The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘East River’ Category

never cease

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Out on the water with the Working Harbor Committee, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Working Harbor Committee excursion was billed as presenting “Brooklyn waterfront, past and present” and I was on the microphone for a good stretch of the trip. I was sharing the narration duty with my pal, Capt. Margaret Flanagan of the Waterfont Alliance organization, who I told point blank before the trip started that once the boat got past Red Hook “I got nothing.” Not a problem for Capt. Flanagan at all, as her able narration and vast knowledge of all things NY Harbor allowed me to slip away from the proverbial pulpit and shoot a few photos.

One bad thing about being one of the tour leaders for these excursions is that it has really cut into the amount of time I have to shoot, and since I’m Working Harbor’s official photographer – this has created a shortage of photos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A full harvest moon rose while we were out, and the shot above was captured while our vessel – a NY Waterways ferry – was plying the rippling surface of Gowanus Bay in South Brooklyn. As is often opined, the best times of year in NYC for photography are in the late spring and early fall, when the angle of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself in relation to the City is quite efficacious. Obviously, these shots were captured at sunset and dusk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has a tremendous desire to just get out on a boat and shoot for hours and hours during these intervals, and record the glorious parade of maritime industrial splendor out on the sixth borough. I took the East River Ferry to Manhattan’s Pier 11 from LIC to meet the Working Harbor chartered vessel in the City, but since the ER Ferry service concludes its schedule in the early evening, one was forced to enter the sweating concrete bunkers of the Subway system to get back to almond eyed Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At 59th street, one encountered this fellow, who seemed intent on blowing his own horn.

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

stark madness

with 6 comments

so… I’m on the East River last Thursday…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A “travlin man,” your humble narrator had some business to attend to in Greenpoint last Thursday which was meant to be followed by helping out on a Working Harbor Committee excursion in the evening. The WHC trip was leaving from Lower Manhattan’s Pier 11, so the logical path was to catch the East River Ferry from Brooklyn to the City. While onboard, I spotted something fairly curious.

Is that the nose of a submarine being towed on a barge?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tug doing the towing was the GT Lyman. As is usually the case, tugboatinformation.com has everything you’d want to know about the Lyman on display at their site. To sum up – she was built in 1968, is owned and operated by Delaware’s Gateway Towing, and can normally be found in the waters around Philadelphia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What Lyman was towing looks very much – to me at least – to be the front section of a submarine. Maybe I’m being crazy here, but there’s a conning tower and… that’s a submarine.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, I’ve taken lots of shots around NY Harbor but I’ve never taken a photo of a submarine before.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Actually, I probably have, but pictured above is what you’d normally get in a shot of a submarine.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was kind of hoping that the Lyman was going to execute a turn into the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but it continued heading north along the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

File this post under “You don’t see that every day.”

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 24, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

half smile

with 2 comments

Happy Birthday, Triborough Bridge, you’re now an Octogenarian.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Triborough Bridge, aka Robert F Kennedy Bridge, in Astoria, Queens opened on this day in 1936. It was 80 years ago today that Bob Moses taught the band to play, as it were. The bridge complex (there’s actually three spans that compose Triborough, pictured in today’s post is the suspension bridge section which connects to Astoria) was designed by the team of Othmar Amman and Aymar Embury ll. Construction on the thing began on the so called “Black Friday” of 1929 which signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.

from wikipedia

Construction began on Black Friday in 1929, but soon the Triborough project’s outlook began to look bleak. Othmar Ammann, who had collapsed the original design’s two-deck roadway into one, requiring lighter towers, and thus, lighter piers, saving $10 million on the towers alone, was enlisted again to help guide the project. Using New Deal money, it was resurrected in the early 1930s by Robert Moses, who created the Triborough Bridge Authority to fund, build and operate it. The completed structure was opened to traffic on July 11, 1936.

The total cost of the bridge was more than $60 million, one of the largest public works projects of the Great Depression, more expensive even than the Hoover Dam. The structure used concrete from factories from Maine to Mississippi. To make the formwork for pouring the concrete, a whole forest on the Pacific Coast was cut down.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The national economic downturn caused progress on the project to grind to a halt, until Robert Moses took interest in the project and inserted himself. For the vast majority of living New Yorkers, all that we’ve ever known of this City is what Moses made of it. He gave our grandparents, parks, highways, and bridges – for awhile in the mid 20th century he was the de facto spokesman for “progress.” He destroyed entire neighborhoods and ruled his empire like a tyrant, as well. We all live in the “House of Moses.” 

Moses wanted to build parkways and expressways, ultimately, and proposed to NY State that his high speed roads could serve as the approaches for the Triborough. His “Grand Central Parkway,” “Astoria Blvd.,” “East River Drive (now called FDR drive),” “Whitlock Avenue,” and “Eastern Blvd.” projects were all built simply to serve the needs of the automobile and feed traffic to Triboroughs Toll Booths. Due to the roads in Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx, Triborough soon became the greatest machine for magnifying traffic that NYC that the world had ever seen. Traffic magnified year after year, and every single one of those vehicles had to pay tolls.

Moses, who helped author the modern constitution of NY State when he worked for Governor Al Smith, conducted business in the shadowy world of an “authority,” or public benefit corporation, which he had christened as the “Triborough Bridge Authority.” Moses literally wrote the laws governing such “authorities” and was able to game the system at every step. Today his authority is called the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which was incorporated into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1968.  

Today, Triborough is officially part of the MTA Bridges and Tunnels unit, but it still carries an obscene number of vehicles and collects shed loads of cash at those toll booths. 

from wikipedia

Robert Moses (December 18, 1888 – July 29, 1981) was the “master builder” of mid-20th century New York City, Long Island, Rockland County, and Westchester County, New York. As the shaper of a modern city, he is sometimes compared to Baron Haussmann of Second Empire Paris, and is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of urban planning in the United States. He changed shorelines, built bridges, tunnels and roadways, and transformed neighborhoods forever. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island and influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies across the nation.

Never elected to public office, Moses was responsible for the creation and leadership of numerous public authorities which he could control without having to answer to the general public or to elected officials. It is due to Moses that there are a disproportionate number of public benefit corporations in New York state, which are the prime mode of infrastructure building and maintenance in New York, and are currently responsible for 90% of the state’s debt. As head of various authorities, he controlled millions in income from his projects’ revenue generation, such as tolls, and he had the power to issue bonds to borrow vast sums, allowing him to initiate new ventures with little or no approval from legislative bodies, bypassing the usual power of the purse as it normally functioned in the United States, and the cumbersome process of citizen comment on major public works.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The jewel in Robert Moses’s crown was always mighty Triborough, and it was the center of his construction empire. Using the proceeds from the tolls on the bridge, and the unique freedom from the election cycle which Mayors and Governors were and are beholden to, the “authority” became a shadow government. Moses was able to wield incredible amounts of credit through the issuance of attractively priced municipal bonds guaranteed by Triborough’s millions in toll proceeds. This made him very popular with banking interests, and the huge amounts of cash and credit he had allowed Moses to build anything he wanted. Wherever he wanted.  

Moses’s offices were on Randall’s Island, adjoining the counting rooms for the bridges tolls.

from wikipedia

Originally named the Triborough Bridge Authority, the authority was created in 1933 as a public-benefit corporation by the New York State Legislature. It was tasked with completing construction of the Robert F. Kennedy (Triborough) Bridge, which had been started by New York City in 1929 but had stalled due to the Great Depression.

Under the chairmanship of Robert Moses, the agency grew in a series of mergers with four other agencies:

  • Henry Hudson Parkway Authority, in 1940
  • Marine Parkway Authority, in 1940
  • New York City Parkway Authority, in 1940
  • New York City City Tunnel Authority, in 1946

With the last merger in 1946, the authority was renamed the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.

Generating millions of dollars in toll revenue annually, the TBTA easily became a powerful city agency as it was capable of funding large capital projects. From the 1940s-60s, the TBTA built the Battery Parking Garage, Jacob Riis Beach Parking Field, Coliseum Office Building and Exposition Center and East Side Airlines Terminal, as well as many parks in the city.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are few structures in NYC which are as staggering in scale as Triborough. According to Moses biographer Robert Caro’s definitive book “the Powerbroker” – “more than five thousand men would be working at the site, and these men would only be putting into place the materials furnished by the labor of many times five thousand men; before the Triborough Bridge was completed, its construction would have generated more than 31,000,000-man hours of work in 134 cities in twenty states.”

from mta.info

The bridge’s 3.5 miles of roadway include a suspension span to Queens, a vertical lift bridge to Harlem in Manhattan and a fixed truss bridge to the Bronx-all converging at a huge traffic junction on Randall’s Island. The Queens span is 1,380–feet long and has four lanes in either direction. It has a clearance of 135 feet above the river, high enough for ships to pass under. The Harlem River lift span (as it is commonly called) in Manhattan has three lanes in either direction and moves its center section up and down like an elevator to allow tall marine traffic to pass. The Bronx crossing has three lanes in either direction over its framework of steel beams that form interconnected triangles, making the structure light and strong.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is a school of thought out there which suggests that the heroic performance of American industry during the Second World War was due to the industrial orders which Moses placed during the 1930’s for materials needed to construct the bridge and its approaches. The steel factories of Pittsburgh, concrete factories up and down the East Coast of the United States, the railroads and cargo ships which carried the material into NYC – all served to put American industry back to work. Think about the corollary supply lines for everything that was needed to make it – coal, iron, coke etc. If Pearl Harbor would have occurred in a world in which there had been no Triborough project, it would have taken as long as two years to stoke the furnaces and rehire a work force to build the weapons of WW2.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Triborough, as the name implies, touches down in three of the boroughs of NYC. It connects Manhattan, Bronx, and Queens. The East River suspension bridge spans a part of the river called Hells Gate. It also sits on one of the lesser islands of the archipelago of New York Harbor, Wards Island. Wards has been connected to its neighbor, Randall’s Island during the 20th century by landfill, but they used to be distinct land masses separated by a tidal strait.

Wards Island is kind of a weird place. 

from wikipedia

After the war ended, Jaspar Ward and Bartholomew Ward took ownership of the island that later carried their surname. Although a small population had lived on the island since as early as the 17th century, the Ward brothers developed the island more heavily by building a cotton mill and building the first bridge to cross the East River in 1807, connecting the island with Manhattan at 114th Street.

The bridge, paid for by Bartholomew Ward and Philip Milledolar, was a wooden drawbridge. The bridge lasted until 1821, when it was destroyed in a storm.After the bridge was destroyed, the island was largely abandoned until 1840, when the island was transformed into a dumping ground for everything unwanted in New York City. Between 1840 and 1930 the island was used for:

  • Burial of hundreds of thousands of bodies relocated from the Madison Square and Bryant Park graveyards.
  • The State Emigrant Refuge, a hospital for sick and destitute immigrants, opened in 1847, the biggest hospital complex in the world during the 1850s.
  • The New York City Asylum for the Insane, opened around 1863.
  • An immigration station from 1860 until the 1892 opening of Ellis Island.
  • Manhattan State Hospital, operated by the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene when it took over the immigration and asylum buildings in 1899. With 4,400 patients, it was the largest psychiatric institution in the world. The 1920 census notes that the hospital had a total of 6045 patients. It later became the Manhattan Psychiatric Center.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shades of “Arkham Asylum” on Wards Island (from the Batman mythology) notwithstanding, Triborough – along with the Hell Gate Bridge – is the backdrop to life here in Astoria. Due to the rapacious real estate development currently underway in western Queens, this won’t last for long as residential towers continue to rise all along the waterfront. The view above is from the Queensboro Bridge, incidentally, looking north.

from omh.state.ny.us

Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, a maximum security hospital of the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH), opened in 1985 and provides secure treatment and evaluation for the forensic patients and courts of New York City and Long Island. Most patients are received through the courts under Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) or through the OMH Commissioner’s office via the New York State Code of Rules and Regulations (NYSCRR) regarding hospitalization of the mentally ill.

Treatment is provided in accordance with the current standards of professional care outlined by the Joint Commission of Accreditation of Health Organizations (JCAHO) and is carried out with respect for each patient’s privacy and rights, in agreement with his/her level of functioning and need for security. KFPC has an active staff education program as well as academic affiliations with several metropolitan area colleges and universities, to help assure quality treatment and state of the art care.

and from wikipedia

The Manhattan Psychiatric Center is a New York-state run psychiatric hospital on 125th Street on Ward’s Island in New York City. As of 2009 it had 509 beds. The current building is 14-stories tall.

The hospital’s roots date to 1848 when Ward’s Island was designated the reception area for immigrants. Some additional structures were originally part of Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum, which opened around 1863.

The building was significantly enlarged in 1871, and a Kirkbride Plan style building was built. After the immigration entry shifted to Ellis Island in 1892 the state took it over from Manhattan in 1899 and expanded it even further. At the time, it had 4,400 beds and was the largest psychiatric hospital in the world.

At the time it was one of two psychiatric hospitals for residents of Manhattan that had been take over by the state. The other psychiatric hospital would become the Central Islip Psychiatric Center in Central Islip, New York. Both hospitals were referred to as Manhattan State Hospital.

It later became the Manhattan Psychiatric Center. The facility is currently run by the New York State Office of Mental Health.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a rule, I don’t use the modern appellations for Queensboro (Ed Koch) and Triborough (Robert F. Kennedy). I will, once the Brooklyn Bridge is renamed for Michael Bloomberg or Chuck Schumer.

Happy 80th, mighty Triborough.

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. –
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

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

reptilian devils

with 2 comments

I want to believe…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The world would be so much more interesting if all the nutty and paranoid stuff was true. How I do wish that the Queen of England was actually a human alien hybrid, that Kennedy was killed by the CIA and a cabal of militarists, that Area 51 was anything except for a place where exotic fighter jets and stealth aircraft are tested. “Chem trails,” “banksters,” and the rest of the fantasy scenarios are all built around an elaborate mythology that paints the government of the United States as some great machine which operates with impunity and precision.

Have you actually interacted with the government? Try it out, and that should sunder all notions of the “hidden hand.” These people can barely tie their shoes, cannot keep a secret, and are more concerned with getting approval for overtime than they would be in conspiring with alien overlords (unless they were hiring). If anything, officialdom would start applying for grant monies to form committees to study the alien overlords.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the last week or so, I’ve been telling people I meet that “Holy Crap, just the other night, Obama himself kicked in my door looking for guns to take.” The general reaction has been either “well, at least he did something” or “it took him long enough.” I don’t have any guns – I’m more of a blunt force trauma guy – but the point I’m trying to make is that the whole notion of this sort of conspiracy is sophomoric.

Try arranging a lunch date for five people to meet up at the same time and place, purposely excluding someone inside your social circle. The excluded person WILL find out about it, and loudly proclaim their resentment. Magnify that out to any topic associated with conspiratorial secrecy and do the math.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always believed that the reason people cling to conspiratorial fantasy is the utter banality of real life. Perhaps it’s the nihilist philosophy that I cling to, which renders everything I experience as shades of cold gray. If you were a member of some cabal, there would have to be some sort of bank account associated with it to cover costs and handle payroll. There would be paperwork which someone would have to administer, and an excel spreadsheet generated to track the project.

Even Mafiosos and ISIS keep paper records. Nixon did, and that’s what did him in. Ollie North did. Bill de Blasio does. There’s no such thing as a secret if somebody other than you knows about it.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 23, 2016 at 12:00 pm

gray city

with one comment

It’s complicated, man…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is known for his somewhat quixotic inflections of mood by those who know him privately. It’s not exactly “manic depressive” in the clinical sense, but it often doesn’t seem far off. With me, it’s more “happily content and patient / consumed with red hot anger and resentment.” I don’t know why, maybe my parents loved me too much, or not enough. Can’t say.

Either way, I’m often a hot mess and the only way out of feeling bad is to get out and do something. Work, hard work, is the answer to almost every problem – as I see it. In many ways, I’m a lot like that horse Boxer from Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Since nothing grinds my gears worse than a summer cold, an experience which I recently suffered through, one has been hitting the terrestrial pavement and the deck plates of boats as hard as I can for the last couple of weeks in pursuance of working harder. Now, the odd thing is this – I haven’t been to the Newtown Creek.

Normally, Newtown Creek is my happy place. Also, being exposed to that waterway bolsters my immune system and generally keeps me from getting sick and or contracting a summer cold. Oddly, however, I haven’t felt Queens calling for me to go there in a few weeks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s not that I’m bored with the place – far from it. There’s just some little bird chirping away inside my  “happily content and patient / consumed with red hot anger and resentment” state of mind that’s saying “explore” and is thinking about the far horizons.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 21, 2016 at 2:30 pm

shaken open

leave a comment »

From Hells Gate… in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The titular centennial for the Hell Gate bridge, one of the prides of Astoria, will be occurring shortly. Accordingly, the “powers that be” hereabouts have begun to gather and plan for a community celebration. A meeting was called recently, and one marched over to the forbidden northern coast of Queens to participate. This particular meeting was the moment when the centennial efforts got serious, as none other than Peter Vallone Sr. was in the room. If you don’t who that is, or what it means when the great man himself is present, you don’t know much about Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, I left a LOT earlier than I needed to, and walked to the meeting location “the long way.” The “short way” takes about 25-30 minutes, the “long way” is a meandering but somewhat photogenic path that’s more like 90 minutes. My chosen path would, I hoped, allow me to catch some maritime traffic taking advantage of the flood tide on the East River for transiting to the north and east. I wasn’t disappointed, but I’ll show you that later in the week. That’s a Dann towing company tug in the shot above, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “long way” involves me walking from HQ on the south eastern side of Astoria, where we share borders with Woodside and Sunnyside, down Broadway and then following the East River north in the direction of Astoria Park. That’s where I encountered this scene above, which is a great example of why I love living in this neighborhood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“I like the way you think” is what I told the fellow in the Lay-Z-Boy on Shore Blvd. I also assured him that if he were to run for elected office, he could count on my support. He encouraged me to take his photo, incidentally, as his innovative notion of what a “folding chair” is was something wonderful.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ll show you some of the maritime traffic I spotted along Hell Gate in a post later on this week.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 20, 2016 at 1:30 pm

ecstasy of nightmare

with 2 comments

Wandering the waterfront, that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a shot of Long Island City in the shot above, as seen from North Henry Street in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. The tug Sea Lion is towing barges of recyclable materials from the City of New York’s Newtown Creek dock. This is my kind of waterfront, incidentally, full of maritime industrial activity with dramatic urban back drops.

The skyline behind the Long Island Expressway’s “Queens Midtown Expressway” truss bridge over Dutch Kills is brand new, the modern corridor of a brave new world.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Down on the East River coastline of Long Island City, derelict docks are found. This spot is comparatively far north and west of the mega developments happening along Jackson Avenue and at Hunters Point. This is at the end of modern day 44th drive, which I’m interpreting a century old map as having once been called Nott Avenue. Presuming I’m reading the map correctly, this is the former border between the Queensboro Freight Terminal to the north (whom these docks likely belonged to) and a Standard Oil petroleum facility to the south back in 1919.

There’s a restaurant or two found hereabouts these days, and a couple of large footprint municipal operations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not a waterfront shot, technically, but the LIRR operations at Hunters a Point always had the water in mind – and hey – I kind of like the shot.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

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