The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Greenpoint’ Category

nail biting

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A bit of Newtown Creek “now and then,” in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been at work on several subjects regarding that fabulously decadent cataract of Municpal neglect known to all as the Newtown Creek. It’s kind of big picture stuff, which requires a “long tail” of research on and about certain industries. You can’t understand something modern unless you understand its past, I always say.

For example – If I want to describe the Brooklyn Union Gas Manufactured Gas plant on Newtown Creek in Greenpoint (which is now the National Grid LNG plant on Varick), I need to possess an at least topical amount of knowledge regarding the history and technology of the 19th century Manufactured Gas Industry in New York City.

Actually, that’s not an example, it’s precisely the thing I’ve been working on – to develop an understanding of. Manufactured Gas Plants – or MGP’s as they’re known in the environmental community.

Harper_s_Weekly_hp001a_S_

– from Harper’s Weekly, August 6th, 1881 (courtesy google books)

This sort of research always turns up a few surprises, and for an area like Newtown Creek – which is of truly national importance in the story of the second industrial revolution, but for which scant historical visual documentation exists – it’s sometimes pretty interesting. Harper’s Weekly was on quite a tear about my beloved Creek back in the summer of 1881, and presented a few illustrations of “the horror” interspersed with texts describing the oil drenched mud and stinking waters of Newtown Creek.

Here’s my speculation as to what I think we are seeing in these drawings. Educated guesses, btw., that’s all.

Nowadays, the outline of Newtown Creek barely resembles what it looked like back in 1881 – there used to be a couple of islands in the Maspeth Creek/Turning Basin area for instance – but there are few historical constancies with which you can reckon location around the creek when old photos or even illustrations are presented. The LIRR tracks are one of them, and another is the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road.

In the shot above, that pile of piles on the shoreline in the center of the shot? The smokestacks on the far shore? The gas holder tanks on the horizon?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I think that the illustrator was sitting right about where I was last winter, at the shoreline intersection of industrial Maspeth’s 58th road with Newtown Creek, looking south west towards Greenpoint’s National Grid LNG site with the ruins of the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road directly in front of me.

Harper_s_Weekly_hp001b_S_

– from Harper’s Weekly, August 6th, 1881 (courtesy google books)

The view above has railroad tracks in it, ones which follow a certain curve, one that has remained fundamentally the same since the LIRR laid them down in the late 1860’s. The tall smokestacks at the left of the shot are likely those of Phelps Dodge. The ones off in the distance are probably the Haberman rendering plant. Calvary cemetery would be to your left, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the illustrator set up his tripod at Penny Bridge – which is the modern day spot that Review Avenue transmogrifies into Laurel Hill Blvd.

That would put the illustrators point of view somewhere on the eastern side of Blissville, looking eastward towards Maspeth.

photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m of the belief that this is the same shoreline seen in the left side of the shot above, although my photo was captured from out in the middle of the channel while onboard a boat. The masonry on the lower right – or Brooklyn side – of the shot is what’s left of old Penny Bridge, and the 1939 model Penny Bridge (Kosciuszcko) is right where that divot on the shoreline is in the 1881 illustration from Harper’s Weekly. Phelps Dodge would have been found on the east side of the Kosciuszcko Bridge, and their property included the gray building with the blue stripe (the modern day Restaurant Depot).

Upcoming Events and Tours

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

Leviton

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A “reblog” from August of 2012.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I seem to walk past this structure at least once a week, have done so for several years now, and until recently was completely ignorant about one of the largest employers of 20th century Greenpoint. The Leviton family built this commercial empire by the sweat of their brows- stories of part time employees encountering old Isidor working on the factory floor are rampant in Greenpoint, verging on Pop culture amongst “garden spotters” of a certain age.

from wikipedia

Leviton Manufacturing Company, Inc. is a manufacturer of electrical wiring devices, data center connectivity apparatus and lighting energy management systems. The company was founded in 1906 by Evser and his son Isidor Leviton. They began by manufacturing brass mantle tips for the natural gas lighting infrastructure in Manhattan. They sold their mantle tips on a pushcart on the Bowery on the Lower East side of Manhattan. Isidor Leviton designed a screw in lampholder for Thomas Edison’s Electric Lamp in 1910 and within ten years the lampholders were being used in every apartment in New York. In 1936 Leviton built a two square block 4 story factory and warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn which still stands today. Leviton products include over 25,000 devices and systems, used in homes and businesses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another bit of reputation that the family gathered unto itself was a certain liberalism regarding class, religion, and creed in their hiring practices- eschewing the segregation and selective hiring practiced by other corporations- particularly those in the electronics sector. The father of a close friend once told me that, in the years following the second world war, he was denied an opportunity to use his ivy league engineering degree because of a last name that sounded “too Italian”. Not an issue at Leviton, I am told.

from heresgreenpoint.com

By 1910 Leviton was designing and manufacturing pull-chain lamp holders for Thomas Edison’s newly developed light bulb, and in 1922 the company was moved to Greenpoint to better facilitate its rapid ascention. The massive factory took up two city blocks between Newel and Jewel Streets and produced over 600 electrical items, from fuses to socket covers to outlets and switches. Leviton would remain in Greenpoint until 1975, when the company again relocated, this time to Little Neck, NY.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newspaper reports describe the company as resistant to unionization, and even Eleanor Roosevelt found herself standing in solidarity with a picket line on Greenpoint Avenue in the 1940’s. In August of 1940, a large group of laborers “went out”, despite Leviton paying “benefits”- a rare and coveted perk of employment in that era. “Benefits” are what health insurance and a retirement plan were once known as, and were not an automatic or legislated requirement before the 1970’s- for those of you reading this under the age of 30, understand that these “insurance benefits” were something won by the labor movement of the early 20th century.

This was the scene of a long and contentious labor strike in 1940,

as detailed in this preview of the George Ruffini book– “Harry Van Arsdale, Jr: Labor’s Champion”, courtesy google books.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Today, the structure is called the “Greenpoint Industrial Center” and seems to host a series of industrial, artisanal, and warehousing operations who make use of its cavernous interior spaces. The Leviton company left Greenpoint in the 1970’s, migrating to literal greener pastures in eastern Queens and ultimately Melville, Long Island.

from nationmaster.com

The Leviton Manufacturing Company was founded in New York by Isidor Leviton, at the dawn of the electrical era in 1906. Originally engaged in the fabrication of mantle tips for gas lighting, the Company soon afterwards in 1910, converted to production of a single electrical product — a pull-chain lampholder (designed for Edison’s new light bulbs).

    • 1922: Leviton relocated to Greenpoint, Brooklyn after acquiring the TECCO plant, and now offered 568 products.
    • 1929: Acquires Meteor Electric Company, a leading manufacturer of wiring devices.
    • 1932: Leviton devices are used in the Empire State Building.
    • 1937: Acquires American Insulated Wire and becomes the industry leader in wire, cable and cord products.
    • 1939: Leviton devices featured at World’s Fair.
    • 1950: Purchases the Deal Electric Company.
    • 1953: Acquires Hale Brothers Companies, now known as Leviton Canada.
    • 1960: Leviton is among the first manufactures to institute an employee pension plan.
    • 1961: Leviton devices are installed in the White House.
    • 1965: Harold Leviton becomes President and CEO.
    • 1972: Introduces the first GFCI, the first touch dimmer, and a selection of home automation powerline carrier components.
    • 1973: Introduces Decora® designer-style devices.
    • 1975: Moves corporate headquarters to current location in Little Neck, NY.

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 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

tangible efforts

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From Bushwick Inlet, in Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happy Memorial Day, y’all. Never forget, never forgive.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 4, 11:00 a.m. -1:30 p.m. –
DUPBO: Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 30, 2016 at 11:00 am

pertinent assertions

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Cool Cars, Greenpoint edition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted a nifty set of wheels on Norman Avenue not long ago, which are attached to what I believe to be a 1949 Chrysler New Yorker. The body of the car wasn’t in the best shape, but then again, I hope I look this good and will still be street worthy when I’m sixty seven.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a giant engine under the hood in these old New Yorkers, a 323.5-cid straight eight. It’s a fairly huge car as well, with a nearly eleven foot long wheelbase.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The old thing had obviously seen many of her old parts replaced by makeshift specimens. There were quite a few bits of missing trim and other flare, but this car definitely looked drivable.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This car has a semi automatic transmission, which was a selling point. Cool dash as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cross bar just below the license plate is engraved with “fluid drive,” which is what Chrysler branded the semi automatic transmission in the 1949 New Yorker as.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, May 21st at 3:30 p.m. –
A Return to The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek,
with Atlas Obscura, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

Thursday, May 26th at 6 p.m. –
Brooklyn Waterfront: Past & Present Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

apportioned excess

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At Brooklyn’s Unamed Canal, best described as a minor tributary of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whenever possible, on days when I’m conducting a walking tour somewhere around the fabulous Newtown Creek, I like to get there early and scout ahead. The Creeklands are full of surprises. If it’s one of the long ones, I’ll usually try and walk the route a day or two before the event, but for the shorter ones I like to “do it on the day.”

Last Sunday, we did a relatively short one revolving around Newtown Creek Alliance’s “North Henry Street Project.” The group encountered me and my pal Mai first, and I recounted the story of oil in Greenpoint, segued into the whole “CSO” or “combined sewer outfall” situation on the Creek, then talked about the sewer plant. At the end of Kingsland Avenue and what is theoretically North Henry Street, the group was handed over to my pal Will Elkins, NCA’s Project Manager and the fellow who is in charge of this whole North Henry Street situation.

Click here for NCA’s page describing the project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, that’s why I was wandering around behind the sewer plant on Sunday morning at 9:30 in the morning. The first shot is from just three hours later, at the end of the tour when the weather had taken a dramatic turn for the better. It’s kind of lonely spot back here on Kingsland Avenue, although there’s actually quite a bit of activity – industrial wise – that happens back here.

Metro Fuel, Luna Lighting, Allocco Recycling, and a couple of others including the Department of Sanitation and the DEP are all buzzing around like busy little bees in this little cul de sac found in a part of Greenpoint which I refer to as DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The star of the show in this section of the Newtown Creek heartlands is – of course – the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and its stainless steel digester eggs. One of those digesters is going to be diverted from Municpal sewerage duty due to “Waste to Energy” project which the DEP has initiated with the National Grid company. Like a lot of “big green” projects, the devil is in the details with this thing.

The digester eggs are pretty incredible bits of technology, and purpose built. Within the eggs, the same micro organisms found within your own viscera are at work on an industrial scale. Said critters digest and sterilize the sewage sludge via biological processes. There’s a few byproducts to this process, one of which is a mephitic and combustible gas commonly called Methane.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Currently, the DEP uses some of this methane byproduct in pursuit of maintaining the temperature range required by the micro organisms within the digester eggs. The vast majority of it is burned off, however, making the plant an immense manufacturer of greenhouse gases. That’s where National Grid comes into the picture.

The National Grid people have partnered with DEP, and will be building a mechanism by which this excess Methane will be added to their own Methane Natural Gas network. Sounds great, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that sewage doesn’t have the yield for viable commercial exploitation of the gas. Accordingly, one of the eggs is either now, or soon will be, offline for sewage duty, so it can be fed “food waste.” To guarantee that no pesticide or preservatives can addle the powers of the micro organisms, a preference has been stated for organic food waste.  This organic waste is collected by trucks operated by the Department of Sanitation, which will converge from all over the City of Greater New York on Greenpoint’s hazy eastern border with Williamsburg and Bushwick. How do they know the food waste is organic? Let’s just say I know somebody in the school lunch lady Union that mentioned to me that their people were mandated to start separating food waste from the other trash recently. This mention was an angry one, as the City has provided no funds to facilitate the extra work.

The food waste will be “macerated” (chopped up), semi liquefied, and then pumped into another truck. That truck, which will be the sort of big tanker rigs you observe filling the underground tanks of gas stations, will then drive to the sewer plant and pump the stuff into the egg.

One year into the program, DEP and National Grid expect twelve of these tankers to be crossing through Greenpoint on a daily basis. They haven’t projected the number of truck trips through Greenpoint for the second year of the roll out yet. The “waste to energy” program, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of compostable organics headed to landfill, has inadvertently added hundreds if not thousands of heavy trucks a year to the already heavy flow of traffic through Greenpoint and the Creeklands as a whole.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, May 21st at 3:30 p.m. –
A Return to The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek,
with Atlas Obscura, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

Thursday, May 26th at 6 p.m. –
Brooklyn Waterfront: Past & Present Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

neatly fitted

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A short, and kind of weird, one today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has a number of theories about the shot above, captured on Greenpoint’s Manhattan Avenue near the corner of Commercial Street – about one block from the fabulous Newtown Creek. One involves a war in Pigeon Heaven and the stripping away of a rebel eidolon’s wings. Another revolves around an undescribed form of life, or something very much like life, which might lurk in the shadowy recesses of Greenpoint.

The most likely explanation involves feral cats, of course, but what fun is there in pondering that?

Back tomorrow with something a bit more substantial, a post that’ll carry a beat more “meat on the bone.”

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

poised on

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Happy Earth Day, from the Poison Cauldron in DUKBO.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, a humble narrator found himself in Greenpoint over in Brooklyn. One was scuttling along a proscribed route whose intention and path was built around a walking tour conducted for a private group. Given the enormous construction project underway in the area, the NYS DOT’s construction of a replacement for the 1939 vintage Kosciuszko Bridge which carries the Brooklyn Queens Expressway over Newtown Creek, there is little certainty that just because you can move from “point A to point B” via one street or another on one day you can do it on another due to street closures and ongoing construction. From a vehicular POV, it’s actually a bit of a challenge to negotiate the streets hereabouts – there’s detours and so on – but from a pedestrian’s perspective, it’s a real bugbear as you find yourself dodging heavy trucks and moving through an enormous cloud of airborne dust and particulates in this area which are less than desirable to breathe in.

This is the area I describe as “The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek” after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I just got invited to attend a tour of the actual construction site with the DOT show runners next week, so for today I’ll abstain from making a full progress report as by next week I’ll have heard it directly “from the horse’s mouth” and I’ll have shots from within the fence lines to show you.

Saying that, observationally, the project continues to move along at a fast rate, and the roadways of the new bridge are stretching towards the turgid waters of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the curious, one would like to reiterate that whereas this area is a photographic wonderland, I cannot describe how dangerous it is and that it’s really best for you to avoid the area for a number of environmental and safety reasons. A humble narrator has received multiple hours of “safety training” from various industrial giants along the Creek (requirements for stepping on several sites around the waterway include a mandatory “union” safety course) and I’m versed in the mores and methods of how to move about safely when the sort of equipment you see above is passing by.

There’s a reason I call it “the Poison Cauldron.” This area in Brooklyn’s DUKBO hosts a startling number of waste transfer stations, and all of that airborne particulate mentioned above is literally just hanging in the air.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Walking Tour – Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

First Calvary Cemetery Walk.
Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman at First Calvary Cemetery, found in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood along Newtown Creek. Attendance limited to 15 people.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 22, 2016 at 1:00 pm

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