The Newtown Pentacle

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scuttling along the Schuylkill River trail in Philadelphia, my extensive shot list included the two bridges pictured above. The smaller one, which passes under the larger specimen, is called the West River Drive Bridge, and the larger one above is the Spring Garden Bridge.

I found this section, which adjoins the Philadelphia Museum of Art, quite visually intriguing. It might have been the hunger and thirst, however. I had left HQ in Astoria before dark, boarded an Amtrak and travelled to Philadelphia where I encountered a quite warm morning, and started getting busy by about 8 a.m. The last drops of my Gatorade bottle were swallowed by 10.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Regardless, a fellow suffers for his art. This heavily oxidized span over the Schuylkill River is – as mentioned above – the West River Drive Bridge and it’s one year older than I am, having been built in 1966. West River Drive has subsequently been renamed as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive but the bridge is still identified by its original name.

The West River Drive Bridge is 701.1 feet long, and 36.1 feet wide, constructed of steel girder and concrete, and it’s supported by two piers. It carries local traffic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Above it is the Spring Garden Street Bridge, which carries highway bound traffic over first railroad tracks, then the Schuylkill River, and then Schuylkill Expressway. This is the 4th bridge to stand at this spot, with the first one being an all wooden 1812 giant called “The Colossus” which burned away in 1838.

I found the interplay between the two structures – as mentioned above – very interesting visually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things which caught my eye was the presence of big chunks of lumber and driftwood that had managed to jam themselves into the arrangement. This was still a part of the Philadelphia section of Schuylkill River Trail, incidentally. The River itself flows all the way down from Pottsville in the north, eventually joining into the Delaware River to the south. The trail, apparently, will one day stretch from the Delaware River in Philadelphia to Pottsville.

I was continually reminded of the central role that Philadelphia played in the formation of this country, from a civil engineering point of view, on this walk. Of course, when the Erie Canal opened in 1817, the East Coast crown of mercantile and financial dominance was seized by NYC and the slow decline in “importance” of both Boston and Philadelphia began. This is something that didn’t really become apparent until the decades after the Civil War, of course. If you were taking bets in 1800 on which one of the three would end up becoming the dominar “best in class” on the East Coast, NYC would have been a long shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They really must get some crazy floods moving through here during storms and springtime thaws to deposit huge logs like those onto the bridges. Wow.

My ambitious shot list began to look more and more impossible by this particular moment, and all I could think about was finding a place to sit down for an hour and eat a meal while drinking gallons of water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that, the shot list had one more Schuylkill River destination on it – the Fairmount Water Works – that I needed to handle. They’ve got a 19th century dam/fish ladder here, and there was no damn way I’d miss that, lords and ladies.

More next week, from Philadelphia, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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April 29, 2022 at 11:00 am

longer known

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One enjoyed a momentary sit down for a couple of minutes after the CSX train passed me by, along the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia. I guess that I’m an Internet troll, as this photo was captured from under a bridge…

The point of view is looking (presumptively) south at the path we’ve explored over the last few posts, with the JFK Blvd. bridge, the Market Street Bridge, and a bit of the Walnut Street Bridge peeking through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The stout masonry bridge which I was taking five under is a railroad bridge, which I understand to be called the SEPTA Schuylkill River Bridge. It carries four sets of tracks into 30th street Station. SEPTA is Philly’s MTA – the South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. The bridge, I’m told, is 385 feet long and 125 feet wide.

Apparently, this span is part of something called the “Center City Commuter Connection.” The history of this bridge is somewhat obscured by several urban renewal projects, but I’ve found a source or two that dates the structure to July of 1903.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Heading north (presumptively) and the sky began to noticeably darken while the wind was picking up speed. Whereas there had been occasional gusts all morning, the wind had now grown steady and in some moments – quite blustery. The forecast had indicated rain for later in the day, but things began to look dire a bit earlier than the prediction indicated.

This section of the Schuylkill River is a bit wider than the one which I had been walking along all morning. It had to be “lunchtime” by now, and a humble narrator had long ago consumed any liquids purchased at 7:30 a.m. when I had arrived in Philadelphia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Vine Street Expressway Bridge, pictured above. Built in 1959, and rehabilitated in 1989, Vine Street carries Interstate 676/US 30. It’s fairly huge, with a total length of 887.2 feet and a width of 83 feet. There are three steel spans which are supported by 2 piers.

Highway traffic is fed onto the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), and onto local streets at JFK Boulevard at 30th street. It carries about 60,000 vehicle trips annually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As far as that ambitious shot list I had scribbled down, I was about an hour behind my extremely optimistic schedule at this point. I was also extremely thirsty and getting quite peckish for a bit of luncheon. Luckily, I always have a pack of gum with me. The gum helped the “spit start flowing” and the peppermint flavoring of the stuff ameliorated the desire for sustenance.

Saying that, I had accomplished most of the Schuylkill section of my list, but I wasn’t done yet. I happened upon another opportune spot to have a quick sit down as I continued heading north.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While sitting down, I soon realized that this seemed to be one of those urban areas where sensitive young men meet to discuss art and jazz with each other, in a somewhat private setting, not unlike the rambles section of Central Park. Being an insensitive old man, I got back to walking along the waterfront. To each his own I always opine. Mazel tov.

North, ever north (I think) scuttled a humble narrator through the city of Brotherly Love, and I now understood why they call it that.


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April 28, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Philadelphia’s Market Street Bridge, in its modern or fifth incarnation, is pictured above. Leading directly to 30th Street Station, Market Street bridge was erected in 1932. It sports ornate masonry along its roadway, including four “Pennsy” eagle statues salvaged from New York City’s original Penn Station. This November of 2021 post describing a previous visit to Philly – “Menacing Dreams” – shows what the scene looks like from above, rather than below, here on the Schuylkill River Trail.

The history associated with this crossing is fairly ancient for the United States, and includes a ferry which crossed the River as early as 1673.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, the pathway I was using here in Philadelphia – the Schuylkill River Trail – was very, very well used by the locals. As always seems to be the case with me these days, when people see the camera on the tripod they want to come over and talk cameras with me. Tell me what camera they have, or want, or ask about where they might sell some old equipment which they inherited from a dead relative. Find out what I think about the Sony vs. Canon ecosystems…

I try to be polite, but… c’mon… I’m obviously, and literally, focused in on what I’m doing… sheesh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To my understanding, there’s a subway tunnel under the water here leading into 30th Street Station’s innards. If I’m reading things correctly, it’s in between the John F. Kennedy Boulevard Bridge (left) and Market Street Bridge (right). Called the Market Frankfort Line Tunnel, it carries local subway and streetcar traffic of Philly’s SEPTA and PATCO transit operations into the intermodal sections of the rail facility. Grain of salt on the location, btw, as mentioned – I’m a tourist here, not an expert.

Of course, when the shutter was open for the shot above… that’s when I heard the jingle jangle of an approaching railroad train behind me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had to quickly “rekajigger” the camera from “dreamy landscape” to fast motion capture modality, but managed to do so before the freight train got to me. It was a CSX freight unit.

Funnily enough, since the camera was firmly affixed to the tripod and that fence in the shot above was at least five feet high, I just hoisted the thing above my head with the swing out screen pointing down. Clumsy, but effective. Click, click, click.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Conrail came into existence in 1976 at the behest of the Federal Government, which combined the bankrupt (private capital, publicly traded) but strategically and macro economically important holdings and routes of the Penn Central and Erie Lackawanna outfits (amongst others) under a single management team. Conrail became profitable by the middle 1980’s, and in the northeastern USA, two privately held companies – CSX and Norfolk Southern – ended up absorbing the Conrail property and stock (42% and 58%, respectively). Conrail is still around, and owns a significant amount of rail tracks which they perform “maintenance of way” work on.

CSX operates 21,000 miles of track all by itself. Its business ranges from Canada’s Ontario and Quebec, and all over the eastern coast of the United States – including servicing the Atlantic and Gulf coastal ports, as well as the Great Lakes, Mississippi River, and the St. Lawrence Seaway. CSX is what is referred to as a “Class 1 railway.” They do freight, not passenger. A Fortune 500 company, CSX’s total assets are worth (as of 2018) $12.25 Billion in Shareholder’s equity, and CSX has a portfolio of assets which is worth $36.729 Billion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

CSX engine no. 104 was pulling this train along these tracks by the Schuylkill River. Built by General Electric Transportation Systems sometime between 1993 and 2004, the model GE AC4400CW’s manufactured during that interval generate 4,400 horsepower of motive force. A diesel electric locomotive, some 2,834 of them were produced for CSX and other freight operators including Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific, Ferromex, and Cerrojón, and others.

Choo Choo! More tomorrow, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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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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April 27, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Philadelphia has its fair share of sapphire blue glass rhombuses which thrust rudely at the heavens, in the manner of the Tower of Babel, but NYC has them beat on soulless architecture. Back during the “Let’s Deck over the Sunnyside Yards and build affordable housing days” of De Blasio’s first term (before he practically bankrupted the City), the powers that be opined that a humble narrator was overstating the sort of structures that would be built onto the deck, and that it would be an economic “positive” for Queens. They claimed nothing more than six stories would be built east of Queens Plaza. I said “bullshit.”

In Philadelphia, where a very similar to Sunnyside Yards section of the Schuylkill Rail Yards adjoining 30th street station was decked, their municipality helped the developers of the 29 story Cira Center, pictured above, get the rhombus built by bending city zoning rules and clever machinations. Tenants, and especially the developers, are exempted from nearly all local and state taxes, as it’s part of a Federal “Keystone Opportunity Zone,” built on Amtrak land. The developers attracted tenants away from other office towers in Philadelphia, where they paid taxes and which are now vacant, with the “not taxed” bit.

So, as far as all the promises that NYC’s City Hall and the NYC EDC made about the economic benefits of NYC borrowing $54 Billion in your name to deck the Sunnyside Yards, and how they’d recoup the investment in property tax and associated economic activity… I told you so. There’s four easy words for you to remember – “Mitch is always right.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My train ticket to Philadelphia was $18. Northeast Corridor service on Amtrak from Moynihan/Penn Station runs frequently, and the trip takes about 90 minutes. I left NYC at 6 a.m., and hit the ground running in Philadelphia at 7:30 a.m., after grabbing a cup of coffee at a Dunkin Donuts inside of 30th street station. One thing about life as a New Yorker is that you seldom have to worry about finding somebody willing to sell you a bottle of water, or some sugar water beverage, given that we have delis and bodegas everywhere. I discovered that this isn’t the case in Philadelphia.

As mentioned yesterday, it was a fairly warm day for early March. I wasn’t “plotzing” or anything, but they also don’t seem to have hot dog carts or old spanish speaking entrepreneurs with coolers full of ice cold water bottles here either. They do have lots and lots of junkies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In trips to both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, one observed significant populations of “opioid epidemic” junkies. The reason they call it an epidemic, and the Government types have responded sympathetically to them, is because these folks are generally Caucasians rather than Blacks or Spaniards. Forty years ago, when the latter two groups saw large numbers of their cohort get snared by Crack, it was referred to as a “plague” and America declared a “War on Drugs,” beginning a period of mass incarceration in response to out of control violent crime. That’s not “Critical Race Theory,” I would point out, it’s simply true – according to this “cholo blanco.”

The peril all of these ethnic combinations have in common, however, is drug addiction. The moderns started out on pain pills, then graduated to the needle. Most of the ones whom I interacted with were what I refer to as “professional junkies.” Given how much time I spend on the streets, it is not at all abnormal for these folks to approach and panhandle me. Thing about professional junkies, though, is to keep your guard up. If they see an opening to do a push and grab, they’ll take it. Even by 1980’s Crack era NYC standards, there were a LOT of people living rough in Philadelphia. Saw them everywhere I went.

They’ve got a real problem with this in Pennsylvania, one that I can’t offer an answer for. You can’t fix a junkie, and locking them up doesn’t accomplish anything other than costing the taxpayer at least a quarter million a head per annum.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Chestnut Street Bridge. I like infrastructure better than the people it serves, as people are messy and complicated. See above.

The first bridge on this spot was erected in 1861. It was made of cast iron, and designed by an engineer named Strickland Kneass. The granite piers are original to the 1861 span, but the modern day bridge deck and trusses were installed in 1957, during the construction of the Schuylkill Expressway on the presumptive west side of the river.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The completion of a rehabilitation project for the bridge, handling age related structural deficiencies, and repaving/redesigning the travel lanes, was stalled by Covid. Construction activity was ongoing during my visit on March 7th of 2022, and was going to be theoretically finished by the end of March. Don’t know if it’s done or not, and I’ll find out next time I’m in the neighborhood.

Chestnut Street Bridge is some 371 feet long, with a width of 44 feet, and provides 27 feet of clearance over the Schuylkill River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another 1959 vintage truss bridge, refurbished in 2009, is the John F. Kennedy Boulevard Bridge. Carrying three lanes of vehicle traffic, and two very wide sidewalks, it overflies a set of CSX freight rail tracks and the Schuylkill River. It’s 47.9 feet wide, and 487.9 feet long. Up top, it’s a primary approach to 30th Street Station for vehicles.

More tomorrow.


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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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April 26, 2022 at 11:00 am

centuries came

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned last week, a humble narrator boarded an Amtrak train for a day trip to Philadelphia with an ambitiously drawn up shot list. My plan for the day involved a granular series of photos of several of the Schuylkill River bridges, with an eventual sunset destination at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge along the Delaware River.

My usual habit of remote scouting, using Google Maps to plan my shot list, was utilized and I found myself acuttling around in the City of Brotherly Love on the 7th of March, in 2022. The weather was warm (middle 60’s – low 70’s) and somewhat humid. The forecast for the day was a bit ominous, with a line of rain and storms meant to impact the area in the late afternoon or early evening. I was glad that I had worn a cotton sweatshirt rather than the fleece one that the calendar normally indicates, and had left the filthy black raincoat back in Queens. I had my full kit with me, including an umbrella, and arrived in Philadelphia just after 7:30 a.m. I got to work early.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After visiting the power plant discussed in last Friday’s post, my next stop was at the South Street Bridge over the Schuylkill River.

Pictured is the 2010 version of the span, which replaced a 1920 bridge that was coming apart at its seams. As mentioned in earlier posts, my plan was to exploit the Schuylkill River Trail for photographic pursuit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As part of the South Street Bridge reconstruction, the City of Philadelphia also created a “boardwalk” connected to the bridge project. Apparently, some sort of Federal Economic Stimulus money was applied to the creation of this pathway. Long ramps carry pedestrians and bicyclists from the streets above down to the waterfront.

I was shooting this series of photos all “artsy fartsy” with a filter that acts in the manner of sunglasses and cuts the light down to nocturnal levels. That’s why you’re not seeing the multitudes of people that I saw with my eyes, as they’d have to be standing stick still for at least thirty seconds to appear as anything other than misty ghosts and blurred shadows.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The boardwalk continued northwards – or at least I think it was north. Also as mentioned in a prior post, I really had no sense of direction regarding the cardinal meridians here. In NYC, I can tell you exactly which direction is which, based on a few landmarks – the Empire State Building and the like – but geospatial awareness is something that develops with experience and this was a day trip, after all.

I can tell you, however, that this boardwalk was an absolute magnet for the population of the surrounding neighborhoods. Moms with kids, dog walkers, people eating breakfast or just having a stroll. There was a cool vibe in the air, no doubt due to this being a warm and bright – if somewhat overcast – day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Philadelphia seems to have several sections which would qualify as “downtown,” although for some dopey reason they call their downtown “Center City.” They should really bring in consultants from New York City when they’re naming things hereabouts. This shot is looking up the Schuylkill River in a direction I’d posit as being north, towards 30th street station.

I’m told that this “zone” is where the gentrification forges are constantly billowing locally grown fire and artisanal smoke. Nearby, and to the left/presumptive west, in the shot above, is a section of the city referred to as “University City.” You’ll find the campus of the University of Pennsylvania there. The high speed road on the left side of the shot is the Schuylkill Expressway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My next subject was the Walnut Street Bridge. The masonry piers are original to an 1883 crossing which was demolished in 1988. The three modern day truss bridge segments carry two motor vehicle, two pedestrian, and a singular bike travel lanes (bike was added during a retrofit of the span in 2012). The modern bridge opened in 1990. It’s 60 feet wide and with its approaches some 2,408.3 feet long.

More tomorrow…


“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

April 25, 2022 at 11:00 am

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