The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

familiar rookery

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It’s National Eat a Red Apple Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The holiday season arrives at Newtown Creek in a manner alien to the neighborhoods surrounding it.

Hereabouts it’s truck tires roasting on a open fire, and that ain’t Jack Frost nipping at your nose kiddo, it’s benzene. Reviewing my year end list of; all the mistakes I’ve newly made, people I’ve offended, stupid things I’ve said in public, or generally humiliated myself somehow – it occurred that I hadn’t checked in on things in DUKBO (Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp) in about a month.

That’s the scene, above, at the spot where Review Avenue transmogrifies into Laurel Hill Blvd. at Penny Bridge, in the Blissville section of Long Island City, in the Borough of Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long time readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will tell you that this bridge replacement project has been explored before.

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszcko 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 Kosciuszcko 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. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year. Here’s one from August of 2016the December 2016 one, one from March of 2017 which discusses the demolition of the 1939 bridge.

Here’s a post showing what I saw during a pre opening walk through in early April of 2017, and the fanfare surrounding the opening of half of the new bridge in April of 2017, a walk through of the Brooklyn side job site in June of 2017. Here’s some night shots from early July of 2017. A series of posts focused in on the removal of the central truss of the 1939 bridge from the summer of 2017 – a timelapse, some stills, and the barging out of the truss.

Most recently, in late September of 2017, a final series of shots of the old bridge were captured in this post. Acquisition of a souvenir chunk of steel from the 1939 bridge was described in this post, and a video of the “energetic felling” of the approaches on October 1st was offered in this one. Still shots and views of the aftermath from the waters of Newtown Creek from later in the day on Oct. 1 are found in this posting, and the aftermath of the demolition as seen from Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville section in this post from October 5th.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They’re still hard at work demolishing the rubble left behind by the “energetic felling” of the 1939 model Kosciuszcko Bridge at the start of October. These shots were captured from the hills of Calvary Cemetery, if you haven’t already figured that one out yet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reinforced concrete piers that carried the roadway are being demolished using traditional means. That involves the yellow thingamabob being equipped with a chisel hammer, and the guy on the orange lift is spraying water on the concrete to mitigate dust.

The shots of the Queens side of DUKBO in today’s post were shot on November 17th, a Friday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the following Sunday the 19th, a humble narrator scuttled over to the Poison Cauldron in Greenpoint.

That’s my pet name for the section of DUKBO that begins at Kingsland Avenue and heads east past Meeker Avenue to the National Grid fencelines at Lombardy Street. It’s ugly in the Poison Cauldron, I tell you, ugly. Things can’t “get from bad to worse” because they’re already there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Similar industrial demolition and scrap removal practices to those in Queens are also occurring on the Brooklyn side. Unlike the Queens side, however, I was able to walk right up to and on the job site. I even used one of the Porta Potties they had stationed to blow some internal ballast (hey, it’s a fairly long walk from Astoria).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is odd for me to see light in this spot… this was always an area permeated by shadows, which I now long for.

Additionally, not being chased, threatened, or harassed by the questionable managers of a local waste transfer station as to “whatchu takin pictchas of asshole, getdafukouttaherre” – said operation having been displaced by the construction activity – was not missed at all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The only thing going through my mind was that this scene looked like a battle had been fought here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m sure I’ll have a bit more to tell you about the Kosciuszcko Bridge shortly, as there’s supposed to be a meeting of the Stakeholders Committee coming up in early December.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was only so far I wanted to go, as this was and is an active demolition site.

Luckily, that’s what zoom lenses are for.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The things you see along the Newtown Creek…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

… if you don’t take pictures of them, nobody would believe you.

How can such a place be real, and that so few people even know it exists, this omphalos of New York City?


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

self styled

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It’s National Pickle Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A variety of obligations and impediments have caused one to come up short on content this week. As is my custom, accordingly, whilst a humble narrator is out perambulating about the great city seeking to ameliorate his shortcomings – single shots which I like for one reason or another will be presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

Pictured above – a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge as seen from the East River.

Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 14, 2017 at 11:00 am

quiet removal

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It’s National Boston Creme Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you want to know what the end of the world looks like, I can take you there. It’s about 3.8 miles from the East River, in an area of Brooklyn that is clearly Bushwick but which the real estate people refer to as East Williamburg. The end of the world is surrounded by heavy industry and waste transfer stations, and is crossed by a railroad bridge. It’s defined by a waterbody called English Kills, which is a dead end tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek.

Just last week, a visit was paid to this paradise of nihilism.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The open sewers are just one of the apocalyptic factors back here, as is the enormous waste transfer station operated by a transnational conglomerate that handles about a third of the black bag (or putrescent) garbage collected by the Department of Sanitation. There is virtually zero laminar flow to the water here, which means that the rising and falling of the tide is a vertical affair rather than a horizontal one, creating stinking shoals along the banks and allowing sediment mounds to rise from the channel. It often smells like rubber cement thinner along this stretch of English Kills, the waters are greasy, and they commonly exhibit an uncommon and unnatural coloration highlighted by patches of weird iridescence.

Men and women seem to become possessed by the spirit of the place, wildly dumping garbage into the shallows with a gleeful abandon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

References in the historical record refer to distinct periods in English Kills’ existential course. Once, a mostly fresh water stream fed by the springs and streams of a Bushwick that drew German beer Brewers to the area, which bled sweet water into the main body of Newtown Creek, just a decade after the American Civil War English Kills began to be described as the “industrial canals of Brooklyn.” By the time that the Army Corps of Engineers oversaw the WW1 era shaping of the Newtown Creek watershed into something we would recognize on a google map in modernity, English Kills had open pipes carrying industrial and chemical waste products into the water from acid factories and the other dirty industries surrounding it. The upland springs and steams which drew the brewers here were paved over or turned into sewers, and the only naturally occurring liquid entering the narrow channel afterwards was a tepid trickle of brackish East River water (which was itself terribly compromised) weakly pulsing in with the daily tide, or storm runoff from the streets.

Brooklyn legend suggests this area was used as a graveyard by mobsters, but that’s just a legend. Gangsters dump bodies into fast moving or oceanic water bodies like Jamaica Bay or the Hudson River. The idea is to get rid of the evidence, not to leave something incriminating in a place where it can be found.

Whatever enters English Kills stays in English Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The structure pictured above is the Montrose Avenue Railroad Bridge, part of the Bushwick Branch lead tracks of the Long Island Ralroad. The bridge, and adjacent fencelines, are covered in odd graffiti which is in English but drawn with characters that betray a runic influence. The screeds warn of witches and other mythological creatures.

This is what the end of the world looks like, if… like me… the borders of your world are defined and bisected by that lugubrious ribbon of urban neglect known as the Newtown Creek.


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Sunday, November 12th, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

secret societies

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It’s National Brandied Fruit Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another few weeks to go and then I get to become gods lonely man again, a situation which a humble cannot wait for this year. There’s been a couple of days in the last week wherein my “full armor” has been deployed, and a filthy black raincoat has been observed by the hard hats of Newtown Creek as it flaps about in the wind beyond their fences. The “me” who conducts the tours is by design a very nice fellow, generous with his time, and entirely mission oriented towards my portion of the Newtown Creek Alliance motto of “reveal, restore, revitalize.” I’m on the “reveal” side of things, incidentally. As far as the other two go, I’d advise you visit newtowncreekalliance.com and check out the various street end projects in Maspeth and Greenpoint being worked on my colleagues at NCA, as well as the very promising “North Henry Street project” and Living Dock. NCA is loosely affiliated with multiple organizations around the Newtown Creek watershed, sharing both members and goals.

One of those organizations is the frankly spectacular Smiling Hogshead Ranch on Skillman Avenue at Pearson Place in Long Island City. A community garden and urban farm, the Hogshead folks are presenting a Harvest Festival at their site tomorrow – Saturday the 21st – between noon and seven p.m. I’m going to conduct three short walks for them, free, starting at 2, 3:30, and 5 if you want to come along and meet the folks who turned a derelict set of rail tracks into a verdant green space with little more than the sweat of their brows.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One realizes that he is deluding himself about just being able to button up the raincoat and disappear into the miasmic air of the Newtown Creek for a while, since I’ve become fairly familiar to the folks who work around the creeklands and despite all of my best efforts to remain isolated from humanity… one will end up having to talk to them. Unfortunately, I have become… some how… garrulous and affable. This shakes my entire self image.

How the hell did this outsider end up being affable? Just the other day, one opined to “Our Lady of the Pentacle” that I have somehow become “approachable” in recent years. Used to be that when I walked into a shop, security would follow me around and old ladies would clutch at their purses out of shock and fear. I’d see some monster staring at me from across the room, and then while reaching out to touch its horrible countenance, suddenly realize that I was looking in a mirror and touching a pane of silvered glass. Our Lady informed that I’m old now, which makes me seem less “edgy” than formerly.

Saying that, a couple of rather inexpensive but recent additions to my camera bag have created new possibilities for night shooting, which is something I plan on doing a LOT of in the coming months of sepulchral darkness and cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Oh, to dance along the bulkheads again. Filthy black raincoat flapping in the wind, camera in hand, dodging trucks and trains. Recording the truth of our times in graphic narrative and garish color, and uncovering the tales of days gone by when clear eyed mariners plied the grease choked water in steam powered vessels. Poking my lens into the nooks and crannies of that lugubrious cataract of urban decay known as the Newtown Creek…


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm

no business

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It’s National Pasta Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before I offer a conspiracy theory in today’s post, lets instead start with a bit of NY Harbor trivia – the height of all ships doing business within the Port of New York and New Jersey is governed by the height of the Verrazano Bridge’s span, as relative to the water. All cargo, military, and cruise ships which can be anticipated to someday enter NY harbor are actually designed with the Verrazano’s height in mind.

That means, ultimately, that this last exemplar of the House of Robert Moses erected in 1964, which sets a maximum height limit of exactly 228 feet over the water (at high tide), controls the design of a good chunk of the planet’s shipping fleets (although you’d be scraping the Verrazano’s deck at 228′ so they build them a bit shorter). A somewhat contemporaneous counterpart to the Verrazano is the Puente de las Américas (Bridge of the Americas) over the Panama Canal, which also plays a major role in the design of maritime vessels, setting a height limit of 201 feet over high water for any and all vessels using the crossing. The other approach to the Port of New York and New Jersey is governed by the Goethals Bridge over the Arthur Kill, which offers 135 feet of clearance, just to be entirely anal retentive about things.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Verrazano Bridge is startlingly enormous, with a main span over the narrows stretching out for nearly a mile at 4,260 feet. Engineer Othmar Amman always liked to point out that his team had to take the curvature of the Earth itself into account when designing and placing the towers, which are off parallel to each other by 1.625 inches. When you add in the approaches on either side to the bridge, the entire thing is some 13,700 feet in length – roughly 2.6 miles. It’s now the 11th largest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest found on either American continent.

There are 143,000 miles of wire incorporated into its cables, enough to wrap around the earth’ equator 5.74 times or stretch half way to the moon. Its towers are 649.68 feet tall, making them the tallest structures outside of Manhattan in all of New York City. It carries nearly 190,000 vehicle trips a day, 69.35 million annually. The best estimates I’ve been able to find suggest that the combined steel of the bridge weighs some 1,265,000 tons.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Verrazano Bridge, due to its position and height, is affected by weather more heavily than any other span in New York Harbor. The roadway will actually sag down about a dozen feet during the summer months due to heat expansion, and the winds one encounter on the upper roadway preclude any discussion of pedestrian or bicycle paths being established. One can personally report that while driving over the thing during storms, my automobile was being rocked from side to side by heavy gusts of wind. The bridge is owned and operated by the MTA Bridges and Tunnels division, which is what Governor Nelson Rockefeller turned Robert Moses’s old Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority into.

The people at Bridges and Tunnels have a set of rules and customs governing the bridge during harsh weather conditions, which all depend on whether or not the roadways are wet or not, and whether the winds are either sustained or gusting. Speed restrictions begin to apply at 30 mph sustained winds and wet roads, while wet conditions coupled with sustained wind over 40 mph might trigger restrictions on crossings by motorcycles, mini buses, tractor trailers and other types of vehicles.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve noticed, over the years, that all of NYC’s bridges are possessed of a certain and unique to the span harmonic. Partially, it’s how the structure of the bridge interacts environmentally and also because of the sound of the vehicles running over it cause a vibration as their tires spin against the decks. To my hearing, the Verrazano makes a “wmmm-mmm-mhoooooosh-shhh” sound, but that could just be the particular interaction with the roadway of the vehicles which a humble narrator crosses the thing within, which have always been passenger cars. It’s efficacious to close your windows on the bridge no matter what, lest a torrent of air suddenly swirl into the passenger cabin, causing disarray and a tumult. I’ll leave it to musicians to tell you what key the Verazzano Bridge is in.

Like all MTA Bridges and Tunnel crossings, certain types of vehicles are forbidden. These types of vehicles (amongst others) include steam rollers, vehicles loaded with unconfined animals or poultry, wheelbarrows, and velocipedes.

Yes, they specifically mention velocipedes in the rules.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always thought, with the born and raised in Brooklyn perspective that I am possessed by, that the bridge is actually some sort of giant shackle forcing the former City of Richmond or… Staten Island… not to secede from the City of Greater New York and join up with New Jersey instead. A mass exodus of Brooklynites, including my own parents, occurred during the late 1980’s and 90’s to Staten Island over the thing. Most of them, to quote my Dad, were “sick of this shit, and wanted to get the ‘eff out of here,” referring to the colloquialized “old neighborhood” which was “better back then.” I still don’t believe the old adage about being able to leave your door unlocked at night. Rent was a bit cheaper on Staten Island however, my parents perception of crime was far lower, and the semi suburban lifestyle encountered on Staten Island appealed to them in their retirement and dotage. They were also one step closer to Atlantic City where they liked to go on weekends away.

Staten Island is “car country,” unlike the city center neighborhood of Astoria, Queens where I now live. Mass transit (other than the ferry, I mean) exists but… you kind of need to have a car on Staten Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now for the conspiracy theory: A humble narrator is an idiot, of course, and has always cherished a personal theory that Robert Moses knew something more about NYC than he was letting on. Famously, before beginning his government career, Moses wandered the countryside on foot. Robert Caro suggests that even at a young age, he was planning highways and parks. Pffft… who does that at an early age? Moses was monster hunting, obviously, and he must have found something terrifying during his wanderings. I mean… c’mon… that’s fairly obvious, right?

Why else would he have built a steel and concrete cage around New York Harbor? Would old Bob Moses really have gone out of his way to destroy the coastal wetlands, swamps, and tidal marshes (which are precisely the sort of places you’d find monsters like “Grendels Mother” lurking) of New York Harbor for no reason other than malice? After conquering the human/fish hybrids at Hells Gate with his mighty Triborough, he set about the process of creating the world’s biggest padlock here in the narrows to close the door on his monstrous gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Who can guess, all there is, that might be imprisoned down there beneath the 1,265,000 tons of steel? Is the arterial highway and bridge crossing system of New York City actually some sort of great barrier designed to keep slime dripping colossi in check? Is there some dark secret which will be held forever unknowable and immobile by the Verazzano Bridge?

What hidden and occult knowledge did Robert Moses take to the grave with him?


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cemented hillocks

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Today is World Food Day, on this hungry planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As promised, here’s a few shots gathered on Friday the 13th at the Atlas Obscura “Into the Veil” event at Greenwood Cemetery. A friend I was showing them to on Friday asked me what the “night into day” technique I employed to capture these images entails other than long exposure times, and I tried to explain the exacting series of steps and settings which are employed, but by then he had fallen asleep. It’s complicated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In a couple of instances, I hung a work light of the front of my tripod. The shot above is a fair representation of what was within the range of human vision. The moon was occluded on Friday by heavy cloud cover and atmospheric humidity was quite high, which is ruinous for this sort of shooting due to the scattering and consumption of light by airborne moisture.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The same setup, this time employing the whole checklist of “night into day” techniques which I’ve been working on. The difficult part of this, and why I’m stifled with the result, involves the sky – which isn’t blown out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

LED lighting continues to grow in popularity, but it provides a bugbear of problems for digital photography. LED lights are actually strobing hundreds of times a minute, and throwing out weird wavelengths of saturated color light which the camera sensor struggles to interpret. Notice the difference between the automotive brake light generated red streak on the hill and the unnaturally garish reds of the LED architectural light on the Steinway Chapel at Greenwood.

Just have to figure out how to conquer that one, as I don’t think LED’s are going away anytime soon.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 16, 2017 at 2:15 pm

thunder crazed

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It’s National Yorkshire Pudding Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tonight, one will finally get to do something purely by choice rather than circumstance or obligation, as I’m attending Atlas Obscura’s “Into the Veil” event at Greenwoord Cemetery. Well… my plan doesn’t exactly revolve around “attending” so much as being in the Cemetery while the Atlas event is going on. A humble narrator is going to figure out where the crowds are headed and then me, the camera, and my trusty tripod are going off in an entirely different direction to do some long exposure night shots of the type contained in today’s post. I will consider tonight a great success if I do not have to talk to anyone.

It’s been a while since I was able to just “take pictures.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last year, I made the mistake of going with a group to this thing. The herd dynamic found us wandering about in broad and aimless circles punctuated by sudden panicked urgency, as one person after the other suddenly announced that they needed to urinate. No one seemed to be able to coordinate their lavatorial schedules with the rest of the group, so it was fairly rare to get a ten minute interval of shooting in before we had to run off in the direction of a porta potty.

I’m like a camel in this regard, and when out “in the field,” carefully monitor the amount of liquids one consumes so as to not necessitate biological crises. Others in my group last year were convinced that they were visiting a Kuwaiti desert and required constant hydration, which resulted in excessive urination, as Greenwood is in… y’know… Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My photographic plan for tonight revolves around long exposures and my unpatented “night into day” techniques. “Night into Day,” as I call it, involves exposures in the half minute to minute range accompanied by the usage of extremely narrow apertures, a tripod, and shutter release – for the curious. All the shots in today’s post were accomplished using this sort of procedure, for example the shot above was invisible to the human eye and was just a vast expanse of darkness, and my hope is that tonight I can capture a few memorable shots at Greenwood.

I’ll show you what I got next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


Upcoming Tours and events

The Hidden Harbors Of  Staten Island Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee – Sunday, October 15th, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

A very cool boat tour that visits two of the maritime industrial waterways of New York Harbor which adjoin Staten Island and Bayonne in New Jersey – The Kill Van Kull and the Arthur Kill. There will be lots of tugboats, cargo docks, and you’ll get to see multiple bridges from the water – including the brand new Goethals Bridge. I’ll be on the mike, narrating with WHC board member Gordon Cooper details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 13, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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