The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for January 2019

popular opinions

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Darkness and cold, it’s all darkness and cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So far this week we’ve established a few things – the physical dimensions of a size 18 EEEEEE male foot, that Astoria’s 31st street used to be call Debevoise Avenue prior to the 20th century, and the convoluted and confusing history of the Astoria line elevated tracks which have defined the street since at least February of 1917 (I have no idea when construction on the “El” began, whether in 1915 or 1916 or whenever) have been explored. My “constitutional” stroll, which is how I refer to a short 90 minute walk “around” the neighborhood, found me turning north on 31st street and heading towards Astoria Blvd. from Broadway.

Along my way, I kept on wondering why it is that for the last century or so seemingly everybody over in Manhattan who has had a bright idea about how to “fix” Queens has been handed de facto Carte Blanche to explore and build their scheme. You don’t find a “Utopia Parkway” in other boroughs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From a city planning perspective, Astoria Blvd. can easily be analogized as a “municipal sacrifice zone.” First, however, I have to state my perception of Astoria itself being composed of three distinct neighborhoods. Two of them are divided by Astoria Blvd., with the commercial strips of 30th Avenue and Broadway defining the southern one, and the commercial strip along Ditmars Blvd. defining the northern one. The remaining section is defined by and found west of Crescent Street. Again, that’s my perception, and unfortunately the Real Estate Industrial Complex is constantly trying to redefine the ancient village with names like “Eastoria,” “Westoria” and so on. Sigh.

In 1922, a group of Queens based planners proposed the creation of a “scenic drive” which would start at Astoria’s East River waterfront, travel along Astoria Blvd., and hug the northern shoreline of the borough all the way east to the Nassau County line. Robert Moses liked that idea, and especially so when he began working on the Triborough Bridge. The first nine miles of the Grand Central Parkway, between Kew Gardens and Glen Oaks, opened in 1933. Moses has to find a way to pay for and build what he called “the missing link,” however. The missing link would connect Long Island’s Nassau County to his bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

July 11th of 1936 is the day that the Triborough Bridge opened for traffic. Moses made a deal with the Federal Public Works Administration allowing him to spend $44 million – that they allocated for the approach roads to the bridge complex – to construct the seven and a half mile long “missing link.” The Grand Central was dug into a trench through Astoria, coming back up to the surface at East Elmhurst, where it runs to Flushing on a shoreline extension into Flushing Bay composed of landfill sand (which Moses brought in from his various beach projects in Rockaway). The parkway has been widened and deepened multiple times in the eight decades since, but the blighting divisions in Astoria have remained constant.

Last time I checked, some 180,000 vehicles a day exit and enter the Triborough Bridge complex via the Grand Central Parkway. As a note, the reason it’s called a “parkway” as opposed to a highway or expressway is because the shoulders of the road are planted. Once upon a time, there were apparently pedestrian pathways in those planted shoulders.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 31, 2019 at 11:00 am

ritual nature

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Walking up 31st street, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always wondered about the usage of “up” and “down” when referring to local destinations, since such determinations should logically be circumstance based. Saying that, I know people who say “up on Ditmars” that actually live there and everyone in Astoria refers to Queens Plaza and Long Island City as “down there.” It’s weird. Additionally, you ever notice that most people will say “I HAVE to go into the City” versus “I WANT to go into the City”? Manhattan is the place for “have to” I guess. If you live in Astoria, and you “have to” you either need to go down to Broadway for the R/M subway, or over to 31st street for the N/W elevated.

As mentioned yesterday, 31st street in Astoria used to be Debevoise Avenue prior to the consolidation of the City of Greater New York, during and before the time that Astoria itself was part of an independent municipality called Long Island City which existed from 1870 to 1899. Before 1870, Astoria was officially a “village.” Shortly after NYC consolidation, and the opening of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909, the aforementioned subways started snaking out of Manhattan and off the bridge into Queens, and later on through underground and underwater tunnels. It’s hard to imagine today, but a century ago, Astoria was considered to be a suburb.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First off, the government did not build or design the entire subway system. This is a really complicated subject, btw, and I’d recommend talking to the actual historical experts at the NYC Transit Museum about it if you’re interested.

NYC underwrote and facilitated a lot of the system, but the subways were built largely by two private companies – the IRT or “Inter Borough Rapid Transit Company” (which had already merged with and devoured the BRT or Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company) and the BMT or “Brooklyn Manahattan Transit Corporation.” There was also an IND or “Independent City-Owned Rapid Transit Railroad,” which was – in fact – a governmental entity. IRT (MTA “A” division) and BMT (MTA “B” division) built lines have different car widths and specifications, meaning that even today – more than a hundred years later – you can’t run one Division’s train set through another’s station due to the width of the cars and platforms. Same sort of thing is true for LIRR and Metro North, believe it or not.

The BMT Astoria line tracks were originally part of the IRT system, just like the Flushing or 7 line. Both use a platform at the Queensboro Bridge, but they split up after that station to work their different routes. The Astoria line opened on the 1st of February in 1917, and its station specifications were built to IRT (Inter Borough Rapid Transit Company) standards. In 1920, the 60th street tunnel opened, which allowed BMT (Brooklyn Manahattan Transit Company) trains to reach Queensboro, where you could transfer to the local bound IRT Astoria line trains. In 1923, BMT had figured out how to run their rolling stock as shuttles through IRT stations on the Flushing Line, but that didn’t last too long. In 1940, both BMT and IRT were bought by NYC from their shareholders and merged with IND into one entity owned outright by the City of New York. About 1949, as far as I’ve been able to figure it, the platforms on the Astoria line were altered to allow the wider BMT train sets to operate along it, and the Flushing line became IRT only. The Astoria line ended up becoming the northern terminus of the BMT’s Brighton/Broadway local service with the equivalent of the modern day N and W lines running up 31st street to the terminal stop at Ditmars Blvd.

Whew!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, I have assiduously avoided writing about the Dual Contracts era for nearly a decade now. Finally trapped myself into talking about it, so mark your calendars.

One thing which always occurs to me when walking up 31st street is the relative lack of street level retail activity along it. There’s shops and all that sure, but you don’t see the sort of thriving commercial activity which you do along Roosevelt Avenue under the 7 line. I’ve always wondered why.

More tomorrow.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 30, 2019 at 11:00 am

vague hints

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Astoria, will thy wonders never cease?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other night, a brief respite from the stinging cold occurred and I stumbled out of HQ into the looming dusk. My ideation involved no destination, rather it was just a desire to give my internally lubricated parts a chance to operate. There’s so much sitting and hiding from the cold this time of year that a man of my age finds himself stiffening up without a regular scuttle. During warmer climes, I’m out and about all the time, but this is the time of year for which I build a pile of books to consume and address long standing projects. That means that when I do start moving around again, it hurts, and there’s sounds traveling along my skeleton which I do not like. Stretching my leg the other day created a resonance that sounded like hitting the strings of a Cello with a sack of oysters.

You’re about to see the big project I’ve been consumed by for the last few months at the start of Februrary, incidentally, which is what a lot of this sitting in front of my desk has revolved around. It’s the start of a whole chain of “stuff” which I’ve been working on, which will be revealed over the coming months.

My path carried me down Astoria’s Broadway, and at the corner of 35th street, my eye was caught by the signage of Dave Shoes. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this subject in the past, but I’m fascinated by the offerings of this small business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit of quick research revealed that a man’s foot requiring a “size 18” shoe can be expected to display a heel to “big” toe length of thirteen and five sixteenth inches, and that a six “E” shoe width translates out to a foot of some six and one eighth inches across. That’s a pretty big foot. Apparently the average American male can be expected to wear a “size ten” and “d” or “m” width shoe.

I’ve experienced a certain foible of human biology which younger readers probably haven’t, as of yet. That’s the tendency of the human foot to spread out and its arch to become more shallow as you grow older. In High School and early college, already fully grown, I wore a size nine and one half shoe. By the time I was thirty, a size ten was required. These days, an eleven is what I buy at the shoe shops. Presuming I somehow make it through another twenty years, my shoes will likely look like swimmer’s fins with my toes extending several feet out in front of me, and it’s likely I won’t be scuttling but instead flopping along the bulkheads like a seal by then. I’ll probably be a much better swimmer, so there’s a silver lining. Saying all that, barring some cartoonish interaction with a steam roller, I doubt I’ll ever be shopping for a size 18 6E shoe.

A humble narrator will likely need to forgo the usage of escalators in this dire future.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Modernity is so boring. 31st street? Really? Can’t we just go back to Debovoise Avenue, which is what 31st used to be called in Astoria’s 19th century? I’ll admit that the old system, when 31st avenue was Jamaica Avenue and 30th was Grand Avenue, was a bit confusing to outsiders but at least Astoria was safer in case of an invasion. The north/south streets and east/west avenues and using numbers instead of names are some times called the Philadelphia plan. The “Commissioners Plan” rules the roost in Manhattan, where the streets are east/west and the avenues north/west, as a note. Post NYC Consolidation, the new powers that be in City Hall created the modern day street grid of Queens by renaming all of the hodge podge street names offered by all the independent towns, cities, and villages that predict dated 1898.

That’s why you’ll encounter those corners where time and space bend in on themselves like 31st avenue at 31st street.

More tomorrow. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 29, 2019 at 11:00 am

sounds beneath

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Ok, I haven’t done this sort of post for awhile, so away we go.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ask anyone who knows me in real life, and they’ll tell you that the following post is just like hanging out with old Mitch, and that it’s absolutely exhausting listening to the constant drone of me talking about Queens… That’s the Q60 rolling down Queens Blvd. on a recent rainy night.

Queens Blvd. is 7.5 miles long, starts at Queens Plaza nearby the Queensboro Bridge, and was created by merging two older roadways – Thomson Avenue and Hoffman Avenue – in the early 20th century shortly after NYC consolidation. In the 1920’s and again in the 1930’s the boulevard was widened and by the 1940’s there was serious talk of turning into it an arterial highway by – guess who… Robert Moses… but that obviously never ended up happening.

The IRT Flushing Line subway stops on Queens Blvd. opened in 1917. A trolley line (owned by the Manhattan and Queens Traction Company) that used to run off the Queensboro bridge and up Queens Blvd. since 1913 was made redundant by the elevated train service, but the streetcar staggered along for a bit. It took until 1937 for that trolley to go the way of all things, whereupon a private bus company – called the Green Bus Company – recreated the trolley’s “Queens Boulevard” route in 1943 using automotive buses. MTA took over the route in 2006, renaming it as the Q60 bus line. Like the old trolley and Green Bus, the Q60 service starts over in Manhattan on Second Avenue and then crosses over Queensboro into LIC, with its terminal stops occurring all the way out in Jamaica, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Same rainy night, but a different byway – this time it’s Greenpoint Avenue in Sunnyside.

Diagonally situated against the street grid of most of the communities in Queens which it runs through, both Roosevelt and Greenpoint Avenues were created out a colonial era pathway that ultimately connected the waterfront communities of Greenpoint (East River) in Brooklyn with Flushing (Flushing Bay and Long Island Sound), using a centuried crossing at the Newtown Creek. Prior to Neziah Bliss building the first real bridge carrying Greenpoint Avenue over Newtown Creek in 1850 (the Blissville Bridge), you’d pay for a toll crossing on a flat bottom barge pulled across the waterway by donkey or mule powered ropes. In modern times, you just use the 1987 vintage Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and cross for free. Modernity defines the Roosevelt Avenue leg of this main drag, which travels though Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Corona, Willets Point, and ultimately Flushing as the “7 train corridor.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Same night, but many many hours later.

I’m always shooting, even when – as in the case of the shot above – I’m wasted drunk. I had attended a friend’s birthday party and overdid it with my consumption of gin martinis. The shot above, and a couple of others which I frankly don’t remember taking, jogged my memory the next morning of how and when I ended up back at HQ in Astoria. It was still raining when I left the party in the wee hours, and still raining when I woke up.

NYC receives an average precipitation of just over 45 inches of water per square acre (as in a 45″ tall flood of water which is one acre long on each of its 4 sides) – and despite my perceptions – 2018 was a fairly normal year for rain with some 46.78 inches of precipitant having been observed by those who record such matters. 2017 was a record breaker, which saw some 60.78 inches of precipitant falling on NYC. I say precipitant, as a significant amount of that water takes the form of snow. 2019 is shaping up as a record breaker as well, so far in January we’ve received a whopping 3.54 inches of rain. That’s apparently nearly 1/13th of all of last year just in the first three weeks of January, but I’m notoriously a mathematical moron, so if that arithmetic seems wrong you’re probably right.

More tomorrow.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 28, 2019 at 1:00 pm

peculiar shaking

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Heading back home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having switched my camera over from “long exposure” to “hand held” night settings and lenses, the Northern Blvd. truss bridge carried an official part of the Flushing Bay Promenade which led back to residential Flushing. The next time that I come back here, and I’m planning on it, I’m going to setup the tripod and long exposure kit up here and see what happens. The walkway is shared with a bike path, so I’ll have to take care not to present too big a footprint and ensure that I’m “visible” to oncoming bikes.

You can talk till you’re blue in the face to the bicycle fanatics, but they’ll never acknowledge that bicycles are vehicles. Why they love to infringe vehicle infrastructure onto pedestrian area pavement is beyond me. They also insist that they shouldn’t “have” to wear bike helmets. I insist that you shouldn’t have to wear shoes, but you’re walking around NYC, so it’s probably a good idea. Doesn’t matter, they’re not from here, and will move away when the decade long real estate bubble bursts to start trouble somewhere else.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shots in today’s post are high ISO and wide aperture ones, which report something fairly close to what the scene looked like to the naked eye. Dark, essentially. This jibes with what I’m always told by people who spend their time – or grew up – in this section of Queens around Flushing Creek. It’s hidden, largely inaccessible and locked away behind chain link fences, something that is experienced from a distance. Sounds a lot like my beloved Newtown Creek, huh?

This section around Northern Blvd. actually reminded me a lot of Industrial Maspeth, or Dutch Kills in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Next week, I’m hoping to take you to some places more familiar, as my post polar vortex schedule (this post is being written on Tuesday night, just before midnight… Hello world of the future!) offers many diversions in Astoria and Long Island City. I’m also meaning to head into the City for a short spell and take some pictures of a thing.

You never can tell where I’m going next, I sure can’t.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 25, 2019 at 11:00 am

rested uneasily

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Flushing Creek at night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s not Flushing Creek in the shot above, rather it’s part of a largish NYC DOT facility that adjoins it. I’m fairly sure that the elevated roadway to the left is the Whitstone Expressway and that the one on the right is Interstate Highway 678, which is odd since 678 never leaves NY State and actually connects the Bronx and Queens with the Hutchinson, but there’s Robert Moses for you. There’s a tangled cloverleaf of high speed roads here – where East Elmhurst, Willets and College Points, and Flushing combine. As mentioned earlier in the week, I call this the area “where boulevards collide.” It’s all very confusing, and one of the least pedestrian friendly spots in the entire city.

There is a protected bike lane, though, because… priorities…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An open fence allowed access to the water at Flushing Creek, alternatively known as the Flushing River. This shot looks sort of westward along the industrialized canal. Both Flushing Bay and Creek have all the usual environmental issues – I’m told – involving open sewers and post industrial pollution that are commonly observed along NYC’s inland waterways like the Gowanus or my beloved Newtown Creek.

Again, I’m not overly familiar with this “zone.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I believe that’s Northern Blvd. up there, on the truss bridge over Flushing Creek. This shot is looking towards “Downtown Flushing” and the Main Street area. I intend to get to know this waterway quite a bit better in the coming months, as I’m always looking for something new to point my camera at, and to learn more about the Borough of Queens.

More tomorrow.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 24, 2019 at 11:00 am

too shapeless

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Flushing Bay Promenade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s part of the World’s Fair Marina at Flushing Bay, looking westwards towards LaGuardia Airport, in the shot above. Having attended a NYC Parks Dept. meeting discussing their plans to reinvest and upgrade the Marina (Parks runs it) a couple weeks back, a mental note to return and explore a bit was overturned last week before the weather got ugly. Off to East Elmhurst’s border with Corona and Flushing went a humble narrator, using the Q19 Bus as my conveyance.

I mean, come on, doesn’t everybody hang around the Queens waterfront at night in January?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was medium cold, as a note, although as the night went on and the wind picked up it did become increasingly uncomfortable. During warmer months, I’m known to be out on one of my little night jaunts for six to seven hours, but this time of year, shorter intervals are required due to the climate. In all actuality, I was ok, but the camera gear was malfunctioning a bit. The camera itself was fine, but my remote release wire was “sticking.” I soon started sticking it into an interior pocket of my sweatshirt to warm it up, which made its malfunction predictable rather than sporadic.

I had longtime Newtown Pentacle curmudgeon and frequent comment offerer Don Cav with me for this one, who met me at the entrance to the park. Don is a World’s Fair(s) enthusiast and never misses an opportunity to visit the place, or to tell me in person that I’m wrong about absolutely everything.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, as Don and I were chatting, I missed wiping my lens down for the shot above. I’m sure that a certain other frequent commenter named George will soon ask why I included it in this post due to the many photographic imperfections created by the dusty lens, to which I will offer – I just kind of like it.

I also get to sayCandela Structures” when describing it, but it might be more accurate to describe this thingamabob as a “Schladermundt Structure.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, it wasn’t life threatening cold like it was at the beginning of this week, as we were walking around the promenade, but there was ice floating about in the salty waters of Flushing Bay so… it was cold enough.

The shot above looks eastwards towards the mouth of Flushing Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the water “my kind of thing” was visible.

By that I mean large scale industrial properties with interesting utilitarian shapes. I’m not going to get all “granular” about what’s found in this area, as it would be entirely disingenuous for me to present freshly discovered details in a manner indicative of some long familiarity. I can tell you where colonial era farmhouses used to stand in Maspeth, but have no real knowledge of Flushing’s environs. That’s something I plan on addressing this year, another one of my little mental notes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

More tomorrow, and Flushing Creek at night, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 23, 2019 at 11:00 am

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