The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Maspeth’ Category

polyploid extrusions

with 3 comments

Just another one of those days, man.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s the seventeenth of August, a Friday. The word Friday is derived from the Norse and Germanic traditions, indicating that the day is devoted to the Mother Earth type of Goddess named Frigga, whom amongst other notable traits, was married to the high father Odin himself and Queen of Asgard. On this day, in 1945, British author George Orwell saw his now seminal “Animal Farm” book published. Additionally, on August 17 in 1977, a Soviet Nuclear Icebreaker called the NS Artika became the first surface ship to successfully and purposely navigate it’s way to the North Pole.

Closer to home, Greenpoint girl Mae West was born on this day in 1893.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where is a humble narrator as you’re reading this, you might wonder? I’m out stomping out a pathway for a walk I’m going to be conducting with my pal Gil Lopez from Flux Factory. This promises to be a fairly weird one, by my standards, which are normally governed by a fairly conservative recitation of historical and current condition facts about some section of Newtown Creek or NY Harbor. Admittedly, I’ll deep dive a bit more than most on tours, but this one’s going to include the Blissville Bashee and the Vampires of Queens Plaza. I did mention “Flux Factory,” yes? Suffice to say that this one promises to be a bit more avant garde than usual.

I’ll provide ticketing links next week in the usual spot at the bottom of the daily postings at this, your Newtown Pentacle. Additionally, I’m doing an interesting boat tour on the 30th, with an astounding ticket price of $5. Links, next week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Flux walk will be following, as much as possible, the original diagonal to the modern street grid path that the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek followed through Sunnyside Yards and Queens Plaza. There’s also going to be a fantastic opportunity to see something I can’t normally show you at the end of the walk, so for you photographer types reading this, you’ll want to be there. 

Happy Frigga’s Day, and happy birthday Mae West, wherever you are.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Advertisements

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

was nightlocking

with one comment

Who can guess, all there is, that might be lurking down there?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In industrial Maspeth, where I spent last Sunday afternoon, are the relict maritime industrial bulkheads of a corporate outfit called Phelps Dodge, which has long since “left the building.” The Phelps Dodge property has been divided up, sold off, and developed separately. The company, which was in the copper refining trade along Newtown Creek, is one of the “PRP” or “potentially responsible parties” originally named in the EPA’s 2010 Superfund declaration for the waterway. Although there isn’t even a sign indicating they were once here, Phelps was one of the largest employers on the Queens side of the Creek for more than a century. The first incarnation of what would become the Phelps Dodge plant on the LIC/Maspeth border planted heir stakes here in 1872 as “G.H. Nichols and Co.,” later becoming “Nichols Chemical Co.” in 1891 and then “General Chemical Company” in 1899. In 1930, the so called Laurel Hill plant was purchased by the Phelps Dodge corporation. At it’s height, the plant directly employed 17,000 people.

They manufactured several chemicals here, but their main product line centered around sulfuric acid. The Phelps Dodge people were copper refiners, ultimately, and used the acid to free metal ore from the rock it was embedded in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Laurel Hill Plant declined, and in 1984 it was shuttered. The United States Postal Service purchased the site from Phelps Dodge in 1986, hoping to use it as a truck storage yard, but it was soon determined that the property was too contaminated for use as a parking lot and a judge ordered Phelps Dodge to buy back the property in 1996. In 2001, the old factory and acid mill buildings were torn down, and the property was subdivided into lots. At one of these lots, the Restaurant Depot wholesale chain erected a location. On another, the Koscisuzcko Bridge replacement project is playing out, and on yet another a brand new Federal Express shipping hub has been created.

The shots in today’s post depict the last vestiges of Phelps’s long occupancy, the remains of heavy piers which carried terminal railway trackage on them, allowing for barge to rail operations at the acid factory and copper refinery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Phelps Dodge property is found just to the south of the LIRR’s Lower Montauk tracks, along a section known as “deadmans curve.” The nickname for this section of the tracks is due to the Berlinville Rail Disaster in 1893 (two LIRR passenger trains collided at speed, engine to engine) and the habits of Phelps Dodge workers who would routinely attempt to run in front of and outpace the trains when crossing the railroad tracks, resulting in a lot of squished employees.

Modern day 43rd street used to be a colonial era pathway that crossed modern day Queens from the forbidden northern coast of Queens’ Berrian and Riker properties at Bowery Bay in Astoria, then ran south and across the swamps at modern day Northern Blvd. and then over the hills of Middleburgh (Sunnyside) and then down to Newtown Creek through Maspeth. This path was paved with crushed oyster shells, and hence was called “The Shell Road.” It’s a little hard to visualize this in modernity, because y’know… Robert Moses. The Long Island Expressway, BQE, Queens Blvd., Northern Blvd., and the Grand Central Parkway all conclude this ancient pathway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a couple of other businesses on the former Phelps properties, but none of them look towards the water. I can’t speak intelligently about who owns what, but from observation it seems that since Superfund when a property changes hands on the creek the original owner holds on to the sections that directly touch the water. My presumption is that this insulates the new owners against liability for the cleanup costs, but that’s an assumption and you know what “they” say when you “assume” something. It makes an “ass” out of “you” and “me.”

What I can tell you for certain is that these collapsing and rotting heavy piers look pretty cool and make for good lens fodder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That water pouring out of the pipe you see is a permitted “SPDES” outfall, and connected to the Kosciuszcko Bridge project. It was a late afternoon low tide period when these shots were captured. With all the rain we’ve been getting, the “eau de Creek” was particularly strong and inescapable, amplified as it was by a dew point humidity up in the 75% range.

A humble narrator was also cooking in the early August emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, and there were a few times when touching the camera that I was concerned about how hot it was getting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before any of you accuse me of heavily retouching or manipulating these shots to make things look surreal and weird – here’s how I got them:

These are deep focus, narrow aperture tripod shots accomplished via the usage of a ten stop ND filter. This allows for exposure times of (in the case of today’s images) twenty to thirty seconds. This smooths out the water, and renders the specular highlights of sun and wave invisible. It also allows the camera to peer into the shallows and depths alike, offering a chance to observe and answer the oft asked question of “Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?”


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

remonstrating hotly

with 2 comments

 Industrial Maspeth, where I go to get away from it all, is shvitzy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing I can tell you with certainty, that I would actually attest to in a court of law, is that the “Maspeth Heat Island Effect” is no myth. This is an environmental phenomena affecting urbanized areas where vegetation has been entirely replaced by concrete and cement. The entire inner urbanized core of New York City and its satellite cities around the archipelago are typically a few degrees warmer than vegetated or forested geography, but there’s a few spots in the city itself which can anywhere between five and fifteen degrees warmer (even at night) than they should be during (particularly) the summer months. This is the result of all that concrete baking in the emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself all day, and the predisposition of masonry and concrete to “hold” heat and then radiate it out. NASA thermal imaging maps of NYC show Crown Heights, Sunset Park, and Greenpoint/Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Fordham and Hunts Point in the Bronx, Midtown East and the Financial District in Manhattan, Long Island City and Maspeth in Queens as being  the hottest parts of the City of Greater New York. 

Industrial Maspeth is literally the hottest spot on NASA’s map.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a lot going on because of these elevated temperatures that isn’t obvious. On the economic side, it means that businesses and homes in the hot zone spend a LOT more on cooling their facilities down with air conditioning and ventilation (Willis Carrier invented air conditioning at Newtown Creek, as a note). The tar used to seal roofs and repair roadways gets all gummy, area waterways experience depressed oxygen levels, and life found in the heat islands are stressed out. 

That includes us, incidentally. You can actually feel it getting warmer the closer you get. When I’m walking down 48th street from Sunnyside towards industrial Maspeth during the summer, crossing under the overpass for the Long Island Expressway involves the encounter of what feels like a “wall of hot.” Additionally, the squamous nature of industrial architecture with its long masonry walls and unforgiving streetscape tends to defeat the natural laminar flow of air currents. Any breeze there is tends to get sucked into the convective upwelling of warm air. That leaves behind radiant heat and atmospheric humidity with nothing to break it up, even temporarily. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The solution, which I’m just passing along from scholarly sources, is the promulgation of “living” or green roofs. Street trees and other plantings like rain gardens or bio-swales isn’t terribly realistic in areas like industrial Mapseth due to its occupation. Heavy vehicles ply these streets daily, and in the case of facilities like the MTA’s Grand Avenue Depot pictured above, the lanes and avenues and roads and drives of Industrial Maspeth are where these heavy vehicles are maintained and serviced. The entire bus company of Brooklyn makes its way to that spot pictured above at least once a week.

One of the interesting “carrot and stick” approaches to breaking up the heat island effect centers around creating a metered sewerage tax for new construction, with an exemption to this fee offered to property owners who install a green roof as part of their building design. This would divert water from the overtaxed DEP sewer system during rain events, and create acreages of urban greenery that would serve as a passive cooling system for the buildings, reducing energy costs and load on the archaic electrical grid. 


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 13, 2018 at 11:02 am

alternate demands

with 2 comments

It’s just Grand, ain’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is fascinated by certain pathways around Brooklyn and Queens. The combined pathway of Greenpoint and Roosevelt Avenue (Greenpoint’s East River face to Flushing) is an example. Grand Avenue/Street is another, which ultimately connects Williamsburg’s east river coastline with Astoria’s east river coast via a circuitous route that visits Bushwick, Maspeth, Elmhurst, and the north side of Jackson Heights along the way. Robert Moses introduced a few interruptions to Grand when he was widening and creating modern day Queens Blvd., but I’ve often made the case for Grand as being an immigrant superhighway leading out of Manhattan’s Lower East Side via first Fulton’s ferries and later the Williamburg Bridge.

Mr. Steinway used to operate a trolley on this route, which crossed the Newtown Creek at the 1903 iteration of the Grand Street Bridge pictured above, found some 3.1 miles from the East River. The modern day Q59 bus more or less follows this old trolley route, for the morbidly curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the eastern side of the Grand Street Bridge is found a wholly canalized tributary of Newtown Creek called the East Branch. The East Branch receives a lion’s share of the combined sewage flow that stains the reputation of the waterbody, due to a massive outfall found about a block away at Metropolitan Avenue. In the early days of European civilization hereabouts, this area was renowned for shellfish and game birds, and the water flowed nearly all the way to the Onderdonk House over on Flushing Avenue.

You can see the aeration system installed by the NYC DEP to oxygenate the water which they pollute with raw sewage  operating in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Politics are politics, and depending on what point in history you’re describing, that concrete plant has either been a part of Brooklyn or Queens. Today, it straddles the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens. 

The county lines, as well as the election districts, are controlled by an innocuous official named Gerry. Gerry Mander is the latest member of the Mander family to hold this position, and his relatives have found similar occupation all over the country. Gerry Mander is ultimately the reason things are the way they are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shot from the Brooklyn side, this shot depicts the southern side of the crane district of industrial Maspeth. That little building at the left side of the shot? That’s the DEP’s 14.5 million dollar aeration pump house, which uses electrically driven motors to expensively and constantly puff 8,100 cubic feet of pressurized air into pipes which were expensively installed in pursuance of oxygenating the water. This expense was required, because DEP has other pipes which are releasing untreated sewage into the water every time it rains, and it would be too expensive to stop doing that.

As a note, $14.5 million is what they said it would cost, I have no idea what the final number was, nor what it costs to operate the thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the new Koscisuzcko Bridge in the shot above, or at least the first half of it. The entire project, involving the demolition of the 1939 model K-Bridge and the creation of two new cable stay spans under the management of the NYS DOT, while keeping traffic flowing on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway is meant to cost $1.2 billion when all is said and done. This is a fairly major project, however you see it. It’s a BIG bridge, found roughly one mile west of the tiny Grand Street bridge.

The K-Bridge, with its approaches and onramps, involves about 1.1 miles of active highway. Actual construction started in 2014, and the project is on schedule for completion in 2020. Six years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Alternatively, the NYC DOT has just announced that they will be replacing the 1903 vintage Grand Street Bridge. God only knows what this one’s going to cost. It’s 227 feet long, roughly 19 feet wide, and NYC DOT has just released an “RFP” for replacing it that anticipates demolition and construction taking seven years.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

curious delvings

leave a comment »

Slowing it down at the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Sunday night, after waiting through an interminably hot afternoon for the light to get right, a humble narrator packed up “the bag” and headed over to my happy place in industrial Maspeth. Given the ridiculous heat and humidity, I took a cab rather than walk from Astoria, and the Maspeth Plank Road was a fairly novel spot to be dropped off according to the driver. The look on his face when I headed into the bushes towards the waters of Newtown Creek… I tell ya.

This was a fairly demanding bit of shooting due to the “hot” and sun exposure. The “Maspeth Heat Island Effect” was in effect, and whereas the rest of NYC was in the low ninety degree range, it was closer to one hundred where I was. Nevertheless, the tripod was set up, camera arranged, and busy I got.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These are long exposure shots, if you’re wondering about the dreamy “look and feel” of them. I had a ten stop ND filter attached to my lens, which was set to a ridiculously narrow f22 aperture. The burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was heading down towards the horizon, but it looked (and felt) as if it was located literally in Greenpoint just across the water.

The Maspeth Avenue Plank Road site has been mentioned time and again at this – your Newtown Pentacle. It’s a former crossing of the Newtown Creek, which was opened in 1836, and last spanned the water during the Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant in 1875. It connected Furman’s Island with the Greenpoint Bushwick industrial borderlands. Notable industrial facilities once found on the Brooklyn side include Martin Kalbfleisch’s Chemical Works, Conrad Wissell’s Dead Animal and Night Soil Wharf, and Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory. The Queens side included fertilizer mills and other lovely 19th century industries like bone blackers, acid factories, and fat renderers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shoreline surrounding the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road site on the Queens side is fairly feral. There’s all manner of critters I’ve spotted ambling along the self seeded vegetation here; rodents and cats, raccoon and opossum, birds of all stripes. My colleagues at Newtown Creek Alliance have expended no small amount of effort in making the Plank Road publicly accessible, and we’ve even erected some signage there. Saying that, the NYC DEP has a bit of sewer infrastructure here which has seen recent maintenance and construction activity, and they’ve really torn the ground up something fierce. 

If you make a mess, isn’t it incumbent upon you to clean up after yourself? Manners maketh man, and all that?


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 8, 2018 at 11:00 am

silent laboratory

leave a comment »

A few more shots from industrial Maspeth, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a section of Maspeth which one refers to as the “crane district,” which is distinct from the hammock district. Actually, there no hammock district, just cranes. Whenever I’m waving the camera around at the sort of thing pictured above, I set it to a fairly narrow aperture and slightly overexpose the shot. The goal is to get a super saturated set of colors and to have every screw, lug, and rivet render in sharp relief. For those of you who have asked, that’s the difference between a snapshot and a photograph. The former is when you say “hey look at that” and the latter involves a visualized goal and thought process about how to achieve what you want the final product to look like.

Ultimately, I wanted the crane truck to look a bit like a kids die cast metal toy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is a stunning amount of litter in industrial Maspeth. A lot of it is quite dangerous, as in the case of the tempered glass windows I encountered that someone had the good sense to shatter when they were abandoning them. Illegal dumping is a city wide phenomena, but it seems that the industrial zones are particularly good places to abandon unwanted items. The comedy of it all is that Maspeth is the destination point for a significant amount of commercial and municipal waste by statute, and the folks handling said cargo are pretty responsible as far as how they handle the stuff.

Saying that, there’s shattered and powderized glass everywhere you look around these parts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m hardly a saint in this category, but a humble narrator is the sort of fellow who pockets his personal waste products while moving around the great urban hive, carrying them until a proper receptacle is discovered. You don’t have to look too long, in my experience, before a municipal waste basket or a dumpster will appear. Others, it seems, are less patient than a humble narrator.

I mean, you’ve just drank a half gallon of milk, why not just pitch the empty container to the curb?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is one of the many, many municipal solid waste trailers parked in the industrial zone around Newtown Creek (and elsewhere, if you’re anywhere near a sewer plant, you’ll see or scent them) that stink of sewer solids, which the (now) NYC Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection tells me I’m imagining. This particular one has been parked here in industrial Maspeth so long that the steel legs of the thing have begun to bend.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All winter, I was commenting to myself (and I think I even mentioned it here, at your Newtown Pentacle, not long ago) that the abundance of “dead things” normally encountered around the Newtown Creek’s watershed districts had leveled off. That trend has reversed in recent weeks, with an abundance of dead birds encountered on area streets.

Newtown Creek is kind of “death prone.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Anyway, that’s the sort of stuff you encounter in the crane district of industrial Maspeth, back tomorrow with something entirely different.

Also, check out the tour offers below, they’re both being offered at special low rates. Greenpoint and the 520 Kingsland Green Roof this Friday, and a Skillman Avenue walk with Access Queens on Saturday the 30th.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 22nd – The Birthplace of Mobil Oil: A Walking Tour
– with Newtown Creek Alliance.

Join NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA’s project manager Willis Elkins for walk through the birthplace of Mobil Oil, past the DEP’s largest Wastewater Treatment Plant and to the Kingsland Wildflowers green roof. The tour will also visit NCA’s Living Dock on the way; showcasing restoration efforts adjacent to major industrial operations and in the wake of legacies of pollution and neglect.
The tour will end at the 22,000 square foot Kingsland Wildflowers project, with panoramic views of the Newtown Creek and Manhattan skyline at sunset.

Tickets and more details
here.

June 30th – The Skillman Avenue Corridor
– with Access Queens.

Starting at the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue, we will explore this thriving residential and busy commercial thoroughfare, discussing the issues affecting its present and future. Access Queens, 7 Train Blues, Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and Newtown Creek Alliance members will be your guides for this roughly two mile walk.
Skillman Avenue begins at the border of residential Sunnyside and Woodside, and ends in Long Island City at 49th avenue, following the southern border of the Sunnyside Yards for much of its path. Once known as Meadow Street, this colonial era thoroughfare transitions from the community of Sunnyside to the post industrial devastations of LIC and the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 21, 2018 at 11:00 am

stinking ossuaries

with 2 comments

Scuttling, always scuttling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whenever I mention the 1980’s to those who grew up in Long Island City and Astoria, a shudder seems to go through them. I’ve always wondered if that shudder has anything to do with why all the trees are in cages.

I’ve asked a few of the lifers, but boiling down the answers offered by them reveals one singular truth, which is simply expressed by describing the Croatian people as being remarkably tight lipped. There’s some gesturing involved in their answers, and sometimes a few words in a language which I can never understand (I’ve tried). Regardless, something motivated several of them to build iron cages for the street trees around here. I’ve learned to just accept things over the years which I’ve dwelt here in Astoria, Queens. 

Such is my lot. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is in a weird place, in terms of his mood. Feeling increasingly obsequious, and often wondering who the old fellow staring back at me from the bathroom mirror is, a humble narrator nevertheless sallies forth. Like the trees here in Astoria, there are iron bars and fences all around me. Often it feels as if one is juggling chain saws, and that one slip up will result in disaster. The whole “angry young man” thing is no longer a valid posture, as I’ve instead found myself cast as a broken old man. Such is the wheel of life, however, and there’s no point in moaning about it.

There are still battles to fight, and wars to win.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of, that’s the Sunnyside Yards (est. 1909) pictured above. The shots in today’s post, from this point onward, were all captured along 43rd street while walking south. 43rd street, once you cross Northern Blvd. from the blessed rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria, used to be called Laurel Hill Blvd. It connected the eastern side of LIC’s Blissville over by Newtown Creek and Calvary Cemetery with Middleburgh, which modernity calls Sunnyside. That was before the Long Island Expressway and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and even before Queens Blvd. and the IRT Flushing Line were created in the 20th century.

Referring to old maps of Western Queens requires the usage of three distinct sets of documents, as they’ve (a shadowy cabal, probably) renamed and reoriented the streets so many times in Queens that it’s confusing as all get out figuring out what something used to be called. There’s a few “landmark” lanes which you can use to figure out relative positioning, like Jackson Avenue or Steinway Street, but even then…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

43rd street, as a pathway to Newtown Creek, has been off my radar for the last few years due to the Koscisuzcko Bridge construction project. Just this last winter, the newly rebuilt pedestrian bridge spanning the onramp to the BQE from the LIE was opened. It replaced an older iteration as part of the bridge project, and I’m in the process of reinstalling this pathway as part of my mental map for “where do I want to go today” usage.

The scaffolding in the shot above obscures the Celtic Park apartment complex, so named for a former beer garden and complex of athletic fields which the development is named for. The Celtic Park, as it was known, was designed and situated to take advantage of the huge numbers of Irish Catholic New Yorkers who came to Queens to visit loved ones in the various properties maintained by Calvary Cemetery found nearby in Blissville and Woodside.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One improvement which hasn’t occurred, and I plan on getting after the K-Bridge team about it next time I see them, is the approach to the pedestrian and bicycle bridge that joins 43rd street with the stubby three block stretch of Laurel Hill Blvd. found on the south side of the LIE. The trestle seen above carries the Long Island Expressway, and acts as a seldom mentioned approach to the BQE and Koscisuzcko Bridge itself.

It’s fairly terrifying walking along this stretch of sidewalk, with traffic ramping up to highway speeds alongside of you. A series of jersey barriers would cheaply and effectively address the issue. I’m on it, don’t worry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Aforementioned, that’s the extant section of Laurel Hill Blvd. mentioned above. To the west (or right) is Blissville’s Calvary Cemetery, to the east (or left) is the BQE and industrial Maspeth. This is also more or less the legal border which once existed between the independent municipalities of Long Island City and Newtown, prior to the consolidation of the City of Greater New York.

Tomorrow – so, what’s going on with the Kosciuszcko Bridge project?


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

%d bloggers like this: