The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for February 2019

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek

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The big announcement is here, and it’s a photo book!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek is finally ready for public consumption, I’m proud to announce. 88 pages of full color photos encased in a perfect bound card stock cover edition, this is the first of several publications which Newtown Pentacle will be offering this year. This edition is a magazine format photo book, one embellished with minimal text beyond simple descriptions of location. It collects the night photography work which I’ve been engaged in for the last year around the Newtown Creek Superfund site at locations in Long Island City, Greenpoint, Maspeth, Ridgewood and East Williamsburg/Bushwick.

The sales price is $30, and here’s the link again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve chosen blurb.com as the printer, who will handle ordering and fulfillment. Sample copies in hand look and feel great, and everybody whom I’ve shown them to has been blown away by the quality of their printing. I’m thrilled with it, and hope that everybody reading this will consider placing an order for a copy of the book. A not insignificant percentage of the sales price will end up in my pocket, which will help support this blog and the time and expense that go into producing it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Many of the photos contained within “In the Shadows at Newtown Creek have been displayed at Newtown Pentacle soon after they were captured, such as the shot of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge pictured above and of Maspeth Creek pictured below. The urban landscape around this highly industrialized waterway found at the heart of New York City is frankly spectacular, visually dynamic, and I have been working extremely hard to capture its vibrant spirit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those of you new to the Newtown Pentacle and the world of Newtown Creek, I’m Mitch Waxman.

I’m the Newtown Creek Alliance historian, official photographer for the Working Harbor Committee, Steering Committee at Access Queens, and also a member of the NYS DOT’s Stakeholders Advisory Committee for the ongoing Kosciuszcko Bridge project. I’ve been offering walking, bus, and boat tours of the Newtown Creek watershed, and the greater harbor beyond, for nearly a decade. I’m a steering committee member of the Newtown Creek Superfund Community Advisory Group, serve as an ad hoc member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee (which provides citizen oversight of the DEP’s sewer plant project in Greenpoint), and I was a Parade Marshall for three of the NYC Bridge Centennial Committee celebrations back in 2009 including the Manhattan and Queensboro events. My photography of Newtown Creek and NY Harbor has appeared in National Geographic, the NY Times, Scholastic publications, lots of local websites and newspapers, several official NYC and NYC EDC publications, as well as a bi weekly column I used to write for Brownstoner about Westrn Queens. On June 9th of 2009, this blog – the Newtown Pentacle – was founded, on the day of the Queensboro Bridge centennial.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the last several years, the shots that I’ve captured which have really caught my eye have been the long exposure night time ones, and in the last year or so it was decided to “get serious” about low light urban landscape shooting. The results gathered from Newtown Creek are collected in this new book of mine. Blurb.com’s “In the Shadows at Newtown Creek” sales page offers an online (partial) preview which will give you an idea of the layout, and content, of this publication.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Geography governed the placement and sequence of the images presented, starting with Newtown Creek’s intersection with the East River and then ranging nearly 4 miles eastwards towards the bitter end of things at the English Kills tributary in Bushwick/East Williamsburg. Along the way, every bridge, important site, and tributary is visited – many of which are locations accessible only through jagged holes in chain link fences or through acts of physical derring do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A chance to support for this blog, and a humble narrator, is offered. June 9th of this year will mark the tenth anniversary of this publication, which publishes five days a week and fifty two weeks a year. I’m beginning to think about doing some sort of event to celebrate the anniversary, as a note. Also, there will be more print publications later in the year.

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30. I hope you’ll consider adding it to your library.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 28, 2019 at 11:00 am

Posted in newtown creek

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Dag, I really got my $2.75 worth out of this ferry ride, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing my maiden voyage on the NYC Ferry’s new Soundview route, the boat left its (Manhattan) East 90th street dock and proceeded towards Hells Gate. This is a spot I often visit, but always from the landward side in Queens. Living in Astoria, a frequent destination when I’m out for a constitutional walk is Shore Road, which adjoins Astoria Park and provides commanding views of two bridges which I’m rather enamored with – the Triborough and Hell Gate. The former is just one part of a complex of automotive bridges built under the guidance of Robert Moses which opened in 1936. The latter is a rail bridge (OK, technically it’s a complex of bridges too) which opened in 1917, designed by Hornbostel and Lindenthal, and constructed by Carnegie’s American Bridge Company for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

Hells Gate is formerly the most treacherous section of the East River, due to whirlpools and strong currents which wrecked hundreds of ships during colonial and early republic times. Its name is an anglicization of the old Dutch “Hellegaat” which refers to “a bright passage.” The hazardous conditions in this section of the East River were caused by the topography of the riverbed beneath the water, a situation which was dealt with by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in several stages during the 19th century. The USACE efforts culminated with an 1885 detonation of mined explosives that broke up the riverbed, an explosion which was the largest intentional detonation in all of human history until the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945 (debate about certain WW1 military actions does exist on this topic, btw.)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the Ferry moved northward towards its destination at the northern side of the Bowery Bay section of the river, we passed by the “Astoria Energy” power plant located on the forbidden northern shore of Queens. That nomen is one of my own little inventions, indicating the frustration a humble narrator often expresses when discussing the coastlines of the Borough. There’s a solid wall of “not allowed” secure sites along the shoreline, which is ultimately prosaic and appropriate, but still frustrating. You’ve got the power plant, then a sewer plant, then Rikers Island, and then LaGuardia Airport. The first time you might be able to get close enough to even see the water is at Flushing Bay.

Fingers crossed for an East Elmhurst or Flushing Ferry line, anyone?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve seen this POV a few times over the years, but it’s still pretty uncommon for me. That’s Randalls/Wards Island on the right, which used to be seperate islands until Mr. Moses made them one landmass as part of the Triborough project. Hells Gate and Triborough’s East River span are at center, and the former Politti Power Plant (which the Astoria Energy outfit now uses as its campus) are on the left.

More tomorrow, at your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 27, 2019 at 2:00 pm

possible cure

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On the boat.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, I took a ride on the new Soundview line of the NYC Ferry recently in pursuance of scouting out a tour which I’m going to conduct along its route. Soundview is a long ride by the standards of the new Ferry system, some 46 minutes. It takes you north from Pier 11 Wall Street along the eastern shoreline of Manhattan with stops at 34th street and then at 90th street. Its path carries you along the rather familiar sights of the great bridges section of the East River (Brooklyn to Queensborough) and then proceeds into the River’s west channel between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan.

Pictured above is a tug towing an empty fuel barge southwards along the waterway. How do I know it’s empty? Look at how high the barge is riding in the water… that’s how.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The west channel of the East River is preferred for the passage of larger ships and maritime industrial traffic for a couple of reasons, most notably the absence of height restrictions due to the Roosevelt Island Bridge and the “no wake” zone around the Big Allis power plant in Queens’ Ravenswood section. The Soundview ferry uses this channel to proceed northwards, passing by notable Upper East Side landmarks like Rockefeller University in the East 60’s.

That’s another huge articulated tug and fuel barge in the shot above, operated by the Reinauer company. Articulated means that there are cabling connections which allow the Captain of the tug to operate the two entities as a single vessel. There is also a large cutout notch in the bow of the barge which the tug nestles into.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last stop in Manhattan is at East 90th street, whereupon the ferry route heads across the East River to the east channel, and heads into Hells Gate. Those of you with a historical mindset might already have an inkling of what this tour will be talking about, but let’s just say that a little bit more than a century ago on a nice morning in mid June, a large group of people boarded a boat just north of Wall Street at Peck Slip, and more or less followed this route. Things did not go as planned for them, and bad things happened. Very, very bad things.

More tomorrow, at your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 26, 2019 at 1:30 pm

outside world

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This light of day thing is a real drag.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

About a week ago, I spent the afternoon with one of my professional tour guide chums, specifically Corey from NY Adventure Club. We were scouting out a boat tour that we’re planning for June, one which will take advantage of the new NYC Ferry Soundview route. Soundview starts at Pier 11/Wall Street in Manhattan, visits the 34th street ferry dock, and then heads north along the East River towards its ultimate destination in the Bronx. It was late afternoon when Corey and I boarded the boat, and the back and forth of the trip ate up a couple of hours on a February afternoon. Today’s post shows a few highlight shots of what was observed, and later this week we’ll take a closer look at what you can see while onboard.

The shot above is actually from Astoria’s Ferry dock, which was from the very end of the excursion, when I was on my way back home to HQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you may have discerned from recent posts, a humble narrator has been experiencing a bit of wanderlust this winter. Desire to see places and things less familiar has been bubbling up, and steps have been taken to accommodate this. One is nothing if not systematic, and long time readers will be able to tell you that the southern sections of NY Harbor – Port Elizabeth Newark, the Kill Van Kull, Gowanus Bay and Canal, the “Great Bridges” zone, Wallabout Bay and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Bushwick Inlet, Hells Gate, and especially Newtown Creek have received a tremendous amount of attention over the last decade. Simply put, I’ve either had or found the means and ability to get to these places.

Recently, a fascination with the northern expanses has emerged – Flushing Bay and Creek, and the “unknown country” of the Bronx’s southern shorelines. The Soundview Ferry puts some of these places within reach of my lens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This week, I’m taking you with for the first ride I’ve taken on the Soundview route NYC Ferry. The wonders you can see…

Additionally, there’s going to be a couple of extra postings coming your way, if you’re subscribed for the email delivery of the Newtown Pentacle. The big project which I’d been working on and referring to throughout the last half of 2018 is finally ready for public consumption, and I’m going to be doing a few extra posts to announce it.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 25, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Astoria, Bronx

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A day late, and a dollar short.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sorry for the single image today, a humble narrator’s scheduling got the best of him and that’s why you’ve got a shot of the 4 entering 59th/Lex instead of a proper post today. Back Monday with some of the interesting stuff I saw while riding the new Soundview Line of the NYC Ferry last week.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 22, 2019 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Manhattan, Photowalks, Pickman, Subway

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radical profundity

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Wrapping up at Flushing Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ignorance is bliss.

As described in prior posts, one found his way down onto the sand at Flushing Creek, which was a fairly intriguing spot. I’ve already made inquiries with one of my paddler buddies about who I have to talk to in order to get on the water in a rowboat or something back here, so stay tuned as the weather gets warmer and the plants start turning green again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As also mentioned, I’m trying to stay a bit ignorant about conditions and history back here for the moment, but at first flush there are a very different set of environmental issues hereabouts when compared with my beloved Newtown Creek. Everywhere I looked, there were shellfish clinging to this and that all along the intertidal or littoral zone. My ignorance is willful, as I just want to wander around and take pictures.

Of course, I’m entirely ignorant… about… kinds… of… shellfish… speciation… of… No!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A lot of the talk centering around the Superfund Rememdiation process on my beloved Creek has discussed the creation of wetland habitat not dissimilar to what’s pictured above. Hopefully, the illegal dumping and wind blown trash won’t be part of the final equation in Long Island City or Greenpoint.

I wonder how long that truss bridge is… how high… average daily traffic… about who built… NO! My ignorance will not be pierced… I refuse!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally speaking, it was actually quite a bit of fun for a humble narrator to see new things, given how much time I devote to chronicling the western end of the Newtown Pentacle. Yes, Flushing has always been on my map, but there’s always been something else to do which is closer to home.

Akkk… is that the Van Wyck… Grand Central… something that ends in a “78”… IGNORANCE!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal Val and I left the beach and proceeded up onto the Northern Blvd. truss bridge leading to downtown Flushing and what, by this point, would be a well deserved and very affordable luncheon meal at a Chinese restaurant in the downtown area.

Even on a weekday winter afternoon, throngs of shoppers were marching about, and the streets of downtown Flushing were quite crowded. The neighborhood BIDS and the Chambers of Commerce of Western Queens could learn a thing or two at the end of the 7 Line, I think. Managers and promoters of dying or moribund commercial strips like Steinway Street – for instance – should study Roosevelt Avenue, and Prince or Main Street. In terms of street level retail activity and abundant small businesses, Flushing is popping. What do I know? I’m largely ignorant.

Down by the water though, it’s the usual story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Government owned shorelines with fenced off industrial facilities, too few businesses taking advantage of those precious maritime bulkheads. Has to be all kinds of yuck in the water… Flushing Creek itself is situated at a locus of high speed roads, the 7 line… Arrggggghhhh… I almost just looked up Flushing Creek… NO!

I shall maintain my ignorance… I will not… I…

Back tomorrow with something completely different at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 21, 2019 at 12:30 pm

awkward signatures

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On the sand at Flushing Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After having successfully navigated my way to the water’s edge at Flushing Creek through an open gate, a humble narrator (and my pal Val, who was game for this particular caper) proceeded off the concrete and down onto the sand. As mentioned previously, I’m intentionally staying dumb about the Flushing Creek waterway – for now – as it’s entirely novel to me to “know” nothing about something and I want to preserve that as long as possible. It’s philosophic with me, ignorance, and it’s difficult to preserve. Every year, I play my “Super Bowl Challenge,” which is prophylactic in terms of information regarding the big game. I don’t want to know when, where, who… anything. It’s more difficult to know nothing than everything about something these days.

A challenge I’m several years into, as a note, is the Lady Gaga challenge. I know nothing about Lady Gaga other than her name. Never looked at a photo, listened to a song, wouldn’t recognize her if she was sitting next to me. No animosity against the house of Gaga is offered, of course, it’s just extremely challenging to remain completely ignorant of somebody is who apparently a huge pop star – and it’s a challenge I accept. I guess I know she’s a pop star.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By my standards, which are set to a high bar by that legendary exemplar of urban neglect which is the Newtown Creek, things didn’t look too bad around here. There were all sorts of garbage, dumping, broken pipes like the one above encountered… but… I mean… Maspeth Creek… y’know?

Part of the reason I wanted to come here during the brown and brittle months of the winter, incidentally, involved the lessened chances of encountering biting insects and ticks in particular. Got to imagine that there are clouds of mosquitos and black flies around this spot during the summer months.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was some sort of ruggose canvas placed on the shoreline, no doubt an attempt at fighting erosion of the sandy beach. The good news is that said canvas created a hard pack surface which was easy to walk on. We were visiting Flushing Creek at the low tide interval of the daily cycle, so lots and lots of shoreline was revealed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Modern day Flushing, with its massive “Hong Kong” style real estate developments, provided a backdrop for the scene. Like LIC, this “other” end of the 7 line in Queens has been growing exponentially in recent years. Manhattan’s Chinatown has been relegated to history’s dustbin, a relic of a forgotten age in NYC. Flushing is where it’s at these days, as far as where Chinese people live and work, and the place is being remodeled according to their tastes and preferences.

The “American Way” at work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We proceeded back along Flushing Creek for a bit, and the further that we went in the direction of Roosevelt Avenue, the more marshy the ground became. Brush and grasses became thicker, and salt water streams punctuated the foliage with increasing frequency. The sound of traffic on the nearby highways and area streets were the only non naturally generated sounds, other than the occasional passage of a 7 Line train set on the overhead trackage which carries the subway to and from Flushing’s Main Street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were oodles and oodles of birds flapping around, and I’m sure that at night this part of Flushing Creek would be crawling with Raccons and Rats and all sorts of nocturnal critters doing their thing.

More tomorrow, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 20, 2019 at 12:30 pm

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