The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Jackson Avenue’ Category

accordingly determined

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Queens Plaza, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wowzers. It’s no secret that I’m concerned about the “population loading” of Western Queens which has been and is currently underway. From an urbanist point of view, there’s really no reason “why” you shouldn’t cram as many people onto every square inch of city center as you can, and Queens Plaza is – in fact – pretty close to the center of all things. Just ask the powers that be, they’ll rattle off how many subway and bus lines there are, and throw in the East River Ferry as well. They won’t mention hospitals, or the fact that LIC can’t seem to build enough schools to meet its current demands, nor the costs of expanded Police, Fire, and Sanitation units.

What are you gonna do, fight City Hall?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There seems to be a burst of construction activity going on at the moment over on Jackson Avenue between Court Square and Queens Plaza – these shots are from late on a Saturday morning about a week ago, incidentally. The construction guys had closed down Jackson to one lane, as they were moving in a tower crane and other equipment. To say that traffic was snarled…

Actually, automotive traffic is another thing that the powers that be generally neglect to mention when discussing this very modern corridor of some brave new world which is being built down here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The buildings at the far end of the shot above are closer to Court Square and the Citigroup Megalith, which has suddenly begun to seem a lot less out of place or wildly out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood. My guess is that all of the people who will be moving in here soon are meant to take the 7 train to work.

The 7 express is, of course and by the MTA’s own admission, at capacity as of right now. The riders of the 7 routinely describe overcrowded conditions, and complaints about having to allow several Manhattan bound trains to pass before they can even find a spot to squeeze into have been heard from as far away as Sunnyside and Jackson Heights.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To me, it stands to reason that the next waves of development should consider the creation of exurb commercial centers, outside of Manhattan. That would allow for job locations to radiate away from the titular center of the City, to the east and north. An office complex in Jamaica, or maybe Forest Hills? They’re served by several train lines as well. This Manhattancentric development model is really going to end up hurting us, but what do I know? I just live here.

Pretty soon, there’s going to be a gigantic number of people in Long Island City, all flushing their toilets at the same time every morning. Guess where all that sewage is going to end up? The 1939 vintage Bowery Bay sewage treatment plant in Astoria, that’s where. If there’s too much of the smelly stuff in the pipes under the street, like when it’s raining, it’ll go into Newtown Creek.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Thursday, June 30, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Elizabeth Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 27, 2016 at 11:30 am

mapped egress

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The horror, in Today’s Post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My post last Friday about the 7 line got me thinking about the Subways of Western Queens, which are referred to as “the horror” in conversations with Our Lady of the Pentacle.

It was the 3rd of April, in 1913, that the City of New York purchased the (Steinway) tunnels utilized by what would become known as the 7 line from August Belmont, and in 1915 service started on June 22. They didn’t know it at the time, but those old timey types were creating the most photogenic of all of New York City’s subway lines.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even when it’s underground, such as the busted ass Vernon Jackson stop, the IRT line’s 7 looks good. It’s when it moves into Sunnyside and Woodside that the 7 looks best, of course, but there are few stops in Queens where it doesn’t look pretty cool to this itinerant photographer – notably the stop pictured above and the last one in Flushing are comparatively kind of “meh.”

Everything looks terrible in Manhattan, and nobody would go there if they weren’t paid to do so.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In comparison, the R – which travels on the IND – is the reliable but visually uninteresting line. It didn’t reach Queens until 1920, but back then it only went to Queens Plaza. The modern route, which goes all the way to Forest Hills, was established in 1949 – but back then it was known as the “RR.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The interesting thing about the Court Square station, to me at least, is that – at least these days – it offers a free transfer between the IND and IRT systems. Downstairs, you’ve got the G, M, and E lines, and upstairs the 7. To continue with the arcane Subway knowledge – the G line became active in 1933, but it was known as the GG back then. The E also came online in 1933, and it is one of the Subway lines that never sees the light of day operationally as its entire route is underground.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The M is something of a newcomer to the IND Sixth Avenue tracks, although the line was officially designated as early as 1914. It wasn’t until 2010 that the line was routed into its current path mirroring the R service. It actually pisses me off, M wise, that if I wanted to go to Ridgewood – a mere five miles from Newtown Pentacle HQ on Astoria’s southern border – I would need to endure an hour and change long journey through the Shining City to get there.

Before you inform me – yes – I know all about taking the R to Newtown Grand Avenue and catching the bus – I do it all the time.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

mortal assurances

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Did you feel that? Did a truck just go by?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The geology of Western Queens is fairly fascinating. A humble narrator is interested in all things, and one of them is the very ground beneath his feet. Historically speaking, the zone which modernity calls Queens Plaza and Court Square in Long Island City were wetlands. There is rock down there somewhere, but the “craton” which underlies this section of a very Long Island was deposited by the glacial retreat at an odd angle which slopes downward as you head south. A craton is essentially a giant boulder, and that underground slab of rock which is found in LIC’s neck of the woods is buried beneath layers of naturally occurring clay and sand, and a loosely packed 20-30 foot thick layer of anthropogenic landfill material sits atop it. True geologic bedrock doesn’t appear until you get to Maspeth, where the terminal moraine of Long Island begins.

Municipal landfill began to reduce the wetlands and swamps of LIC beginning in the early 19th century, which buried many of the now lost tributaries of both Newtown and Sunswick Creeks which flowed through these parts. Once, you could sail from Newtown Creek all the way to Northern Blvd. at 31st street, and by once I mean 1881. The desire to stamp out typhus and cholera in LIC, Dutch Kills, and Astoria during the “sanitary era” is part of what provided impetus for the landfill process.

The construction of the Queensboro Bridge and the Sunnyside Yards in the first decade of the 20th century finished the job of reclaiming what was – by all accounts – a pestilential swamp. Modernity has forgotten all about that, just ask the East Side Access guys who accidentally found one of those buried waterways  – a catastrophic discovery which delayed their progress and added billions of dollars onto the cost of the project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, I’m not much of anything, let alone an engineer or a geologist. What I am, however, is a guy with a collection of old maps and a series of books which describe what things were like in the area surrounding Jane Street Queens Plaza from the colonial period to the start of the 20th century. The engineers who worked on Sunnyside Yards described some pretty esoteric conditions at the corner of Skillman and Thompson – for instance – including mud that would form 18 feet high waves spontaneously as the tidal action from surrounding waters transmitted through it. The Ravenswood houses are built on a tidal pond/marsh/swamp formed by Sunswick Creek, and the area around the present day LaGuardia Community college was known as the “waste meadows” until Michael Degnon got ahold of them in the 1910’s and filled the wetland swamps in with rock tailings harvested from the subway tunnels which his company was working on.

I’m also a guy who understands that even the stoutest limb will crack if it’s made to bear weight beyond its tolerance. Now, it’s pretty unlikely that a craton, which is a boloid of rock the size of an asteroid that is miles across and thousands of feet thick, would crack. It could sink, however, into the glacial till which it rests upon. This fills me with real concern, given the whole climate change/sea level thing that the Republicans claim isn’t happening. How much crap can you pile in one place before something “gives”?

The firmament is literally shaking in LIC these days, what with all the high rise construction going on, and the truck loads of structural steel and concrete rolling through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My buddies in construction tell me that once you find solid footing – driving steel and concrete down until it meets that rock craton – you can pretty much build as big as you want. The piles sit on the rock, then you create a concrete slab which provides for a stable surface that spreads weight load out over a large area, and you build. Engineers calculated wind sheer, vibration, soil solidity and a thousand other factors years before the first shovelful of earth was turned. An elaborate bureaucracy of planners and building specialists have scoured the plans, looked for any possible error or issue, and made corrections when warranted. Believe when I tell you, these people won’t allow any single structure to crack the earth open anywhere in NYC.

Saying that, they are all largely looking at projects on an individual basis, and not a holistic whole. What will happen when everything scrapes the sky? Will the ground continue to shake, or will LIC just sink?

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daytime pilgrimmage

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Jackson Avenue, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been watching the construction efforts underway at the former West Chemical site adjoining Queens Plaza for a while now. Building condominium towers in Queens Plaza is a questionable proposition, beggaring the question “who would really want to live in Queens Plaza?,” but the bigger one for me is “would you want to live on the former location of a chemical factory?.” I often remark to myself that the reason why the history of Queens is often so tough a nut to crack is the careful obfuscation of its past by the real estate industrial complex so as to preclude casual mention of the fact that so many of the new residential towers rising from Western Queens are in fact built atop such sites.

State and City officialdom call sites like these “brownfields,” which sounds a lot better than “toxic and irreversibly polluted” I guess. Just say “affordable housing” or “green infrastructure” and you’ll feel better about the whole thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brownfield remediation, or “opportunity area,” sounds a heck of a lot better at cocktail parties and let’s face it – lower Manhattan and North Brooklyn cocktail parties tend to grind into uncomfortable territory when you mention the environmental consequence of a century’s worth of industrial use. One would point out that at least the “powers that are” aren’t planning on putting a school on top of the old West Chemical site, but that brings up the uncomfortable subject of the infrastructure required to support a residential population being inserted into a former industrial zone, and the lack thereof, so that’s best avoided as well so as to not make the bond brokers skittish and derail the program.

It will not be conducive, condo sales wise, to mention all of those closed FDNY units or the frankly astounding conditions encountered at the centuried Queensboro or Ravenswood NYCHA projects, nor where the nearest hospital emergency room is located.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The old “chickens coming home to roost” adage will likely be punching Western Queens in the nose some time in the late 2020’s – by my estimate. That’s when our trains will be running at (instead of near) capacity, our lack of school desks and hospital beds will be most apparent, and when the new populations installed in these former industrial corridors begin to organize – politically speaking. One wonders if these new populations will vote in as reliable and “party loyal” a fashion as the current residents do. Will the 20’s roar, or howl, for the Democrats?

The folks who can afford the so called “affordable housing,” rising from these “brownfields,” will they vote for a Democrat party candidate and continue the rule of the “Queens Machine” – or will they support somebody else who is a little more in tune with them socioeconomically? Only time, and a roll of the political dice, will tell.

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Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

ought to be

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Photo enforced indeed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A point is made to document the demolition/construction process at the former 5ptz/Neptune Meter site along Jackson Avenue in LIC. Whenever one is scuttling past, the camera ends up getting stuck into some gap in the construction fencing and progress on the site is recorded.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One feels a certain responsibility to do so, as everyone else stopped paying attention when the graffiti art museum was torn down, but since a buried tributary of Newtown Creek flows throughout the ground here, I consider it to be part of my turf. There’s a good amount of poison in the ground, I’m told, but don’t worry – it’s been designated a “Brownfield Reclamation Site” by the State and City so obviously the soil here will be returned to natural splendor by the cleanup process. Either that or they’ll just pile a bunch of clean dirt onto the surface to achieve the sixty inches of clean fill required by the State environmental people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One would point out that in other Brownfield Reclamation Sites, you’d notice monitoring wells and pumping equipment at work. You might observe a temporary structure that looks like a giant tent being erected to protect the surrounding neighborhood from the process. There would be fellows wearing protective gear. At 5ptz, they seem to just be digging holes and placing steel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Jobs, jobs, jobs, I guess. Progress on the March and all that.

On a historical note – did you know that the Title 1 slum clearance projects of the 1950’s and 60’s actually expanded the slums? That more people lost their homes than gained new ones? That the rent for the apartment complexes which would eventually become NYCHA housing were more expensive than the so called slum tenements which they replaced? That shattering the communities and neighborhoods of pre war NYC actually contributed mightily to the conditions of crime and poverty which bedeviled the City throughout the late 20th century and continue to this day?

“Progress,” and the ghost of Robert Moses, are still with us. When you hear the Mayor say “affordable housing” – think “slum clearance” instead.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 11th, 2015
BROOKLYN Waterfront Hidden Harbor Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee, click here for details and tickets.

June 13th, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 8, 2015 at 11:00 am

preserved body

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LIC, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One always seems to be heading somewhere, but somehow I never seem to arrive. An attempt to grab as many shots of the Bank of Manhattan Building in Queens Plaza, before a 70 atory monstrosity rises next to it (literally) has been underway for several months. Got this one on Sunday morning, while walking over to Greenpoint to conduct a Newtown Creek Walking Tour for Newtown Creek Alliance and the Municpal Art Society’s Janeswalk event. I’m seldom found in Queens Plaza in the morning, so a few camera dials were adjusted and the shutter button was pressed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along my path, this hunk of construction equipment was encountered, which was similarly bathed in morning light. Should Western Queens ever adopt its own flag, I would suggest that both back hoe’s and construction cranes form part of the design.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of construction, over on the corner of Jackson Avenue and the former Jane Street in Queens Plaza, you’d never know that West Chemical was ever there. Thats part of the plan I suppose – who would want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a condominium in Queens Plaza if they knew their home was founded on the site of a chemical factory? The Real Estate Industrial Comlex has done pretty good work in obfuscating the history of Hunters Point – no one there asks about the plumes of Benzene, Oil, or solvents in the ground.

“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 7, 2015 at 11:00 am

cosmic vengeance

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Death, annihilation, hatred.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shots in today’s post come from that time before Viking Hell consumed our megalopolis, and depict the modern version of Long Island City from a fairly high vantage. The glaciers have covered all of this by now, and the frost giants – or Jotun – now exercise sovereign control this territory. One begins to grasp why the suicide rate is so high in Northern Europe’s frost belt.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Enormous amounts of study have been enacted, during these cold and dark months, centering around the subject of the Sunnyside Yards. It’s odd, how you can “know” a lot about something, and then discover that your knowledge base is ephemeral at best. Then you start reading century old engineering reports and examine old maps of the area, and the depths of your ignorance become apparent. I can tell you many things now – for instance, the chief engineer who built the yards was named Albert Noble, and he oversaw the East River division of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s efforts during the “New York Tunnel Expansion” which occurred between 1904 and 1910.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the coming months, I will be talking a LOT about the yards, and the Big Little Mayor’s plans to deck them over and wreck at least two thriving communities in the process. What I can say at this point in time, however, is that the amount of taxpayer money which would be required to deck over the close to 200 acres of the Sunnyside Yards could easily reactivate several LIRR lines in Queens AND extend the 7 line all the way to College Point. We are talking 150-200 billion dollars for this caprice, and that’s before any structure rises from the deck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things that has also emerged, and this is fairly novel for me, is empathy for the Real Estate Industrial Complex investors who have been dutifully “developing” Long Island City for the last 25 years. Can you imagine investing millions in a piece of property, securing financing for construction and obeying the annoyances of the regulatory process, all the while greasing all the right political palms – and then having a one term Mayor come along and announce a plan that will devalue all you’ve done?

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 27, 2015 at 11:00 am

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