The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Maspeth’ Category

immediately arranged

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Maspeth Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was an unusually low tide last Sunday night, discovered upon my arrival at the Maspeth Creek tributary of the larger Newtown Creek, and if one were to describe the exposed mud flats as being aromatic… that would be a bit of an understatement. Luckily, a humble narrator was alone in the concrete devastations, which provided for an opportunity for derring do and risky behavior. Soon, I found myself perched on a crumbling concrete ledge with a tripod and camera and a two story drop into the stinking mud just one stumble away, with a chain link fence directly behind that my free hand was clutched to. You want to be, always, on the other side of that fence.

This is exactly the sort of thing which I advise others not to do, as it’s stupid and foolhardy, but… I got my shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once upon a time and just a few blocks away from this spot, DeWitt Clinton sat on his porch and watched a meandering Maspeth Creek flow past his house, when the waterway was navigible half of the way to Elmhurst, and dreamt up the Erie Canal. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Maspeth Creek was described by contemporaries as a “stinking swamp, surrounded by pestilential industries and ugly to the ultimate degree.” By the time WW2 came along, this was where you’d access the bulkheads of the United Enameling and Stamping Co.

In the first quarter of the 20th century, Maspeth Creek was canalized and truncated, with its eastward or landward side being entirely taken over by a large combined sewer outfall concrete vault, and its once upon a time course towards Elmhurst buried into a sewer. In fact, the concrete ledge from which these shots were gathered is the roof of that sewer vault, known to Newtown Creek enthusiasts and Government regulators alike as “NC-077.” This drain reportedly allows about 289 million gallons of untreated wastewater a year to saturate into the tributary and deposit filth into it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were all sorts of critters moving around in the darkness; Geese, Rats, and Raccoons were all personally spotted, but there were other unseen but hinted at forms of life in both the water column and crawling about and along the shorelines. Something fairly large was crashing around in the bush found on the southern bulkheads, but that could have just been some of the Raccoons, or maybe some Opossums. I did not observe anything with tentacles, but I’ve always had certain suspicions about Maspeth Creek, revolving around old Lenape tales suggesting this area as “not being right.”

As far as what might be tunneling, wriggling, or sliding about in the exposed Black Mayonnaise sediment beds… who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

often waylaid

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If you want spooky, Industrial Maspeth at night is your best bet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s nothing spookier than a feeling of personal vulnerability, a discernment of solitude, and the certainty that there’s no escape should trouble or danger arise. Most avoid finding themselves in this sort of situation, a humble narrator instead seeks them out. After attending a performance art event at a friend’s house nearby which was both artsy and fartsy, one headed in the direction of that notorious cataract of municipal indifference called the Newtown Creek and got busy with the camera, Saturday last. It was sort of late, about ten p.m. I’d wager, and fairly comfortable climatically so a short scuttle into the nighted concrete devastations found me headed towards the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road.

The streets were empty, except for a few security guards sleeping in their security guard boxes at the MTA’s Grand Avenue Depot, or Sanitation workers enjoying weekend overtime shift work and smoking cigars in front of a DSNY garage. A humble narrator, filthy black raincoat flapping about, pretty much had the place to himself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was no sign of any sort of life other than the aforementioned municipal employees and errant geese, the latter of whom were heard rather than seen. Every now and then, I’d spot the eye reflection of feral felines prowling about in the darkness. For once, I was carrying a fairly ok consumer level LED floodlight, so I waved it around a bit while shooting. It’s pretty bright up close, as a note, but once you get past six or so feet from the thing it’s emanations begin to diffuse out to nothingness.

One of the many things which I “nerd out” about are flashlights. There’s two ways to describe the output from a “torch.” The first involves the actual light output of the thing, which is measured in “lumens,” the second is “throw.” Throw involves how far the light travels as a cohesive beam. The particular flood light I have is great on the lumen count, just not so great on the throw. With a long exposure night shot, however, it’s really about producing just a little foreground detail in what would otherwise be a field of blackness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wave the camera around at Plank Road all the time, but for some reason I had the distinct sensation that somebody was both nearby and watching me. There were occasional sounds coming from the brush surrounding the clearing at the water’s edge, but as mentioned – geese, and cats. I’m sure that there was some watership down action involving rats going on as well, but those sneaky little bastards are great at not being seen or heard.

This is what was behind me, which I kept on craning my neck around to check on due to paranoid imaginings.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The last time I published a shot similar to this one, which included a lens flare just like the one seen above, a whole thread of comments was unleashed about the visual artifact and its coloration. I was advised to retouch it out, which I rejected. Despite the many years I spent professionally engaged as a Madison Avenue Advertising Photo Retoucher, perhaps because of that, I tend to try and do everything “in camera.” There is a slight bit of alteration in the shot above, other than normal adjustments for brightness, contrast, and color temperature to the “raw” file – an exposure gradient is laid into the extreme top of the shot to darken up the otherwise fairly blown out concrete plant and sky.

I’m not against monkeying with the shot, obviously, but given the level of manipulation that’s possible these days I try to maintain the integrity of the original photo as much as possible whenever possible. If a lens flare manifests in camera, it’s part of the scene as I shot it and it stays.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking to the west along Newtown Creek from the Maspeth Plank Road, with the Kosciuszcko Bridge all lit up like some strumpet, or a Greek coffee shop. That purple beam rocketing up out of the bridge’s lights is visible from a couple of miles away back in Astoria. One cloudy or rainy nights, there’s a giant luminous blob of unnatural color visible in the sky.

I’m still debating whether or not I like this part of the new bridge, but I can tell you that the saturated colors produced by its powerful LED lighting wreaks havoc when developing night shots and it’s a real challenge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “tripod section” of my night accomplished, one affixed a “bright lens” to the camera and began scuttling back towards Astoria. The walk home to HQ was uneventful, but I didn’t find my way inside the domicile until well after midnight.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 23, 2018 at 11:45 am

polyploid extrusions

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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.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 17, 2018 at 11:00 am

was nightlocking

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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?”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

remonstrating hotly

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 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. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 13, 2018 at 11:02 am

alternate demands

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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.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

curious delvings

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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?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 8, 2018 at 11:00 am

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