The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for March 2020

maddening suggestions

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Keepin on keepin on.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So far so good here at HQ, and the only thing I can report to as involving coughing and wheezing so far involves the seasonal allergies which one has always contended with. Why we plant flowering trees in NYC is something I cannot fathom. Pollen is the age of pandemic is a “poop your pants” situation every time you sneeze or blow the shnoz.

As described in prior posts, one needs to maintain a fairly regular schedule of exercise for health reasons. Accordingly, I’ve been leaving Astoria at opportune times when the streets are entirely unoccupied and then heading towards similarly unoccupied areas in the industrial zones surrounding Newtown Creek. Personal security is something which I’m very, very aware of given the deserted sidewalks and thusly I haven’t been sticking my headphones into my ears as is the normal custom. Situational awareness, I call it. It’s part of what I promise Our Lady of the Pentacle when I’m leaving the house and she opines “Be careful.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Long Island Railroad traversing the Harold Interlocking at the Sunnyside Yards is pictured above, a set of tracks which are said to normally be the busiest right of way in the entire country. On this particular walk, one noticed breadstuffs scattered about on the sidewalks, often arranged in cruciform patterns. Could have been something random, and it wasn’t worth taking a picture of frankly, but does anyone know anything about such practices? Desperate and scared people typically embrace ancestral magic and peasant rituals during crises. Many cling to their magic books or scrolls, thinking the imagined power of the words contained therein will protect them from pestilence and misfortune. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood which was partially populated by people with numbers tattooed on their arms, who would have gladly offered to any that queried them that those scrolls didn’t do them one bit of good when the wolves arrived.

This is the hour of the Wolf for our civilization, isn’t it? We’re all locked up inside and some forest monster is scratching at the door in the dead of night. Stay frosty, I always say, and be smart. Your god won’t vouchsafe you, instead fate helps those who help themselves when the wolves are near.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s why I’m continuing to march about, all alone in the night. When it comes time to put everything back together, we are going to need strength – both emotional and physical – to bury the dead and comfort the living. I’m hoping to count myself as part of the latter, but it’s impossible to predict whether or not a plague will take you.

The only thing you can do is lock your doors, and keep that wolf at bay.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the start of the week of Monday, March 23rd. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 31, 2020 at 11:00 am

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What a nightmare.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Returning from a short constitutional walk the other night, a sudden explosion of FDNY activity drew my attention to the corner of Newtown Road and 45th street here in Astoria. A structural fire was consuming one of the older homes in the neighborhood, a wood framed one set back from the property line. It soon became an all hands fire, it seems, and FDNY units from both Woodside and Astoria were present, as was Rescue Unit 4.

I also captured a bit of video on my phone, which can be accessed here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The neighbors were all coming out of their houses to see what was happening, and lots of them were breaking out in tears over the spectacle. I suddenly realized that dozens if not a hundred people were forming a crowd and one beat it out of there quickly in the name of social distancing. Cooties.

I don’t know anyone who lives in that house, thought I, but as it turns out that wasn’t true. Somebody from the outer ring of my social circle did indeed live there and was now homeless. Under normal circumstance, this is plain horrible, and the normal systemic response would involve the Red Cross setting you up in a hotel for a couple of days while the insurance people figure out next steps. Fire insurance will usually pay for temporary lodging until the house is determined to be fixable or a total loss, at which point repairs are made or you have to find a new apartment.

During the current crisis – this is a nightmare scenario.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I posted the video of the fire to a couple of social media platforms, and made sure that City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer was aware of it, since this is not only his district but the neighborhood he grew up in. The next morning, a message was sent to me from a friend informing that the aforementioned “outer ring” acquaintance of ours was in fact now homeless and sleeping on their couch, and I made sure that JVB’s office had their contact information. Apparently, some sort of shelter for the poor fellow was arranged.

Structural fires are one of the things which I am worrying about more and more with all of us trapped inside. Be careful in your kitchens lords and ladies, and with those extension cords, and if you don’t have a fire extinguisher or two in your house – get some.

Also, on this date in 1909, the Queensboro Bridge opened for traffic. That’s your NYC history trivia of the day.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the start of the week of Monday, March 23rd. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 30, 2020 at 11:00 am

low toned

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Holy smokes, the FreshDirect building is toast!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just at the point where one traditionally turns back towards HQ and begins the journey from the LIC Dutch Kills “zone,” I suddenly stopped in my tracks at the realization that I could see the sky. The gigantic building with yellow painted corrugated steel walls that used to house the FreshDirect operation here in LIC has been demolished. Tectonic!

This was a HUGE footprint building, five or six stories tall, with both refrigerated and shelf stable warehousing as well as several food preparation workshops. There were interior driveways large enough for multiple semi tractor trailers to reverse into, and smaller loading bays that could handle about ten or so of the FreshDirect local delivery trucks at the same time. Gone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just as an aside for the thousands of people who have interrupted me while photographing over the years to ask “why are you taking pictures of that” while looking at me suspiciously and asking if I like hummus, this is exactly the reason. Creating some sort of record of what was there prior to it being replaced by something new. The “new” thing will have all sorts of government and corporate effort attached to it whose singular goal is the obfuscation of the site’s history. Ask the people in Queens Plaza if they know about the chemical factory, or lead foundry, which used to occupy the site of their shiny new condominium building. That’s the FreshDirect facility pictured above, as seen from a few blocks east.

A big part of the mission here at Newtown Pentacle is to create a record of this era of transition and rapid change in Western Queens for posterity which is independently held and not beholden to the political or business order. Whatever goes up on the site of that FreshDirect building… well… what used to be there?

Glad you asked.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The big historic factory here was owned by the American Druggist Syndicate, who made pharmaceuticals – so essentially a chemical plant. There were a couple of varnish factories as well, so petrochemical processing. Then a few of the smaller lots were occupied by metal working and refining companies involved mostly in iron working, so that means heavy metals and coal retort residues. The statement above comes from a cursory scan of a 1919 fire insurance map in my possession. Did the 20th century bring in plastics? Garbage handling? Good questions.

Right behind the FreshDirect lot is a set of tracks used by the LIRR which have been liberally doused with rodenticides and herbicides over the centuries, and the soil they sit on hosts lakes of PCB’S, PAH’S and other electrical insulating oils beneath the surface which has bled out of their trackside equipment. Newtown Creek itself is about 2,000 feet away from the Borden Avenue sidewalk pictured in the first shot of this post.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

queer noises

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Newtown Creek is always fabulous, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills splits off from the main stem of the Newtown Creek waterway about 7/10th of a mile from the larger water body’s intersection with the East River. Long Island City’s Dutch Kills is a fully canalized tributary, and proceeds on a generally northern trajectory. The water here is highly polluted with both industrial and sewage contaminants. Dutch Kills gets its moniker from the colonial era in NYC history. There’s another tributary of Newtown Creek in Brooklyn called English Kills. Simply, LIC is where the Dutch settled and Brooklyn is where the English put down stakes.

Dutch Kills used to have its own system of tributaries and tidal wetlands, and stretched back (as a navigable waterway) into Queens nearly all the way to Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The wooden structures you might notice around bridges are called “Dolphins” and they are usually constructed from creosote treated lumber and galvanized steel rope. The job of these items is to keep a vessel from getting into an allission with the bridge. “Allission” you ask? Yes. That’s when a moving “thing” interacts with a static thing. When two moving “things” interact it’s a collision, so if two vessels were to smash into each other they “collide” whereas if you were to run a vessel up against the dolphin or bridge they would “allide.” Maritime law is quite specific about this.

The dolphins pictured today vouchsafe the 1908 Borden Avenue Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Borden Avenue, and the “Empty Corridor” thereof which I’ve been walking you through this week, one resumed his westerly course and continued on. That’s when I noticed something missing. Holy Moley!

More on that tomorrow.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

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The empty corridor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue, or at least the section of it pictured in today’s post, was officially designated as such in 1868, after an engineered “plank road” was erected through the swampy low lands surrounding the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. It was primarily designed as a commercial corridor, connecting the upland farms and dairies of Maspeth and Woodside with the docks in Hunters Point at the East River. Borden… Borden Milk… Roads were named for where they went back then.

The wetlands of Dutch Kills were filled in at the start of the 20th century, and the railroad took advantage of all the new dry land to hurl spurs out to the various industrial buildings which were erected on the reclaimed flatlands. LIRR still crosses Borden Avenue several times a day at street grade, about a mile west of where these shots were gathered.

The Long Island Expressway truss defines the section of Borden between Greenpoint Avenue and Review Avenue, and the blighted area beneath it is something I refer to as the “Empty Corridor.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills itself was rendered into its current form and course at the start of the 20th century, shortly after NYC consolidation in 1898. A huge land reclamation project was being conducted by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company – the creation of the Sunnyside Yards – was occurring about a half mile to the north and west and a construction magnate named Michael Degnon began buying up the wetlands surrounding Dutch Kills from the estate of a former Governor of New York State. Degnon used excavated fill from another one of his projects – the East River subway tunnel which carries the modern day 7 line train – to create dry land around Dutch Kills. Concurrently, the United States Army Corps of Engineers was busy creating industrial bulk heads and “canalizing” the entire Newtown Creek and its tributaries.

That’s the Borden Avenue Bridge pictured, the existing version of which was erected in 1908. It’s not the first Borden Avenue Bridge, but it’s the one that’s stood the test of time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While all this tumult and “terraforming” was going on, the Long Island Railroad was investing in the LIC area as well. The Lower Montauk trackage, as it’s known today, connects the Fresh Pond Yard with the East River along the northern shore of Newtown Creek. There are two railroad bridges spanning Dutch Kills. One is DB Cabin, a turnstile bridge which is still quite active but cannot turn or open, and it provides a direct track link between the Blissville and Wheelspur Yards on the lower montauk right of way. The other is Cabin M, which leads to the Montauk Cutoff elevated tracks that formerly connected to the LIRR Main Line tracks at the Sunnyside Yards. Before all this end of the world stuff started, MTA indicated it was going to demolish Cabin M. Somehow, I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon.

As I always say, despite the fact that I call it the “empty corridor” there’s quite a lot going on down here and lots of interesting things to see on a walk in LIC.

Also, on this day in NYC history: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire occurred in 1911.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

alien shadow

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Seeing the big rigs in Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One encountered a lonely semi truck on my recent scuttle across a still quite industrial section of LIC. It’s a “class 8” heavy truck, and manufactured by the Kenworth company. “Class 8” are vehicles which serve vocational applications – heavy dump trucks, concrete pump trucks, and refuse hauling – as well as including long-haul 4×2 and 6×4 tractor units such as the one pictured above. Washington state based, Kenworth has been in the truck business since 1912. Don’t ask me to identify what model of truck this is, as I’m sure there’s a gear head reading this who can help with the ID (share in the comments section) and will know far more than I about it. Like taxis and tugboats – when you see a vehicle like this just sitting there parked on the street, the owner is losing money.

I have always been fascinated with this idea of perpetually moving vehicles. Certain vehicles are meant to be operated continuously by multiple crews of drivers, and meant to never stop moving. Police cars and ambulances, subways and trains of all types… cargo ships… all are meant to rest only when undergoing maintenance or changing work crews and operators. That’s interesting, no?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A graffiti crew had obviously taken fairly recent advantage of the expansive warehouse walls (a “building trade” lumber operation) on this particular block in LIC, but I was more interested in the sickly trees lining the sidewalk than the fairly inexpert tags. In these industrial zones, trees are scarce, and often fall victim to the hustle and bustle of getting things done. In this sort of area, the DEP and FDNY have to erect bollards around their fire hydrants to vouchsafe them from getting knocked over or down, and you’ll often notice utility poles which have had huge swaths carved out of them by careless truckers moving multi ton loads about. Stop signs and lamp posts are regularly snapped off their stanchions as well.

As I tell the people who have just discovered Newtown Creek – all the time – be careful, it’s easy to get dead around here if you don’t know the lay of the land. Luckily, I’ve been obliged to sit through literally days of the safety training which the “union guys” get in order to legally enter job sites and facilities with the camera, and I “sprech the deutch” of their acculturations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the Long Island Expressway in the upper left, and it’s been towering over Borden Avenue in LIC since 1939. The LIE rises from ground level at Greenpoint Avenue all the way to 106 feet over the waters of Newtown Creek’s nearby Dutch Kills tributary before beginning its descent into the Queens Midtown Tunnel in Hunters Point. I refer to the zone underneath the LIE as “the empty corridor,” but there’s actually quite a lot going on down here.

More from the empty corridor tomorrow, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

brushed boldly

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Industrial zones and pandemics, a natural combination.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The long walks I take often end up taking me to lonely and deserted places wherein the only other inhabitants of the local vicinity are the drivers and passengers of passing motor vehicles. Now, more than ever, my footfalls lead me and the camera to uninhabited places. There’s a section of Long Island City, west of Sunnyside and north of Blissville, which I’ve always found visually interesting. The land slopes down towards the Dutch Kills Tributary of Newtown Creek, affording one interesting views and an easy perambulation. You’ve always got a real sense of vulnerability here, but intellectually know that at any given moment you’re on half a dozen CCTV security cameras and that there’s a sleep deprived night watchman watching you and hoping that they don’t have to get up and yell at you to stop doing something they are supposed to police. I never trespass, and graffiti ain’t my bag, so…

This section of LIC is interesting in terms of the utilitarian architecture encountered here, some of which is actually quite fetching, but I like a good warehouse or factory.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is a nicely maintained structure found at the corner of 48th Avenue and 34th street, which is currently on sale – based on the Realtor’s banner signage hung on its wall. The 4 story building sits in an M2 industrial zone, hosts 141,000 square feet within its walls, and was erected in 1926 (altered and upgraded in 2013). A little detective work reveals that prior to the renaming of streets and avenues in Queens – and LIC in particular – back in the first half of the 20th century (which happened twice, and is very confusing) 48th Avenue was called “Anable Avenue” and that the factory pictured above was the home of the Morganite Brush Company. Here’s one of their advertisements.

Apparently, Morganite Brush (they’re still around, but call themselves Morgan Advanced Materials these days, and seem to do business from the American South East) manufactured electrical components called “carbon brushes” here. Not wanting to research and write a dissertation on carbon brushes, a quick call to my pal Hank the Elevator guy reveals that “it’s a moving component that supplies voltage to motors” and that he replaces a lot of brushes in the elevator motors he maintains as part of his daily round. Suddenly, the existing modern day profusion of elevator industry supply warehouses and maintenance companies in this section of LIC makes all the sense in the world to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, one wasn’t really thinking about a destination and was just following the direction which my toes were pointing towards, while trying to consciously stop myself from wandering anywhere close to congregations of the humans. As is always the case with me, I’d eventually end up at Newtown Creek or one of its tributaries on this particular walk, which you’ve probably guessed by now. Along the way, photos were gathered.

One thing which has really taken my notice is how clean the sidewalks and gutters have become with all of us sequestered away in our hidey holes. Have to figure that the rats and pigeons must be wondering where all the free food has gone.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 23, 2020 at 11:00 am

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