The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

desert quarried

with one comment


– 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.

“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 for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 26, 2022 at 11:00 am

One Response

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  1. All bridges are interesting. Thank you for celebrating the humble river bridges.


    April 26, 2022 at 1:20 pm

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