The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Long Island Expressway’ Category

rather gruesomely

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Like every other bit of wind blown trash in NYC, this is where I belong.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite being a shambling and sclerotic mess, nevertheless does a humble narrator scuttle on about and around the Newtown Creek in the middle of the night. Recent endeavor found one in Blissville to attend a meeting of the newly created Blissville Civic Association, which the community has formed in response to the Mayor dropping multiple homeless shelters into their midst, and afterwards one set out to a nearby tributary of that legendary cataract of urban malfeasance known as the Newtown Creek – specifically Long Island City’s Dutch Kills.

That’s the Borden Avenue Bridge in the shot above, but don’t ask me where the shot was captured from as I’d have to confess to a misdemeanor. Suffice to say that every nook and cranny is known to me. It’s all I’ve got, ultimately.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Either the world happens to you, or you happen to the world.

That’s the Long Island Expressway above, riding on a truss bridge that carries it some one hundred and six feet over the waters of Dutch Kills. The height was determined by the demands of the War Department of the Federal Government, who had laid down the law to State of New York that the LIE would need to allow egress for maritime vessels on Dutch Kills, and specifically vessels of the Naval surface warfare type.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has read some of the planning documents for this section of the LIE, which is officially the Queens Midtown Expressway, and sections of said plans discussed the need to defend Newtown Creek and the larger harbor of New York against a potential maritime invasion by German naval forces in the run up to WW2. One of the guiding principles was the defense of the industrial zones, and the East River corridor specifically. The Navy’s theory was that the Kriegsmarine would enter New York Harbor via the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island (there was no bridge there in the 1930’s) and that would be the most strategic and effective spot to interdict the German Navy. Accordingly, in the case of such an invasion they would have stationed Destroyer class vessels in Newtown Creek and the Gowanus (as well as other places) to act as protective bulwarks for the industrial operations.

The Navy plan also intended for the Destroyers to fire artillery southwards over Brooklyn to shell the Narrows on vast parabolas. The people in Bay Ridge would have loved that one, I tell you, had it been commonly known. Fuhgeddaboutit. 

Upcoming Tours and Events

April 29 – Bushwick-Ridgewood borderline Walking Tour – with Newtown Historical Society.

Join Kevin Walsh and Mitch Waxman as they take us along the border of Brooklyn and Queens, Bushwick and Ridgewood, with stops at English Kills, an historic colonial Dutch home, and all kinds of fun and quirky locations. End with an optional dinner on Myrtle Avenue before heading back to the Myrtle-Wyckoff subway station. Tix are only $5 so reserve your space today!
Tickets and more details here.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


strange hills

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Shots from high over Greenpoint today, and a few things to do!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the end of last week, which was a doozy incidentally (I actually had to wear a suit and tie one night), one had a chance to head over to Greenpoint and get high. High above the ground, that is. The shot above looks east over some oil industry infrastructure towards the new Kosciuszcko Bridge from the rooftop at 520 Kingsland Avenue. Newtown Creek Alliance, the Audubon Society, and Broadway Stages have created a green roof there that these shots were captured from.

We need a lot of green roofs around the Newtown Creek, lords and ladies. That’s one of the points made over and over in the recently released visioning plan which NCA and Riverkeeper have just released.

Check out the Riverkeeper/Newtown Creek Alliance Visioning Plan,
which can be accessed at this link.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, your Newtown Pentacle focused in on the Blissville section of LIC, but I’m hardly the only person to have fallen in love with the people and place. A fellow named a Hank Linhart has been bitten by the Blissville bug too, and produced a fantastic short film documentary about the place. I met Hank at a screening he did for the movie at the Greater Astoria Historic Society last autumn, and promised him that I’d find a spot to showcase it along the Creek.

So, what are you doing this Thursday on the 22nd of March? Want to come see a movie for free?

Film Screening: Blissville Stories

Thursday, March 22nd, 7:30pm – 520 Kingsland Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222

Please join NCA as we host a screening of “Blissville Stories,” a documentary film about the Queens neighborhood bounded by the Newtown Creek, the Long Island Expressway, and Calvary Cemetery. We will be joined by filmmaker Hank Linhart. More info about the Blissville Stories can be found here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot looks southwest, over the sewer plant towards Manhattan. The middle section of the shot isn’t out of focus, rather you’re looking through jets of methane which are produced by the plant which the NYC DEP burns off. I’ve called it Brooklyn’s invisible flame in the past.

Finally – hold the date for me on April 15th.

That grueling 13 and change mile death march through the bowels of New York City known as the “Newtown Creekathon” will be underway on that day, and I’ll be leading the charge as we hit every little corner and section of the waterway. Keep an eye on the NCA events page for more information.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

elusive quality

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One last post in Blissville, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Department of Homeless Services seems hell bent on sending NYC’s mot vulnerable citizens up the creek. The Newtown Creek, that is. They’ve sworn up and down that their program will be phasing out the usage of private hotels for housing people. Instead, they’re renewing contracts with hotels like the Pan Am over in Elmhurst and creating new concentrations of population all over Brooklyn and Queens, except for Park Slope and the Upper East Side for some reason or another. Those of us who live in neighborhoods like Maspeth, LIC, Astoria, or Blissville who stand up and complain about this policy will be branded racists or “NIMBY’s.” That last one stands for “Not in My Back Yard” and I’m just going to ask how the Mayor would feel if I was to start camping out in a certain somebody’s back yard on 11th street in Park Slope. I’d talk about equity and sharing the burden to him, but I’m pretty sure he’d tell me I couldn’t take up residence in his back yard. I’m positive that if I listed his back yard on Air BNB he’d be a NIMBY.

The shot above depicts the newly constructed Kosciuszcko Bridge, a mega project going on in Blissville’s back yard.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Sunday night in early March, on Review Avenue looking up 37th street, with First Calvary Cemetery’s walls forming the eastern border of that street here in Blissville. That’s when and where the shot above was captured. I could barely find a thirty second interval that didn’t have traffic running through it to capture this shot, so I decided to just roll with it.

No wonder, as the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge which carries just over ten million vehicle trips a year is only a block away, and the Long Island Expressway with its 85,000 daily vehicle crossings is less than a half mile distant. A not insignificant proportion of these vehicles are semi and garbage trucks, heading to the waste transfer locations found along a Federal Superfund site called the Newtown Creek. At these waste transfer stations, barges and trains are required to vacate Blissville of the load carried by these trucks.

37th street is mixed use, there’s residential buildings sitting right next to factories and warehouses. The world’s largest Fortune Cookie factory is at the end of the street nearby Bradley Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The people of Blissville deal with lots of trouble and stress due to the astonishing levels of traffic, severe environmental issues which include two nearby oil spills, and the presence of a sewer plant just across the water in Greenpoint. To the west and north, in Hunters Point and Sunnsyide, the fires of gentrification burn fiercely, driving rents up all over Western Queens, and even here in Blissville. Blissville has no supermarkets, no hospitals or urgent care centers, and access to mass transit is problematic at best. The 108th pct. is in Hunters Point, about a mile and half to the west. They do have a firehouse, so at least the City does something for Blissville other than open homeless shelters in it.

The shot above looks towards the intersection of Greenpoint Avenue, Van Dam Street, and Review Avenue at the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. That self storage joint used to be the home of the B&G Pickle factory, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, equity, and a fair shake for all New Yorkers is the sort of contrived rhetoric offered by the political establishment of City Hall under the current Mayor. Their policy, however, always seems to indicate that the needs of Manhattan outweigh the needs of Queens. Most importantly, to me at least, remains the eventual disposition and fate of the people whom the Mayor intends to house in this already overburdened community named for Greenpoint’s Neziah Bliss.

Is Blissville an appropriate place to house the homeless? 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are already two homeless shelters within a half mile of the proposed facility which would double if not triple the current population of Blissville. That’s one of the converted hotels pictured above, the other one is on the Sunnyside section’s side of the Long Island Expressway, behind St. Raphael’s church. Do these two shelters mean Blissville is already carrying enough “equity” or has their “fair share of burden” for the rest of the City not yet been met?

That’s a former public school, in the shot above. It was built for the independent municipality of Long Island City by its last Mayor, Patrick “Battle-Ax” Gleason. Battle-Ax Gleason said that if you built palaces for working men to send their children to, you’d never get voted out of office and you’d be loved by the voters. When he died, 5,000 school kids lined the streets of Long Island City along the route of his funeral cortège. He’s buried in First Calvary cemetery, incidentally, here in Blissville.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m expecting my phone to start ringing from 212 numbers in lower Manhattan this week, by the way, telling me to “back off.” Sorry, but no.

I’ve said this before and fear I’ll say it again – there is no “homeless problem,” rather there’s a million individual problems. By branding a vulnerable population of people whose only commonality is poverty as “the Homeless,” a demonized and stereotyped population is created. The shelter system is a jail without bars.

We are a rich and ostensibly “christian” society, and so we are both morally and legally obligated to help these folks lift themselves up. One bad day stands between all New Yorkers and homelessness. What these folks need is no different than what everybody needs – jobs, a roof, food. Jobs let them pay rent, which allows them to create a credit history, which allows them to pass out of the “system” and suffer like the rest of us.

Saying all that, and I’ll repeat myself again here – sending these people into industrial zone hotels nearby a superfund site with nearly zero access to transit, healthcare, just about everything they’ll need… that’s a human rights violation.

Mr. Mayor, this isn’t a homeless shelter you’d be creating here in Blissville, it’s a penal colony. It’s also the sort of heavy handed and deaf eared policy choices that you spent the twelve years of the Bloomberg administration complaining about.

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thunderous declamations

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Instead of Iowa or Texas, the Mayor ought to come out to Queens once in while, just in the name of “Equity.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Long Island Expressway rises out of the Queens Midtown Tunnel in the Hunters Point section of Long Island City, and follows the route of Borden Avenue on a high flying steel truss which is at its height 106 feet over the waters of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. According to the NYC DOT’s 2015 numbers, this section of “495” is called the Queens Midtown Expressway and it carries nearly 85,000 vehicle trips a day. It comes back to ground at the border of the Sunnyside and Blissville sections of Long Island City, at Greenpoint Avenue.

That’s about 31 million vehicle trips a year rolling through LIC, and in particular – Blissville. The shot above represents exactly thirty seconds worth of traffic on a corner one block away from the entrance/exit to the LIE. Thirty seconds… keep that number in mind when looking at the shots in today’s post. They’re all thirty second exposures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the LIE itself, shot from the access road which feeds down onto Borden Avenue in an area I call the “Empty Corridor.” I was down there just a couple of weeks back, and the zone was discussed in this post. For the sake of trivia – the LIE opened on the 15th of November in 1940.

The northern border of Blissville is formed by the Long Island Expressway and the Empty Corridor. Saying that, if you’re on the north side of the LIE, you’re still in Sunnsyide.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the Blissville side, rivers of steel flow past you on the local street/access road modernity calls Borden Avenue. Named for where it was going, namely the Borden Dairy farm in Maspeth, Borden Avenue was created as a wooden plank road in 1868 that connected the western end of the road with the East River shoreline, and with the upland agricultural properties to the east. Originally, this raised roadway – designed for mules and oxen pulling milk wagons – crossed through the malarial swamps surrounding Dutch Kills.

By the early 20th century, the swamps had been drained or filled in, and Borden Avenue was paved with belgian block and later macadam and asphalt. It became an industrial corridor whose path more or less mimicked that of the Long Island Railroad’s Lower Montauk Branch tracks found just to south, along the bulkheads of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east of Borden Avenue is Greenpoint Avenue, which was built into its current path in 1852 from a dirt road. On one side of the street, since 1848 at least, First Calvary Cemetery will be found. When it opened, Calvary wasn’t even half the size it is now. Acquiring property through inheritances and purchases, the cemetery didn’t attain its current borders until the early 20th century, just before the First World War. There are literally millions held in the loam.

Blissville itself is named for one of its founders, Greenpoint’s Neziah Bliss. It was developed with Eliaphet Nott of Union College, and the goal was creating one of those utopian worker’s hamlets which were all the rage amongst wealthy Protestant industrialists in the years leading up to the American Civil War. There were meant to be no bars or saloons in Blissville, but in the 1850’s when the railroad began to be driven through, the Irish laborers working on the iron road put an end to all that. Additionally, the masses of people coming to Calvary from the Five Points and Lower East Side to visit the graves of loved ones created a demand for inns and bars.

Blissville was one of the five communities which seceded from the Newtown Municipality to form Long Island City in 1870.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to a 2015 report from the NYC DOT, the Greenpoint Avenue (aka John J. Byrne memorial bridge) Bridge carries 28,361 vehicle trips across Newtown Creek on a daily basis. That’s 10,351,765 vehicles a year heading to and from Brooklyn’s Greenpoint to Queens’ Blissville. The traffic feeding through Blissville is (observationally) going in three main directions once it enters Queens; a) north on Greenpoint Avenue towards the LIE and Sunnyside, b) north west on Van Dam towards Queens Plaza, and c) east on Review Avenue towards Maspeth and Middle Village.

The second largest oil spill in the United States is the Greenpoint Oil Spill, the epicenter of which is less than half a mile east on the Brooklyn side of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. Similarly, an oil spill of still unknown size lurks in the soil of Blissville less than half a mile east of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. The bridge itself crosses the Newtown Creek, a Federal Superfund site notorious for the 1.8 billion gallons of raw sewage which the NYC DEP dumps into it annually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to the Blissvillians whom I’ve met, the population of this neighborhood is around 220 people although I’ve also heard 500 (seems a bit high, 500). It’s the usual demographic mix of Queens hereabouts, but with the proviso that almost everybody would describe themselves as “working class.” There’s a generational community here which has held out in the post industrial landscape of Long Island City – despite the traffic and the pollution and the industrial character of the neighborhood. All told, about 4-6 blocks square blocks are the totality of Blissville, Queens. The nearest subway is on Queens Blvd. in Sunnyside, and the two bus lines running the area are in service on neither a twenty four hour nor seven days a week schedule. There are no schools, hospitals, or supermarkets. There are a lot of City owned properties, warehouses, and waste transfer stations.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Department of Homeless Services, therefore, has decided that this is the ideal and “appropriate site” for a third homeless shelter (within a half mile of the LIE) to be opened in the neighborhood. This time around, it will be the 2008 vintage and 154 room Fairfeld Inn, found at 52-34 Van Dam Street, that becomes a shelter. Blissville anticipates some 400 people will be installed in this building. Another Hotel on the Sunnyside side of the LIE has been converted to a shelter, as has a former Public School on Greenpoint Avenue.

Blissville could use your help with all this trouble the Mayor is sending their way, Queensicans. A Department of Homeless Services public hearing will take place on Thursday the 15th of March at 6:30 p.m., at St. Raphael’s Church located at 35-20 Greenpoint Ave.

Let’s tell the Manhattan people what the Ides of March are like in Queens, and let the Dope from Park Slope know that enough is enough.

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blossoming orchards

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Down under the Long Island Expressway, or DULIE, in today’s post. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, after shlepping my tripod setup around Dutch Kills last weekend, I decided that I just wasn’t done yet. Heading east alongst the venerable avenue of Borden, a humble narrator found a few interesting spots to do a “setup” and get clicking. It was DULIE which captured my attention on this leg of the walk. 

As mentioned in an earlier post, the LIE and Queens Midtown Tunnel opened for business in November of 1940. The LIE, where it crosses the sediment choked waters of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary here in Long Island City, rises one hundred and six feet above the water. This means a lot of steel supports, and an empty corridor found beneath it. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is obsessed with this section of LIC, as so much has happened here. The General Electric Vehicle Company complex was just a block away, so were a couple of steel factories. A fossilized rail spur can still be found here and there, winding it way around and between the factories, but the locomotive city is long gone. It’s all about the internal combustion engine in modernity – the automobile city.

The principal proponent of the latter didn’t begin the Queens Midtown Tunnel, he just took it over towards the end of the project and made sure the LIE would be his baby. I’m speaking of Robert Moses, of course. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sewer grates up on the LIE connect to long vertical pipes, which just empty out onto the ground, and their flow carries all sorts of “yuck” down into LIC from the expressway high above. There’s meant to be a little concrete spillway which would carry the liquid and solute “spill” into a second grate, one which basically empties into Dutch Kills, but the build up of “crapola” around the pipe creates sickly mounds of toxic soil like the one pictured above.

Hey, I’m not judging, I love places like this. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, whenever I’m describing an encounter with the Gendarmes or some zealous security guard, I always go on about “there being no law forbidding…” and “if you can see it from the sidewalk…”. 

In the case of the other night however – picture this: some weird looking bearded old man standing in pitch darkness on a Sunday night with a camera tripod under the LIE, wearing a reflective vest over a filthy black raincoat – I was ready to converse with somebody wearing a badge about what I was up to. You’d just figure that, right? 

The cops though, three cruiser units worth spaced out over the evening, just drove on by me. I mean… I felt suspicious looking. The reflective vest is very good camouflage. Instead of being high visibility as promised, it’s a near invisibility prophylactic against “why are you taking pickchas of dat?” 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was growing fatigued by this point, it was well after ten, and a humble narrator embraced an ideation about starting out for home. One last long exposure shot from DULIE was executed, and thereupon the tripod kit was folded up into its traveling configuration and a lens swap occurred.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lens I’ve been using for the series of night shots recently has been a Sigma 18-300 – which is by definition a “daylight lens, given that at full zoom it’s aperture is only f6.3. Tripod shots, like the ones I’ve recently been producing, make the usage of extremely narrow apertures possible – which in turn allows for a deep field of focus. Impossible for handheld usage in low light, however, this lens is. It’s singular virtue is the zoom range, ultimately. I’ve got better lenses, including a different Sigma, but this particular specimen allows me to carry just one lens. 

I’ve always got a “nifty fifty” lens in my bag, however, which allows me to open up the aperture to f1.8, allowing a lot more light in. That’s the one I snapped onto the camera, which coincidentally lightened the gizmo by about a pound and a half. Lotta glass inside that Sigma, but you don’t really feel the weight of it when it’s in the bag. 

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long miles

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Borden Avenue Bridge and environs, in today’s post. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There have been three Borden Avenue Bridges, the first being a wooden draw bridge that opened when Borden Avenue was created in 1868. It was replaced by an iron swing bridge which was demolished in 1906, and the modern day retractile bridge was opened on the 25th of March in 1908. It cost $157, 606 to build in 1908. That would be $4,365,073 in modern money, adjusted for inflation.

A bargain, no?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue Bridge is one of only two retractile bridges in NYC, the other one being the infinestimal Carroll Street Bridge over the Gowanus Canal. This specie of movable bridge is actually quite common in other cities, notably Chicago. 

Chicago ain’t got a view like the one above though, I’d wager.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the south of Borden Avenue, one might notice the two railroad bridges spanning Dutch Kills – Cabin M and DB Cabin. The latter carries traffic for the Lower Montauk Branch of the LIRR from the Wheelspur to Blissville Yards, all of which which are mainly used for freight these days. Cabin M connects to the Montauk Cutoff, a now severed connection to the Sunnyside Yards and the LIRR Main Line tracks.

Just beyond the two rail bridges is the main body of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills itself, in this area around the Borden Avenue Bridge, is stagnant and choked with wind blown garbage. A tepid current in the water creates a vertical rather than horizontal flow pattern, which factors into the accretion of sediments on the bottom. These sediment beds, which are found across the entire Newtown Creek watershed and represent a centuries long cross section of industrial and municipal pollution, are the reason that the Creek and its tributaries are a superfund site. 

At low tide, mounds of this material become exposed to the air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For many years, there was a shanty dwelling here, occupied by some unknown entity. Hurricane Sandy ended that tenancy. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My chosen path next carried me eastwards on Borden Avenue, away from my beloved Creek and deeper into the post industrial landscape of Long Island City. The concrete devastations were calling to me.

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defeated aspirations

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It’s National Roast Suckling Pig Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other night, I mentioned to a friend that I had no reason to get up in the morning, and he inquired as to whether or not I was depressed. My statement had nothing to do with mood or mental state, instead it was factual – my daytime calendar is fairly empty between the first week of December and middle January. Part of this is my peculiar vulnerability to cold weather which necessitates a certain amount of hermitage, another part of it is that this is the time of the year when I’m hitting the books and doing research into this or that, and working on presentation materials (working on the 2018 photo portfolio, me). This has really hampered photo gathering – as a note – which is a negative, but I’ve got to get my house of cards together for the new year. You’re only as good as the last provable shutter flop.

Since I don’t have to necessarily be “somewhere” at 8 in the morning most days, what’s the point of maintaining a farcical kabuki and simulating adherence to the “ole nine to five”? I’m often up at the hour of the wolf this time of the year. If you’re sacking out at four or five in the morning, you ain’t getting up at seven, if you know what I’m saying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing that’s emerged in my searching through multiple archives of photos, which number in the tens of thousands at this point, is that I seem to have fallen into a bit of a rut over the last year and a half. The other is that a bunch of my friends have died along the way. There’s a few long term projects which will be reaching fruition in the next twenty four months, and the stuff generated by this “rut” has become noticeably more refined, but it seems I need to get out more. That’s my New Years resolution, by the way.

“I been everywhere, man” is a bit of generalization and I certainly haven’t been “everywhere.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my annual habit, I plan to wallow in laziness and turpitude for another couple of weeks and get it out of my system. By the new year, boredom and self hatred will have expanded sufficiently to force me into action. Some pedantic and utterly banal explosion of activity inspired by Marcus Aurelius will form up and despite my ennui – me and the camera are going to be “out there” every single day.

For now, though, I still don’t have much of a reason to wake up in the mornings.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Written by Mitch Waxman

December 18, 2017 at 2:15 pm

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