The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Maspeth’ Category

dizzily down

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From the perspective of a wandering mendicant…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often have I commented on the hazy “intertidal” zones found along the former borders of long forgotten town and village municipalities in Western Queens – in fact, I’ve coined the term “angles between” for them. There’s – functionally – no one alive today who has a personal remembrance of Maspeth or Woodside being referred to as towns or villages with clearly defined borders due to urban sprawl and the life’s work of Robert Moses. When the City of Greater New York consolidated Long Island City and the county of Newtown into a new entity called “Queens,” it’s at these hazy border areas that the Manhattan people got away with literal “bloody murder.” The export of Manhattan’s dirty industries, it’s unwanted poor, the corpses of its dead – all were sent east to what was – then – a still quite agricultural community called Queens. This also happened to the Bronx and Staten Island, and to a lesser degree Brooklyn.

The local politicians in the “lesser” boroughs were more than happy to take on the cemeteries, heavy industries, and garbage handlers in the name of “progress” and doing favors for the hidden elites of Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Shining City of Manhattan replaced its tenements, its abattoirs, its manufactured gas plants with what at the time would have referred to as “modern” apartment blocks. For you real estate savvy types – that’s so called “pre war” developments like Tudor City in Murray Hill, Peter Cooper Town/Stuyvesant Village which sits on the former site of several Manufactured Gas Plants, or the United Nations building (built into the former site of several slaughterhouses and abattoirs that was known as “blood alley”). The process of converting industrial Manhattan over to a residential and commercial center kicked into high gear in the years before and directly following the Second World War, the age of “urban renewal.” That’s when the highways were jammed through on Long Island, the dairy farms of Queens were converted to housing tracts, and the “Manhattancentric” school of thought concerning development really kicked in. The tenements emptied as the teeming masses sought a better life in Queens, and further east in suburban Nassau and Suffolk counties. This turned Western Queens into a transit corridor for trade and commuters.

It’s all about “the City” and literally all roads for hundreds of miles in any direction lead to Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mt. Zion cemetery – that’s its Maurice Avenue fence line pictured above and it’s in the center of all the shots in today’s post – is categorically in Maspeth, and it is infested with tiny gecko like lizards. Saying that, it also defines Maspeth’s blurry border with Woodside in the same way that Maspeth’s border with LIC’s Blissville section is defined by the Koscisuzcko Bridge. The cemetery is fairly ancient by Queens’s standard, it’s roughly 78 acres in size, there’s around 210,000 interments therein, and its first burial in Mt. Zion was conducted in 1893. There used to be a Gypsy encampment here, a shanty town that was home to a Romani tribe from Transylvania that called itself the “Rudari,” or “Ludar,” depending on whom you ask. The Rudari, just for the sake of literary trivia, are the same tribe that worked for Count Dracula in the Bram Stoker novel named for the vampire lord. The historical record of Queens usually refers to them as “The Maspeth Gypsy’s,” and it should be mentioned that referring to them using such nomenclature would be considered a racist hate crime and slur in the modern day European Union.

The Rudari were renowned for copper working and animal training. The reason that the circus train still comes to Western Queens every year is that the circus industry used to buy trained critters – bears, horses, etc. – from them. Many Rudari found work at the Phelps Dodge copper refinery along Newtown Creek, and remnants of their community persist to this day in the Sunnyside Gardens area along Queens Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are a series of semi detached one and two story homes in the area directly surrounding Mt. Zion, which are sandwiched between the Long Island Expressway and Brooklyn Queens Expressway. To the south is the heavy manufacturing district surrounding the eastern side of Newtown Creek and its tributary Maspeth Creek. Mixed use industrial zoning directly touches the cemetery, and hundreds of truck based warehouse businesses are located hereabouts. There is also a large footprint Coca Cola distribution center nearby, and a primary shipping hub for United Parcel Service is less than a mile away, as is the warehouse and distribution center for the Duane Reade retail empire. Mt. Zion’s western side is directly across the street from the Second, Third, and Fourth sections of Calvary Cemetery. Pictured in the first shot of today’s post is part of the Department of Sanitation’s colossal vehicle maintenance facility, which is right next door to an NYPD vehicle maintenance facility, and there’s an FDNY vehicle maintenance facility nearby as well. Suffice to say that these are heavily travelled streets, here under the Long Island Expressway and just a short walk away from Newtown Creek.

If you talk to the people who live anywhere near this area, their common complaint always involves the amount of trucks and cars which use their neighborhood as a thoroughfare. Of course, talking to the people of Queens is considered an obstacle by City Hall, and a loathsome requirement when implementing their policies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mt. Zion cemetery was set up for members of the Jewish community, whose burial laws are a bit different than the Catholic ones. Jews are meant to buried singularly, rather than having multiple bodies in the same gravesite as in the Catholic tradition. This means that Mt. Zion sprawls and has the appearance of being overcrowded. There are sections of the cemetery which are virtually impassable due to this, where it is impossible to find a place to put your foot down between the rows of tombstones.

The streets surrounding it are barren, virtually treeless, and are a favored spot for illegal dumping of construction debris and other garbage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that this little travelogue is being presented today involves the plans recently presented by the De Blasio administration to convert a hotel in the area over to a homeless shelter. A subsequent post will detail the hotel and the area directly surrounding it, but this is the northern side of the zone which the “Big Little Mayor” has picked to warehouse those who are considered socially and economically undesirable. The community of Maspeth has responded with their characteristic flair, and pushed back on City Hall with considerable skill and energy. City Hall, as is its habit under the current Mayor reacted to the protests by implying that Maspeth’s indignation is fueled by racism. Several publications picked up this theme, and the Internet commentarium knee jerk followed the rhetoric offered by the administration of the “Dope from Park Slope.”

My personal views on the Maspeth shelter project were the subject of a debate recently with a former colleague whose views and perspectives I greatly respect, but the argument I make about the placement of people – people who exist at the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum – in this area is that it’s a human rights violation.

Simply put, it ain’t exactly a bed of salubrious roses out around these parts even if you’ve got money in your pocket, let alone when you’re down and out. This wouldn’t be a shelter, this would be a penal colony.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth, as in the community of, has been doing a great job of demonstrating its objections to the placement of a homeless shelter hereabouts. They don’t need me to chime in, or make war, for them.

What I’ve found disturbing is that the knee jerk reportage mentioned above that describes their objections in terms of “rich white people” not wanting “poor black people” in their neighborhood – which has been presented by news sites that have covered the protests.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To start, there’s a few different sides to Maspeth. To the south and east, you do indeed have a somewhat suburban and moneyed section that is populated by people of European decent. To the south and west you’ve got an industrial zone, but you’ll find the odd block of homes in there, the residents of which are a hodge podge of “everybody.” On the north western side, here around Mt. Zion, my observations have revealed a population who are pretty much the same mix of people you see everywhere in Woodside, Sunnyside, Astoria and so on. East and Southeast Asians, Africans and African Americans, Irish, Jews, Italians, Levantines, Middle Easterners – the whole “vibrant diversity” mix that the politicians are always crowing about.

The “homeless” are not a monolithic people comprised from a single racial group with a common ancestor. Who these “homeless” are would be best defined, by Marxist economists, as the “underclass” and what they have in common is not the color of their skin but grinding poverty. I’ve always argued that just calling these people “the homeless” is dehumanizing and that it’s done by those armchair academics who have never actually known someone living on the street in any context other than dropping a quarter in their cup. There is no “homeless problem,” rather there’s tens of thousands of individual problems. Siting them away from a familiar setting, breaking whatever they have left of a social network, treating them like something to be warehoused in a neighborhood of warehouses – this ain’t the right idea.

On the subject of every neighborhood having to do “its fair share” – Maspeth already handles close to 20% of NYC’s garbage, it hosts the LIE and BQE, has several NYS and one Federal Superfund sites in it, and there are intersections where close to 3-400 heavy trucks an hour roll through on their way to Manhattan. The garbage train also transits through Maspeth a few times a day, which represents and comingles Brooklyn’s share of the garbage handling with Maspeth’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are virtually no mass transit lines available from this location, police patrols are infrequent at best, and at night this is a virtually abandoned part of the city. Bus service is spotty, and it’s one of the places in Queens where you truly need a personal vehicle to get around.

There are streets with no sidewalks here in the half mile around the proposed shelter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shocking ignorance of City Hall regarding the existential realities of Western Queens never fails to amaze me. All they seem to know about our neighborhoods is what they see on maps rolled out on mahogany desktops that have pins stuck into them by paid cronies. I’ve met several members of the Dept. of City Planning over the years, and the ones who I respect the hell out of are the ones who put on a pair of sneakers periodically and go out for walks in the areas they’re assigned to. I don’t always agree with their choices, but I do respect them.

I have a random idea, which is to site a homeless shelter on 11th street in Park Slope, just off fifth avenue.

Tomorrow, we’ll cross under the highway and take a direct look at what Mayor Bill De Blasio considers as being a good fit for one of the most vulnerable populations of people in NYC to call their temporary home, since he hasn’t decided to lead by example and convert his aforementioned house on Park Slope’s 11th street over to either affordable housing or for use as a shelter.

Upcoming tours and events:


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 19, 2016 at 11:00 am

leaping shadows

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Lets talk about the Kosciuszcko Bridge, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Since the big bridge over Newtown Creek’s 77th birthday is coming up – August 23rd for the vulgarly curious – one decided to walk over and through Calvary Cemetery into West Maspeth the other day and check out the latest progress which the NYS DOT and their contractors are making on replacing it. The Kosciuszcko Bridge replacement project is humming along.

As a note, this post represents no special access or anything, just some specialized knowledge about Newtown Creek and the points of view thereupon which I am privy to. If there’s an angle of view on the Creek I don’t know about by this point, I will buy you a drink for showing it to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, one has been keeping a running tally of posts about the project.

To start – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The roadway which will be the easterly BQE section leading out of Queens is now largely in place. There’s still a bunch of work going on up there, presumptively it involves the sort of rebar work observed in the May 2016 post linked to above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shape of the cable stay section of the new bridge is beginning to form up as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The steel sections are prefabricated and shipped to the job site via flat bed truck, where they’re then hoisted up and attached to the towers and cables.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking down 56th road from Blissville into Maspeth. The area in the left hand side of the shot used to be an NYPD tow yard, which was a great example of NYC’s macabre sense of humor. NYPD tow pounds are typically in places which you can’t reach without a car, and since they’ve just taken your car…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking north towards Sunnyside from 56th road. You can really discern the difference in height between the 1939 and modern bridges in the shot above. Apparently, part of the traffic engineering underlying the new bridge project is to eliminate the steep incline from the approaches.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking south towards Brooklyn, while still on 56th road. The property fence line I’m shooting over is the former home of the Phelps Dodge refinery, which is said to be a particularly toxic hot spot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit closer to the water, on another part of the former Phelps Dodge properties which isn’t quite so “hot,” pollution wise. This is the parking lot of a wholesaler catering to the restaurant trade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cable stay span of the new bridge is growing steadily towards Brooklyn in the shot above. To me, it looks like it’s going to be connected to the Brooklyn side ramp fairly soon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A close up on the ramp, and you can see the itty bitty construction guys at work right on the edge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Same perspective, but wide angle. That’s the Newtown Creek flowing below, and we are looking west towards Manhattan. Again, notice the height differential between the two spans.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking south again, this time from Maspeth’s 43rd street. The contractors have a lot of their equipment and prefabricated materials staged out here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back on 43rd street, but this time from the very edge of the project site, looking south along the spine of the BQE.

There you are.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, August 24, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

nail biting

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A bit of Newtown Creek “now and then,” in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been at work on several subjects regarding that fabulously decadent cataract of Municpal neglect known to all as the Newtown Creek. It’s kind of big picture stuff, which requires a “long tail” of research on and about certain industries. You can’t understand something modern unless you understand its past, I always say.

For example – If I want to describe the Brooklyn Union Gas Manufactured Gas plant on Newtown Creek in Greenpoint (which is now the National Grid LNG plant on Varick), I need to possess an at least topical amount of knowledge regarding the history and technology of the 19th century Manufactured Gas Industry in New York City.

Actually, that’s not an example, it’s precisely the thing I’ve been working on – to develop an understanding of. Manufactured Gas Plants – or MGP’s as they’re known in the environmental community.

Harper_s_Weekly_hp001a_S_

– from Harper’s Weekly, August 6th, 1881 (courtesy google books)

This sort of research always turns up a few surprises, and for an area like Newtown Creek – which is of truly national importance in the story of the second industrial revolution, but for which scant historical visual documentation exists – it’s sometimes pretty interesting. Harper’s Weekly was on quite a tear about my beloved Creek back in the summer of 1881, and presented a few illustrations of “the horror” interspersed with texts describing the oil drenched mud and stinking waters of Newtown Creek.

Here’s my speculation as to what I think we are seeing in these drawings. Educated guesses, btw., that’s all.

Nowadays, the outline of Newtown Creek barely resembles what it looked like back in 1881 – there used to be a couple of islands in the Maspeth Creek/Turning Basin area for instance – but there are few historical constancies with which you can reckon location around the creek when old photos or even illustrations are presented. The LIRR tracks are one of them, and another is the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road.

In the shot above, that pile of piles on the shoreline in the center of the shot? The smokestacks on the far shore? The gas holder tanks on the horizon?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I think that the illustrator was sitting right about where I was last winter, at the shoreline intersection of industrial Maspeth’s 58th road with Newtown Creek, looking south west towards Greenpoint’s National Grid LNG site with the ruins of the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road directly in front of me.

Harper_s_Weekly_hp001b_S_

– from Harper’s Weekly, August 6th, 1881 (courtesy google books)

The view above has railroad tracks in it, ones which follow a certain curve, one that has remained fundamentally the same since the LIRR laid them down in the late 1860’s. The tall smokestacks at the left of the shot are likely those of Phelps Dodge. The ones off in the distance are probably the Haberman rendering plant. Calvary cemetery would be to your left, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the illustrator set up his tripod at Penny Bridge – which is the modern day spot that Review Avenue transmogrifies into Laurel Hill Blvd.

That would put the illustrators point of view somewhere on the eastern side of Blissville, looking eastward towards Maspeth.

photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m of the belief that this is the same shoreline seen in the left side of the shot above, although my photo was captured from out in the middle of the channel while onboard a boat. The masonry on the lower right – or Brooklyn side – of the shot is what’s left of old Penny Bridge, and the 1939 model Penny Bridge (Kosciuszcko) is right where that divot on the shoreline is in the 1881 illustration from Harper’s Weekly. Phelps Dodge would have been found on the east side of the Kosciuszcko Bridge, and their property included the gray building with the blue stripe (the modern day Restaurant Depot).

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

abnormal gaps

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Cool cars, Bushwick East Williamsburg edition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was happily scuttling along recently, on his way to conduct a tour of the “Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,” when a charming old rust bucket was encountered on Grand Street not too far from the centuried swing bridge named for it. Unlike other “cool cars,” described at this – your Newtown Pentacle – I’m unable to describe make, model, year, or engine type as frankly – there wasn’t enough left of the thing to do so.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I can tell you that it was a short bus, and that it still had an engine. It was missing a radiator and all the other parts which would attach around the engine, including the front end’s entire outer body.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were four tires on the thing, so that’s something. Additionally, inside the relatively intact passenger cabin, there seemed to be quite a few bits and bobs being stored. Looks like a handyman special to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just on the other side of the Newtown Creek in Maspeth – where Grand Street transmogrifies into Grand Avenue upon leaving Brooklyn and entering Queens – the short bus’s owner could probably find all the help he or she needs with the project at the MTA’s Grand Avenue depot.

A 600,000 square foot facility that’s four stories tall, the Grand Avenue depot can store 200 city buses at one time just on the first floor. It’s the second floor that would come in handy for the short bus’s owner, as one of the 27 maintenance bays up there would be just the thing to getting this “cool car” up and running again.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Tuesday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. –
LICHenge, with Atlas Obscura and the
Hunters Point Park Conservancy. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

tourist parties

with one comment

Bottoming out in Blissville, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Saturday found me speaking at an early morning waterfront event in Astoria recently, which was followed by conducting a walking tour of the Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek in the late afternoon. Left with a gulf of time to fill between the two, I decided to spend it by walking from Astoria to Greenpoint via Blissville and checking in on what’s going on with the Kosciuszko Bridge project on the border of West Maspeth and the aforementioned Blissville section of Long Island City.

A bit of history trivia is offered – the Kosciuszko Bridge is built along the “legal” south eastern border of Long Island City and what was once known as “Newtown.” For the curious, the North Eastern border was more or less defined by Woodside Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The roadway ramps on the Queens side of the Kosciuszko Bridge project are now overflying Review/58th avenue and reaching towards Newtown Creek. The Kosciuszko Bridge project engineers have always said that the northern section of the project would lag behind the southern, or Brooklyn, side.

Longtime readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will report that I’ve been keeping track of things at the Kosciuszko Bridge, with this recent post being the latest report from the Brooklyn side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For a running history of Newtown Pentacle coverage on the subject – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Supposedly, I’m meant to be gaining some access to the actual worksite in Queens fairly soon, although the only thing keeping me from having walked the site is my own discretion. As far as “urban exploring” goes, this would be an easy conquest. Regardless, I’m looking forward to walking the site sometime in June.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To wit, a graffiti crew which decided to adorn the still under construction masonry of the new Brooklyn Queens Expressway ramps leading to the span. Another crew a little bit further north of here weren’t quite as colorful, and instead painted white swastikas on the brick masonry of the BQE on-ramps.

What you see above is not graffiti, incidentally, it’s time.

Time and opportunity. 

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 4, 11:00 a.m. -1:30 p.m. –
DUPBO: Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 3, 2016 at 11:00 am

catenary connections

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Just one more from the Creeklands, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last weekend, a humble narrator somehow found himself up in Ridgewood on Fairview Avenue off Linden and it was decided that I’d walk home to Astoria since it was a fairly nice afternoon. It’s literally “all downhill,” after all, and not that far. My path carried me down off of the proverbial “ridge” for which the community is named, and down through the valley of tears which the loquacious Newtown Creek flows through.

Once again, my path found me in West Maspeth (or Berlin). Topography is something I notice continually as I wander around Queens, and the area around Newtown Creek is shaped like a sort of soup bowl. Proper Maspeth, as in the Mount Olivette Cemetery area along Grand Avenue, is embedded into the terminal moraine of Long Island – true rock. All of LIC, Astoria – pretty much anything west of the high point in Maspeth, is sitting on a giant pile of glacial till which is supported on the back of a giant underground Boulder called a craton.

Ridgewood literally sits on a rocky ridge which leads north/east to the Maspeth Plateau. Seriously. The British mapped it all out during the Revolutionary war.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having a couple of hours of light left before the vampires began to awaken, I decided to wander around a bit after turning up on 48th street. “Up” is apt, as you are climbing away from one of the lowest points in all of New York City which is nearby Maspeth Creek on 49th street. 48th street continues to rise until it meets the Long Island Expressway near Third Calvary Cemetery and crests at Queens Blvd. in Sunnyside (which is built on another elevation, but an elluvial one).

The best way I can describe the up and down nature of the hills leading from Ridgewood to Astoria would be ripples in stone rather than water with Newtown Creek at the center. There’s a conflicting set of ripples leading away from the East River and Bowery Bay which apparent in Ravenswood/Dutch Kills and Astoria, respectively. Hunters Point is flat as a pancake.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turning onto 55th avenue, carven into what was once known as “Berlin Hill,” this little house was encountered at 46th street. Before you ask, I have no idea what’s up with the office chair tied to the pole. There are just some things you don’t want to inquire into too deeply. It always amazed me – here in the middle of what can only be described as a “post industrial and apocalyptic” landscape defined by cemeteries and highways and a nearby superfund site – here – people actually live here. Funny thing is, it used to be worse, when the acid factory was still up and running a couple of blocks away.

The people who live here must… have to be some of the most resilient folks on the earth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is DUKBO – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp. A couple of hundred thousand vehicle trips a day rumble through here on the highway alone. There’s heavy trucking businesses, like UPS, and other huge warehouse operations that are busily at work here twenty four hours a day, and there’s nearby freight rail tracks operating at street grade. Enormous fleets of concrete trucks are based here, and the number of light trucks and automobiles that roll through the local streets are uncountable.

And people live here. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

44th street near 54th road, and a line of 20th century row homes which are spectacularly well kept. Acros the street is a yard hosting tower cranes, and a block away is the LIE interchange ramp with the BQE. This is about midpoint on Berlin Hill, and 44th street used to called Locust Street hereabouts.

Locust continued north back then, heading for Sunnyside, before the “House of Moses” first landed on the neighborhood back in the 1930’s. Moses kept coming back to this neighborhood, smashing his roads and bridges into it, until the early 70’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The border between Newtown and Long Island City was just a block away – the Kosciuszko Bridge sits atop it. On the LIC side is Laurel Hill (Calvary Cemetery) in Blissville.

This section of West Maspeth was formally part of Newtown (prior to NY City consolidation) – the municipal entity which had evolved from Dutch colonial to British and later American governance. Newtown county was once enormous and contained a good chunk of what is now Nassau County, but in the context of which I’m speaking – it’s the municipality which was centered in Elmhurst near the intersection of Queens Blvd. and Broadway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first time I wandered through this area, many years ago, I had a very odd conversation with a very skinny and somewhat disheveled fellow standing in front of the home on the corner of 44th and the Queens Midtown Expwy. service road that is pictured above.

He insisted that “he knew that I knew that he knew that I know, and that he knew things which I didn’t know nor could I understand what he knew, but he knew that I knew that he knew and he was ok with that.” I thanked him and moved on, after affirming that he didn’t want me to take his picture.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The high point of this hill/ripple once called “Berlin” is up on 46th street. As a point of interest, there is no 45th street found between 44th and 46th hereabouts – no doubt to confuse invaders.

As opined endlessly in prior posts, the DOB records for western Queens are spotty, but as far as I’ve been able to determine – the house pictured above and below on 54th avenue dates back to 1915.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On other rambles through this section, kid’s bicycles and toys have been noticed on both porch and staircase. Not sure if it’s still occupied, but there’s a car parked in the driveway on the other side of this home. Notice how there are no side windows? It’s the last survivor of a series of old row houses – a type of working man’s quarters which folks from New Orleans might call a “shotgun.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Passing under the Kosciuszko Bridge, via “used to be 43rd street” I made my way towards 43rd street and headed back to Astoria.

Next week – something completely different!

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

systemic horror

with 2 comments

An altar to Lord Dattatreya, at Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Sunday, which was the only day in Decemeber that has actually felt – climatologically – like December, one found himself in the company of a couple of my Creek chums in a small boat on Newtown Creek. We saw something odd while out on the poison waters.

Our excursion was launched in pursuance of surveying certain bulkheads in an area defined by the former Penny Bridge and the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road. We were literally studying the Creek, and I was along to gather photographs for further inspection at a later date – this is the sort of sinister stuff we get up, in Newtown Creek Alliance. Our survey of the study area was completed, a loop through the East Branch tributary was enacted, and we were headed west towards a dock at North Brooklyn Boat Club nearby the Pulaski Bridge in Greenpoint.

That’s when one of my companions asked if I’d seen “the statue.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Restaurant Depot company, a wholesaler which supplies commercial food establishments, sits on part of the former Phelps Dodge property in Maspeth. Their property is lined with industrial piers which have seen better days, but which were stoutly constructed and you can still observe rail tracks adorning them. In a couple of spots, the piers have decayed or collapsed, and there are little wooden bays amongst the piles.

That’s where the statue is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The style of the thing is clearly southeast Asian, and specifically subcontinental. Given the reach and spread of Indian culture, which is far flung, it’s often difficult to say “Indian” as opposed to “South East Asian.” The statue, however, displayed certain details which betrayed its stylistic and ritual origins, and after a bit of research – the specifics of its representation.

How it ended up in the littoral zone at the former Phelps Dodge property on Newtown Creek in Maspeth is anyone’s guess. I’ve long stopped asking these sort of questions on the Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The statuary was around three to four feet in height, and seemed to be made from molded concrete. It depicts Lord Dattatreya, who is a well known member of the Hindu Pantheon. The particulars of the statue are that it represents the Hindu trinity of Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva – which members of the faith refer to as the Trimurti.

Note – if I get something wrong here, my Hindu friends, please offer correction in the comments section: 

Dattatreya is a primordial figure in Indian culture, and is mentioned in the Mahabharata – an epic holy text whose origins are nearly prehistoric. Mahabharata scholars believe its texts were originally written between 800 and one thousand BCE, making it a 2.5-3,000 year old holy book which is coincidentally the longest epic poem ever written at nearly two million words. Mahabharata is as culturally significant a text as the Christian Bible or the Quran, and offers spiritual guidance to what probably boils down to as much as a quarter of all living humans.

Dattatreya veneration was ancient when the Mahabharata was written, and the deity was originally represented with one head. Dattatreya came from the Deccan Plains in South Eastern India, which is one of the cradles of human civilization. The Trimurti version of the deity, seen above, has six arms and three heads. That’s Brahma on the statue’s left, Vishnu in the center, and Shiva on the statue’s right. The hands are all meant to be holding symbolic weapons and icons of these deities. The cow is sacred to Vishnu, and although it’s not terribly clear in the representation above, there are traditionally four dogs on a Dattatreya statue. Hindu scholars debate the meaning of the dogs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the Vedic religious traditions began, Dattatreya was reconsidered as an avatar of the Trimurti. About a thousand years ago, it became common practice to represent the deity as three headed. Certain Hindu sects revere Dattatreya as a supreme being singularly, with others placing him near the top of the food chain in the pantheon, but still subordinate to Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. His sister is Chandra, who is the moon goddess.

One can merely speculate as to the presence of the statue in the tidal zone of Newtown Creek, and as to what sort of congregants might rise from the water to worship before it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, our party was out on the water performing a bulkhead survey, and we were in search of something far more modern and mundane than an ancient Indian God. Controversy in the Superfund community has recently involved discussion of “Manufactured Gas” and the ebullition (reverse dripping) of coal tar sludge from subaqueous pockets in the sediment up to the surface. This has resulted in a humble narrator “getting smart” about the waste materials which the manufactured gas industry spewed out. Coal tar, and coal tar sludge, were – by far – the most abundant material that arose from the retorts and distillation equipment of the industry, but were hardly the only noxious material produced.

We were searching for “blue billy” amongst the rip rap shorelines of the lugubrious Newtown Creek, which is “spent lime” that had become infiltrated by ferrocyanide compounds during the industrial gasification of coal. There was no aftermarket for this material, and more often than not it was just dumped. Examining photographs of “blue billy,” my cohorts in NCA and I all remarked on how familiar it seemed, and set out to find some.

Instead, we found an Indian God.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 23, 2015 at 11:30 am

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