The Newtown Pentacle

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One of those days, man, one of those days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this day – July 18th – in 1290 A.D., Edward the 1st of England signed an Edict of Expulsion for the 16,000 or so Jews who lived in England at the time. In 1870, the Vatican Council introduced the concept of Papal Infallibility to a gullible public. In 1925, Adolph Hitler saw his “Mein Kampf” first published to a similarly gullible public. In 1937, Hunter S. Thompson was born (to tell the public how reliably gullible they actually are) and then in 1954, gangster Machine Gun Kelly died of natural causes at Leavenworth Penitentiary after 21 years in prison.

On July 18th in 1984, the so called and notable McDonalds Massacre occurred in San Ysidro, California, during which 21 people were shot and killed (mass shootings were still fairly uncommon then).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If everything went to plan this morning, as you’re reading this I’m returning from a mid morning photo project. I’m attempting to catch a certain angle of light, at a certain place which I’m not 100% familiar with, so it might have been a frustrating morning but hopefully I made the best of it. An educated guess is being made, I’ll show y’all what I got later in the week.

Luckily, after having a killer schedule to get through last week, a bit of time to pop my headphones in and wander about seems to be coinciding with a period of tolerable temperatures and humidity this week. Looking forward to getting a bit of work done, and getting out of the Astoria/LIC/Greenpoint/Newtown Creek neighborhood for a few day trips. Hoping to be able to maintain an early schedule for this, seeking out propitious atmospheric lighting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The most important thing at the moment, for one such as myself, is solitude. I really cannot stomach the thought of having to explain either myself or my actions to one more person than I actually have to at the moment, and have grown quite unwelcoming towards advice emanating from friend and foe alike. The idea of losing myself into the bowels of the City for a little while, looking at it through the isolated safety and emotional distance offered by a camera lens… is both nirvana and nepenthe. 

Look for me, scuttling along the side of the road on the eastern side of the Newtown Pentacle. I’ll be the weird looking guy with a camera.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 18, 2018 at 11:00 am

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Scenes from a summertime Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is only one safe harborage for one such as myself, a single place on this planet where a humble narrator has any sort of worth. Luckily, over the weekend, I got to share this place – the Newtown Creek – with literally a couple of boat loads of people for the City of Water Day festival. When conducting Newtown Creek Boat tours, the program involves me narrating humbly about the East River specifically and NY Harbor in general from the point of embarkation – in this case Pier 11 in Manhattan – until the boat navigates into Newtown Creek. One continues with descriptions of the waterway’s long and intricate history and the environmental problems found in the present day due to its heavy industrial past and present. When we reach the spot where we have to turn around and head back for the pier, the mike gets handed to my colleague Will Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance and he discusses the various plans for remediation of the waterway’s woes. In short, I talk past, he talks future.

Since I effectively have no future, I get busy taking photos while Will’s on the mike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NJ based NY Waterways outfit generously donated the usage of their Henry Hudson ferry boat to City of Water Day, and the Waterfront Alliance organization handled the nitty gritty of getting us onboard. Luckier still, when the boat arrived, the Captain was a fellow named Chris Costa whom I’ve worked with before and have managed to strike up a friendship with. Capt. Costa managed to get us all the way back to Maspeth before we had to reverse course and head back to Lower Manhattan. The first shot in today’s post depicts Allocco Recycling hard at work in Greenpoint, the shot above shows the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant from a spot on the water found between Meeker Avenue and Apollo Street in the Brooklyn side.

The brightest part of my life involves sewage and garbage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the “Green Asphalt” operation at work on the Queens side in Blissville. Their role in our commonly held municipal “thing” is to recycle excavated road surface asphalt and prepare it to be reapplied to to NYC streets. Can you believe that – prior to the 2010 Solid Waste Management Plan – they used to just bury this stuff in landfills? 

This is where I belong, which is about as far away from other people as I possibly can get without leaving NYC.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 16, 2018 at 11:00 am

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4th of July fireworks from the Kingsland Wildflower Green Roof in Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was lucky enough to have gotten himself invited up onto the green roof at 520 Kingsland Avenue on the 4th of July, and accordingly I showed up with my holsters loaded up. I brought two distinct camera rigs, spent a bit of setup time encoding my “fireworks recipe” into them, and got busy.

The fireworks recipe is anywhere from f.8-11, ISO 200, and 3-5 seconds exposure. You’ll want to preset focus and set your lens to manual focus (remember to turn any lens stabilization off), use a tripod and a cable shutter release, and ensure that the white balance is set to something consistent (I used “daylight” for these during capture, and adjusted the temperature a bit in camera raw during developing). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kingsland Wildfower green roof is a co production of Newtown Creek Alliance, Alive Structures, the Audubon Society, and the Broadway Stages company which owns the structure. The green roof is 22,000 square feet, found at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint alongside the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and is roughly 1.3 miles from the East River where – of course – the annual 4th of July fireworks display plays out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few of the government facilities, like the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, decided to get in on the whole Fourth of July thing. They normally light the digester eggs up with a purplish blue light, this time around it was sequencing through red, white, and blue. I used my iPhone to gather video of it, if you’re interested in checking that out – click here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My main camera, the trusty Canon 7D, was loaded with a lens I refer to as “old reliable.” This is the one I left on autofocus, as I was constantly moving the point of view around and zooming in and out. Normally, the fireworks recipe involves locking in an infinity focus manually achieved, but “old reliable” is a trooper.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lesser secondary camera I brought is a consumer level Canon Rebel. It’s nowhere near as “smart” as the 7d, but it was set up with my second best lens – a Sigma 18-35 wide angle which was prefocused and set to manual so that it didn’t go hunting for focus in between shots. The camera was set up, and the cable release lock button engaged.

It sat on top of its tripod and just clicked away.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east, roughly 3/4 of a mile distant from 520 Kingsland and 2.1 miles from the East River, the new Kosciuszcko Bridge also got in on the light show act. Lit up all red, white, and blue.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 9, 2018 at 11:00 am

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The view, man, the view.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek Alliance, along with the Broadway Stages Company, the Audubon Society, and Alive Structures, applied for and received a grant from the GCEF fund (an environmental settlement which arose out of the Greenpoint Oil Spill litigation) a few years ago in pursuance of creating a 22,000 square foot green roof at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section. The 520 Kingsland property is an active TV production studio owned by Broadway Stages, but the flowering roof on top of is all about the environment. For me, it’s a wonderland of photogenic views.

The shot above looks westwards, just after sunset and towards the Shining City of Manhattan, with the Newtown Creek industrial zone in the foreground.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When mentioning 520 Kingsland to newcomers, I always use the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge as the nearest recognizable landmark for them to aim themselves at. The industrial zones on both sides of the Newtown Creek, former petroleum facilities mostly, have been acquired by and repurposed as television and movie production facilities in recent years. Broadway Stages owns large properties on both sides, and in Queens the Silvercup East studios are found just off Van Dam Street in the Blissville section of Long Island City. While I was on the roof at 520 Kingsland the other night, a crew at Silvercup was setting up to do some sort of “shoot” and they deployed theatrical lighting rigs.

Normally, I just make do with ambient light. It was great having the movie folks provide me with “proper” sculptural light.  The shot above looks eastwards towards the Kosciuszcko Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The industrial property pictured above is Metro Oil, a biofuel company founded by a friend of mind named Paul Pullo and his brothers. The Pullo brothers sold their business to John Catsimitidis (of Gristedes, FreshDirect, and Mayoral candidate fame) a few years ago. It sits right alongside the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and those are the oil tanks you see on your passenger side when driving from Queens to Brooklyn along the span.

These shots were gathered post facto after a walking tour of the area I conducted for Newtown Creek Alliance, with my colleague T. Willis Elkins, last Friday night.


Upcoming Tours and Events

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.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 26, 2018 at 11:00 am

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Deadman’s curve and the Pratt Oil Works, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Normally, one would not be seen marching along the LIRR tracks in Blissville, but I had my reasons. It was a Sunday afternoon, anyway, meaning that the chances of there being any rail traffic at all on the Lower Montauk would be slim to none so I decided that it would be a good time to throw the dice and hope that I wouldn’t get squished by a passing locomotive. There’s plenty of places to dive out of the way, if I were able to discern an approaching train, but that’s kind of the issue – trains move pretty quickly and the physics of how sound moves around the air dam created by the engine as it’s moving seriously reduce the “early warning” time. Saying all that, I didn’t get squished, but do not recommend you chance it yourself. It is illegal trespass, after all.

Me, I was scoping out the latest wrinkle in the environmental story around the fabled Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I went to a meeting a couple of weeks ago at the NYS DEC offices in Long Island City, which discussed the “Pratt Oil Works Site” or as I’ve been referring to it for several years – “The Queens County Oil Works of Charles Pratt” or alternatively “The Blissville Seep.” ExxonMobil has taken responsibility for the site, which ultimately used to belong to its corporate parent Standard Oil, and has (under DEC guidance) begun the process of siphoning “product” out of the ground. Said product, the ExxonMobil folks said, is distinct from the liquid product which has been oozing from the Creek side bulkheads into the water. The modern day owner of the site is largely the Waste Management company, which operates a waste transfer station along Railroad Avenue that handles DSNY collections and loads up the Garbage Train. Said garbage train provides framing in the shot above. The Queens County Oil Works was in operation from 1842-1949, whereupon the property was subdivided and sold off. ExxonMobil representatives described the materials their contractor Roux will siphoning out of the ground as “Lube Oil and wax” and the petroleum product oozing into the Creek as “LNAPL” or Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid. LNAPL is lighter than water and floats on top of ground water.

ExxonMobil’s contractors, Roux Associates, who handle the Greenpoint Oil Spill for them directly across the Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, has been activated to handle the Blissville situation. Roux has installed 62 wells on the property, 42 of which are recovery wells and the other 20 are monitoring wells. Waste Management, separately, has several issues they’re dealing with on the site, including a high level of acidity in the soil and the presence of toxic chemicals – specifically Toluene and Chlorinated Volatile Organic Compounds. Waste Management will be aerosolizing these chemicals, meaning that they will be using a process called “SPARGing” which will release them into the open air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

ExxonMobil representatives were cagey about the quantity of “product” in the ground, even after I confronted them about specifics. Saying that, I’m certain they know exactly what’s down there, as engineers who have installed 62 wells don’t just do so randomly and hope for the best. Waste Management claimed that their timeline for remediation of both the soil ph conditions and the presence of “chemicals of concern” would be four to eight years, whereas the ExxonMobil folks said it’s an open process and wouldn’t commit to a timeline.

Oddly enough, a review of the combined project’s boundaries corresponds neatly to the property lines of the former Queens County Oil works. Luckily for Blissville, here in Queens, subterranean oil deposits respect above ground political and property lines. If you are technically minded, or just curious enough to “get it straight from the horse’s mouth,” follow this link for the NYS DEC fact sheet.


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Why does everybody keep on asking me how to dispose of a human body?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s one of those questions that seems to come up in connection with Newtown Creek, for some reason, and random folks will jokingly ask a humble narrator about it at least once a week. On Tuesday, which was spent first at the Waterfront Alliance Conference on a boat in Manhattan (I was asked twice) and then speaking about the BQX project at Hunters Point Civic Association (asked once) one had to offer the same answer three times. A) The Waste Transfer people (garbage or recycling) would definitely notice it and call the cops as modern day environmental laws demand strict governance of what’s in the garbage they handle, B) if you stuck a corpse in the waters of Newtown Creek it would just stay there and be discovered – which would also result in the cops getting involved at which point “the jig is up.” In fact, not just its tributary waterways but the entire East River is a terrible choice for this sort of thing. If you threw a volleyball into the East River at Hunters Point, you’d be able to see it get pulled back and forth by the tide for days, transiting between the Williamsburg Bridge and Roosevelt Island. Eventually, it would get pulled towards Hell Gate, where it end up snagging onto the shoreline somewhere in either northern Queens or the Southern Bronx.

Hudson River or Jamaica Bay, that’s the ticket for human remains.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in the old neighborhood in Brooklyn, there were several members of a well known and self organizing fraternity of Italian gentlemen present who occasionally had the need to dispose of former associates. Infamous, there was a “crew” run by a guy named Roy which operated out of a bar called the Gemini Lounge on Flatbush Avenue (just off Kings Highway) and handled such matters for a certain high ranking fellow named John that lived in Howard Beach and conducted his business at the Ravenite Social Club in Manhattan. This crew’s specific line of work involved automobile theft, but they were also – allegedly – tasked with enforcing organizational discipline for the citywide organization.

Their methodology, as described in court documents, involved the usage of power tools in pursuance of dismemberment. The “pieces” were then packaged into discrete paper bags and tossed out automobile windows on the east bound Belt Parkway, or hidden in the flow of residential garbage headed to the Fountain Avenue landfill, with the idea that either the crabs would take care of the evidence for them or that the parts would be hidden in the tonnages of trash poured into pits. I can tell you that back in the 1980’s, it was not an entirely uncommon thing for “parts” to be found abandoned in the shoreline sand lots found between Fountain and Emmon Avenues in this stretch of Brooklyn. I used to ride my Apollo 3 speed bike around in this area, after school, and can report that Jamaica Bay seems to have been a choice spot for all sorts of disposal activities.

Of course, this is the era when medical waste such as used hypodermic needles still regularly washed up in the tide, so “organics” were the least of your worries.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hudson River is the aqueous equivalent of an express train, with a fearsome current that roars towards the narrows and open ocean. Nefarious types I’ve known over the years have always indicated that their choice of “spots” for intact waterborne disposals involved a nocturnal trip to the south eastern shore of Staten Island. This is all hearsay, of course, as a humble narrator has always been too much of a “wuss” to ever involve himself with such affairs. Additionally, coming from a neighborhood which was renowned for both the benefits and negatives of the presence of these self organizing fraternities of Italian Gentlemen, the best advice I can offer to anyone is to walk out of the room when they start discussing such matters. You can’t “unknow” something, and once you’ve heard it you’re a potential witness against the speaker and could very well end up being eaten by the crabs in Jamaica Bay.

The Newtown Creek is where amateurs like serial killer Joel Rifkin would attempt to dispose of a body, making the job of the NYPD an easy one.

Three times on Tuesday, I had to repeat the screed above. Three times.


Upcoming Tours and Events

May 12th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

May 17th – Port Newark Boat Tour – with Working Harbor Committee.

For an exciting adventure, go behind the scenes of the bustling Port of NY & NJ on our Hidden Harbor Tour® of Port Newark! Get an insider’s view of the 3rd largest port in the nation, where container ships dock and unload their goods from around the world. See how the working harbor really works and learn about what all those ships and tugs do. See giant container terminals, oil docks, dry dock repair, and more! Tickets and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Minimalist Thursday? I dunno, mebbe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from Greenpoint, showing some of the curbside slime and garbage which distinguishes the neighborhood, and I captured it on Earth Day Sunday. Dichotomous, yes. Sarcastically offered, probably. All too commonly observed, absolutely. Doesn’t anyone else just carry their litter with them until reaching a receptacle like I do? Seriously, how far do you have to walk to find a dumpster in the age of gentrification?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looks like someone was prying into one of the electrical hatches on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge again, and observationally causing a small fire while likely trying to harvest the copper wires held therein. Happens all the time, I’m told, in the age of cash on delivery metal recycling. The Crows, which is my pet name for the metal collectors, will sweep in and grab up anything shiny on the pavement. Sometimes that includes manhole covers and the screw caps for fire hydrants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was waiting for a sandwich recently at the little bodega across the street from HQ back here in Astoria, and while a gentleman named Carlos was expertly manipulating the grill a humble narrator wandered about the shop with the camera in hand and snapped out a few shots for future usage. That time is now, in the case of the flowers pictured above.


Upcoming Tours and Events

April 29 – Bushwick-Ridgewood borderline Walking Tour – with Newtown Historical Society.

Join Kevin Walsh and Mitch Waxman as they take us along the border of Brooklyn and Queens, Bushwick and Ridgewood, with stops at English Kills, an historic colonial Dutch home, and all kinds of fun and quirky locations. End with an optional dinner on Myrtle Avenue before heading back to the Myrtle-Wyckoff subway station. Tix are only $5 so reserve your space today!
Tickets and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 26, 2018 at 11:00 am

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