasn’t going to work this time around. When the shots came off of the camera, they required a bit of tweaking, contrast and color temperature wise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying all that, I’ve personally never seen a garbage truck up on a lift before.

More tomorrow from inside the Department of Sanitation’s Central Repair Shop, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

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