The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

archaic chirography

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It’s National Pepper Pot day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I was hanging out with a friend over in the City, and we decided to hit the eastern side of Chinatown for a wee photo walk. This is the Manhattan side definition of “DUMBO,” which is an area still defined by the presence of late 19th century tenement buildings and narrow streets. Chatham Square, the Five Points, and Paradise Alley aren’t too far away, and it’s one of the few spots on the island which haven’t been ruined by the real estate industrial complex in recent decades. Off in the distance, a municipal complex of government buildings and courthouses positively looms.

We were wandering about, my friend and I, and decided to grab some lunch at a Chinese bakery before heading south and east. After a super hot cup of coffee and a couple of roast pork buns (Bao) we fired up the cameras and started marching about in an area which has apparently been called “Two Bridges” since 1955. I think the Two Bridges thing, since I’ve never actually heard it before, is real estate industrial complex propaganda being specifically disseminated by the Extell corporation which happens to be building a 68 story market rate tower nearby. Just a hunch there, by the way.

Saying that, as of 2003 there’s been a Two Bridges Historic District on the national list of such things, so…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This part of Manhattan Island has been occupied for longer than the United States has existed, and was part of the exurbs of the New Amsterdam colony. During the “Gangs of New York” era, Chatham Square was a central market place and meeting point where foodstuffs, farm goods, and often less than salubrious goods and services were offered for sale. The tenement dwellers in this area, who were those “huddled masses” mentioned by the screed on the Statue of Liberty, were largely destitute and lived in conditions which modernity would perceive as squalor. Jakob Riis and other contemporaries described it as squalor, it should be mentioned, so maybe…

from wikipedia

Up until about 1820, the square was used as a large open air market for goods and livestock, mainly horses. By the mid-19th century, it became a center for tattoo parlors, flophouses and saloons, as a seedy section of the old Five Points neighborhood. In the 20th century, after The Great Depression and Prohibition, the area was reformed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I always try to analogize the era of early to mid 19th century New York City to people by reminding them that this was the same age as when Cowboys were riding horses about the west, and that folks in Europe were still fighting each other with swords, spears, and arrows. They had cannons and firearms over in Europe, of course, but these early weapons were pretty clumsy, prone to misfires, and inaccurate. There’s a reason that they used to affix those long bayonets on muskets back then, y’know.

Guns were practically a brand new commodity, with Mr. Remington having begun the democratization of rifle firearms only in 1816. It wasn’t until 1852 that Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson incorporated, becoming the Henry Fords of firearms. In NYC, a pistol was a fairly uncommon and expensive commodity, as I understand things. Rifles and shot guns were more common but still relatively rare amongst the tenement crowd.

It would be far more likely, were you to invent time travel and visit this section of Manhattan in the 1850’s, that you would be beaten to death or fatally stabbed shortly after stepping out of your time machine. They were big on blades back then…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You can’t walk through Chinatown and not grab some shots of the foodstuffs being offered for sale on the sidewalks in front of shops. Thing is, these fish may or may not be considered “food” per se. A lot of what’s on sale in this eastern section of Chinatown is actually medicinal in nature, which my ignorant and dross western eyes cannot discern. Have to admit, I’m pretty ignorant about the nuances of the Chinese culture(s)…

from wikipedia

Manhattan’s Chinatown (simplified Chinese: 曼哈顿华埠; traditional Chinese: 曼哈頓華埠; pinyin: Mànhādùn huábù; juytping: Maan6haa1deon6 waa1bou6) is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York City, bordering the Lower East Side to its east, Little Italy to its north, Civic Center to its south, and Tribeca to its west. Chinatown is home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I love the fact that there are still junkie squats and homeless camps found in and amongst the streets/alleys of this area. It’s good to know that there are still some parts of Manhattan that have been resistant to the high fructose financial syrup that has decimated the East and West Village, turned the Lower East Side into bro-hipster Disneyland, and rendered the neighborhood around Port Authority into a grotesque.

I miss the old days, when Manhattan was ecstatic and predatory all at the same time…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My friend and I continued south and east, into the boring Battery section. We had a quick refreshment at a local watering hole, used the facilities, and got the hell out of dodge before rush hour started. A quick trip on the 5 line got us to 59/Lex, where a transfer was enacted to the IND R line which carried us beneath the river and back to the almond eyed milieu known as Astoria. As is always the case, a warm feeling erupted in my chest upon returning to Queens.

Might have been indigestion though, from eating those two roast pork buns. Probably should have had just one…


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 29, 2017 at 1:30 pm

mock fireplace

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It’s National Pumpkin Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Merry Christmas to all.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 25, 2017 at 2:30 pm

seasonal tiding

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It’s National Date Nut Bread Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Holiday greetings and salutations to all of you lords and ladies who ascribe to the particular sort of iconography pictured above.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm

sickly complected

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It’s National Bouillabaisse Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Cliché, a “New Yorkers walking through steam boiling out of a lower Manhattan street grate” shot is presented above. Often, whilst moving around the City, one is confronted with imagery like this. It’s a shot which people far more talented and technically adept than I have taken a thousand thousand times before, and there’s little point to adding another specimen of it to the visual lexicon but there you are. Same thing with seeing a squirrel eating an acorn while perched on a fence or something. You just have to click the shutter.

This time of year, I don’t have much going on anyway, might as well take what the City offers you when it comes along.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often has a humble narrator asserted that NYC is embedded with psychic firmament, and that the city itself is somewhat sentient – a “being” possessed of a seething cauldron of emotions and a radiant intellect. I believe the City to be female in gender and temperament – a mother goddess like the Hellenic “Hera.” She likes to mess with you, throwing pedantic and existential obstacles or tests your way, the city does.

“Oh great” usually precedes many of my observations concerning the MTA, or the sudden appearance of any number of City agency or utility employees on my block. “Oh great, Verizon is setting up on my corner at midnight. And, they’ve got a backhoe with them…” is the last one I can recall uttering. Occasionally it will be stated as “Wow, there’s a lot of Cops here all of a sudden.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thing is, the City is eternal. Long after the American experiment has faded away, New York City will still live on in some sort of decedent form. Cities almost always seem to live on in one form or another long after the Empire has fallen; Rome, Memphis, London, Istanbul, Beijing, Persepolis, Tokyo, Damascus… Babylon the great always falls. A certain point of view often comes up in modern conversations which looks back to a period just one century ago in NYC as some sort of heroic age. Giants existed, who built subways and great bridges and highways and tunnels. These giants are long gone, and we marvel at their works, which we lesser beings are barely able to maintain.

What do I know? I’m just some wandering mendicant in a filthy black raincoat, scuttling along the streets of an eternal elder goddess/City which is possessed of a malefic sense of humor, carrying a camera.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 14, 2017 at 1:30 pm

furtive fragments

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It’s National Greasy Foods Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Working Harbor Committee, a non profit whose mission is “to educate the public about the Harbor and New York and New Jersey” and which a humble narrator is both the official photographer for and a member of the organization’s steering committee, called a meeting recently. We had some organizational business to conduct, voting on Board members and other nitty gritty at an annual meeting.

Instead of some banal office, however, this time our annual gathering occurred at the South Street Seaport Museum’s Wavertree. a historic sailing vessel which dates back to 1885 and which is the flagship for the museum.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be mentioned that a humble narrator isn’t possessed of the same sense of wonder and excitement that some of my cohorts at WHC are when the subject of sailing vessels comes up, but it was pretty cool to be able to visit an artifact of the “forest of masts” era on NY Harbor.

The Wavertree recently spent some time at Cadell’s shipyard on Staten Island, wherein the old girl received expert attention and refitting. The renovations and so on are still ongoing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are just a few historic ships in NY Harbor, with the South Street Seaport museum hosting the majority. Given NYC’s predilection towards annihilating anything older than a few decades old whether terrestrial or maritime, the presence of Wavertree in Lower Manhattan is a not insignificant thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot, and the following, are tripod shots captured from onboard the ship itself. The far background in them will appear a bit blurry, as Wavertree was bobbing about a bit in the tide. It was interesting, from a behind the camera POV, to have the fixed point in my focal zone set for the ship I’m on rather then some thing which is off in the distance – the opposite of what I normally do when onboard a vessel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s some complicated rigging up there, and I joked around with one of my WHC pals about him going all “Burt Lancaster” and swinging around on the ropes. My pal assured me that he was not going to go all “Burt Lancaster.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the quarterdeck looking across the East River towards Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also from the quarterdeck, and looking west towards Manhattan.


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Sunday, November 12th, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 25, 2017 at 11:00 am

ghostly side

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It’s National Chocolate Pudding Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one enjoyed a pleasant evening on a boat tour offered by the Open House NY outfit which explored the City of Greater New York’s solid waste disposal system. The boat was one of Circleline’s smaller vessels (Circleline Queens) and the speakers were Sanitation historian Robin Nagle, SimsMetal’s Tom Outerbridge (who is also a board member at Newtown Creek Alliance), and some fellow from the Department of Sanitation whose name I didn’t catch. It was coincidentally the date of the summer solstice, the light was fantastic (from a photography POV), and it was the longest day of the year.

It certainly felt like the longest day of the year once the boat docked at west 42nd street, and the time came to make the journey back to Astoria, on the landward side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s no secret that I believe Manhattan, particularly the west side of midtown, to be a cautionary tale for urban planners. Some see midtown west, with its recent construction of gigantic residential towers and the nearby Hudson Yards project, as a modern day success story. The urban renewal engineers of the Bloomberg era captured a gritty section of the City which both housed and employed those at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum – a problematic population, from the municipal point of view, who consumed far too much in the way of City services – and converted it over to a neighborhood of “pied a terre” and upper middle and management class dormitories.

They forgot, as is the usual case these days, to think overly about transit and supermarkets and places people can gather without permits or permission. In my eye, they made a bad situation worse, in a neighborhood west of the Port Authority bus terminal. What are you going to do though, Manhattan is ruined and has been for twenty years. The junkies are still here, but instead of being able to return to some tenement squat at the end of the day, today they’re just living on the crowded streets and sleeping in the waterfront parks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is what the ridership numbers on the Queensbound E line look like at about 9:30 at night, and you should see what sort of crowding occurs on this line at rush hour. Just a few years ago, at a similar interval, the train population would have been not even half of what you see in the shot above. Why the crowding?

Simply put, not many actual New Yorkers can afford to pay the three to four thousand dollars a month in rent which a one bedroom in this hellish midtown area will cost. The Real Estate Industrial Complex’s dreams of avarice have caused a migration from this so called center out to the so called outer boroughs. It seems that they either never checked with the MTA about ridership capacity, or didn’t bother to care.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For one such as myself, who is lucky enough to live in Astoria, the E is merely a link in the chain of my commute. Once upon a time, my habit was to find a seat on a local train back to Queens and use the time to read, draw in my sketchbook, listen to an audiobook, or just blankly stare off into space.

Since the entire concept of finding a seat on the R in Manhattan is now a fantasy, even late into the evening, in recent years one has decided to instead be clever about using the Subway system and be nimble in terms of enacting as many transfers as I can in pursuance of escaping the inhuman canyons of the Shining City and returning to the human scaled locale known as Astoria. Accordingly, I find myself on the platform at Queens Plaza quite a bit these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the work day, until 9:45 p.m. actually, you have a double chance of getting a local here – the R or M lines. MTA, in their infinite wisdom, cuts M service off at 9:45, effectively halving local service in Queens. This tucks nicely within the statement of what I believe to be the borough motto of “welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself,” which multiple elected officials have personally asked me to stop propagating. I believe however, that I’ve discovered part of the disconnect between elected officialdom, real estate industrial complex, and transit.

During conversation with the NYC EDC regarding their Sunnyside Yards proposal, the EDC folks pointed out that the project boundaries are served by “8 subway lines.” They know this because they checked a subway map. They didn’t realize that, because they all live in Battery Park City or South Brooklyn, that in reality it’s only three lines (R, part time M, 7 lines) which can accessed by just three stations (36th street, 33rd/Lawson, 40th Lowery) which can be reasonably walked to from the center of their proposed project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The stretch of Steinway Street pictured above, between 34th avenue and Broadway, sits atop an R/M local station. This would, according to the EDC, be one of the stops servicing what would be roughly half the population of Boulder, Colorado who would be living atop the Sunnyside Yards deck. Again, since they only know this part of Queens from the maps they spread out on polished mahogany desks in the air conditioned offices of lower Manhattan, they don’t realize that the walk from Steinway/39th street at the north eastern side of the proposed deck is nearly a half mile away and would necessitate a hazardous street crossing of Northern Blvd.

Simply put, they want to turn western Queens into the west side of Manhattan. Density is over rated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria is one of the last working class/lower middle class neighborhoods left in the urban core of NYC. Perhaps EDC might want to leave us alone to live our lives the way we wish to, in a human scale neighborhood where the neighbors actually know each other by name. Maybe they’d like to establish a residence nearby and rotate their planning staff into and out of it on a biannual basis so that they could understand what would be lost here.

Perhaps, we should preserve Western Queens as a museum piece of the actual “progressive era.”


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 26, 2017 at 1:15 pm

hewn roughly

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It’s National Moonshine Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It actually isn’t your imagination, the quality of subway service has definitively declined in recent months. There has been a concurrent decline in LIRR service, and I understand the Metro North ridership isn’t too happy either. I did a bit of research, and discovered the likely reason why. It seems that Fernando Ferrer is now the acting chairman of the MTA. Yep, Mr. Ferrer, who was appointed to be the Borough President of the Bronx (back then he called himself “Freddy”) after his predecessor went to jail for corruption and personally presided over that Borough’s period of absolute cultural and societal apogee – from 1987-2001 – is temporarily in charge of things at MTA. Explains everything, huh?

I know. If you went to the Monster.com site or were reviewing LinkedIn job listings for “Chairman of the MTA,” it would be strange if the resume requirements didn’t ask for “identity politician, failed mayoral candidate, disastrous Borough President, or Loyal Political Party Apparatchnik who never held a real job before entering politics right out of college.” If you think Bill de Blasio is lousy, read up on Ferrer. De Blasio actually stole the whole “tale of two cities” line from Ferrer’s 2001 mayoral campaign, which indicates to you how few of the ideas the current Mayor offers are actually his own.

Perhaps, the resume requirements for MTA chairman (temporary, acting, or otherwise) should include – in addition to knowing how to use Excel and Outlook – some experience in running a commuter rail service and or a largish fleet of buses rather than being a loyal if ineffective and ideologically based machine politician. Just saying.

Ferrer, Mark Green… these guys are like some sort of recurring political infection which flares up occasionally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been walking past this access cover in Astoria for nearly ten years, and never noticed it before last week. It indicates that some of the oldest municipal “tackle” is found below, related to the water supply system. I wrote about a similar hatch cover encountered over in Williamsburg back in January of this year, but you generally don’t see hatches of this type in Queens. That’s because LIC (and Newtown) had their own water supply companies which were separate from the Croton system at the time of City consolidation in 1898, and is why you commonly observe access covers adorned with “LIC” in western Queens rather than ones with the Catskill tag.

Whatever pipe is found down there – and who can guess, all there is, that might be hidden down there – it’s controlled by the modern day DEP today, but it’s still a bit odd that I’ve never noticed this particular cover before.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in the City, at Governeurs Lane’s terminus nearby the ferry terminal at Pier 11, this food cart was spotted. Can’t tell you why, but it just grabbed my eye. That’s the FDR drive up above, which would normally lead me into a whole “thing” about this being the “house of Robert Moses” but after ranting about Freddy Ferrer, I’m a bit wobbly.

See y’all tonight at Green Drinks Queens, at the Riverview Restaurant in LIC, details are below. Come with?


Upcoming Tours and events

Green Drinks Queens LIC, June 5th, 6:00- 9:00 p.m.

Come celebrate UN World Environment Day with Green Drinks: Queens on the LIC Waterfront! This year’s theme is “Connecting People With Nature.”details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

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