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Remember, remember the fourteenth of September.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One word before I delve into the usual narrative here – I was attacked by friggin Grasshoppers while in pursuit of some of the images in today’s post. Grasshoppers, as in a biblical plague like swarm of giant bugs flying at me with murder on their minds – a gang of grasshoppers in friggin Long Island City.

It occurs, since these shots were largely collected on the 11th of September, that there are certain calendrical markers which loom large in the collective mind. Unfortunately, these events tend to reflect recent history, whereas other moments which were once considered to be of maximum importance are forgotten. September 11th will be remembered for the events of 2001, of course, but what about September the 14th?

On this day in 326 A.D., Emperor Constantine the Great’s mom Helena (Helena was the Augusta Imperatrix) is said to have recovered a piece of the True Cross in Palestine, as well as finding the site of the burning bush and a few other odds and ends. She’s a Saint now, the Augusta Imperatrix.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even on the day of the attacks, I mentioned to the little gaggle of refugees who had gathered at my home office in Upper Manhattan that it would be just a matter of two to three decades before Sept. 11th became a legal holiday of national remembrance like Labor Day. Within five to six decades, it would lose its significance, like Labor Day or Veterans Day have. Future generations would figure their vacations around the week between Labor Day and what will likely be called Remembrance Day, and there would be sales at retailers. It’s crass, but that’s the American way.

In 1741, George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” was completed on this day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I was out wandering around on the 11th in Long Island City, it was somewhat forefront in my mind that I wanted to get an uncommon shot of the Freedom Tower from Newtown Creek, which is why I was wandering around in spots which are normally avoided due to fear of arrest for trespassing. The shot above overlooks the DB Cabin railroad bridge and the mouth of Dutch Kills, incidentally.

In 1812, an antichrist named Napoleon marched the Grand Armée of France into the City of Moscow on September 14th.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Have to admit – I was actually enjoying the day, and the solitude, for once. I love conducting my Newtown Creek tours on the weekends, bringing people to the crazy places I know around the Creek and reciting the historical trivia, but it does get in the way of me doing “my thing” with the camera. Having a Sunday off for once, the headphones were stuck into my ears and I spent several happy hours listening to my collection of HP Lovecraft audio books. In particular – the Horror at Red Hook, The Outsider, The Thing on the Doorstep, and The Shunned House were in rotation last week. Pictured above is the Cabin M rail bridge over Dutch Kills.

In 1901, President William McKinley died. The President was shot by an anarchist on Sept. 6th, and it was gangrene that ended up doing him in. McKinley’s Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, succeeded him.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was while I was crouched down to get the shot above that the Grasshoppers grew angry at me, and hundreds of chitin clad bullets suddenly erupted from the brush. While I was flailing about in the buzzing crowd, a cramp developed in my left arm and one of my “spells” came upon me. I must’ve been laying on the tracks crying for a good half hour, cursing the fact that I hadn’t decided on studio photography rather than urban landscape. The horror…

On Sept. 14th in 1959, a Soviet built probe called “Luna 2” crashed into the moon, making it the first man made object to reach the satellite.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scarred by the insect attack, I decided “enough” and headed for home back in Astoria. I was hungry, desired an alcoholic beverage to steel myself after the grasshopper incident, and was working out how to exact my revenge on the horde of exoskeletal bastards who had harrassed me. Astoria? Only primates, dogs, cats, and rats live in Astoria. Ok, we’ve got possums and raccoons too, but you catch my drift. We ain’t got grasshoppers.

In 1715, the French monk Dom Pérignon died on September 14th, and in 1836 – so did Aaron Burr. In the United States, September 14th is “National Eat a Hoagie day.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Be back tomorrow with some other drivel and a bunch of pix.

If you’re not doing anything after work tomorrow, I’ll be narrating on the Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour for the Working Harbor Committee, along with Capt. Maggie Flanagan of Waterfront Alliance. Come with? We’re boarding at Wall Street/Pier 11 at 5:30 and the weather is meant to be bloody brilliant. Link below for tix.

Upcoming tours and events:


“Brooklyn Waterfront – Past & Present” boat tour
with Working Harbor Committee, Thursday, September 15th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“13 Steps around Dutch Kills” walking tour
with Atlas Obscura, Sunday, September 18th from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 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.


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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

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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

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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.

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