The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘East Williamsburg’ Category

veritable ossuary

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It’s National Pie Day, thanks to the American Pie Council, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

People think I’m exaggerating, all the time, about the poison earth surrounding my beloved Creek.

They say it can’t possibly be as horrible as I say it is along the Newtown Creek. Thing is, they’ve never been here during the workday, but instead visited on some nice Saturday in July. To understand the horror of it all, you need to see it, smell it, experience it – personally. That’s why I do my walking tours, but the walking routes I take the public out on are as safe a set of paths as you can possibly scout through the Newtown Creek Industrial Districts. As a note – whenever I’ve got a regulator or political official out with me, I take them to places which are best described as “hell.” I figure that since these officials, and their forebears, are pretty much responsible for letting all of this happen in the first place that they should experience it in toto.

Before I continue… should you decide to come and explore these areas for yourself, I accept zero responsibility or liability for you doing so. I’m telling you point blank, stay away from the borderland of industrial Bushwick and Ridgewood, and the corner of Scott and Randolph in particular. You can easily get hurt, or worse. It’s Mordor up in here, with giant trucks whizzing around, which scare away rodents of unusual size – critters who are oddly used to being out in the daylight. There’s a whole set of rules around here that you aren’t necessarily privy to either. It’s too late for me, but save yourself.

Stay away from the Scott Avenue footbridge zone, yo, this shit’s nasty.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Scott Avenue Footbridge pictured above, incidentally, which provides one with an interesting vantage point to observe the area from. It’s a bit like a hunting stand providing an elevated POV in the middle of some savanna. The bridge itself is typical of the Long Island Railroad footbridge model you’ll find all over Queens. A steel and concrete structure that provides pedestrian egress high over one of their train lines. In the case of this particular bridge, which is quite dilapidated I would add, the train tracks it overflies are the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Almost every other time that I’ve stood on this footbridge during the last decade, the New York and Atlantic freight operation has had literally hundreds of rail cars lined up along it – which compose the so called “Garbage Train.” Like all of the sections of North Brooklyn which touch the Newtown Creek, gentrification is under way in Bushwick. Large numbers of people are moving in just a few blocks east of here. Flushing Avenue’s intersection with St. Nichols is just a few blocks east of here – the heart of the “Brooklyn thing” which the real estate guys are so into.

Notably, the real estate guys will sometimes refer to this area as Williamsburg, rather than Bushwick or East Williamsburgh, to prospective clients. Eventually, “Williamsburg” will extend into Nassau County.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This little neighborhood of blue collar laborers, however, is rife with hazard for the unwary. As has often been mentioned, the “working guys” have a protocol for handling themselves around heavy equipment and such, and not being privy to its mores makes you quite vulnerable to random accident. For instance – never, NEVER, cross in front of a piece of equipment – whether it truck, forklift, whatever – without stopping and waiting for the operator to acknowledge you and wave you on. Can’t tell you how many people I see just darting in front of construction equipment.

Also, advice offered to everybody crossing Northern Blvd. back in Queens is to stand behind a pole or something while you’re waiting for the light to change. Same thing applies in Queens Plaza, and the western extent of Queens Blvd. which feeds into it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a waste transfer station, or twenty, hereabouts. The garbage guys will tell you “it’s got to go somewhere,” and in the case of the Newtown Creek watershed and surrounding industrial districts, about a third of New York City’s garbage comes here every day. Trucks come in full and leave empty, leaving behind tons and tons of construction debris, recyclables, and putrescent waste.

Have I ever mentioned that I don’t seem to get sick that much, almost as if my immune system is all jacked up and running at maximum speed for some reason?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking north-west (ish) you’ll notice the everpresent Sapphire Megalith of Long Island City.

One navigates about the Newtown Creek via triangulation of position between the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan, the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan, and the Sapphire Megalith in LIC.

To wit – if you want to go the waterfront of the East River in LIC from Ridgewood or Maspeth, find a spot where the Empire State and the Megalith seem to line up and head in that direction. Going to Astoria? Keep the Megalith and Empire State on the left. Williamsburg? Freedom Tower at center with Empire State on your right and the Megalith behind you. When they finish all that horrible construction in LIC, I’ll have to decide on a new landmark, as the megalith won’t be the tallest building in Queens much longer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Close to the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Scott is a NYC Department of Public Works access – or manhole – cover embedded in the sidewalk. DPW is one of the many agencies that were compressed into the DEP back in 1983, and out here in North Brooklyn, DPW was the inheritor of the City of Brooklyn’s 19th century sewerage projects which were all consolidated into the City of Greater New York’s holdings in 1898. It’s an intersecting sewer, which my “understanding of” indicates that below will be found some vault like structure that leads into a big pipe on one side, which is fed by a series of smaller pipes located on the other – but I don’t know that because I haven’t been down there.

The smaller pipes do feed in from upland sources, and in the case of this spot, those sources can be as far away as East New York and Canarsie. That’s something I actually do know since I’ve argued about it with officialdom.

The big pipe empties into the East Branch of the Newtown Creek across the street, at a “the size of a semi truck trailer” open sewer that’s called “Combined Sewer Outfall NC-083.” This CSO pollutes the water here with some 586 million gallons of untreated sewage a year, which is a debatable and out of date number that’s attibutable to official sources. It’s amongst the largest of the 400 CSO’s in the City, just as a note. A major contributor, roughly 20%, to the approximately billion and half gallons of raw sewage that flows into Newtown Creek annually, can be accessed below this hatch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

BPF? A water main cover which is close proximity to the “intersecting sewer” hatch featured above, the “BPF Water” thing torments one such as myself. Does “BP” stand for “Borough President,” and if so, “Borough President” what? Is it “Brooklyn” or something else?

Arghhhhh. Something which I don’t know every detail of around the Creek? I’m a complete failure, and now everybody knows it.

Sometimes, if I didn’t make this “job” of mine up out of thin air, I’d complain about how little I get paid for the sheer angst of not knowing what the legend on some random water main cover means.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tittering laughter was heard, carried by an easterly breeeze, as one approached Metropolitan Avenue.

My theory is that some inhuman thing with a three lobed burning eye – housed in the cupola of a sapphire megalith found miles away – made this sound as it giggled at the frustrations of a humble narrator.

Back tomorrow, with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

hidden laboratory

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It’s International Cheese Day, for the industrialized and lactose tolerant nations of this planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

3.4 miles from the East River is a spot which one refers to as DUMABO – or Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. The first bridge over the flowing waters of English Kills was erected here (slightly to the west, actually) in 1814 and was privately owned by the Masters brothers, so it was accordingly referred to as the “Masters Bridge.” Historic sources indicate this spot as being, during the colonial to civil war period, the demarcation point between salt and fresh water on the English Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek. Shellfish were described as being found in “great abundance.” It was once known as White’s Dock, for the vulgarly curious. The precursor of the modern day Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in the 1870’s, and the modern bridge (much altered) was erected in 1931.

The fresh water was being fed into English Kills by upland springs and streams in nearby Bushwick that flowed downhill into it, and by ground water entering it from the bottom. Back in 1814, Metropolitan Avenue was just a wooden plank toll road rising up from the swamps, and it was called the “Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike road.” The springs and streams of Bushwick are what attracted beer breweries like the Ulmer people to a then German speaking rural neighborhood to ply their trade, but I digress. The fat renderers and acid factories began to show up in the 1830’s and 40’s around these parts, and notably – Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory, where Jello was invented, was just a few blocks away. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DOT has been doing a bunch of work at this spot recently, some sort of construction that they attached to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything about the loose soil on the shoreline, nor the decaying wooden bulkheads holding that shoreline in place. Of course, not many people come back here, but it would have been fairly easy to fall into English Kills given the rotting shoreline when the shot above was captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Mary H. tug, tied up to the Bayside Fuel Depot bulkheads, just east of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. This is pretty much the extent of serious maritime access to English Kills given the black mayonnaise/sediment mound situation that gobbles up operational draught and depth. The green wall with all the kit on top is Waste Management’s Varick Street Waste Transfer Station. The Waste Management facility handles predominantly “putrescent” or black bag garbage for the NYC Department of Sanitation, which is processed on site and then loaded onto the so called “garbage train” which travels on the tracks of LIRR’s Bushwick Branch to Fresh Pond and then over the Hell Gate Bridge to points unknown.

Seriously, unknown. I’ve asked and was told “homeland security” precluded the dissemination of where NYC’s garbage is dumped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One headed up Varick Street towards industrial Bushwick from Metropolitan Avenue, where this spectacular salt dome structure was encountered. Seriously, no sarcasm is offered, this was a visually interesting and somewhat elegant solution to the problem. The rest of the neighborhood is dull, weathered, depressing. It’s nice to see a bit of color and style on display for something so pedestrian. It’s right next door to the Waste Management facility on Varick Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets in this section, just south and east of Newtown Creek, are industrial in the extreme. Heavy trucking, the garbage industrial complex… suffice to say that the roadways aren’t exactly bike or pedestrian friendly, and that they are in a sorry state of repair. Watch your step hereabouts, and never cross in front of a driveway without first taking a look. This part of the Newtown Creek watershed is what the band Metallica was likely describing with their “death magnetic” album. There’s “ghost bikes” everywhere you look, the air is a poisonous fume…

Yep, it’s pretty much Tolkien’s Mordor back here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turning off of Varick, I found myself wandering down Stewart Avenue and onto Randolph Street towards the undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens and that hazy industrial borderland which can either be called Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, or Bushwick – depending on whom you ask. Saying that, move quickly through this area, don’t talk to anyone, and certainly do not ask them questions if they speak to you. I would expand on why, but I’d again be told that I’ve seen too many movies, by some rich guy that moved to Hipster Bushwick from Connecticut less than six months ago who is trying to connect with a local art or club scene that they heard about on Instagram.

Of course, I couldn’t have more inconspicuous – the only person for about a square mile not wearing a safety vest and hard hat, and instead clad in a filthy black raincoat flapping about in the poison wind while waving a camera about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR, which carries the garbage train from Bushwick into Queens and its mysterious destination on the continent, it’s just beyond that fence in the shot above. It’s been a while since I wandered through here, and those corrugated fences you see are fairly new, as evinced by a near total lack of graffiti. Back to the implied presence of criminally inclined individuals who are organized into a structure which one might define as a “crew” or a “family,” I’d point out the total lack of graffiti on a visible fence line in North Brooklyn – the high end graffiti capital of these United States.

Go ask someone who grew up in Brooklyn or Queens what that means.

Nevertheless, as is always the case when wandering through the industrial zones surrounding the fabled Newtown Creek, that horrible inhuman thing with the three loved burning eye that cannot possibly exist in the sapphire megalith of Long Island City was watching. It sees all, owns all, knows all.

More to come, next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

soft and rubbery

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DUGSBO, Down Under the Grand Street Bridge, in todays post

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, on Saturday I had to do a tour of my beloved creek and found myself crossing into infinite Brooklyn via the venerable Grand Street Bridge. Running a bit late, I nevertheless found myself cracking out a few shots of the Newtown Creek scenery as the sky was uncharacteristically free of pesky avians. Life forms of any kind are best avoided, by one such as myself. Suddenly, the ancient bridge began to shudder, and one spun on his veritable heels to ascertain the source of the vibrations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Well, there’s something you don’t see every day, thought I. That’s an MTA Bus Company heavy duty tow truck “wrecker” pulling what appears to be a somewhat destructed double decker bus painted with primer gray.

As a note, one has always favored the British spelling for the name of that most decidedly neutral color – which is “Grey.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An amiable pilot was behind the wheel of the gray bus, who offered a gestural greeting as the wrecker towed him across that centuried span which joins Brooklyn’s Bushwick East Williamsburg with Queensican Maspeth. My guess is that they were heading for the titan Grand Street depot found on the Queens side of the currently undefended border between the two boroughs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, the shuddering emanations of the powerful diesel engine found within the wrecker dissipated as it entered Queens, and the Grand Street Bridge ceased its incessant uluations. This allowed me the time to capture an extra one thousandth of a second slice of reality, way out here in DUGSBO.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

heavy boots

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Yeah, Happy Earth Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another Earth Day rolls around, wherein large numbers of happy little sophists will gather together in Manhattan Parks and congratulate themselves for separating their trash into “recycling” and “garbage” parcels. They will pat each other on the back, and claim that NYC is the “greenest” and most “resilient” of American cities. You won’t see any of them visiting LIC, or Greenpoint, Maspeth, or Bushwick, or Ridgewood. They won’t think about what happens after they flush their toilets, either.

Few, if any, will find themselves having arrived at the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They won’t see the black waters of Newtown Creek’s tributary Maspeth Creek, or smell the battery acid odor of raw sewage as it is entering the waterway. They won’t comment on the illegal dumping, or the true nature and environmental impact of the recycling industry. Greater good, they would say, were they to leave Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Few will visit Dutch Kills at low tide, over in LIC. If they did, they would be forced to rationalize the rotten egg smell as being produced by anaerobic microbes. They wouldn’t puzzle over the neon colors of this tributary of Newtown Creek, whose mouth is .75 of a mile from the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They won’t wander through the borderlands of Brooklyn and Queens to Ridgewood, and witness what the recycling process actually looks and smells like. They won’t worry about what they are breathing either.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Manhattan people like to feel as if they’re doing something to help the environment, and will do so in front of television cameras. They will make a show of discussing the banning of plastic grocery bags, or demand that NYC begins to compost its organics. They won’t realize that this composting has to be done somewhere within throwing distance of their Borough, and that it will carried by truck to some central receiving facility where it will be collected and stored whilst awaiting processing. They don’t know that this area will be somewhere along the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They certainly won’t visit the tracks of the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch line, and see the hundreds of filled cargo boxes that compose the “garbage train.” They won’t care that the concentrating point of roughly 30-40% of NYC’s garbage is found on the corner of Varick Street and Johnson Avenue, nor about the thousands of trucks which descend upon it daily.

So – Happy Earth Day, from Newtown Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

perilous experiences

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Shut your trap.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

2012 and 2013 seem to have been years wherein I spent more time in Greenpoint than I did in Queens, which is something that great efforts  in the name of correction have been made in 2014. Lost in soliloquy and pondering the meaning of itself, North Brooklyn has plenty of folks watching over it, while Queens screams for attention and there seems to be only me paying it any mind. Spotted on Steinway Street in Astoria, this yellow horse offers vainglorious thrills, although it is a shadow of what is possible in the world of equestrian statuary.

I do not think that the apogee of horse sculptures will offer rides for 50 cents, however.

from wikipedia

The Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue, part of the Genghis Khan Statue Complex is a 40 metre (131 ft 3 in) tall statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, on the bank of the Tuul River at Tsonjin Boldog (54 km (33.55 mi) east of the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar), where according to legend, he found a golden whip. The statue is symbolically pointed east towards his birthplace.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Newtown Road in Astoria at its intersection with 41st street, one notices a rare artifact of an earlier age.

An uninterrupted block of Matthews Model Flats ends with a wrap around corner that hosts a commercial shop on the first floor. My network of Croatian informants tell me that they remember nothing about the storefront ever being anything other than what it is now, an electrician’s location, and one hopes that some Astorian reading this post can help fill the rest of us in on the past history of the spot.

from mas.org

The Mathews Model Flats were built by speculative developer Gustave X. Mathews and designed by Louis Allmendinger in the early part of the 20th Century. Considered to be some of the most innovative housing in the city, these “new law” tenements were designed with more space and better sanitation than their overcrowded 19th Century counterparts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finally- a shot from Brooklyn’s Bushwick, or East Wiiliamsburg as the Real Estate people call it.

This is the dead bang end of Newtown Creek – actually, its tributary English Kills.

More and more of the people I encounter from this neighborhood are coming down here, seeking vicarious thrills and “disaster tourism.” Some are actually dragging boats and kayaks through the sediments to get into the water.

Lords and Ladies… English Kills is an open sewer, and one of the most polluted spots in New York City if not the planet. I know a whole lot about what’s going on back here and try to limit my exposure to this spot down to 3 or 4 times a year. There’s a reason that the Feds are going to spend hundreds of millions to clean things up. If you’re going to insist on boating in Newtown Creek, please launch from someplace safer. Please?

from habitatmap.org

People using the creek for recreational purposes such as swimming and boating may come into direct contact with chemical contaminants and harmful biological organisms. People may come in contact with contaminants present in the shallow creek sediments while entering or exiting the creek during recreational activities.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

There are three Newtown Creek walking tours coming up.

Sunday, June 21st, America’s Workshop
A FREE tour, courtesy of Green Shores NYC, click here for rsvp info

Saturday, June 28th, The Poison Cauldron
With Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, June 29th, The Insalubrious Valley
With Brooklyn Brainery, lunch included, click here for tickets and more info.

Project Firebox 94

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An ongoing catalog of New York’s endangered Fireboxes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This soldier of the realm is found at the corner of Grand Street and Morgan Avenue in infinite Brooklyn, not too far from the darkest of those hillside thickets found along the Newtown Creek- which is its tributary English Kills. This is is Bushwick, historically, but the area has come to called East Williamsburg in modernity- a term which has zero historical precedence. Of course, ask a realtor where Williamsburg ends these days and they’ll tell you Lake Ronkonkoma.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 26, 2013 at 7:30 am

Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Sunday -the 26th of May- the Working Harbor Committee is producing and offering a boat tour of the Newtown Creek for any interested parties to attend. A special emphasis on the waterway’s storied history and maritime legacy will be made.

I’m going to be doing the history part, speaking in my capacity as the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, and am tasked with highlighting the various points of interest encountered along the route. Anticipated to be some three hours in length, this boat tour will be delving some three miles inland, proceeding to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge crossing English Kills in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Maritime History of Newtown Creek is one largely forgotten in these decadent times, but even now an odd tugboat and barge might be spied making their way down the waterway on any given day. Property owners were considered to have been blessed by some of the finest industrial bulkheads in the world a mere century ago, yet many of the businesses based along the Creek today ignore this invaluable resource, allowing their waterfront property to decay and decline.

Nevertheless, a staggering amount of maritime traffic is still observed here, and towing companies such as Reinauer, K-Sea, DonJon, and Poling and Cutler are regular visitors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast operations will be witnessed by those onboard, many of which are involved in the scrap metal and recyclables trade. Responsible for an enormous amount of cross harbor shipping, companies such as SimsMetal are heavily reliant on the maritime trades for their economic success.

Not all that long ago, Newtown Creek carried a greater tonnage of cargo than the entire Mississippi River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An active and thriving industrial zone in the center of New York City, from the water one can truly grasp the sheer scale of Newtown Creek’s busy waterfront. Normally hidden by high fences and obscured by street facing structures, the intensity of the Newtown Creek is laid bare before the admiring gaze of first time visitor and veteran urban explorer alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A tributary of the estuarine East River, Newtown Creek extends some 3.8 miles from its junction with the more familiar waterway, and provides demarcation for the currently undefended border of much of Brooklyn and Queens. Named to the Federal Superfund list, the Creek suffers from a history of environmental degradation and municipal neglect.

An era of great change is upon the Newtown Creek, and this trip will be one of your last chances to see it in its current form.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We will see four moveable bridges, and this year will be your last chance to see the static Kosciuszko Bridge as the NYS DOT has indicated that construction on its replacement will begin as early as the Fall of 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along it’s banks, great fortunes have risen.

Amongst others- Peter Cooper (BO Railroad, Canton Iron, and Cooper Union), Charles Pratt (Astral Oil, and Pratt University), and ultimately John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil)– all grew richer than the dreams of avarice in this place. Alongside them, the darkest mills of the industrial revolution- rendering plants, yeast distilleries, bone blackers, and acid factories provided tens of thousands of jobs to the immigrant populations of Brooklyn and Queens. Today- National Grid, BP, Amoco, ExxonMobil, and a host of other multinational companies still maintain an enormous investment in this valuable industrial canal.

Upcoming tour: Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

On May 26th, Mitch shares his unique point of view and deep understanding of the past, present and future conditions of the Newtown Creek as the narrator and expedition leader for this years’ Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

Our NY Water Taxi leaves from South Street Seaport at 10 a.m. (sharp) for a three hour tour of the Newtown Creek. From the East River we’ll move into the Newtown Creek where we’ll explore explore vast amounts of maritime infrastructure, see many movable bridges and discover the very heart of the Hidden Harbor.

Limited seating available, get your tickets today.

Tickets $59, trip leaves Pier 17 at South Street Seaport at 10a.m. sharp.

We will be traveling in a comfortable NY Water Taxi vessel with indoor and outdoor seating. There will be refreshments and snacks available for purchase at the bar.

Other upcoming tours:

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley– Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

for a full listing and schedule of tours and events, click here

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