The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Blissville’ Category

nail biting

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A bit of Newtown Creek “now and then,” in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been at work on several subjects regarding that fabulously decadent cataract of Municpal neglect known to all as the Newtown Creek. It’s kind of big picture stuff, which requires a “long tail” of research on and about certain industries. You can’t understand something modern unless you understand its past, I always say.

For example – If I want to describe the Brooklyn Union Gas Manufactured Gas plant on Newtown Creek in Greenpoint (which is now the National Grid LNG plant on Varick), I need to possess an at least topical amount of knowledge regarding the history and technology of the 19th century Manufactured Gas Industry in New York City.

Actually, that’s not an example, it’s precisely the thing I’ve been working on – to develop an understanding of. Manufactured Gas Plants – or MGP’s as they’re known in the environmental community.

Harper_s_Weekly_hp001a_S_

– from Harper’s Weekly, August 6th, 1881 (courtesy google books)

This sort of research always turns up a few surprises, and for an area like Newtown Creek – which is of truly national importance in the story of the second industrial revolution, but for which scant historical visual documentation exists – it’s sometimes pretty interesting. Harper’s Weekly was on quite a tear about my beloved Creek back in the summer of 1881, and presented a few illustrations of “the horror” interspersed with texts describing the oil drenched mud and stinking waters of Newtown Creek.

Here’s my speculation as to what I think we are seeing in these drawings. Educated guesses, btw., that’s all.

Nowadays, the outline of Newtown Creek barely resembles what it looked like back in 1881 – there used to be a couple of islands in the Maspeth Creek/Turning Basin area for instance – but there are few historical constancies with which you can reckon location around the creek when old photos or even illustrations are presented. The LIRR tracks are one of them, and another is the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road.

In the shot above, that pile of piles on the shoreline in the center of the shot? The smokestacks on the far shore? The gas holder tanks on the horizon?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I think that the illustrator was sitting right about where I was last winter, at the shoreline intersection of industrial Maspeth’s 58th road with Newtown Creek, looking south west towards Greenpoint’s National Grid LNG site with the ruins of the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road directly in front of me.

Harper_s_Weekly_hp001b_S_

– from Harper’s Weekly, August 6th, 1881 (courtesy google books)

The view above has railroad tracks in it, ones which follow a certain curve, one that has remained fundamentally the same since the LIRR laid them down in the late 1860’s. The tall smokestacks at the left of the shot are likely those of Phelps Dodge. The ones off in the distance are probably the Haberman rendering plant. Calvary cemetery would be to your left, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the illustrator set up his tripod at Penny Bridge – which is the modern day spot that Review Avenue transmogrifies into Laurel Hill Blvd.

That would put the illustrators point of view somewhere on the eastern side of Blissville, looking eastward towards Maspeth.

photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m of the belief that this is the same shoreline seen in the left side of the shot above, although my photo was captured from out in the middle of the channel while onboard a boat. The masonry on the lower right – or Brooklyn side – of the shot is what’s left of old Penny Bridge, and the 1939 model Penny Bridge (Kosciuszcko) is right where that divot on the shoreline is in the 1881 illustration from Harper’s Weekly. Phelps Dodge would have been found on the east side of the Kosciuszcko Bridge, and their property included the gray building with the blue stripe (the modern day Restaurant Depot).

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

afar off

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The sky is stolen, so repent… or just rent…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cabal of entrepreneurs and bankers whom one has long referred to as the “real estate industrial complex” has been quite busy in the eastern side of Long Island City for the last few years. The sky has almost been entirely blotted out, and thousands of new apartment units constructed, usually atop brown fields and former industrial sites. This shot is from the Thompson Avenue Viaduct adjoining Court Square, and as you can see – this section of Queens has been recast in Manhattan’s image.

Unlike Manhattan, of course, there are no new hospital beds or any of the other things which you’d normally expect to find in an area being built up for a large residential population. Lately, the word “Brasilia” comes to mind when I’m walking around the modern corridor of LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned last week, rumors abound in LIC that the Real Estate Industrial complex is pushing for a rezoning of the industrial corridor that runs from the Pulaski Bridge to Greenpoint Avenue, between Newtown Creek and the Sunnyside Yards/Long Island Expressway. Spotted recently on the intersection of Greenpoint Avenue and the Long Island Expressway was the sign above. This signage indicates many things to me about the sort of people who are actually driving this train, who they are, and where the money behind it all is likely coming from.

Formerly, signage observed nailed to this utility pole has included the ubiquitous “Cash for Cars” and “Stop Bedbugs” illegal postings which plague western Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in Astoria, we still haven’t been lucky enough to receive much attention from these folks, which is good news. We can still see the sky, and when a rainbow appears over Jackson Heights to the east – it’s still a source of wonder for all the neighbors to marvel over.

Incidentally, conversation over the weekend with one of my cousins indicated that you can still find housing that is quite affordable in the Mill Basin/Canarsie area, and that the sky and sun haven’t been co-opted by co-ops.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Tuesday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. –
LICHenge, with Atlas Obscura and the
Hunters Point Park Conservancy. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
DUPBO Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 7, 2016 at 11:00 am

tourist parties

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Bottoming out in Blissville, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Saturday found me speaking at an early morning waterfront event in Astoria recently, which was followed by conducting a walking tour of the Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek in the late afternoon. Left with a gulf of time to fill between the two, I decided to spend it by walking from Astoria to Greenpoint via Blissville and checking in on what’s going on with the Kosciuszko Bridge project on the border of West Maspeth and the aforementioned Blissville section of Long Island City.

A bit of history trivia is offered – the Kosciuszko Bridge is built along the “legal” south eastern border of Long Island City and what was once known as “Newtown.” For the curious, the North Eastern border was more or less defined by Woodside Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The roadway ramps on the Queens side of the Kosciuszko Bridge project are now overflying Review/58th avenue and reaching towards Newtown Creek. The Kosciuszko Bridge project engineers have always said that the northern section of the project would lag behind the southern, or Brooklyn, side.

Longtime readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will report that I’ve been keeping track of things at the Kosciuszko Bridge, with this recent post being the latest report from the Brooklyn side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For a running history of Newtown Pentacle coverage on the subject – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Supposedly, I’m meant to be gaining some access to the actual worksite in Queens fairly soon, although the only thing keeping me from having walked the site is my own discretion. As far as “urban exploring” goes, this would be an easy conquest. Regardless, I’m looking forward to walking the site sometime in June.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To wit, a graffiti crew which decided to adorn the still under construction masonry of the new Brooklyn Queens Expressway ramps leading to the span. Another crew a little bit further north of here weren’t quite as colorful, and instead painted white swastikas on the brick masonry of the BQE on-ramps.

What you see above is not graffiti, incidentally, it’s time.

Time and opportunity. 

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 4, 11:00 a.m. -1:30 p.m. –
DUPBO: Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 3, 2016 at 11:00 am

and madness

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Calvary Cemetery in Blissville, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happened across this extraordinary monument over in Calvary Cemetery the other day. Depicting a weeping angel holding a bouquet of flowers, the top name on the stone is “Anna Genovese.” A bit of research was conducted on the name and year (1932), which unfortunately coincides with the second marriage of gangland leader Vito Genovese to a woman named Anna. Vito and Anna are actually in St. John Cemetery here in Queens, so this monument wasn’t erected in memory of Mrs. G.

It is a pretty Angel statue, however, and far enough away from the Newtown Creek side of Calvary to have largely escaped the acidic effluents of the Phelps Dodge refinery. The south eastern side of the cemetery exhibits stones which have the appearance of melting ice cream due to this effect. Granite is largely unaffected, of course, but Marble and Limestone alike exhibit pitting and decayed surfaces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One realizes that angels represent the beatific and divine to people, but the whole concept gives me the willies. Over the years, one has indulged in studying the belief systems and bestiaries of the major religions, and a particular study has been made of the lore surrounding the so called “sons of fire” commonly called “Angels” and “Demons.” The Angels are, after all, the demons of God. Like Demons, Angels have naught but contempt for the “sons of clay” known as Men.

As a note, according to the last Spider Man movie, the section of Calvary Cemetery pictured above is where you’ll find the grave of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This odd arrangement of branches had nothing to do with Angels, I’m sure. Likely it’s a grounds keeper who recently watched the Blair Witch Project movie.

My take on Angels actually angers the religious folk out there. When asserting that the greatest and most loyal of the Angels is actually Lucifer – the original version of the “fall” story wasn’t the medieval Aquinas telling of a rebel prince denying his feudal master – instead it involved a divine command, offered to the assembled host of Angels in Eden, to “love” the Adamic pair and their offspring as if they were the creator deity itself. The Angel Lucifer questioned how he and his brothers could love any as much as they loved God itself, and it was the act of reason and doubt which damned both he and the fallen.

Some early versions of the tale see Lucifer as actually volunteering to play the role of adversary, as his God deserved a better enemy than the primeval “opposite” entity called Satan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Angels are meant to be asexual, incidentally, but usually referred to with male pronouns. Not Hermaphoditic at all, the race of Angels are instead meant to display qualities common to both human sexes, but are thought to be entirely “smooth” downstairs. Of course, the idea of a winged humanoid is likely an oversimplification for describing an extra dimensional race capable of evading the Newtonian laws of thermodynamics. In occult circles, the theory that all the human mind is capable of, as far as interpreting and visualizing the totality of the “sons of fire,” is the form of a winged medieval knight. Same thing with the God entity, which is so totally alien that all we are capable of seeing is a “burning bush.” It’s literally beyond human cognition, the supranatural.

I know, pretty deep stuff for a Tuesday. Tomorrow – something more concrete, steely, and material.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 4, 11:00 a.m. -1:30 p.m. –
DUPBO: Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

unpleasant person

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No matter where I go, there I am.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been particularly verbose and vitriolic this week about subjects substantial, which indicates to those who know me that the proverbial process best described in “Brooklynese” as “gettin my shits togetha” has been underway for the last several weeks. The walking tours season has begun, and I’m planning a series of excursions for the year with Mai Armstrong and the various organizations we work with. Cross your fingers and thank the stars – as boat trips, walking tours, and all kinds of cool stuff are being planned. The Atlas Obscura tour listed below has already sold out, I’m afraid, but I’ve got a few pretty cool irons in the fire right now.

While we’re waiting to finalize things, Mai and I decided we might do a walk through Calvary Cemetery with a smaller than usual group, next weekend – probably Saturday. More on this one Monday, and I’ll have a link ready for those of you who might want to come along.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a few iconic Queens spots which will be hitting centennial anniversaries pretty soon, and I’m trying to figure out a few ways to commemorate that. Again, these things are on the stove’s back burners and simmering right now. A bizarre part of my thought processes, one which always befuddled and confused those unlucky enough to know me, is that I can take a project and tuck it away in my subconscious for processing while my waking mind concentrates on and handles other stuff like walking and laundry. Sometimes these simmering bits are utterly forgotten until I look through one of my notebooks and then – boom – it boils over and unfolds into something conscious and actionable.

Unfortunately, this “unfolding” often happens at 2:30 in the morning, which finds me huddled over the computer scratching away at a project as the sun is coming up. Lack of sleep is why my eyes often look and feel like they’ve been boiled.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Photography wise, there’s a few new locations and opportunities I’m interested in pursuing this summer, and many ongoing spots that I need to exert some real effort into continuing to document. Within the next two weeks, one plans to roam through the predominance of the municipality of Long Island City’s former borders, and do so with camera in hand. There’s night shots I want, places I’ve never been that I intend on visiting, and nothing – NOTHING – is going to stop me from getting to Aquarium in Coney Island this year. I’ve got boats to catch, trains to find…

It should all be a lot of fun, but it’s all still kind of depressing at the same time.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.
Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

black coat

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Back in session.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news about my recent two week break is that it allowed an interval in which a humble narrator could really drill down and focus in on how lousy a human being I am. Lots of 3 a.m. staring into the bathroom mirror, accompanied by vast introspection and self loathing, has been accomplished.

Unfortunately I didn’t get much done, in terms of getting “out” and doing my “thing” for a variety of reasons. A few Newtown Creek oriented meetings were attended, however. Notably, I was at one with some high ranking DEP officials at the sewer plant in Greenpoint, where presentations on the final stages of construction of that mammoth facility were offered (I also went to the Bronx Zoo, but that’s a different story).

It seems the Nature Walk phases two and three, which will create a corridor between Kingsland Avenue and the current entrance to the NCWWTP Nature Walk on Paidge, are slightly delayed but funded.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DEP reported to the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee – which I’m a member of – that “NCMC” (as it’s called), will continue to exist throughout these final stages of Nature Walk construction and that DEP has renewed the contract for our technical advisor and community liaison – a wonderful and quite clever guy named Steve Fleischacker. This is great news. The DEP then moved on to report on the “Waste to Energy” project they’re doing with National Grid.

The “Waste to Energy” thing, in a nutshell, boils down to DSNY collecting organic (food waste) garbage then delivering it to a waste management facility over at the tripartite border of Greenpoint, Ridgewood, and Bushwick for processing into a “macerated slurry.” This slurry will then be trucked over to the sewer plant, where one eighth of the total capacity of the sewer plant has been committed to the production of methane gas – which the National Grid people will incorporate into their system and then sell to their customers.

Of course, that’s when the lying started, but if you walk out of a meeting with DEP and they haven’t fibbed at least once – then you know something is really wrong. DEP claims that there will only be six truck trips a day between the Waste Management facility and their own, but didn’t count the DSNY truck trips through Greenpoint. When I asked them to define “truck,” they all started leaning in and whispering to each other, and finally admitted that by “truck” they’re mean a semi tractor trailer pulling a massive 50,000 plus gallon tank through mostly residential streets.

That’s for Month one of the “waste to energy” project, by month twelve, they anticipate doubling the number of truck trips. They also haven’t done the math on months thirteen to twenty four yet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DEP, which manages both the sweet (drinking) and tainted (sewerage) water systems for the megalopolis, is the very definition of the “permanent government.” There’s a hidden world of “lifers” and bureaucrats who actually run the agency, but the commissioner levels of management are directly tied to the political vagaries of NYC. In the last ten years, I’ve seen four executive teams come and go. They all make promises and commitments to the community, but when a new political order is decided on at City Hall and the Mayor moves someone new into the job – they are not obliged to honor the commitments of their forbears.

The DEP officials assured me that as long as the current Mayoral administration is in place, their promises are exactly that. For what DEP’s promises are worth and the realities of a “politics first” approach to municipal management, and an interesting look at the expediencies of City Hall – I suggest a read of this recent whistleblower NY Times article describing the “Water Tunnel #3” scandal.

Also, tour season is upon us again, so if you want to actually get a read on how repellant a human being I am in person – click the link below and come out to Greenpoint next Saturday for “Obscura Day.”

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

consequential consistencies

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It does seem to be Creek Week, doesn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In yesterday’s post, I told you about Deadman’s Curve in Maspeth, and we explored 57th avenue – the former “Creek Street.” The shot above looks eastwards towards Deadman’s Curve from the former Penny Bridge LIRR stop at Review Avenue. The water facing property is currently owned by John Quadrozzi Jr., who is a major land holder in the Red Hook and Gowanus areas. The property seems to be mainly used for storage and maintenance of heavy construction equipment these days.

As the name of the LIRR stop would imply, this is also the former location of Penny Bridge, which connected Brooklyn’s Meeker Avenue to Queens’s Review Avenue. Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church used to run a ferry service from Manhattan to Calvary Cemetery which docked nearby.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Review Avenue, the stretch of it that runs along Calvary Cemetery, is where the first large scale petroleum refinery in the United States was founded – Abraham Gesner’s North American Kerosene Gas Light Company, which would become first the New York Kerosene Gas Light Company and then be acquired by Charles Pratt and Standard Oil and rechristened it as the Queens County Oil Company. Queens County Oil’s bulkheads are the ones that the Blissville Seep oozes petroleum into Newtown Creek from.

If you follow Review to the west, you’ll find the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and a pair of roads which descend downhill on either side of it. They take you to, and from, Railroad Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The eastern side of railroad avenue was formerly the home of the Van Iderstine company, who had their own rail spur down here which was populated with Van Iderstine’s distinctive black tank cars. As the name of the street – Railroad Avenue – would imply, it’s all about the tracks down here and on the western side of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge you’ll find the LIRR’s Bliss Tower and Blissville Yard.

Welcome to DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Van Iderstine was a nightmare of a company, incidentally, or at least their occupation was. They were renderers, which means that pack animals, butcher scrap, rotten eggs, barrels of abattoir blood – even dead circus elephants – would be brought here to be broken down into components. What exited the factory was tallow.

Believe it or not, they weren’t the most ghastly operation along this stretch of the Lower Montauk tracks, just the smelliest. I can tell you stories about the yeast distilleries…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of smelly, the modern occupation of the Blissville Yard is garbage. That’s the Waste Managemnt garbage train you see above, which is shipped around and about by the New York and Atlantic freight line. NY&A services two Waste Managemnt facilities on the Creek – one here in Blissville and the other in Brooklyn’s East Williamsburg along Newtown Creek’s English Kills tributary.

Something like 30-40% of all of NYC’s putrescent (black bag) waste comes to Newtown Creek to be processed and shipped off in green boxes such as the ones above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Railroad Avenue is one of those cul-de-sac streets along the Creek where there’s only one entrance or exit and which – if you get in trouble or hurt, it’s going to be damned difficult to explain to the 911 operator where you are. At the west end of the street is Sims Metal Management’s Newtown Creek dock, on the east you’ll find Waste Management’s Green Asphalt works, the same company’s putrescent waste transfer station, and the Marlyn industrial park which hosts such luminaries as LeNoble Lumber and A&L Cesspool. Personally, I’d call Sims for help, as they’re closer than any hospital and I know a couple of guys who work there.

This is, incidentally, some of what you’ll find located between Review Avenue, the Lower Montauk tracks, Railroad Avenue, and Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Blissville Yard connects to the DB Cabin railroad bridge, which connects Blissville Yard to the Wheelspur and Hunters Point Yards in Hunters Point, and which crosses the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. There’s also a connection to the M Cabin bridge which leads to the abandoned Montauk Cutoff tracks and Sunnyside Yards.

Freight traffic on Newtown Creek heads east into Maspeth and to the Fresh Pond Yard, eventually meeting the switch to the New York Connecting Railroad through Woodside and Astoria, which leads to the Hell Gate Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Down towards the end of Railroad Avenue, one encountered this immolated automobile.

As mentioned multitudinous times, I cannot resist this sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This car wasn’t just burned up, it was thoroughly incinerated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the sort of stuff you’ll see on Railroad Avenue, here in DUGABO, in the Blissville section of Queens, along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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