The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

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

with 2 comments

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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

oblique realizations

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It’s National Chicken Nuggets Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, obligation found one heading into accursed Manhattan.

As is my habit, I stare at the sidewalk whilst walking through the Shining City lest its gaudy lures and attractions infect or tempt me. Of course, given my predilection and interest involving manhole – or access – covers, this habit often pays out certain dividends for the wandering and historically minded mendicant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted along the Hudson River just north of Houston Street, a fairly old (as indicated by its shape) access cover for the Consolidated Telegraph & Electrical Subway Company. It’s an electrical one, as indicated by the hatch marks.

Part of the modern day Consolidated Edison company, Consolidated Telegraph & Electrical Subway Company was organized in 1885 with the intention of moving overhead carrier wires off of utility poles and then burying them in subterranean conduits which wiggle about beneath the streets. I would presume that Consolidated Telegraph & Electrical Subway Company was brought into the larger CONED conglomerate back in 1913, along with a bunch of other smaller companies and systems, but that’s just an educated guess.

from caselaw.findlaw.com

In the year 1884, the legislature of the state of New York required that ‘all telegraph, telephonic, and electric light wires’ in certain cities-New York and Brooklyn-should be placed under the surface of the streets (Laws of 1884, chap. 534). Under the authority of a statute passed in the next year (Laws of 1885, chap. 499, amended by Laws of 1886, chap. 503), the board of commissioners of electric subways adopted a plan by which the city of New York should enter into a contract with a company to construct the necessary subways, etc., which other companies operating electrical wires should be compelled to use, paying therefor a reasonable rent. Under contracts made accordingly and ratified by the legislature ( Laws of 1887, chap. 716), subways, etc., were constructed by the Consolidated Telegraph & Electrical Subway Company.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in the Greenwich Village section, this similarly ancient sewer hatch was observed, bearing the screed of “Borough of Manhattan – Bureau of Sewers.” Now, here’s how you “do some of the math” on these things: “Borough” indicates that it dates back to no earlier than 1898 when the consolidated City of Greater New York introduced the concept of the five boroughs to the world. My guess would be that this hatch was placed sometime between 1898 and 1910. You’ll also notice that the identifying system seen on the more modern manholes covers is absent, which would require hexagons as part of the design to indicate its purpose as a wastewater pipe. 

As I’ve said before – Federal Roadway regulations state a preference for State and Local governments to either replace an access cover with an exact copy from the original foundry, or just leave the old one in place. This means, since most of these things were put in place before the World Wars of the early 20th century, there are iron or steel discs adorning the “via publica” which can tell the tale of Municipal organization, consolidation, dissolution, and indeed gentrification which are scattered about and barely noticed by most.

A precursor agency of the modern day DEP was the Borough of Manhattan – Bureau of Sewers. The DEP was formed in 1983 during a City Charter revision, incidentally, consolidating several independent bureaucracies into one massive agency that handles the delivery of potable water to the City, the operations and maintenance of the storm water and sanitary sewers, and a bunch of stuff that doesn’t involve getting wet – like noise complaints, air issues, chemical spills, all those sorts of things.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

local matters

with one comment

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been keeping an eye on the panel truck pictured above, which often parks on 43rd street alongside the Sunnyside Yards, which has been covered in increasingly literate graffiti over the last year. One was taken aback by the appearance of “The Federalist Papers” on it recently. It is my belief that Alexander Hamilton very well might have risen from the grave and picked up a can of krylon. Burr will likely be next to rise and begin a graffiti campaign. 

It would just like Hamilton (or Madison for that matter) to rise from the grave, just in the name of proving a point and pointing out how far we’ve strayed. Freaking Publius. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the sixth of June, a hilariously scheduled meeting with the NYC EDC is being hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce at the Bulova Center which will concern itself with the latter entity’s Sunnyside Yards decking proposal and feasibility study. A humble narrator will be waking up with the sun to be able to attend, and for those of you who care about things which Queens residents think about as being good for Queens, versus those things which Manhattan real estate interests think of as being good for Queens – I’d hope to see you there, at eight o’clock in the morning, on a Tuesday, in East Elmhurst. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The LA punk band Fear don’t exactly have “hits” as far as the pop music standard goes, but one of their catchier ditties is “New York’s Alright.” The choral segment of the late 70’s arrangement involves a growling rendition of the song’s title followed by “if you like saxophones.” Just last week when I was moving through the West 4th street station over in the City, on my way to the Waterfront Alliance annual conference, some fellow across the platform was honking out the Fear song on his sax. There were probably less than ten people in the station who recognized the song, or the irony.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

tapering arms

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Back in lower Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dover Street in Lower Manhattan is the stuff of historical legend. It starts its western path abruptly at South Street, and to the north is the tangled steel of the FDR Drive ramps and the always victorious Brooklyn Bridge. There are buildings on Dover which date back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The interesting thing is that they’re not churches, or government buildings, instead they’re shops with homes above.

As a note, when the British controlled Manhattan before and during the Revolutionary War, everything in the shot above was pretty much the East River. It’s all landfill, from the modern shoreline west to Front Street, which is coincidentally the corner this shot was captured on, meaning I was standing on the historic shoreline of the island. This is the northern extent of the South Street Seaport Historic District, and Peck Slip is about a block away. Governor Al Smith grew up in this neighborhood in the late 19th century, back when it was still a port, and Tammany ruled it all.

Al Smith is buried is buried in LIC’s Calvary Cemetery along the Newtown Creek.

Small world.

from wikipedia

The South Street Seaport is a historic area in the New York City borough of Manhattan, centered where Fulton Street meets the East River, and adjacent to the Financial District. The Seaport is a designated historic district, and is distinct from the neighboring Financial District. It is part of Manhattan Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan, and is bounded by the Financial District to the west, southwest, and north; the East River to the southeast; and Two Bridges to the northeast.

It features some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan, and includes the largest concentration of restored early 19th-century commercial buildings in the city. This includes renovated original mercantile buildings, renovated sailing ships, the former Fulton Fish Market, and modern tourist malls featuring food, shopping, and nightlife, with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Water Street at Dover is where you’ll find a solid claimant to the title of oldest bar in NYC. It’s the Bridge Cafe, which I’m told is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy damages. The original shell and frame of the building went up in 1794, and was altered steadily until the 1880’s when it assumed its present form. Bridge Cafe has a nice history of the building at their site. Doesn’t mention the great fire of 1835, but there you go.

Just down the block, Kit Burn’s “Sportsman Hall” at 273 Water Street was a saloon where you could watch bare knuckled humans boxing, or bet on the canine and rodentine combatants that were fighting in the 250 seat (400 standing) octagonal rat pit Kit maintained in the basement. The Sportsman Hall was housed in what’s considered to be the third oldest building in Manhattan (1773), which is now called the Joseph Rose House and Shop. Kit Burns and his competitors in the rat pit game are a big part of the reason that the ASPCA was formed back in 1866. Kit died in 1870, and is buried in LIC’s Calvary Cemetery along the Newtown Creek.

Small world.

from wikipedia

Born Christopher Keyburn in New York City on February 23, 1831, Burns joined the Dead Rabbits as a young man and, by the late 1840s, co-led the organization with Tommy Hadden. Both men started their own businesses in the Bowery with Burns opening his Sportsmen’s Hall on Water Street. His establishment was widely known for holding illegal bare-knuckle boxing prize fights as well as featuring such entertainment as the infamous “rat pit” where blood sports such as rat and dogfighting took place. In these events, large gray wharf rats were captured and set against dogs. These dogs, mostly terriers, were sometimes starved for several days beforehand and set against each other as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too far away, over on Canal and Lafayette, is what was once known as the Bruce Building – 254-260 Canal Street. George Bruce was a rather successful printer when he started to build his NYC headquarters back in 1856. The Bruce Building was converted over to office space back in the late 1980’s, but what makes it really special are the iron works which dress the walls. They’re the (1850) patented work of James Bogardus, according to prevailing opinions. Bogardus was the guy who pioneered the cast iron facades commonly seen on Victorian era buildings in NYC and elsewhere.

James Bogardus is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, but he was a descendent of Dominie Everardus Bogardus, who died in a ship wreck in 1647. Dominie Bogardus was granted a piece of property by the Dutch colonial government across the river from Manhattan, a point of rocky land surrounded by swamps and salt marshes, which came to be called “Dominie’s Hoek.” It adjoined a fertile waterbody still called the Mispat, but which we know today as the Newtown Creek. The LIC saloon “Dominie’s Hook” is named after him. In 1825, the Hunter Family acquired the Hook, and its been called Hunters Point ever since.

Small world.

from wikipedia

The Reverend Everardus Bogardus (1607-1647) was the dominie of the New Netherlands, and was the second minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, the oldest established church in present-day New York, which was then located on Pearl Street (Manhattan) at its first location built in 1633, the year of his arrival. Bogardus was, in fact, the second clergyman in all of the New Netherlands. (The slightly obscure early history of the Dutch colony meant that he was often considered the first clergyman.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

haggard and ghastly

with one comment

Eldridge Street Synagogue, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, a humble narrator was invited to a “thank you” event for the Open House NY weekend site hosts (we produced a Newtown Creek Alliance event at the 520 Kingsland Avenue Green Roof this year). The event was set for six o’clock in what is now Manhattan’s Chinatown, at the 1887 vintage Eldridge Street Synagogue, a 19th century institution which had fallen into disrepair during the middle 20th century, but which has been restored and converted over for use as a museum.

from eldridgestreet.org

The Eldridge Street Synagogue opened its doors at 12 Eldridge Street on September 4, 1887, just in time for the Jewish High Holidays. Hundreds of newly arrived immigrants from Russia and Poland gathered here to pray, socialize and build a community. It was the first time in America that Jews of Eastern Europe had built a synagogue from the ground up.

Dozens of Stars of David decorate the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s façade. Here in America, Jews could worship openly and freely. The synagogue was a proud declaration of newly- found religious freedom for the synagogue’s immigrant founders. The synagogue was also emblematic of their economic aspirations. With its soaring 50-foot ceiling and exuberant Moorish-style interior, Eldridge Street provided an inspiring contrast to the crowded tenements, factories and shops of the Lower East Side.

For fifty years, the synagogue flourished. Men and women came in their finery, and mounted policemen patrolled the crowds. The congregation hired world-renowned cantors and in 1918 hired Rabbi Aharon Yudelovitch, the first in a series of famed Talmudists and speakers. Thousands participated in religious services in the building’s heyday, from its opening through the 1920s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself enjoys being in the company of other historically minded folks, it should be mentioned, but I’ve always found the people I meet at these sort of gatherings to be somewhat stuffy types who take themselves quite seriously, and that my particular and inescapable sense of humor is neither appreciated nor expected by them. Accordingly, a minimal amount of time is devoted to “socializing” with the “Manhattan people.”

Instead, I wander around and take photos.

also from eldridgestreet.org

“It was as though the synagogue was held up by strings from heaven,” said Roberta Brandes Gratz, founder of the Museum at Eldridge Street, of her first impression of the synagogue in the early 1980s. Pigeons roosted in the balconies and benches were covered with dust. Gratz and others rallied to save the building. They formed the non-sectarian Eldridge Street Project, pre-cursor to the Museum at Eldridge Street. The synagogue was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996 and more than $20 million was raised to restore it to its original grandeur.

The Museum completed the Eldridge Street Synagogue restoration in December 2007, the synagogue’s 120th anniversary. The restoration received nearly every major preservation honor, including the prestigious National Trust for Historic Preservation 2008 Preservation Award. The crowning piece of the Museum’s restoration is a magnificent new stained-glass window by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans.

Today the Eldridge Street Synagogue is home to the Museum at Eldridge Street, which welcomes people from around the world for tours, school programs, concerts, lectures, festivals and other cultural events. The building also continues to be home to Kahal Adath Jeshurun. This small Orthodox congregation has never missed a Saturday or holiday service in the more than 120 years since the synagogue first opened.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The overall architectural impression received from visiting the Eldridge Street Synagogue was that a significant Moorish and or Galician influence was evident in its design. I’ve seen ruins of synagogues in Southern Europe, built during the days of the Ottomans, which this structure reminded me of – but nothing of the size nor as ornate as the one on Eldridge Street. That’s America for you, I guess.

from wikipedia

The Eldridge Street Synagogue is one of the first synagogues erected in the United States by Eastern European Jews (Ashkenazis). One of the founders was Rabbi Eliahu the Blessed (Borok), formerly the Head Rabbi of St. Petersburg, Russia. It opened at 12 Eldridge Street in New York’s Lower East Side in 1887 serving Congregation Kahal Adath Jeshurun. The building was designed by the architects Peter and Francis William Herter, (but unrelated to the Herter Brothers cabinet-makers). The brothers subsequently received many commissions in the Lower East Side and incorporated elements from the synagogue, such as the stars of David, in their buildings, mainly tenements. When completed, the synagogue was reviewed in the local press. Writers marveled at the imposing Moorish Revival building, with its 70-foot-high vaulted ceiling, magnificent stained-glass rose windows, elaborate brass fixtures and hand-stenciled walls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Star of David is everywhere you look on the front of the building, an elder sign meant to act as both a ward and an announcement that “we are here.” Chatting with one of my cousins about this location afterwards, I kept on coming back to the sort of “Sheols” which the Waxman clan frequented in Brooklyn. There are three forms of modern Judaism in the United States – Reformed, Conservative, and Orthodox. I grew up in the former variant, and our ritual centers could best be analogized to Christian churches as being plain and unadorned in the manner of Lutheran or Presbyrterian temples. Eldridge Street was an Orthodox center, and they liked to pour it on in the sort of manner for which the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches are known for. The modern day Orthodox are fundamentalists, and eschew this sort of “glitz.”

from nytimes.com

By 1910, according to the historian Hasia R. Diner, the neighborhood contained half a million Jews; by contrast, Vienna, one of the largest Jewish centers in Europe, had a Jewish population of 175,000, and Chicago, about 100,000. This neighborhood had one of the largest Jewish populations of any city in the world — and surely one of the poorest. Most of the area’s 60-some synagogues were humble gathering places named after the Eastern European towns and shtetls from which their worshipers had fled, resembling the social clubs that develop among many immigrant communities.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you know anything about Jewish mysticism, which the Orthodox are well known practitioners of, you’ll spot instances of Kabbalist motif all over Eldridge Street. The Sephiroth and other occult concepts are omnipresent, and really seem to be governing the designs laid down by architects Peter and Francis William Herter.

from njit.edu

This synagogue was built in part to assert the importance of this Orthodox congregation in opposition to the more liberal German Jewish population which bad preceded them. The feeling was that German Jews had become to Americanized and assimilated and had, therefore, given up many of their traditional Jewish practices in favor of the more liberal reform movement. The construction of Eldridge Street Synagogue was a statement on the part of its congregation that one does not need to abandon strict Judaism to su~ in America. The opulence and ornament of the synagogue compare to German Jewish/Reform synagogues of the same period. The architect of the building was the German firm of Herter Brothers, which went on to build numerous Lower East Side tenement buildings. This was not the first synagogue for this congregation, which was housed in earlier buildings prior to raising the capital for the construction of their own building.

Eldridge Street Synagogue is located on the block bounded by Eldridge Street on the west, Canal Street on the north, Allen Street on the east and Division Street on the south. The immediate neighborhood is a sheltered enclave, set off from the surrounding bustle in part by the Manhattan Bridge, which sits just above it. The building fills most of its lot, which is approximately 60 feet wide by 87 feet deep, but is set apart from its neighbors by narrow areaways. This block is part of the densely packed Lower East Side which is a neighborhood known for role as a point of first contact for immigrants throughout the last two centuries, a role that continues to this day. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Eldridge Street, btw, is named for a soldier named Lieutenant Joseph C. Eldridge of the 13th U.S. Infantry, who died during the war of 1812. Eldridge was butchered by the Ottawa, in a fashion horrific enough that the British actually petitioned that American prisoners taken by the Ottawa be rendered to the King’s army in exchange for a substantial bounty. Chief Blackbird told the British that money meant nothing to his people, and refused.

from warof1812chronicles.blogspot.com

One of the essays in “THE WAR OF 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence” told of “The Death Of Joseph C. Eldridge…,” a lieutenant with the 13th U.S. Infantry, who was ambushed by Chief Blackbird and other Ottawa warriors. The Ottawas, from Michigan, “joined the British army during the siege of Fort George,” and that is the vicinity where was killed. An investigation conducted by Colonel William Claus, of Canada’s Indian Department, ensued at the request of the Fort George commander after it was reported that Eldridge was tortured and killed in captivity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The second floor of Eldridge Street Synagogue is where the ladies would have been seated, but since it’s a museum now, I was allowed to go up there and get my shots. That’s a Bimah, in the shot above, incidentally.

from nyc-architecture.com

READER’S PLATFORM (Bimah) — The table upon which the Torah scroll is read. The location, in the center of the sanctuary, follows the older European tradition. The central location is to insure that all can hear the reading of the Torah, and refers to the location of the sacrificial altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. In many American synagogues the bimah is placed in the front of the congregation near the Ark. In Sephardic synagogues the bimah is generally located in the rear.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my tripod with me on this excursion, but I did find a couple of spots where I could rest the camera for a minute. This allowed me to drop the ISO down to 100, and narrow the aperture for a greater depth of field and infinity focus. Next time I come back to Eldridge Street, I’m bringing the tripod.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 4, 2016 at 11:00 am

rat bitten

with 4 comments

Manhattan just stinks, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I did two things which I had been looking forward to for a bit. The first was the purchase of a new lens to fit into the camera, one whose specific occupation and design revolves around low light and night time photography (the shots in today’s post were captured with the thing), and the other was narrating a Working Harbor Committee “Newark Bay” excursion. Having the former with me, and having completed the mission for the latter, one headed for the Subway to make a hasty retreat back to the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria .

My path carried me through the stinking warrens of the financial district. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For many years did a humble narrator live on this island called Manhattan, which one used to refer to as “Home sweet Hell.” At night, the garbage collects on the concrete in front of office building and apartment block alike. The vermin rise from the sewers, drawn by the scent of festering food and moldering coffee grounds. Sidewalks narrow, and oddly colored rivulets of khaki colored liquid ooze into the gutters through rodent chewed apertures in the bags of filth. Sidewalk pavement and roadway asphalt both seem to be covered in a layer of rancid cooking grease, which gets tracked around by a thousand pairs of shoes an hour. It was a hot night, humid.

And they say Newtown Creek smells…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was heading for the Fulton Street stop for the 5 line. The 5, an express, is the preferred method for me to escape the municipal and financial center of the greatest city the world has ever known. The line traverses the spine of the island, and allows for a connection to a Queens bound train in just a few stops. The less time spent on this island, especially the southern third of it, the better.

That’s where I spotted this mountain blocking the cross walk and spilling into the street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has many friends who call Manhattan home – and as confessed earlier – I used to do so myself. My cliff dwelling pals tend to get hot under the collar when a humble narrator begins to discuss his disdain for the unsustainable civilization of Manhattan. My points are all “matter of fact,” and I usually advocate for something like “Brexit” but involving Queens, Staten Island, and Brooklyn breaking away from the center and forming a new political entity which is a bit less vampiric than the one we’ve had since 1898 – which is centered around a Beaux Arts building that we unfortunately keep Bill De Blasio in that stands (partially) on what was once a colonial era garbage dump known as the “Collect Pond.”

“Consume, consume, consume, flush, throw it out, let it be somebody else’s problem” – that should be the Borough Motto over in the City.

I would hazard a guess that within six hours of the above shot being captured, the entire mountain of trash pictured above was actually being sorted somewhere along Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a fellow at the center of the midden, peeking into bags and removing items of value like recyclable deposit bottles and bits of copper wire. Got to hand it to the “canners” for their industry and hustle, you really do. The streets are literally paved with gold in America, or at least there’s money lying around in the stinking streets.

What many don’t know is that canners have their own territorial “routes” in the City, and that violating another canner’s turf can result in a physical confrontation. I discovered that there’s also an organized crime aspect to this industry, or at least there used to be over on the West Side, back when I lived in Manhattan about fifteen years ago. Mystery trucks would show up at predetermined times and locations, paying cash at three to four cents per bottle, as opposed to the little chits that you get from the recycling machines at supermarkets which you need to redeem within. The canners are happy to settle for the lesser number, as they don’t have to waste hours feeding the machines which take one can at a time, or deal with the manager of a supermarket for whom they are less than a priority.

Something very similar to this collection spot has been observed in Sunnyside, incidentally, on 43rd street beneath the Long Island Railroad Tracks. There’s a Spaniard with a van… but, of course, the scale of business that the canners of Queens operate at for an entire week would be dwarfed by a single night’s worth of collections for these financial district guys.

Wall Street versus Main Street, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In addition to the rats and canners scurrying about, the sewer grates hereabouts also crawl with roaches and water bugs migrating in and out of Manhattan’s underworld. Those little black “drain flies” are also abundant in the air. The smell, which I attempted to define earlier, could be best described as “yellow.”

As an aside, I’ve always found it interesting that in English there are so few words, comparatively, for descriptions of smells. There thousands of visual adjectives, plenty for sounds, lots for the touch and feel category, but relatively few for smells. Accordingly, I ascribe colors to the descriptions of smells, and after dark – Manhattan smells yellow. I have spoken.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The worst part of lower Manhattan, to me at least, is that for the people who work hereabouts – this all must seem normal. Unfortunately, most of the people who spend their professional lives in this area can be best described as financial titans, realtors, politicians, and an army of government bureaucrats. Spending their time in this stinking, shadowy warren of imposing buildings and narrow sidewalks – which only occasionally allow a glimpse of the sky or a breeze – has made them think that this is what the entire city should look like and that they’ve somehow failed the rest of us until it does.

It’s why when they visit Queens or Brooklyn, their first instinct is to demolish some property and erect large buildings on it. Those large buildings can then be used for affordable housing people who “don’t fit” in Manhattan. These people can then support themselves by collecting cans, or whatever, as long as it’s somebody else’s problem.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 31, 2016 at 11:00 am

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