The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘DUGABO’ Category

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

sojourns beyond

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A man needs a decent hat. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After conferring with a friend who is known for his regular display of sartorial excellence, regarding queries as to his current preferences for a haberdashery, a humble narrator found himself heading to the South Side of Williamsburg to purchase a summer hat. Famously, “I wear a lot of hats” – which is how I often describe the complicated web of non profit organizations with whom I’m associated. Saying that, I’ve always favored “old fashioned” hats in my normal round, the sort of things commonly observed on male heads until the early 1970’s – fedoras and the like. I used to have a place near Port Authority where I’d shop for my chapeaus, but that operation is long gone, and burnt away by the fires of gentrification. 

Accordingly, I found myself in a cab heading to Williamsburg (where those fires burn hottest, oddly enough) from Astoria last week. Normally, I’d walk it, but I was still convalescing from a nasty cold which I was suffering from and didn’t want to overexert. Since the logical route involved the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and a trip across the Kosciuszko Bridge and over my beloved Newtown Creek, I had the camera ready to go and was firing the shutter the entire way. 

Pictured above – Calvary Cemetery in Blissville. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hopes that before the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge is demolished that a chance to properly shoot Newtown Creek from up here comes along, rather than just using an insanely high shutter speed and the “spray and pray” technique. “Spray and Pray” is basically a series of blind shots, where you point the prefocused lens in the general direction of a subject and hold down the shutter button with one hand and with the other – you cross your fingers and hope your luck is good. 

The whole ride took around 15 minutes, which is kind of lucky. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from that rooftop in Greenpoint that I mentioned the other day, and it’s a lot more in tune with what one normally goes for – a composed shot with a thought out field of focus. Hopefully, I’ll get to do something similar from up on the “Kos” someday after the BQE is rerouted onto the new span, and before they demolish the old one. 

As far as the hat buying went, I went to “Bencraft” on Broadway and South 8th nearby the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza and bought a spectacular Panama for a reasonable price. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn, there wouldn’t be a single haberdashery left in the entire City of Greater New York.  

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

thaumatropically grotesque

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Back in the saddle, and Brooklyn’s invisible flame, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor and some Newtown Creek Alliance business found me up on a roof in Greenpoint the other day, where a spectacular vantage point on the largest and newest of NYC’s fourteen sewage treatment plants was encountered. The POV is south by south west, for the curious, and the street upon which those tractor trailers are parked is Kingsland Avenue in a section of Greenpoint which I’ve long referred to as “DUGABO” or Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

Hey, you’ve got to stay ahead of the real estate guys, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant uses its “digester eggs” to sterilize and thicken sewer water via biological process into a liquid with the consistency of honey that is commonly referred to as “sludge.” Bacterial specie are maintained within the eggs that consume nutrients within the liquid, and their particular biology results in the production of industrial levels of methane gas. Given that the bacterial population is pretty much identical to that found in the human gut, this sort of gas production is something which most of us are pretty familiar with.

Thing is, whereas we humans can fart or belch out this waste product – given the comparatively tiny amount of the stuff which the human gut produces – the sewer plant has to instead find some way of expressing the waste material which doesn’t involve explosive exhalations of mephitic gases.

Notice those four pipe shaped structures, and the distortion in the light just above them? Invisible flame.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An upcoming project which the plant’s managers are embarking upon with the National Grid company will attempt to harvest the methane as part of a “waste to energy” experiment, but for now the waste gas is simply burned off. An interesting bit of engineering is at work in the shot above. It seems that when the plant first opened, the temperature and frequency of the combustion process was producing a bright orange and blue flame reminiscent of the sort of thing you’d see on a propane grill or domestic stove. Passerby in Greenpoint and motorists on the Long Island Expressway (found on the Queens side of Newtown Creek) would regularly call 911 and report that there was a fire at the sewer plant.

DEP’s engineers “tuned” the venturi jets of the four exhaust stacks to burn invisibly instead, which I’ve been told was accomplished by regulating both the amount of oxygen within the mechanism and the amount of pressure within the gas line leading out from the eggs. The system is far from perfect, however. Area businesses report that the four stacks occasionally produce a “sonic boom” sort of noise, and create a disturbing vibration which transmits through the atmosphere and into neighboring buildings.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

pertinent assertions

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Cool Cars, Greenpoint edition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted a nifty set of wheels on Norman Avenue not long ago, which are attached to what I believe to be a 1949 Chrysler New Yorker. The body of the car wasn’t in the best shape, but then again, I hope I look this good and will still be street worthy when I’m sixty seven.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a giant engine under the hood in these old New Yorkers, a 323.5-cid straight eight. It’s a fairly huge car as well, with a nearly eleven foot long wheelbase.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The old thing had obviously seen many of her old parts replaced by makeshift specimens. There were quite a few bits of missing trim and other flare, but this car definitely looked drivable.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This car has a semi automatic transmission, which was a selling point. Cool dash as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cross bar just below the license plate is engraved with “fluid drive,” which is what Chrysler branded the semi automatic transmission in the 1949 New Yorker as.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, May 21st at 3:30 p.m. –
A Return to The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek,
with Atlas Obscura, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

Thursday, May 26th at 6 p.m. –
Brooklyn Waterfront: Past & Present Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

apportioned excess

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At Brooklyn’s Unamed Canal, best described as a minor tributary of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whenever possible, on days when I’m conducting a walking tour somewhere around the fabulous Newtown Creek, I like to get there early and scout ahead. The Creeklands are full of surprises. If it’s one of the long ones, I’ll usually try and walk the route a day or two before the event, but for the shorter ones I like to “do it on the day.”

Last Sunday, we did a relatively short one revolving around Newtown Creek Alliance’s “North Henry Street Project.” The group encountered me and my pal Mai first, and I recounted the story of oil in Greenpoint, segued into the whole “CSO” or “combined sewer outfall” situation on the Creek, then talked about the sewer plant. At the end of Kingsland Avenue and what is theoretically North Henry Street, the group was handed over to my pal Will Elkins, NCA’s Project Manager and the fellow who is in charge of this whole North Henry Street situation.

Click here for NCA’s page describing the project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, that’s why I was wandering around behind the sewer plant on Sunday morning at 9:30 in the morning. The first shot is from just three hours later, at the end of the tour when the weather had taken a dramatic turn for the better. It’s kind of lonely spot back here on Kingsland Avenue, although there’s actually quite a bit of activity – industrial wise – that happens back here.

Metro Fuel, Luna Lighting, Allocco Recycling, and a couple of others including the Department of Sanitation and the DEP are all buzzing around like busy little bees in this little cul de sac found in a part of Greenpoint which I refer to as DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The star of the show in this section of the Newtown Creek heartlands is – of course – the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and its stainless steel digester eggs. One of those digesters is going to be diverted from Municpal sewerage duty due to “Waste to Energy” project which the DEP has initiated with the National Grid company. Like a lot of “big green” projects, the devil is in the details with this thing.

The digester eggs are pretty incredible bits of technology, and purpose built. Within the eggs, the same micro organisms found within your own viscera are at work on an industrial scale. Said critters digest and sterilize the sewage sludge via biological processes. There’s a few byproducts to this process, one of which is a mephitic and combustible gas commonly called Methane.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Currently, the DEP uses some of this methane byproduct in pursuit of maintaining the temperature range required by the micro organisms within the digester eggs. The vast majority of it is burned off, however, making the plant an immense manufacturer of greenhouse gases. That’s where National Grid comes into the picture.

The National Grid people have partnered with DEP, and will be building a mechanism by which this excess Methane will be added to their own Methane Natural Gas network. Sounds great, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that sewage doesn’t have the yield for viable commercial exploitation of the gas. Accordingly, one of the eggs is either now, or soon will be, offline for sewage duty, so it can be fed “food waste.” To guarantee that no pesticide or preservatives can addle the powers of the micro organisms, a preference has been stated for organic food waste.  This organic waste is collected by trucks operated by the Department of Sanitation, which will converge from all over the City of Greater New York on Greenpoint’s hazy eastern border with Williamsburg and Bushwick. How do they know the food waste is organic? Let’s just say I know somebody in the school lunch lady Union that mentioned to me that their people were mandated to start separating food waste from the other trash recently. This mention was an angry one, as the City has provided no funds to facilitate the extra work.

The food waste will be “macerated” (chopped up), semi liquefied, and then pumped into another truck. That truck, which will be the sort of big tanker rigs you observe filling the underground tanks of gas stations, will then drive to the sewer plant and pump the stuff into the egg.

One year into the program, DEP and National Grid expect twelve of these tankers to be crossing through Greenpoint on a daily basis. They haven’t projected the number of truck trips through Greenpoint for the second year of the roll out yet. The “waste to energy” program, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of compostable organics headed to landfill, has inadvertently added hundreds if not thousands of heavy trucks a year to the already heavy flow of traffic through Greenpoint and the Creeklands as a whole.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, May 21st at 3:30 p.m. –
A Return to The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek,
with Atlas Obscura, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

Thursday, May 26th at 6 p.m. –
Brooklyn Waterfront: Past & Present Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

black coat

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Back in session.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news about my recent two week break is that it allowed an interval in which a humble narrator could really drill down and focus in on how lousy a human being I am. Lots of 3 a.m. staring into the bathroom mirror, accompanied by vast introspection and self loathing, has been accomplished.

Unfortunately I didn’t get much done, in terms of getting “out” and doing my “thing” for a variety of reasons. A few Newtown Creek oriented meetings were attended, however. Notably, I was at one with some high ranking DEP officials at the sewer plant in Greenpoint, where presentations on the final stages of construction of that mammoth facility were offered (I also went to the Bronx Zoo, but that’s a different story).

It seems the Nature Walk phases two and three, which will create a corridor between Kingsland Avenue and the current entrance to the NCWWTP Nature Walk on Paidge, are slightly delayed but funded.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DEP reported to the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee – which I’m a member of – that “NCMC” (as it’s called), will continue to exist throughout these final stages of Nature Walk construction and that DEP has renewed the contract for our technical advisor and community liaison – a wonderful and quite clever guy named Steve Fleischacker. This is great news. The DEP then moved on to report on the “Waste to Energy” project they’re doing with National Grid.

The “Waste to Energy” thing, in a nutshell, boils down to DSNY collecting organic (food waste) garbage then delivering it to a waste management facility over at the tripartite border of Greenpoint, Ridgewood, and Bushwick for processing into a “macerated slurry.” This slurry will then be trucked over to the sewer plant, where one eighth of the total capacity of the sewer plant has been committed to the production of methane gas – which the National Grid people will incorporate into their system and then sell to their customers.

Of course, that’s when the lying started, but if you walk out of a meeting with DEP and they haven’t fibbed at least once – then you know something is really wrong. DEP claims that there will only be six truck trips a day between the Waste Management facility and their own, but didn’t count the DSNY truck trips through Greenpoint. When I asked them to define “truck,” they all started leaning in and whispering to each other, and finally admitted that by “truck” they’re mean a semi tractor trailer pulling a massive 50,000 plus gallon tank through mostly residential streets.

That’s for Month one of the “waste to energy” project, by month twelve, they anticipate doubling the number of truck trips. They also haven’t done the math on months thirteen to twenty four yet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DEP, which manages both the sweet (drinking) and tainted (sewerage) water systems for the megalopolis, is the very definition of the “permanent government.” There’s a hidden world of “lifers” and bureaucrats who actually run the agency, but the commissioner levels of management are directly tied to the political vagaries of NYC. In the last ten years, I’ve seen four executive teams come and go. They all make promises and commitments to the community, but when a new political order is decided on at City Hall and the Mayor moves someone new into the job – they are not obliged to honor the commitments of their forbears.

The DEP officials assured me that as long as the current Mayoral administration is in place, their promises are exactly that. For what DEP’s promises are worth and the realities of a “politics first” approach to municipal management, and an interesting look at the expediencies of City Hall – I suggest a read of this recent whistleblower NY Times article describing the “Water Tunnel #3” scandal.

Also, tour season is upon us again, so if you want to actually get a read on how repellant a human being I am in person – click the link below and come out to Greenpoint next Saturday for “Obscura Day.”

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

consequential consistencies

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It does seem to be Creek Week, doesn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In yesterday’s post, I told you about Deadman’s Curve in Maspeth, and we explored 57th avenue – the former “Creek Street.” The shot above looks eastwards towards Deadman’s Curve from the former Penny Bridge LIRR stop at Review Avenue. The water facing property is currently owned by John Quadrozzi Jr., who is a major land holder in the Red Hook and Gowanus areas. The property seems to be mainly used for storage and maintenance of heavy construction equipment these days.

As the name of the LIRR stop would imply, this is also the former location of Penny Bridge, which connected Brooklyn’s Meeker Avenue to Queens’s Review Avenue. Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church used to run a ferry service from Manhattan to Calvary Cemetery which docked nearby.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Review Avenue, the stretch of it that runs along Calvary Cemetery, is where the first large scale petroleum refinery in the United States was founded – Abraham Gesner’s North American Kerosene Gas Light Company, which would become first the New York Kerosene Gas Light Company and then be acquired by Charles Pratt and Standard Oil and rechristened it as the Queens County Oil Company. Queens County Oil’s bulkheads are the ones that the Blissville Seep oozes petroleum into Newtown Creek from.

If you follow Review to the west, you’ll find the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and a pair of roads which descend downhill on either side of it. They take you to, and from, Railroad Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The eastern side of railroad avenue was formerly the home of the Van Iderstine company, who had their own rail spur down here which was populated with Van Iderstine’s distinctive black tank cars. As the name of the street – Railroad Avenue – would imply, it’s all about the tracks down here and on the western side of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge you’ll find the LIRR’s Bliss Tower and Blissville Yard.

Welcome to DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Van Iderstine was a nightmare of a company, incidentally, or at least their occupation was. They were renderers, which means that pack animals, butcher scrap, rotten eggs, barrels of abattoir blood – even dead circus elephants – would be brought here to be broken down into components. What exited the factory was tallow.

Believe it or not, they weren’t the most ghastly operation along this stretch of the Lower Montauk tracks, just the smelliest. I can tell you stories about the yeast distilleries…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of smelly, the modern occupation of the Blissville Yard is garbage. That’s the Waste Managemnt garbage train you see above, which is shipped around and about by the New York and Atlantic freight line. NY&A services two Waste Managemnt facilities on the Creek – one here in Blissville and the other in Brooklyn’s East Williamsburg along Newtown Creek’s English Kills tributary.

Something like 30-40% of all of NYC’s putrescent (black bag) waste comes to Newtown Creek to be processed and shipped off in green boxes such as the ones above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Railroad Avenue is one of those cul-de-sac streets along the Creek where there’s only one entrance or exit and which – if you get in trouble or hurt, it’s going to be damned difficult to explain to the 911 operator where you are. At the west end of the street is Sims Metal Management’s Newtown Creek dock, on the east you’ll find Waste Management’s Green Asphalt works, the same company’s putrescent waste transfer station, and the Marlyn industrial park which hosts such luminaries as LeNoble Lumber and A&L Cesspool. Personally, I’d call Sims for help, as they’re closer than any hospital and I know a couple of guys who work there.

This is, incidentally, some of what you’ll find located between Review Avenue, the Lower Montauk tracks, Railroad Avenue, and Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Blissville Yard connects to the DB Cabin railroad bridge, which connects Blissville Yard to the Wheelspur and Hunters Point Yards in Hunters Point, and which crosses the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. There’s also a connection to the M Cabin bridge which leads to the abandoned Montauk Cutoff tracks and Sunnyside Yards.

Freight traffic on Newtown Creek heads east into Maspeth and to the Fresh Pond Yard, eventually meeting the switch to the New York Connecting Railroad through Woodside and Astoria, which leads to the Hell Gate Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Down towards the end of Railroad Avenue, one encountered this immolated automobile.

As mentioned multitudinous times, I cannot resist this sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This car wasn’t just burned up, it was thoroughly incinerated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the sort of stuff you’ll see on Railroad Avenue, here in DUGABO, in the Blissville section of Queens, along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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