The Newtown Pentacle

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grim castle

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Today is the Fête du Vodoun in the Republic of Benin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shlepping around Astoria one day, my footsteps found me over by Luyster Creek on the forbidden northern shore of Queens. The real estate shit flies have recently been getting pretty active nearby, with medium sized developments that absolutely do not have any connection to local elected officialdom’s blind trusts and out of office legal partnerships. That sort of thing could never happen in modern day NYC, after all. Dimly lit rooms have replaced the smoke filled ones, I’m told, as it’s now impolitique to smoke indoors. I don’t want to talk about any of that this week, however.

I came here for the boids. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another urban waterway in Queens which I describe as a “future superfund site,” Luyster Creek can also be referred to as Steinway Creek – as it adjoins the Steinway piano factory and once upon a time, old man Steinway used to have his mahogany delivered in log form via Bowery Bay and Long Island Sound by floating it into Luyster Creek lumberjack style. One wrote a profile of the waterway at my old Brownstoner Queens column a few years ago, click here for it.

To understand the modern incarnation of the waterway, let’s just say that these shots were captured from a spot at the end of Astoria’s 19th avenue and that I was standing on an open sewer leaking sewage overflow from the nearby Bowery Bay sewer plant. The shorelines on the western side are pretty much all Consolidated Edison property, but as you head north to where it meets Bowery Bay, you’ll encounter a couple of fuel depots on the eastern side. The water smells like bad cheese and goat poop.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite all that, it’s still one of the spots where migratory water birds like to hang out during the winter. The shallows seem to host a fairly abundant amount of whatever delicacies they prefer to quaff. I’ve never been sure where “Duck” ends and “Mallard” begins, but there’s a few of one or the other in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m fairly sure that these friggin things are Mute Swans, which as of quite recently (January 1st) are no longer targeted by Department of Environmental Conservation hit squads for being a specie termed “invasive.” The DEC hit squads are nothing to mess around with, incidentally. A team of hard men and and women with combat experience and the “thousand yard stare,” they recently exterminated a group of coyotes in this area with extreme prejudice.

I’ve heard accounts of that operation which sounded like something from a Charles Bronson movie.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 10, 2017 at 11:00 am

accident or evil

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Things I’ve seen, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One decided to take a walk through Hallets Point, or Astoria Point as the Real Estate Industrial Complex has christened it, recently. The fires of gentrification have been stoked on the forbidden northern coast of Queens, as you may have heard. My purpose behind this walk revolved around path finding the probable right of way for the proposed BQX street car system, which I find an interesting intellectual challenge – an Einsteinian “thought experiment” if you will.

As a note, I have nothing to do with the project – instead I’m just curious about how they’re going to “thread the needle” through parks and housing projects to make this particular dream of NYC’s oligarchs come true.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Upon arriving back in my neighborhood on the southern border of Astoria, one encountered another member of the growing population of “not homeless” types who enjoy an afternoon tipple and then a short nap on the public way. Nostradamus like, your humble narrator is, and my predictions that the toleration of a population of drunken bums by the 114th precinct along Broadway would begin to draw in others is playing out. At least one bank has had to hire a night time security guard to vouchsafe its ATM laden lobby against them, and the steps of the Broadway/Steinway library have become an open air camp site. I look forward to seeing these folks riding and urinating on the BQX.

This fellow is a regular, and commonly observed sleeping and or manipulating some body part found deep in his the pantaloons. This shot was captured on the corner of Steinway Street and Broadway, which can hardly be considered an out of the way location.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Me? I’ve been a bit too busy to care about the “bum” situation in Astoria for the last few weeks. Boat excursions, walking tours, a never ending series of meetings – all have been consuming my time.

Speaking of, I’ll be speaking early tomorrow at the Greater Astoria Historic Society for “Queens Waterfront” symposium they’re conducting with the Waterfront Alliance. This will be an all day affair, but I’ll only be there in the morning as I’ve got to conduct a tour of the Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek in the afternoon.

Come with? Ticketing link below.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, May 21st at 3:30 p.m. –
A Return to The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek,
with Atlas Obscura, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

Thursday, May 26th at 6 p.m. –
Brooklyn Waterfront: Past & Present Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 20, 2016 at 11:30 am

uncertain factors

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Wash out, man, wash out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You’ll recall that at the end of February, there was a Götterdämmerung of a rain storm, one which produced quite a bit of coastal flooding. I got a phone call the day after the storm that declared that the shoreline at Astoria Park had fallen victim to the event. This would be some storm, thought I, which could bring a wave of water up the 15-20 feet from Glass Beach at Hells Gate all the way up to Shore Road.

I had to go take a look. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From where Newtown Pentacle HQ is located, on Astoria’s Broaday in the 40’s, it’s only a small “schlep” to get to Astoria Park. In a car, it’ll take you around ten minutes, but only because of lights and traffic. It’s a 30 minute walk, or 45 if you lazily saunter.

Along the diagonal path, there’s a lot to see, and since Astoria rules… why not?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Shore Road is elevated some 15-20 feet over the East River shoreline at Hells Gate. The rocky beach down there is littered with jetsam, it would be flotsam if it was still suspended in the water column, and the smaller particles of jetsam are mixed in with the gravel and small stones with little bits of river polished glass – hence “Glass Beach.”

Regardless, one reiterates – that would have to be one HELL of a storm to bring the water all the way up to Shore Road from Hells Gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Observations were enacted, and there were two wash outs which had deposited a terrific amount of quite slippery mud onto both sidewalk and street. The trail of soil and vegetation led back uphill to Astoria Park itself, which actually jibed with what I thought to have been the case. It was the park that flooded during the heavy rains, and the river had not in fact risen. If the East River rose 20 feet, waves would be lapping away at Steinway Street’s intersection with Northern Blvd. and we’d be talking about the Sunnyside Yards lake.

Mayor de Blasio would, of course, call it the Sunnyside Yards lake and resort and announce his intentions to install waterfront affordable housing along Skillman Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Fairly obviously, the two mud and water flows emanated from the two Bridges over Astoria Park, which gathered the storm water and then fed it down their outfall pipes into and onto the soil in Astoria Park, which caused the “lahar” or slippery mud deposits which were observed on Shore Road.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

unknown respondent

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Sludge Boats, baby, Sludge Boats.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots are actually from the height of that shoulder injury period last month, and represent a desperate desire one acted upon to “shake it off” by indulging in a bit of exercise. The weather was less than cooperative from a light point of view, and the affected limb was less than pleased at the rest of my body moving around, so I decided that since I was in the “hell of pain” I’d simply head over to Hells Gate and indulge the horror.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily for my diversion starved and somewhat depressed state of mind, the MV Red Hook was observed while debarking from the Wards Island dewatering facility across the river. Wards Island is the end point for the sewage sludge process, which is operated by the NYC DEP. Centrifugal machines are fed the material, which has the consistency of syrup or warm honey at the end of the thickening process at the various neighborhood sewer plants, which is carried here by the DEP’s fleet of “Honey” or Sludge boats. The dewatered material is compressed into “cakes” and sold for use as fertilizer on non food crops such as cotton and Christmas Trees.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MV Red Hook is one of NYC’s older generation of Sludge Boats, although it’s the newest of its type – having come online in 2012. The newer class of Sludge Boats has been discussed here at Newtown Pentacle before.

from NYC.gov

The Red Hook sludge vessel was built over a three-year period in Brownsville, Texas by Keppel AmFELS. Once completed, it took seven days to make its way to New York City, arriving on November 19, 2008. The vessel has recently completed post-delivery dry-dock inspections and adjustments at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and is ready for service. Each six-person crew consists of a captain, chief engineer, assistant engineer, mate and two mariners. Crews work a 40-hour week divided into 14, 13, and 13 hour shifts. The Red Hook is slightly over 350 feet long, about 53 feet wide, with a depth of slightly over 21 feet. It has eight storage tanks with 150,000 cubic foot capacity equivalent to 1.2 million gallons. The Red Hook weighs over 2,098 long tons and is designed to travel at 12.75 knots or approximately 15 miles per hour. On a typical week, each vessel makes 14 round trips and visits eight wastewater treatment plants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All of the DEP’s honey boats will find themselves heading to or from Wards Island periodically, after making their rounds at one of the City’s 14 sewer plants. Hells Gate is a great place to spot them, and Shore Road along Astoria Park is a great place to observe Hells Gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are many who would agree with me, in my assertion that the view from Shore Road rocks.

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known specie

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The Forbidden Northern Coast of Queens, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s Luyster, or Steinway, Creek in the shot above. The Steinway factory adjoins the waterway on its eastern side and legend has it that the piano manufacturer used to bring in logs of Mahogany and other hard woods from Long Island Sound via the Creek. On the western side, on a former manufactured gas plant’s grounds, is a Con Ed facility which hosts the shuttered Politi Power Plant.

I call the northern coast of Queens forbidden, because it is. A security cordon controls the shoreline pretty much from the East River to Flushing Bay – there’s power plants, sewer plants, Rikers Island, LaGuardia Airport – about five miles of forbidden waterfront which the general public is encouraged to avoid.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is the case with my beloved Creek on the somewhat forbidden Southern coast of Queens, the waterfront is largely the property of private companies and governmental agencies. Another similarity to Newtown Creek is pollution, as Luyster Creek is blessed with open sewers like the one illustrated above.

Street gravy runs directly into the water, carrying trash and all sorts of horror along with it. You can actually feel your liver swelling up when standing on this spot, which is directly over the sewer outfall.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You might recall that a group of teenagers died here at Luyster Creek last year, when they drove off of Queens and into the water at a rather high rate of speed. There’s lots of memorial graffiti scribe on all the concrete bits, and somebody erected this cruciform memorial to their memory.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the corner of Astoria Blvd. and Steinway Street, this unfortunately named hookah lounge was noticed. The lounge was open for quite a while before “Isis” became associated with beheadings and such, and I kind of feel sorry for the owners who must deal with crap all the time because of the name. Isis was, of course, an Egyptian goddess – and an analogue for what would evolve into the Christian “Mary.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering continued through sunset, around the forbidden north coast, and one found himself in “Astoria, Astoria.” That’s how we refer to this still largely Greek and Italian section found north of Astoria Blvd. over on the southern borders of the neighborhood (Broadway etc.) where Newtown Pentacle HQ is found. The whole section is framed by the concrete arches of the New York Connecting Railroad, which leads to the Hell Gate Bridge over at Astoria Park. Western Queens is all about the rail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle was with me on this longish walk, and her roadway interfaces – she calls them her feet – were growing tender from the efforts. At 31st street, it was decided to hire a taxi to carry us the short distance back to HQ, where Zuzu the dog anxiously awaited.

On our return, of course, it was time for another walk – but what happened on that one… that’s between me and the dog. Zuzu is notoriously tight lipped (tight flewed, actually) and insists that her activities be kept quiet.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

to assent

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Take a breath every now and then. Shhh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My beloved Astoria can kick up quite a racket, which is my primary complaint at the moment. The not so accurate decibel meter on my phone tells me that the zone around my house is subsumed by a constant din of 60-70 decibels, which can amp up to as high as 80-95 on a regular basis. That’s just ambient noise, I’m not including the passing ambulance, fire engine, or police car in those calculations.

It’s enough to cause one to lose his last nerve, I tell you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sonic pollution is something that doesn’t seem to register with New Yorkers, and most folks try to “tune it out.” What can you do about it? “That business with the bank of refrigeration units in its yard was here before you were” was what one of my neighbors opined when we were having a “kvetch.” There’s actually a LOT that I can do about it, but I try not to use the relationships with environmental officialdom that I’ve got lightly.

Luckily, there’s always Astoria Park to escape to, but it’s actually pretty noisy there too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Seeking quiet, I walked over to Luyster Creek with a couple of friends recently and found this impromptu memorial. Set up to commemorate the death of those poor kids who drove into it a couple of months back, I see too much of this sort of thing all over the neighborhood. You’ll recall that a group of high schoolers met their end back here, when their vehicle left the road and the car landed in the drink.

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There’s two FREE Newtown Creek walking tours coming up.

Sunday, June 15th, DUPBO – Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
A FREE tour, courtesy of Green Shores NYC, click here for rsvp info

Sunday, June 21st, America’s Workshop
A FREE tour, courtesy of Green Shores NYC, click here for rsvp info

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 13, 2014 at 11:21 am

these conceptions

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A brief visit to the forbidden north coast of Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent obligations – involving a spate of home repairs demanded by Our Lady of the Pentacle – involved Hank the elevator guy, Our Lady, and myself making a journey over to the “Build it Green” warehouse found in Astoria on the forbidden northern coast of Queens. This is my personal nomen, incidentally, for the Bowery Bay and Flushing River side of the borough, which is largely occluded from the public space by industrial and municipal fence lines.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, for my Brownstoner column, I detailed a trip to Luyster Creek- which can be accessed here. One generally doesn’t come this way on the long perambulations for which I am known, as my interests generally draw me in the direction of the Newtown Creek. Also, I do not enjoy walking the camera around in the more residential sections of Queens as it draws certain attentions from the locals which can be… ahem… less than salubrious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Announced plans for the overdevelopment of this neighborhood by the Real Estate Industrial Complex, however, mean that I will be forced into spending some of my time this winter and spring recording the sights extant in this section. Wondering what I might find around the forbidden coast, or what might find me, keeps me awake at night.

Don’t tell the Creek, though, as she might think I’m cheating on her. It’s just the seven year itch, however.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 22, 2013 at 11:42 am

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