The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Degnon Terminal’ Category

cyclopean ruinations

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Bulkhead collapse at Dutch Kills! 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First off, these are shots from my iPhone (which I had to use instead of the usual DSLR for a variety of reasons). Secondly, my intention yesterday was to just wander around LIC for a while while it was still foggy, set up the tripod here and there and get busy with the camera. Walking down 29th street (between 47th avenue and 49th/Hunters Point Avenue), you’re able to spy the turning basin of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and this is part of my regular route around the area. 

When I got to 29th street, however, I found this scene. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sometime between last Saturday and yesterday (Wednesday the 12th) a not insignificant stretch of the bulk head collapsed into the water. Those trees used to be at street level, and from the look of it, when the debris fell in the water it displaced a long abandoned fuel barge from the spot it’s been in for a decade or two. The barge is now riding up against an adjacent building on one side, and a second sunken fuel barge on another. It’s been pushed several yards from its former resting place, in the direction of the center of the channel. 

As a note, this is the second bulk head collapse on the Queens side of the Newtown Creek watershed in recent years, with the other occurring not too far away at the Vernon Avenue Street end. Disturbing portent, no?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, when encountering some profound alteration to the Newtown Creek watershed, I rang up my colleague Willis Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance. He happened to be nearby, and we both puzzled over who to speak to about this situation. Two pronged, we decided, and got busy with the photos. Willis reached out to a few contacts whom he knew had regency over the spot (29th street is not a NYC street at all, it’s in fact a “railroad access road” owned by the LIRR) and I contacted Jimmy Van Bramer’s office, hoping they might be able to figure out what to do about this. 

Saying that, I’m a bit concerned about hydrological undermining on 29th street now, which a lot of very heavy trucks use regularly. Disturbing subsidences indeed. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

calloused outlook

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A few shots from the Degnon Terminal, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Modernity knows the complex of cyclopean factory buildings along Thomson Avenue in Long Island City as the campus of LaGuardia Community College. If – like me – you can see through time to earlier ages, you know that Thomson Avenue was named for the guy who used to own the Neptune Water Meter company over on Jackson Avenue, a recently demolished building which in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries was the home of 5ptz. You’d know that until the start of the 20th century, this area was a pestilential mosquito breeding swamp known as the waste meadows, and that it wasn’t until the Pennsylvania Railroad decided to site their Sunnyside Yard nearby that the swamp was drained and filled in.

The waste meadows were owned by the estate of a former Governor of New York State named Roscoe P. Flowers, and their acreage was bought up by the Degnon Terminal Realty company.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Michael Degnon was a contractor who could accomplish the impossible during the age of “progress” in the newly consolidated City of Greater New York. He came to prominence installing the masonry cladding of the Williamsburg Bridge and finishing the subway tunnels which August Belmont and William Steinway had started. The rock “spoils” which were produced when mining the subway tunnels connecting Queens and Manhattan were brought here to LIC, raising the land to a high and dry condition. Degnon began to sell his land off to large industrial concerns, and constructed their factories for them. His Degnon Terminal offered a “terminal railway” which allowed for shipping connections to maritime barge and cargo ships at Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary, as well as direct connections to the Long Island Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad trackages on the LIRR’s Lower Montauk and Main Line. Additionally, connections to the New York Connecting Railroad and the Hell Gate bridge were possible as well. Degnon is buried in First Calvary Cemetery if you’d like to leave him some flowers.

As the Queens Chamber of Commerce called it contemporaneously, Queens was the “Borough of Homes and Industry” a hundred years ago.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just this last week, a meeting of the “Newtown Creek Superfund Community Advisory Group” was held at one of CUNY’s LaGuardia Community College buildings in the former Degnon Terminal, and as is my habit – the camera was deployed before and after the meeting. The shot above looks north in the direction of the Sunnyside Yard and you can just see the arch of the Hell Gate Bridge on the horizon. That yellow streak is the IRT Flushing Line – or 7 train – moving through the shot while the shutter was open for about fifteen seconds.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 22nd – The Birthplace of Mobil Oil: A Walking Tour
– with Newtown Creek Alliance.

Join NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA’s project manager Willis Elkins for walk through the birthplace of Mobil Oil, past the DEP’s largest Wastewater Treatment Plant and to the Kingsland Wildflowers green roof. The tour will also visit NCA’s Living Dock on the way; showcasing restoration efforts adjacent to major industrial operations and in the wake of legacies of pollution and neglect.
The tour will end at the 22,000 square foot Kingsland Wildflowers project, with panoramic views of the Newtown Creek and Manhattan skyline at sunset.

Tickets and more details
here.

June 30th – The Skillman Avenue Corridor
– with Access Queens.

Starting at the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue, we will explore this thriving residential and busy commercial thoroughfare, discussing the issues affecting its present and future. Access Queens, 7 Train Blues, Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and Newtown Creek Alliance members will be your guides for this roughly two mile walk.
Skillman Avenue begins at the border of residential Sunnyside and Woodside, and ends in Long Island City at 49th avenue, following the southern border of the Sunnyside Yards for much of its path. Once known as Meadow Street, this colonial era thoroughfare transitions from the community of Sunnyside to the post industrial devastations of LIC and the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek.

Tickets and more details
here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 22, 2018 at 11:00 am

inimical oddity

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Darkness continues.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It rained all day on Sunday, whereupon a non precipitatating mist set itself up in the atmosphere during the evening hours. Given my recent fascination with wandering about the darkened Newtown Creek watershed in such conditions, a humble narrator strapped on the camera kit and debarked HQ for Long Island City. My target for this photo excursion was a section of the waterway found in Long Island City, specifically the Dutch Kills tributary. 

Pictured above, looking across Skillman Avenue and the “A section” of the Sunnyside Yards towards Jackson Avenue and the Sapphire Megalith.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A decade ago, one used to refer to this area as “Lonely Island City” since you’d seldom see anything other than a stray or lost human back here. The “zone” around the Degnon Terminal was largely deserted until recent years, when the Real Estate Industrial complex began to construct large dwellings on former industrial land along Jackson Avenue and elsewhere in LIC. All of a sudden, the humans began to appear back here. 

Where can a guy go to be alone with his thoughts in Western Queens these days? Always somewhat nocturnal, a humble narrator’s solution to the presence of the human horde has simply been to shift my schedule a bit. This causes loved ones no end of worry, me wandering about in the darkness all by my lonesome.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You’re never unobserved or truly alone in Long Island City, it should be mentioned. 

In the cupola of the Sapphire Megalith, there is an impossible thing which cannot exist that is always watching you with an unblinking three lobed burning eye, after all. It hungers for profit and employs an army of acolytes to do its bidding.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally certain precautions are taken, including the usage of a reflective construction worker’s vest which is roughly worn over the filthy black raincoat. Last week, in the comments, somebody asked if I carry a firearm when I’m out at night shooting to protect myself from malign passerby who might want to rough me up in pursuance of stealing my camera or emptying my pockets. I don’t. 

Were a stranger to strike me, filth and disease would crawl up their arm causing them to collapse into a pile of mouldering meat and rotting bone. That’s what I’m packing – plague and death are the horsemen I ride with. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Atmospherically, everything was pretty much what I hoped it would be when leaving Astoria for points south and west. The mists and clouds were largely at high altitude, and only ribbons of fog were present at ground level. 

My plan for the evening was to spend only a few hours wandering about, but I actually ended up being out for nearly six hours, whereupon I returned to HQ and developed the shots I had captured. One didn’t get to bed until about five in the morning, hence the late post you’re reading right now. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One did not experience any missing time, as a note, I was working the whole time. If I was abducted by a UFO, I’m certain that shots of it would have been on my camera card when I got home. Pictured above is 29th street along the Dutch Kills turning basin, looking back at the gargantuan complex of residential luxury buildings erected within the last decade in the Court Square area of LIC. 

The thing in the Megalith has won. 


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serious citizens

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My quest to observe and photograph certain rumored artifacts, carefully hidden by the administration of Queens Borough President Curly Joe Cassidy in 1903, which an anonymous source informed me were recently uncovered by the labor of construction crews that were pursuing the lustful ambitions of their Manhattan based masters (to erect yet another bland residential tower here in Western Queens) was fruitless. Some things, it would seem, will remain hidden.

Perhaps that is for the best, for if the community as a whole was to ever truly understand the history of Long Island City… anarchy and red rage would reign as they abandoned all pretense of civilization. Men would become wild and mad, without moral convention or law, and they would would find new and savage ways to enjoy themselves, abandoning even “lip service” allegiance to that extraterrestrial thing which they once referred to as “God.”

Defeated, aimless, lost in ennui and abandoned by serendipity… a wandering mendicant and humble narrator soon found himself, like every other piece of wind blown trash in New York City, at the Newtown Creek. The Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek in the Long Island City section of Queens, specifically.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills was in a queer condition this particular late afternoon in the August of 2017. The burning thermonuclear eye of God itself hung squamous in the sky, occluded by vast gray and white agglutinations of atmospheric humidity. Recent rain had enriched the nutrient load of the water with raw sewage, causing a bloom of the photosynthetic organisms which feed on both fecund decay and the eye’s emanations. Within a few days, these single celled plants would choke themselves to death on their respiratory waste gases, and the water will turn brown as bacterial populations explode while consuming their corpses. The bacteria produce a waste gas which men call hydrogen sulfide, offering to passers by an aroma not unlike that of rotting eggs. A few days later the water will blacken as the self same bacteria, in turn, are killed off by starvation and asphyxiation. Their rotting colonies will in turn feed a new generation of algae, which will overpopulate when the rain again brings the sewer tide and the cycle begins anew.

The smell of the green creek is onerous and inescapable, and the brown creek is something else entirely. The stink of the black creek… let’s just call that “unusual.” It’s all very depressing, where unwholesomeness reigns.

A smell reminiscent of swamp dwelling reptiles was omnipresent on the day these photos were collected.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills was choked with 19th century industrial waste products and mounds of manure produced by pack animals when Michael Degnon began construction on the flooded waste meadows formerly owned by Governor Roscoe P. Flowers, back in 1909. Filling in the swamps with rocky till harvested from the subway and railroad tunnels his company constructed, Degnon’s goal was to build the greatest industrial park in the country hereabouts. The Degnon Terminal promised lots of sufficient size to construct enormous factory buildings, like the Loose Wiles “Thousand Windows Bakery,” as well as offering terrestrial railroad and “rail to barge” connections. Dutch Kills was bulkheaded under the supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers, it’s wetlands filled in, and industry was invited into “America’s Workshop.”

Borough President Maurice E. Connolly located his offices alongside Degnon’s, in what modernity refers to as the “Paragon Oil Building” on 21st street and 49th avenue, but which was built as the “Subway Building” and served Connolly as his Borough Hall.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maurice E. Connolly, like all the Borough Presidents of Queens, was presented at inauguration with a 1661 scrap of parchment left behind by William Hallet. Describing a degenerate offshoot of the Lenape civilization encountered in Western Queens, who were rumored to be members of a shunned cult repudiated and suppressed by the larger aboriginal civilization, this dark knowledge is a closely guarded state secret which has been passed from leader to leader since the early Calvinist era of the Dutch colony of Nieuwtown. As far as I’ve been able to discern, the Borough Presidents of Queens have faithfully maintained the ignorance of Mayors and Governors, and that even the executive branch of neighboring Brooklyn is unaware of what the ancient message transmits.

What the document says about these Native American devil worshippers is known only by the intended recipients, but that soon after reading it, Connolly began allocating funding to a vast swamp draining and land reclamation project in Queens. He installed miles of sewer pipes in pursuance of draining western Queens, many of which lead directly into Dutch Kills (accusations and convictions for corruption related to this effort are what finally removed him from office, after 17 years, in 1928).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the day these shots were captured, a bizarre amalgam of floatable items were observed in the solute rich compound which we will simply refer to as “water” for simplicity’s sake. Frizzled and black, these buoyant items were observed floating along on the tepid currents of Dutch Kills. It was a fairly low moment in the tidal cycle, but the start of the flood tide cycle was pushing in from the main spur of the Newtown Creek, and the black polyploid objects were meandering north towards the turning basin.

A zoom lens was employed, in pursuance of getting a closer look at the mysterious flotilla.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whatever the material of ebon hue was remains a mystery to me. I can report that there were odd streaks, as carried to the surface on bubbles of biological gas rising from subaqueous depths, of oil and coal tar present.

Who can guess what secrets might be hidden in the sediments beds of black mayonnaise, where all the sins of the twentieth century reside and mingle?


Upcoming Tours and events

Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour, with Working Harbor Committee – Saturday August 12th, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Explore the coastline of Brooklyn from Newtown Creek to Sunset Park, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman, Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours, and Gordon Cooper of Working Harbor Committee on the narrating about Brooklyn’s industrial past and rapidly changing present. details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Sunday August 13th, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Two Newtown Creek Boat Tours, with Newtown Creek Alliance and Open House NY – Wednesday August 16th, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek are home to the densest collection of these garbage facilities anywhere in the city and collectively, the waste transfer stations around and along Newtown Creek handle almost 40% of the waste that moves through New York. Join Newtown Creek Alliance’s Mitch Waxman and Willis Elkins  to learn about the ongoing efforts to address the environmental burden that this “clustering” has caused. details here.

DUPBO Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with NYCH20 – Thursday August 24th, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Explore Greenpoint and Hunters Point, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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other callers

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It’s International Whiskey Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is normal, right? Everybody wanders around in industrial neighborhoods at night taking pictures of highly polluted waterways, right? It’s not just me… right?

At this time of the year – when it’s neither hot nor cold, but instead lukewarm – the Dutch Kills tributary of the inconceivable Newtown Creek always displays a layer of filmy “goo,” which is at its most observable during the interval when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has dipped behind New Jersey. Not sure if the “goo” is just road salt and snow pellet residues, nor some sort of oil or grease, some effluent introduced by the multiple sewer outlets on Dutch Kills which are offered by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, or perhaps it’s just the mucoid castings of some hidden water dwelling leviathan.

Me, I lean towards the leviathan theory, because it involves both mucous and a giant monster. Mucous is cool.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had to tend to a bit of business in Greenpoint last week, and since it was decent out – weather wise – decided to walk home to Astoria. It’s a walk that sounds longer than it is, you just need to take advantage of fact that since the street grid here about is divided and subdivided by highways and rail infrastructure which creates a series of triangles – walk the legs of the triangle and not the hypotenuse until it’s advantageous.

Cutting through the streets around Dutch Kills leads me to that advantageous hypotenuse (which would make a great band name, incidentally) which is Skillman Avenue. A century ago, I would have been able to shortcut on Old Dutch Kills Road from there, but all that’s left of that is a stubby block following the rail tracks near Home Depot which the City calls 37th avenue. You have to work with what you’ve got, though.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is engaged, at the moment, with drawing up a schedule for this year’s walking and boat tours. A recently announced Newtown Creek Alliance tour – the 100% Toxic All Day Newtown Creekathon on April 9th – filled up in about half a day and I didn’t even have time to let everyone here know before it did. I have a feeling we will be repeating this one sometime in the fall, but there’s a lot of neat stuff coming this summer.

On the tours subject – Working Harbor Committee met the other night, and there are several water tours in the offing with that group of maritime educators and enthusiasts. We, as in Newtown Creek Alliance, are going to be announcing several opportunities to visit the Creek by water and on land shortly. Additionally, I’ve got a couple of things cooking with Atlas Obscura that are mighty cool. I’ll be letting everyone know about these and other excursions as soon as I’ve got all the dates etched in stone.


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modern matters

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It’s Street Children’s Day, in the Republic of Austria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills, a tributary of Newtown Creek which abruptly turns north off the main channel three quarters of a mile east of the East River, is entirely contained within Long Island City. It’s crossed by five bridges – the LIRR bridges DB Cabin and Cabin M, the Borden Avenue Bridge, the Queens Midtown Expressway truss, and the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. Dutch Kills, like all of Newtown Creek’s tributaries and the main channel itself, is lined with a toxic sediment referred to as “Black Mayonnaise.” This sediment is composed of coal tar, petroleum and refining byproducts, industrial waste of various provence and typology, as well as human excrement deposited by NYC’s open sewers.

At its northern terminus, Dutch Kills is across the street from a CUNY college and several charter schools serving high school and junior high school aged kids. One of the most significant build outs in recent real estate history is happening less than a quarter mile from that spot, along LIC’s Jackson Avenue in an area referred to as “Court Square.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Due to a non functioning railroad swing bridge at Dutch Kill’s junction with Newtown Creek’s main channel, there is absolutely zero maritime industrial activity along the tributary. The bulkheads along its reach generally date back about a century, to a massive “improvement” conducted around the time of the First World War which saw the marshes and swamps it fed drained and both the Sunnyside Yards and the Degnon Industrial Terminal constructed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets surrounding Dutch Kills offer fleeting glimpses of the waterway, and many of them are not City streets at all but “railroad access roads” owned by the MTA. You can almost always smell the waterway before you can see it, and whereas I can tell you a few spots to access the water, none of these are “legal” and all involve trespass of private or government property. You can legally observe it from the Borden Avenue or Hunters Point Avenue bridges, however.

At it’s terminus – or “turning basin,” there are two abandoned oil barges rusting and rotting away into the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Illegal dumping, the native art form of the Borough of Queens, is practiced hereabouts with relish and abandon. The DSNY garbage bin in the shot above appeared on 29th street back in November, and I’ve been watching it steadily fill up and overflow. DSNY doesn’t seem to remember where they put it, as I haven’t seen it empty since the day it arrived.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amidst the sheens of oil and grease you’ll observe on Dutch Kills, which are both historic and newly spawned, there are what the NYC DEP would describe as “floatables.” That’s government code for garbage that’s either been flushed or has been swept into the sewer grates on every street corner in NYC. In the case of Dutch Kills, the “sewer shed” that feeds these floatables into it extends all the way to East Elmhurst and Woodside to the east, Sunnyside and Astoria to the north, and the rapidly growing Long Island City which Dutch Kills is a part of.

The sewer plant that handles this burgeoning area was opened in 1931, and Fiorello LaGuardia cut the ribbon to open it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is going to be a meeting tomorrow, the latest of many, of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) on the first of February. If the shot above looks good to you, and you’d like to see more of the same – don’t come. If you care about not having a billion and a half gallons of raw sewage a year spilling onto mounds of poisonous and century old industrial waste, do come. Pipe up, we need voices and perspectives from outside the echo chamber.

Details on the meeting – time, place, etc. – can be accessed at this link. We could really use some Queensican bodies and voices in the room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As evinced by the corpse pictured above, life has actually begun to recolonize this waterway in recent years. The presence of higher mammals hereabouts speaks to an ecosystem that is beginning to recover from centuries of industrial and municipal abuse. Of course, nothing is going to save a raccoon from getting ground into hamburger by the wheels of a semi truck.

At Newtown Creek Alliance, we’ve been cataloging and observing for a while now. There’s more than seventy individual species of birds for instance – including Great Blue Herons and Ospreys – living along the lugubrious Newtown Creek. Their presence speaks to a growing population of prey animals (fish) present in the water column, and to a broader environmental recovery happening along this industrial waterway at the literal center of NYC.


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down slanting

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Here today and gone tomorrow, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator, as previously stated, needs a vacation.

Actually, it’s a change of scene I require. My daily rounds often take me to locations which are awe inspiring, or terrifying, but ultimately I’d like to see and record something different – just for a change of pace. Kittens? I just don’t know anymore. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the pundits opine, and I’d like to photograph something entirely absent of tugboats, industrial squalor, and sewer plants – just for a minute, mind you. Maybe a walk in the woods or something.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news is that after this weekend’s Open House New York tour is concluded one will be free on the weekends again. I’m thinking about following the lead offered by Ratso and Joe Buck in the Midnight Cowboy movie and buying a random bus ticket at Port Authority and seeing where Greyhound might want to take me for a day trip.

Of course – knowing my luck, I’ll randomly end up in industrial Newark or Philadelphia, or some rust belt city in western New York. You can take the boy out of the superfund site, but…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps it’s just ennui. Bah.

Winter is coming, and ultimately, Carthage must be destroyed.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 14, 2016 at 11:00 am

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