The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Empty Corridor’ Category

rank swamp

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Some people just can’t be satisfied with what they’ve got.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The manifest horror of what’s happened around Queens Plaza and Court Square, real estate development wise, is kind of hard to miss. If you ride the 7 train, or the N/Q lines, I’m sure your jaw routinely drops at the sheer scale of it all. The Citi building megalith – and that impossible, ravenous “thing” which cannot possibly exist in its cupola, whose unblinking three lobed eye gazes greedily down upon the world of men – is nearly occluded by the new construction taking place all around Long Island City. 

The real estate industrial complex seems to have won, and Long Island City is no longer the “next big thing.” Instead, it’s a manifest reality. Thing is, the real estate guys aren’t done yet. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Paragon Oil building on 49th (or Hunters Point) Avenue, once known as the “Subway Building” and or “Queens Borough Hall” was recently purchased by one of the big developers. Rumors and back channel chats with the “powers that be” in Long Island City have revealed that there is a push underway to rezone the industrial corridors along 49th/Hunters Point and Borden Avenues to a “mixed use” designation which will allow the infiltration and conversion of the M1 or “heavy manufacturing zone” over to residential and commercial (office) use. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The enormous Blanchard Building on Borden has also been snapped up by the same company that purchased the Paragon Oil building. Official sources indicate that both structures will be purposed as commercial buildings – office space, in other words. The word on the street that I’ve heard is that the rezoning effort would encompass the area found between the Pulaski Bridge and Greenpoint Avenue, and that the eventual end product would resemble what has occurred along Jackson Avenue and the Hunters Point waterfront. 

This is, of course, all rumor and scuttlebutt. Can you imagine installing a huge population back here, in the LIC cul de sac formed by Newtown Creek and its Dutch Kills tributary? 

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

threadbare accoutrement

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Yet another bit of meeting reportage, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator seems to be on a lot of “steering committees” these days. I’ve long been associated with Newtown Creek Alliance, although we don’t have a steering committee, and contrary to what many believe – I’m not a board member. I’m the official photographer for, and steering committee member of the Working Harbor Committee. Recently, I joined the steering committee of Access Queens. I’m also a steering committee member of the Newtown Creek CAG (Community Advisory Group) for the Federal Superfund situation on Newtown Creek.

The CAG has a series of steering committee only meetings that occur somewhat frequently, where we review and comment on various bits of policy and announcements from the EPA and the Potentially Responsible Parties who are tasked with the scientific analysis and eventual cleanup of Newtown Creek. There’s business people, community activists, policy makers, and representatives from Riverkeeper on the Steering Committee. There’s also a gaggle of Newtown Creek Alliance people on there as well, but given our overwhelming familiarity with the situation that’s sort of a natural fit. A “general” CAG meeting occurs less frequently, but that’s going to change as we get closer to the next phase of the Superfund process, which will discuss the solution to 150 years of environmental degradation based on a nearly decade long scientific survey. General meetings are open to the public if you’re curious, click the link above to find out when the next one is scheduled. If you want to join the CAG, we have a technical advisor who can guide you through the process (which is mainly writing down your name and email in a legible manner).

A recent Community Advisory Group meeting, which was open to the full membership of the CAG (not just the steering committee) occurred at LaGuardia Community College last month on the 22nd of March.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Greenpoint’s Mike Schade, who has been operating as the Co Chair of the CAG, stepped down and we voted my colleague from NCA – Will Elkins – to pick up the mantle as co chair and run with it. The other CAG co chair is Ryan Kuonen, who is chair of Greenpoint’s community board’s environmental committee.

The NYC DEP, which is one of the “potentially responsible parties” along with ExxonMobil, National Grid, Phelps Dodge, and a couple of smaller corporate players like BP and Amoco, offered a presentation to the assembly explaining the concept of “ebulition” to us. Ebulition is essentially the release of droplets or blobs of contaminants from the sediment bed up to the surface of the water, and it’s commonly observed in Newtown Creek. They showed some video of coal tar bubbling up in front of the National Grid bulkheads, which was meant to be an “a ha” moment. To the initiated, however, it’s no secret that there’s 30-40 feet of coal tar and petroleum derivates in the sediments. That’s what brought EPA to Newtown Creek in the first place. Problem is that the ugly leave behinds of industry are intermingled with human waste, which is what the DEP supplies.

Long have I used the term “Black Mayonnaise.”

Prepared by their environmental contractor, Louis Berger, the logic DEP offers in their ebultion argument is that since they aren’t responsible for the presence of petroleum or coal tar in the Creek, and that since the chemical footprint of what comes out of their “combined sewer outfalls” or “CSO’s” isn’t specifically named in the Federal CERCLA – or Superfund – legislation – the community shouldn’t be overly concerned by the raw sewage they pump into the waterway every time it rains. The presentation was offered by Dr. Eileen Mahoney, who is DEP’s Superfund manager, and Dr. Ed Garvey of Louis Berger.

Dr. Mahoney and I, it should be mentioned, aren’t exactly in love with each other and she spent most of her time menacingly glaring at me while speaking, waiting for me to speak up and challenge her assertions. She didn’t realize that my colleague Laura Hoffman was in the room, and the “Mother of Greenpoint” didn’t take kindly to DEP saying that the release of raw sewage into Newtown Creek isn’t a problem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek community advisory group is actually one of the best organizations to pay attention to at the moment, superfund wise. Everybody in the room is under some sort of Federal level jurisdiction, PRP wise, and therefore the fibbing is generally kept to a minimum. Even the DEP won’t out and out lie to the Feds, as there would be hell to pay. Another thing I’ve been saying for years about the Superfund is that the most interesting parts of the story will be about NYC’s vertical silos of power slamming into the Feds. Immovable object, meet the irresistible force.

I managed to convince some of my friends from LIC and Sunnyside to come to the meeting, and get the activist community of Newtown Creek’s northern shore to begin to engage in the process by joining the CAG. There’s a perception in Queens that Newtown Creek is Brooklyn’s, and particularly Greenpoint’s, problem.

I’ve long argued that this is most definitely not the case, and I’m glad to see that others are beginning to realize it too.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.
Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

illegitimate assertion

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Once, you’d tell the operator you wanted to speak to Hunters Point 3342.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walter E. Irving opened for business along Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC back in 1907, but at first his operation was just another iron and steel works. It wasn’t until 1914 that the company became commonly known as either “Irving Subway Grating” or “Irving Iron Works.”

Their honeycomb steel walkways were offered to both the Subway (as the name would imply) people and to maritime customers. It was the maritime world which made the company rich. Irving, a structural engineer, actually started his business in Astoria in 1902, but it was here on Dutch Kills in “America’s Workshop” that he had both rail and maritime access, and that’s why the company centered its operations in LIC.

Here’s a shot of the place from back in 1915.

IMG_1393

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back then, and by then I mean 1914, 51st avenue was called Third Street, and 27th street was called Creek Street.

There was no Long Island Expressway or Midtown Tunnel, and railroad freight tracks snaked around on every street. If you’re in the neighborhood today, you can still find a lot of those old tracks blistering up through the modern day asphalt. There’s “Belgian Blocks” paved streets here in what I’ve long referred to as “the empty corridor” as well. Belgian Blocks are colloquially referred to as “cobblestones.” 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At its height, when their patented honeycomb steel lattice plates were being installed on merchant and naval ships, and into factorys and industrial boiler rooms, Irving’s facility commanded some 22,000 square feet of the most valuable industrial bulkheads in America here in LIC.

It remains one of the largest properties along Dutch Kills to this day, but as you’ve noticed by now, Irving Subway Grating has left the proverbial building.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the early 20th century, Irving employed a staff of about 300, and the facility produced something like 50,000 feet of the honeycomb flooring material a month. The value of the grating was that water, light, and air could move through it – making it perfect for the exterior decking and ladder steps on ships – and that while it had the same strength as a plate of steel, it weighed a significant amount less. It was also appropriate for use in boiler rooms and other industrial applications due to its permittance of ventilation.

Irving also found a place for his products in the steel decking on vehicle and rail bridges, and the United States military would lay his grating down into sand and soil to create stable runways for aircraft in battle zones. Irving received accolades from the War Dept. for his industrial contributions to the Aliied forces’s victory during the Second World War. The NY Subway system, as the name of the product would imply, ate Irving’s products as fast as he could make them. If you work in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, the Tenderloin, or Herald Square, you’re probably already familiar with Irving. 

Build a better mouse trap, I guess.

IMG_1394

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Mexican conglomerate called HARSCO bought Irving, and its portfolio of patents, back in 1966. Irving continues as their IKG Industries division today, and they still manufacture those steel grids. I cannot seem to determine exactly when the Irving Plant at Dutch Kills was shut down, nor accurately ascertain the current owners of the property beyond some LLC holding company. There was an enormous fire here in 2009, which burnt away a lot of what was left of the site.

Here’s what I saw of the pre fire Irving Works back when I first starting getting into this whole Creek thing, in a post that clearly illustrated my neophyte status back in 2009.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the last seven years, I’ve watched the Irving site being slowly harvested by metal collectors – The Crows – who have grabbed every inch of copper and aluminum that they can reach. There’s a security fence with a giant hole cut in it along 27th street, but the chained up shopping carts and well fed cat colony nearby the hole indicate that somebody is living here in the ruins.

As I was by myself when these shots were gathered… well… let’s just say it’s not a great idea to barge into a homeless camp in LIC when you’re all alone, so I stuck to the front of the site nearby the hole in case I had to exit quickly. Next time I have a chum along with me, however, I plan on doing a bit more exploring – mainly because there is a lot of cool graffiti in there I want to check out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scenes familiar, and loved, in Long Island City.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

potential responsibility

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Creek Week continues, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After visiting the Kosciuszko Bridge project, 57th avenue, and then Railroad Avenue, a humble narrator’s dogs were barking and a generally homeward course was adopted. As usual, that meant swinging down Borden Avenue and cutting over to Skillman Avenue on the way back to raven tressed Astoria. 

My favorite sections of Newtown Creek to photograph are found in LIC, along this particular tributary of the troubled waterway – called Dutch Kills.

It’s something about the light, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I haven’t been around here in a few weeks, and I discovered that a formerly fenced in section of the shoreline adjoining the Borden Avenue Bridge had been cleared away, which offered a few points of view which would have formerly required illegal trespass to capture.

Given such an opportunity, a humble narrator will always take it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking west, towards what I call the “empty corridor” found under the Long Island Expressway truss.

The LIE is some 106 feet high in this spot over Dutch Kills, and was built so to accommodate the stacks of ocean going vessels which were headed for the Degnon Terminal Turning Basin which is about a half mile away. The Federal War Dept. also required this particular height for the possibility of installing warships in the canal in order to protect the industrial sector in case of foreign invasion forces entering New York Harbor (a real worry, prior to the Atomic Bomb).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards, you see the sort of scene most life long Queensicans would associate with the words “Newtown Creek.” Still, check out that tuney old truck – cool, huh?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

no dream

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Another archive shot, today from Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Long Island Expressway squats and sags over Borden Avenue as it returns to ground nearby Greenpoint Avenue at the border of Blissville and Long Island City. My little break is turning out to be kind of productive, so look forward to some cool stuff in the near future. Also, I’ve got a couple of shots in an article at today’s NY Daily News- check it out.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 12, 2013 at 9:53 am

imaginative stimuli

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In today’s post- the chiaroscuro of Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Visual splendor makes Queens remarkable, with its open vistas and relicts of vainglory. Whenever the City of New York, since its consolidation, feels itself broken or in need of some experimental improvement- Queens is the place where it has tinkered with rail and expressway, bridge and tunnel, or with municipal zoning and tax abatement schemes. The old girl supports a lot of people these days, and all signs point to the Queens family growing larger.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are things which we aren’t talking about in this election cycle, like what happened to the Bowery Bay Sewage Plant during Hurricane Sandy, or the alarming antiquity of the electrical grid. If you spend as much time as I do around Newtown Creek, specifically the Dutch Kills tributary of that infamous ribbon of urban malfeasance and political neglect, the future of Queens is very much reflected in its past.

How long, I wonder, how long before the tinkering begins anew?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My predictions for the future are dire, as one is pessimistic both by nature and through experience. The growing modern corridors of western Queens will require new power plants and a modernized waste water control system before long which “somebody” will have to pay for. How long before stainless steel digester eggs reminiscent of the type found in Greenpoint tower over Astoria? How long will it be before red and white smokestacks rise over Dutch Kills here in Queens?

When will the tinkering begin?

Things to do!

Working Harbor Committee presents: Great North River Tugboat Races and Competition, September 1st, 2013
9:30-11:30 a.m. at West 42nd Street and the Hudson River. Spectator Boat tickets now on sale.

Modern Corridor

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Want to see something cool? Bring a camera, and follow me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I decided to start doing walking tours of the Newtown Creek watershed a few years ago, I found myself presented with a significant organizational issue. There’s a different story to be told about Maspeth than there is about Greenpoint (also, there are arguably two Greenpoints), yet… the two communities are inextricably linked up. Same thing with Bushwick and Ridgewood, or the residential centers at the Creek’s intersection with the East River. 3.8 miles long by around a mile wide, the Creeklands are vast when on foot. There is also SO much information to pass along, not just about the Creek’s past, but about all the stuff that’s going on right now- EPA, Superfund, the cool things my pals in NCA are doing with Green Infrastructure and Citizen Science…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My solution was to simply to connect the stories of these places up along the ancient roads or paths along which they grew, and follow the water from one borough to another. “Poison Cauldron” does the Greenpoint to Bushwick route, “Insalubrious Valley” follows a colonial era turnpike path, “Glittering Realms” moves from residential East River Greenpoint back to the industrial zone along another colonial pathway, and “13 Steps around Dutch Kills” traces the Queens tributary back to the Creek and ends at its smaller counterpart Whale Creek in Brooklyn.

The new one- “Modern Corridor”- is all about Hunters Point, one of the least known sections of New York City, which sits directly opposite the Shining City of midtown Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This “Modern Corridor” walking tour starts at the old city center, nearby Jackson Avenue and Court Square, and explores the brave new world rising from the ashes of a 19th century industrial titan- the independent municipality of Long Island City. Writ large, the growing community of the titan real estate development which has reshaped the colonial vintage section of Queens called Hunters Point will be encountered, and one of the finest parks in the entire city visited. This park is built upon a significant piece of rail infrastructure which once allowed train cars to be loaded onto barges for maritime transport to Manhattan and points west.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then we walk through to the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, and to the industrial machine surrounding the infamous Newtown Creek. Former home to sugar refineries and cargo docks, rail yards and powerhouses, this will be the future home of thousands who will live in the forthcoming Hunters Point South development which has already begun construction. See it as it is, before the towers rise and the land is reshaped to modern wants and desires.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Skirting along the Creek, you’ll see vast infrastructure, visit DUPBO (Down under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp), and walk over railroad tracks as we head back to the modern incarnation of Long Island City. Bring your cameras, as your friends won’t believe you when you try to describe the places you’ve witnessed. Closed toe shoes are also highly recommended, as is a hat or parasol as there will be little to no shelter from the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself. The walk will be approximately 2 hours in length and will cross all sorts of ground. There will be one flight of stairs involved.

paddy

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We’ll be passing from the 21st century all the way back to the 1600’s with particular emphasis on the late 19th century, when the fellow pictured above- the notorious Patrick “Battle-Ax” Gleason, served as the last Mayor of Long Island City. Gleason was personally responsible for the construction of the exquisite PS1 schoolhouse pictured in the second shot above, which nearly bankrupted LIC- amongst other imbroglios. Dogged by claims and accusations (and at least one conviction) of corruption- Gleason used to sit in a barber chair outside the Miller Hotel- which is today the LIC Crab House- and hold court with constituent and passerby alike. This was his favorite spot, directly across the street from the LIRR train and ferry terminal. He told those he met to avoid addressing him as “Mayor”, instructing them instead to “Just call me Paddy.”

Hope you can come along, this Saturday at 10- meetup at Court Square Station on Jackson Avenue.

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