The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘East River’ Category

dark figures

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If only I could be laconic, if.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunday last, I conducted a tour for the NY Transit Museum onboard an NYC Ferry. The narrative was governed by the history of ferries in NYC, with a general historical overlay of the East River corridor. There’s a lot of information to pass on, and I will admit that it’s a bit of struggle to fit it all in. The tour left from Pier 11 in Manhattan, and we debarked the boat in LIC. Given that it’s a transit museum group, the last third of the tour focuses in on the former ferry services of the Long Island Railroad offered out of Hunters Point and then I take the group a few blocks into LIC. I can usually produce a LIRR engine sitting on a sidetrack thereabouts, and there’s always the Sunnyside Yards to talk about as well.

It was really, really cold for April last Sunday, in the 30’s when I left HQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the second time I’ve narrated this particular tour, and hopefully will be presenting it again in the near future. Saying that, now that it’s been spoken aloud a few times, I’ve got some rewriting to do in the name of brevity and clarity. It’s so easy to bog down in historical minutia when discussing the East River, you have to be careful when narrating lest you lose the audience’s attention in a swirl of details. I never structure what I’m going to say as a dry recitation of facts and dates, which is the worst possible way to relate historical data, in my view. It’s a story, so tell it like a story, with a beginning/middle/end.

The cool thing about the Transit Museum is that they outfit me with a little closed circuit radio microphone and all the tour participants get these little radio headsets, so I don’t need to yell the whole time. That took a bit of adjustment time for me, as I’m used to using a booming voice and certain style of pronunciation on tours. Speaking into a mike is more a “radio  situation” where you want to get all mellifluous in terms of vocalizations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Suffice to say that shortly after the Civil War there were as many as 21 seperate “official” ferry lines crossing back and forth between Brooklyn and Queens and Manhattan. Like a lot of 19th century industries, a politically connected monopoly emerged out of a company founded by Livingstone and Fulton which made regulation and inspection by Government officialdom go away, creating a lassez faire system whose excesses eventually led to the General Slocum disaster in 1915 1904 which made the idea of getting on a ferry rather unpalatable to early 20th century New Yorkers in the same way that entering a giant office building in the years following 9/11 was an unsettling experience. The Coast Guard was put in charge of safety matters, and they began to enforce strict safety regulations and practices on the ferry industry.

Then came Robert Moses…


Upcoming Tours and Events

April 14 – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

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?
Tickets and more details here.

April 15- Newtown Creekathon – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

That grueling 13 and change mile death march through the bowels of New York City known as the “Newtown Creekathon” will be held on that day, and I’ll be leading the charge as we hit every little corner and section of the waterway. This will be quite an undertaking, last year half the crowd tagged out before we hit the half way point. Have you got what it takes the walk the enitre Newtown Creek?
Click here to reserve a spot on the Creekathon.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

April 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

latter saw

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To and from the Shining City, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I had an assignment to shoot some pics at a conference in Lower Manhattan. Nothing special, just the usual “kid gets award,” and “important people talking to crowded room” shots. Later in the day, actually the evening, I had to get to Greenpoint for a Newtown Creek Alliance event.

Knowing that the “A” in MTA stands for “adventure,” I gave myself a bit of extra time on the trip in, which involved the usual razzmatazz of getting on the R and transferring to the Lexington Avenue line at 59th street. Pictured above is the latter arriving at the station. For once, the commute was seamless and I was down at the Battery lickety split.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the conference gig was over, the last thing I wanted to do was chance fate by getting back on the Subway. To get to Greenpoint by Subway from Lower Manhattan would have been a dice throw involving connecting to the G in Brooklyn, so instead one shlepped over to Pier 11 and bought a ticket for the NYC Ferry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One never misses a chance to travel by water rather than within the sweating concrete bunkers found below ground. During the winter months, my vulnerability to cold weather plays into avoiding this aquatic mode of transportation, but during the warmer months it’s hard to keep me off a boat.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The East River route offered by NYC Ferry goes to India Street in Greenpoint, so once onboard one was able to just relax and take a bunch of shots. A strange thing is that when I’m not doing the tour guide thing during the winter months it feels like alive forgotten everything.

Once I’m back on the boat, however, my eyes begin twitching and my head clocks back and forth as a well practiced narrative wells up behind the eyes and between my ears.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Normally, my “goal” on the Ferry is to get to LIC and walk back to Astoria. On this particular evening, NCA was screening a film by a fellow named Hank Linhart about the Blissville neighborhood. Mr. Linhart calls his Blissville film a “docu poem,” but I call it a film. One had to be at the Newtown Creek side of Greenpoint for the filming, but unlike the adventurous MTA, they know how to maintain a proper schedule.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a particularly pretty night, last Thursday. Stark contrast to the stormy and snowy weather that had blown through the Shining City just 24 hours previously.

More tomorrow.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Newtown Creekathon – hold the date for me on April 15th.

That grueling 13 and change mile death march through the bowels of New York City known as the “Newtown Creekathon” will be held on that day, and I’ll be leading the charge as we hit every little corner and section of the waterway. This will be quite an undertaking, last year half the crowd tagged out before we hit the half way point. Have you got what it takes the walk the enitre Newtown Creek?
Keep an eye on the NCA events page for more information.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 26, 2018 at 1:00 pm

faulty circuits

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Just another day in paradise, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If memory serves, the section of Manhattan along the East River found between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges was once known as “the fourth ward.” Formerly hosting some of the busiest docks on the entire planet, this stretch of shoreline was occupied by tenements, factories, and warehouses. Robert Moses took care of that back in the mid 20th century when his arterial road project “The FDR Drive” was driven through, an endeavor which was accompanied by an “urban renewal” project that saw the surrounding building stock leveled and replaced by public housing and large apartment blocks.

Today, shadowed by the “high speed” roadway above, there’s a “park” along the waterfront. One thing to take notice of in the shot above are the pipes descending down from the roadway, which carry wastewater from the elevated road and allow it to drain directly into the water. For some reason, nobody in government thinks this is much of a problem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you look over the fence at the waters of the East River, you’ll notice the stubby remains of concrete pier footings jutting out of the water here and there. To be fair, unlike today, the citizenry wanted nothing to do with the East River. Until quite recently, the City treated the East River as an extension of the sewer system and it was rife with not just sewer effluents but with industrial waste products as well. The political struggle in modern times is to create unfettered public access to the water for recreation.

As you’d imagine, and as mentioned several times over the years, when the weather is cold and forbidding a humble narrator is busy consuming historical literature and studying the great human hive. My dad would say that this is one of those periods when I’ve got my head stuck right up my butt and that I should put the books down and get outside.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just a block or two back from the waterfront is the financial district of lower Manhattan, an inhuman landscape of glass walls and towering blocks where the greed demons Mammon and Asmodeus rule. A Potemkin Village called the South Street Seaport is nearby, which purports to represent what once was, and every now and then you’ll encounter some toony old structure which has somehow survived the wrecking ball, but Manhattan is ultimately a lost cause – historically speaking.

For some reason, whenever I’m walking around down here, I hear Al Smith’s voice singing “The Sidewalks of New York.”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 18, 2018 at 1:30 pm

evidently not

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An often wished for super power would be the ability to simply become invisible, or undetectable by casual observers. Since that won’t happen, barring some revolution in technology based camouflage, one instead skulks around in plain sight. To be seen by so many diminishes me.

The new NYC Ferry service has really been occupying a bit of my skulking time of late, and it has increased geographic range quite a bit. They don’t exactly advertise it, but if you buy a ticket on… say the Astoria Line… you can go the onboard snack bar and request a transfer ticket to get on one of the other lines. This essentially makes it entirely possible to get to Rockaway from Western Queens for only $2.75 by water, which kind of rocks. Generally speaking, I’m on boats doing NY Harbor or Newtown Creek tours all summer long, but in recent years I’ve been tethered to the microphone while narrating the event and seldom get a minute to wave the camera around anymore. Whereas I literally “love” this sort of tour narrator occupation, it’s been really nice for the last few weeks to keep my mouth shut and just get down to shooting whenever I’m out on the water.

Just east of the Verrazano Bridge, this little quartet of working vessels was recently observed. From the left, that’s a Miller’s Launch work boat, the Scott Turecamo tugboat, the New Hampshire fuel barge, and the cargo ship is the Nave Ariadne fuel tanker.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has not exactly been shooting a lot of tugboats during the last year, as I’ve grown somewhat jaded to the splendor of the maritime industrial scene in recent months. There’s only so many ways you can frame a tugboat in your shot, after all, but I just couldn’t resist the view of the Marjorie B. McAllister tug in the shot above as it transited beneath the Brooklyn Bridge with the Statue of Liberty off in the distance.

Personally, I find the Statue aesthetically pleasing. How often can you say that about a French woman who sports a 354 foot waistline as well as a four and a half foot long nose?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has been known to kill an entire day in recent weeks riding back and forth on the new NYC Ferry, transiting between Rockaway and Astoria. In subsequent intervals, one plans on actually debarking the boat at a few of its mid route destinations, with a visit to the dock at Sunset Park forming into a particular set of desires.

Weather depending, sometime soon I plan on waking up early to do a sunrise transit to Rockaway. Then I’ll take the boat to Sunset Park and spend the late morning and afternoon scuttling about, followed by a setting sun trip back to Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a Bouchard tug spotted nearby Gerritsen Bay, just south east of the Verrazano Bridge. It’s an articulated fuel barge and tug, which means that there are cables full of electronic signaling equipment which run between the barge and tug in a “notch” engineered into the former, which the bow of the latter fits and connects into. It allows the crew to control the tug barge combination as if it was a cohesive and singular unit. As Bugs Bunny might have said: “dat’s Modern Design, ay?”.

Something I get, a lot, is: “Dude, how do you remember all of this stuff? You’ve just got it in your head.” I can report to you that I know less than 5% of all there is to know, just along the East River. There’s corridors on the water – Newtown Creek for instance – that I know a LOT about, but even there there’s always something new to glean.

I learn something new every single day. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m still figuring out the block I live on in Astoria, after all.

It’s been an odd few weeks here in the ancient village. The armies of chaos who transit through here on a regular basis have been shifting around a bit in size, character, and sort of late. Just heard a disturbing story last night which saw a female friend of mine show up at HQ with two black eyes, another last week from a local Pizza shop owner who found his shop in the middle of what he described as a “Mexican riot” at two in the morning, and large groups of teenagers have been riding bicycles together. Recently, I saw a baby who had one eyebrow that stretched from eye to eye right over the nose, and a pair of dogs who were wearing shoes and coats. I also saw someone walking a cat on a leash.

The world is a scary place, but I’m ok because I’m hiding behind a camera where nobody can see me.


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 29, 2017 at 11:00 am

reconised from

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It’s National French Toast Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was on my way to the ferry one recent morning, but had to make a quick stop nearby Queens Plaza. Lotsa running around, me. The light bouncing around in Queens Plaza caught my eye, however.

That’s the Rosenwasser Bros. factory at the right hand side of the shot, all illuminated by one of the shiny mirror box condo towers being built in Queens Plaza. It’s Orchard street, by the way, corner of Jackson Avenue. The Rosenwassers were magnates in the rag trade who started out – like many Jewish garment tycoons – in the shirtwaist industry of Lower Manhattan. Running what 21st century eyes would process as a sweatshop, they accumulated enough money to set up a large industrial combine in Queens shortly after the Queensboro bridge opened in 1909, and enjoyed several military as well as civilian contracts. By 1913, they were an established and well known Queensican company run by its President, Morris Rosenwasser, which offered baseball cleats (sold under Babe Ruth branding) and scouting equipment to retailers.

At its height in 1918, the Rosenwasser Company employed some 2,500 people. During the First World War, the firm enjoyed several valuable contracts with the Federal Government. The factory in Queens Plaza turned out an average of 6,000 pairs of shoes a day, 15,000 pairs of leggings, and an undetermined number of canvas gas masks, rucksacks, and other commodities for the war department. A so called “open shop,” the Rosenwassers were prime movers in a case (Rosenwasser Bros. Inc. v. Pepper et al, NYS Supreme Court October 1918) which defined the rights and limitations of organized labor during wartime for a generation.

Who knew?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Welfare Island Bridge opened, officially, on May 18, 1955. We know it as the Roosevelt Island Bridge.

Like the nearby Pulaski Bridge over Newtown Creek, which was erected in the same era, Frederick H. Zurmuhlen of the Dept. of Public Works oversaw the design and construction of the Welfare Island Bridge. One of the unsung men who built the modern city, Zurmuhlen served under three mayors and one Robert Moses.

The Welfare Island Bridge, known to modernity as the Roosevelt Island Bridge, has recently undergone a refurbishment and makeover. Much was made of the cosmetic improvements to the span, but the reality of the investment was a determination that in case of a seismic event – which the City of New York is long overdue for – the Bridge would suffer catastrophic damage. A massive earthquake is one of the unspoken horrors which the City government had been quietly planning for during the twelve year tenure of Michael Bloomberg, something which that Mayor’s office would be applauded for were it more widely known. A tip of the hat goes out to the municipal engineers and planners for both their discretion and the secretive work which they had been performing. Of course, that sort of thing went out the window when the Dope From Park Slope showed up.

As far as the current Mayor… he’s busy trying to build “affordable” waterfront housing that starts at $3,700 for a one bedroom. A highly technical description of NYC’s earthquake risk factors, as prepared and offered in 1998 by the NY State DOT, can be accessed here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots were captured from the NYC Ferry’s Astoria line, which is one of the few things that I consider the current Mayor as having done well in his first term. Of course, I can tell you that I’d been hearing about this expansion of the East River Ferry service in harbor circles for years, and can quietly point you at certain employees of the NYCEDC who handed the current Mayor a finished plan for him to put his name on the day he got into office, but regardless – if you haven’t ridden the new ferry from Astoria yet, what are you waiting for? You paid for it, you might as well use it. The experience is pretty cool, and it’s only $2.75.

Pictured above is a section of the Big Allis power plant, with the sapphire megalith of LIC peeking through some of its works. Big Allis supplies about 16% of NYC’s electricity, and was the first million kilowatt generating facility in the entire country. Built at the behest of Consolidated Edison, Big Allis (aka Ravenswood Number Three) first went online in 1965. Upon activation, the
dynamos of Big Allis were reduced to slag by the heat issuing from within its massive, natural gas driven turbines. Six months later, a rebuilt system managed to withstand a full hour and twenty seven minutes of these cosmic forces before it too went out of commission for a further four months. The problem was diagnosed by experts and teams of engineers being caused by a malfunctioning bearing which was producing concatenation and vibrations.

Did you know that Big Allis was originally meant to be a nuclear plant?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Queensboro Bridge, pictured above, looking back along the shoreline of Queens at the border of Hunters Point and Ravenswood. The borders between these areas are always hazy, and are often the subject of debate amongst those with an appreciation for times past and things forgotten. I’ve coined the term “angle” to describe these blended neighborhoods; Blissville and West Maspeth, Woodside and Sunnyside, Astoria and Elmhurst etc. In the case of Blissville and Maspeth, the Koscisuzcko Bridge sits on the exact border between the two… but where does Woodside start and Sunnyside end? Even worse, where does Winfield fit into the puzzle? Angles, I tell you, angles.

At least along the East River, things are fairly simple – Astoria, Ravenswood, Hunters Point – from north to south.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You’ve got a lot of “sub zones” as well in those East River neighborhoods in Queens, the Astoria Ferry Line leaves from Lawrence or Astoria Point at Hallets Cove, and the “north side” ferry dock pictured in LIC above is found alongside future superfund site Anable Basin. A hundred years ago, the area where all of those shiny new residential towers pictured above sit in modernity was once the property of the Standard Oil Company and hosted a pretty large parcel of petroleum oriented equipment, chemical and paint factories, and one or two large oil canning operations.

There was also the Ward and Co. Oil and Lard mill back there, which is one of those late 19th and early 20th century industrial operations whose occupation and business… well… common usage would describe it as “Dickensian.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s always difficult to do justice to the East River.

The bridges, the history… it’s a maritime corridor in which so much happened that it’s often hard to believe. In many ways, it’s where American capitalism “figured itself out.” In the 18th and early 19th centuries, it’s where the slave ships were built over on the Manhattan side. It’s where the financial powers which would become “Wall Street” began issuing the credit documents and bills of laiding recognized by the European colonial powers, where the first modern steel hulled and steam powered ships were built, and where profiting from the “five black arts” were perfected and practiced.


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

avian menace

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just a single shot today, depicting a series of CSX locomotive engines which were observed hauling a freight train over the Hell Gate bridge recently. Busy today with developing the shots from Halloween in Astoria, which I hope to be able to show you tomorrow at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 1, 2017 at 1:00 pm

excite attention

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For many reasons, a humble narrator has found himself at Hallets Cove along the Astoria waterfront in recent weeks. Partially, this recent focus was related to a humble narrator being invited to write a guest blog for the NYC Ferry service’s new Astoria stop (check it out here), but didn’t go “super granular” with it in my usual manner. Something I learned while writing my old Brownstoner Queens column was sometimes you need to approach a story, and a more general audience, with a different voice than you normally would (the NYC Ferry is operated by the Hornblower company, under the auspices of the NYC EDC, in case you’re wondering). 

The other reason I’ve been down at Hallets Cove a lot in recent weeks has been to actually use the Ferry to get to and from work, as the MTA has seemingly deduced that nobody in Queens needs to get to and from Manhattan on the weekends. Luckily, my destination for conducting boat tours is Pier 11, which is one of the terminal stops for the ferry, so problem solved.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The kids of Queens never disappoint, as evinced by these phalluses recently scratched into the sand at Hallets Cove. There’s actually a lot of fine detail to appreciate in these, from the spurts to the hairy sacks. Good show.

As a note, I know of just three sandy beaches along the East River, Hallets Cove being one.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The future site of a floating “Eco Dock” as my pals from the Waterfront Alliance call it, one has long been fascinated by the muddy flats underlying a discarded pier found at the entrance to the NYCHA Astoria Houses on what is historically known as Lawrence Point, but which has been rechristened as “Astoria Point” by real estate interests and elected officialdom alike.

This sort of marshy area is immensely important to the ecology of the waters surrounding NYC, as my pals from Riverkeeper will tell you, and you don’t see very much of it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a derelict pier overflying those muddy flats, which as mentioned, will be replaced with an eco dock. My understanding is that the pier was installed to support a radio station’s broadcast tower, specifically WLIB, back in 1953. Further, I’m told that the radio station abandoned this location in 1967, and that the structure has been feral ever since.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you haven’t tried out the new ferry service leaving from Astoria yet, I recommend it for nothing other than seeing the sights. The route carries you along the east channel of the East River, which transits between the Ravenswood section of Long Island City and Roosevelt Island. You’ve got some pretty incredible stuff along the route, including both the Roosevelt Island Lift bridge and the amazing Queensboro bridge, and the Big Allis power plant is on display as well.

This particular ferry service makes an amended series of stops as compared to the longer tenanted East River route, stopping first at Roosevelt Island, then the northern ferry stop at Hunters Point, 34th street and then Pier 11/Wall Street in Manhattan. Im personally really looking forward to the upcoming Soundview route, opening in 2018, which will go to the southeastern Bronx – which is the unknown country for one such as myself.

Check the Astoria ferry out, what else have you got to do?


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

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

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