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mere nerves

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One in the chamber, safety off, that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

How I love watching the humans dance. The jockeying for position, the desire to be recognized and loved by their “betters”… their sincere belief that you can reason with the unreasonable and make lemonade when life gives you lemons. Trying to make the best of a bad situation? Seeking to find common ground with somebody who wants to kill or replace you? Is the knife at your throat clean at least?

Maybe there’s still too much Brooklyn in me, but when someone tries to hurt me I hurt them first, and in a way that they will remember. Maybe there’s too much inheritance in me from the side of my family descended from the Jews of Russia, but when the Cossacks arrive you can either make them disappear and send riderless horses back to the barracks or they will make you disappear. They were sent to harm you, and no amount of talking to the Cossacks will bring them over to your side. They will cut your head off and play polo with it in the village square, then rape your mother. You mean nothing to Cossacks, employed as they are by a foreign despot, and they will make a game out of destroying you and yours for their own advantage in the eyes of their god king.

When the Cossacks come and announce they want to deck over the Sunnyside Yards, you fight them. End of parable.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is continually dismayed by those who dismiss the memories of the last hundred encounters with the Cossacks, thinking that since there’s a new Tsar on the throne that this time things will go differently. Mounted Calvary soldiers sent by a despotic regime to visit distant peasant villages seldom arrive bearing either gifts or good news. Neither do real estate industrial complex employed governmental development teams have the best interests of long established communities in mind when they announce the desire to construct mega projects.

As a note, the Sunnyside Yards people have been walking this project around in Manhattan. A group of architecture students I met, who were taking a theoretical stab at the project, included a kid from China who commented to me that “this project would be so easy to do in Beijing, since you wouldn’t have to worry about community sentiment or input.”

Cossacks. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Have you noticed how much the city planners seem to hate cities?

They abhor the chaos, the organic growth, the unpredictability of it all. They want to create shopping mall corridors instead of streets, lined with neat panes of glass. They are Cossacks, who pine for depostism.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 5, 2019 at 2:30 pm

alienists were

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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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spreading crypts

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The other way!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the newly reopened Broadway stop on the Astoria line N/W elevated. I spent all week describing a walk heading northwards along 31st street towards Astoria Blvd., so I decided to do one today describing the walk southwards from Broadway towards Northern Blvd., just in the name of completeness. The station has been rebuilt and reimagined, as one of the new “Enhanced Stations,” by Governor Cuomo, who does and does not run the MTA with an iron fist. It’s the Dark Prince of Albany who decides on when and if he’s in charge, so ask him if today is one of those days.

The enhanced stations bring some amenities to the table like station wifi and new security cameras, and Broadway in particular has seen a new exit only stair way (no fare control) installed which really has been a game changer in terms of expediting exiting of the facility. The big change, most noticeable from the street, has been the amount of new lighting systems installed, which has really altered the “feel” of the corner.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of the 31st street corridor lives in perennial and centuried shadow, and even during the day, it’s dark. The street lamps are generally miniatures, with smaller than normal luminaire heads sitting on midget sized poles directly over the parking lane except at the intersections. There’s no lighting system in the middle of the street, suspended from the trackage, which lends an ominous “noir” to 31st street.

Personally speaking, given my proclivity towards darkness and skillful street camouflage born of living in 1980’s NYC, such lack of ambience holds no terror. Were I a lady or looked like I had money in my pockets, however, I’d likely be clutching my pearls while walking down this street given the lack of street life and darkness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lighting schemes of the new stations spurt ambience all over the place. That’s the 36th avenue stop in the shot above, if you’re curious. It’s one of the “angles between neighborhoods” spots here in Western Queens, with LIC’s Dutch Kills and Ravenswood neighborhoods found to the south and west of 31st street and the “Astoria/Not Astoria” triangular shaped neighborhood between 34th avenue and Northern Blvd. to the east and slightly north. It’s also one of those interesting spots in Queens where you’ve got a soft geographic boundary between two wildly different ethnic populations, mostly Pakistani and extremely religious Muslims to the west and Brazilians to the east. There’s lots of other people mixed in there, of course, but dominant population groupings are what makes a neighborhood distinctive.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The remnants of “mixed use” industrial zoning can be observed on the dark parts of 31st street as you proceed south, but these buildings and businesses are doomed by the aspirations of the affordable housing crowd and the Real Estate Industrial Complex. It’s already started, there’s more than a few of these old warehouse and factory buildings which have been demolished to make way for cookie cutter glass box residential buildings. In the distance, you can see the high rise residential buildings of Queens Plaza and “next big thing LIC” rising alongside the boundaries of the Sunnyside Yards.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nearing 39th avenue, where another of the enhanced stations is nearing completion, and the luminance of said station making a real difference in the “feel” of the street. Across the street from where this shot was taken is a Coptic Christian church and pastorate house which serves a mostly Egyptian community, or so I’m told. A large group of apparnetly Egyptian men were gathered in front of a new Dunkin Donuts on the corner of 39th, drinking take away coffee in paper cups and smoking cigarettes while debating something in their native tongue.

It was growing colder by the minute, and I decided it was time to start winding up my “constitutional” and head back home to Broadway in the 40’s via Northern Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Progress? One still wonders about the lack of street life, storefront businesses, and ambient light on 31st street. It’s a traffic thoroughfare ultimately – 31st street – connecting Queens Plaza with the Grand Central Parkway and Triborough Bridge in its 20th century incarnation. There are, in fact, homes and businesses along its route, but personally I wouldn’t want to live along it. One thing I haven’t mentioned, whether in this series of posts or the ones from a couple of weeks ago describing Roosevelt Avenue and the streets of the Flushing Line corridor, is noise. Train noise, specifically.

Famously, I’m always listening to something on my headphones while out on my little jaunts, and when the train is passing overhead the noise overwhelms the speakers which are plugged directly into my ears. Can’t imagine what it’s like living next to those tracks, it must be hellacious.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 1, 2019 at 11:00 am

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

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