The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Watermelon day, in these United States

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A sense of place is one of the things that I always keep in mind when I’m out shooting around Newtown Creek. Without a glimmer of the skyline, in particular a recognizable silhouette like the Empire State Building, it’s impossible to say if you’re looking at NYC or just some post industrial landscape anywhere in the great American rust belt.

Saying all that, you’ve got to be careful about how much of the frame is filled by iconic architecture like Empire State as the people who own the building zealously defend a theoretical copyright on images in which it appears. If the shot above was to appear in an advertisement, for instance, a fee would need to be negotiated with the building’s management for usage of its image. The Empire State Building is like Brad Pitt or Beyoncé.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been thinking about the ownership of reproduction rights over something that you can’t help but have occupy a certain proportion of shots captured whilst out in public. Back when I was a full time advertising retoucher, one of the most ridiculous assignments I received was to remove any and all identifiable “brands” from a series of stock photos. These photos were going to published in a direct mail offering for a large credit card company serviced by the agency, and the client didn’t want to negotiate with the various brand owners for usage. Therefore, one spent a week or so retouching every logo and identifiable brand image out of shots of Times Square, the Ginza strip, and Picadilly Circus.

The results were bizarre, and looked like something from the second act of a zombie movie, but the client was happy and I got paid… so… victory. I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, since I’ve stepped behind the camera over the last decade or so, a point is made to frame my shots in such a manner as to necessitate as little retouching out of logos and brand marks as possible. As I always say to the creative types – check with the retoucher before the shoot if you want to save yourself a bunch of money.


Upcoming Tours and events

We’re cancelling Saturday the 5th’s Insalubrious Valley tour due to a forecast of scattered thunderstorms with lightning expected.

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Saturday August 5th, 11 a.m. – 1;30 p.m.

Century old movable bridges, the remains of a 19th century highway between Brooklyn and Queens, and explore two of the lesser known tributaries of the troubled Newtown Creek watershed. For the vulgarly curious, Conrad Wissell’s Dead Animal and Night Soil wharf will be seen and described, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour, with Working Harbor Committee – Saturday August 12th, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Explore the coastline of Brooklyn from Newtown Creek to Sunset Park, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman, Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours, and Gordon Cooper of Working Harbor Committee on the narrating about Brooklyn’s industrial past and rapidly changing present. details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Sunday August 13th, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Two Newtown Creek Boat Tours, with Newtown Creek Alliance and Open House NY – Wednesday August 16th, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek are home to the densest collection of these garbage facilities anywhere in the city and collectively, the waste transfer stations around and along Newtown Creek handle almost 40% of the waste that moves through New York. Join Newtown Creek Alliance’s Mitch Waxman and Willis Elkins  to learn about the ongoing efforts to address the environmental burden that this “clustering” has caused. details here.

DUPBO Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with NYCH20 – Thursday August 24th, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Explore Greenpoint and Hunters Point, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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discovered peculiarities

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It’s National Pecan Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One says it all the time – “you never know what you’re going to see along the lugubrious Newtown Creek, so bring your camera.” Last week, I was attending an event at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Nature Walk in Greenpoint when something surprising occurred.

As a note, not sure if my friend’s project is “public” yet, but when it is I’ll share links with you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It wasn’t surprising to see a tugboat at Newtown Creek. It’s still a quite busy maritime industrial waterway, although it’s a shadow of itself compared to a century ago during the First World War when more cargo (by tonnage) than the entire Mississippi River moved along its contaminant stained bulkheads.

What was surprising is what’s intruding on the shot above, in the lower left hand corner. That’s a fishing pole.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some fellow rode up on his bike and began assembling his angling equipment, while I was at the Nature Walk. He dropped a hook and lure into the waters of Whale Creek, where the sludge boats dock, and began wiggling his line around. I had a brief chat with him – nice guy – and he assured me that he was “catch and release” fishing and wouldn’t dream of eating anything caught in NYC’s waters.

Then his line went taught and he began to engage the fishing rod’s reel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a striped bass which he pulled up out of the Whale Creek tributary of Newtown Creek. Whale Creek adjoins and is entirely contained by the largest and the newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, and as mentioned above, is where the so called Honey (or sludge) Boats dock, and where they load up the treated and concentrated sewer sludge. There’s also a combined sewer outfall at Whale Creek, which is odd as it’s on the grounds of a sewer plant, but that’s the DEP for you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sport fishing, or “catch and release” as its called, is something I have absolutely no problem with. Saying that, one of the folks also attending the event at the Nature Walk was offended and offered “why harm and annoy such a magnificent animal?” I’d say the same thing if somebody was dropping hooks out of trees for raccoons, but maybe that’s my terrestrial mammal privilege at work. The good news is that there are foot and a half long fish swimming around in freaking Newtown Creek.

Guess that the offended person should have been offered a trigger warning that the real world had been entered, and that fishermen and hunters are amongst the most avid environmental and conservation minded folks you can find. This particular kvetch is well known to me, incidentally, so I can tell you in advance that attempting to offer a particular observation or logic conflicting with their own would have returned naught but a stony glance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I can report that the fish, a striped bass incidentally, would likely have agreed with this very sensitive person who frequently annoys me. The blood was coming from the hook, which the angler pried out before releasing the critter back into the waters of Newtown Creek. Fish heal pretty quickly, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has said it before, and will say it again: “you never know what you’re going to see along the lugubrious Newtown Creek, so bring your camera.”


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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collective deliberation

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It’s National Onion Ring Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few odds and ends greet you today, lords and ladies. Pictured above is my beloved Newtown Creek, as seen from a bulkhead in Greenpoint. That barge is being filled with aggregate soil material by the Allocco recycling operation on Kingsland Avenue. Aggregates are an interesting side of the recycling industry, wherein excavated soil is sieved and graded according to particle size (gravel, sand etc.) and then sold in bulk for industrial “fill,” or packaged and sold at consumer hardware stores in fifty pound bags. It diverts the stuff from ending up in landfills. Who knew?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was on his way out one fine afternoon, and caught this meteorological sight. A curtain of rain was trailing a storm cloud, on an otherwise sunny day, as the cell headed eastwards. For some reason, I’m fascinated by this sort of thing, but I also routinely throw rocks at the moon when it rises outside of my cave.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The weather down in the rotting concrete bunkers and tunnels of the Subway system never ceases to amaze me. Given that it’s a series of shaft ways open on both ends and which are open to the air at nearly every station, and have de facto pistons moving through them at somewhat regular intervals, how and why is it that the atmospherics in subway stations always seem to lag twenty four to forty eight hours behind the surface? Also, why is it also so damned hot at 34th street/Herald Square?

I avoid that station like the freaking plague because of the heat.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 22, 2017 at 11:00 am

certain captives

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It’s National Raspberry Tart Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Call me Ezekial for my visions of a dire future are informed solely by the lessons of the past. When the NYC DEP people told the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee of their plans for a “waste to energy” project at the sewer plant in Greenpoint a while back (I think at the end of the last Bloomberg administration?), they also mentioned that they intended for the equipment which would convert the waste methane produced by their industry into a usable fuel – “natural gas” – on the Greenpoint Avenue side of the sewer plant, a humble narrator grew agitated.

The DEP people said “c’mon, it’s behind the fence, what could happen?” I turned around to Councilmember Steve Levin, who was observing the meeting, and said “Greenpoint has a long history of huge industrial fires, and it’s only a matter of time before a car or truck accidentally blasts through the fence, or a fire starts nearby that could threaten the perimeter here.” “Do we really want a high pressure gas manifold on heavily trafficked Greenpoint Avenue with only a chain link fence to protect it? What if?”

Mr. Levin took note, but the DEP was dismissive. The DEP is always dismissive, and the agency does not like its pronouncements or plans being questioned by unwashed rabble like myself, the State of New York, or the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not six months afterwards, a paper recycling yard across the street from the sewer plant caught fire and burned for several days. DEP had people on the plant’s grounds sweep their property facing the smokey fire with hoses, for fear that wind scattered embers from the blaze across the street might cause damage or start a fire at the plant. The next Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting came around and I got to say “I told you so” to the DEP. The councilman gave me a knowing look and acknowledged that I “called it,” and that was the end of that. The DEP people went along with their plans to install the gas equipment on a busy truck route called Greenpoint Avenue.

Of course, the Citistorage Building fire on the East River side happened a few months later, so allow me to reiterate…

Greenpoint has a history of fires that occur in large industrial buildings that tend to burn for days and days. In 1882 and again in 1919, the entire refinery complex on the Newtown Creek coastline between Greenpoint Avenue and Meeker Avenue were immolated and utterly lost, and in the 1882 fire – the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge burned down. Don’t believe me? Ask my colleague, Greenpoint Historian Geoff Cobb, or do your own research on the subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine my recent joy, therefore, when another of my little prophecies came true.

I was at the plant to attend a presentation offered by the DEP regarding their “Long Term Control Plan” for combined sewer overflows into Newtown Creek. The plan is a lot of hoo-hah if you ask me, a Potemkin Village’s worth of politically convenient bioswales, rain gardens, and unfunded mandates for large scale construction projects which is designed to compel future generations into finding a way to pay for it all, rather than asking it of the current one. The LTCP process, citywide, is turning out to be a wonderful example of non urgently passing the buck while billions of gallons of sewage flow into New York Harbor every single time it rains. They want to build pump houses and dig retention tunnels, but all of it begins in twenty to thirty years and…

Thirty years ago, New York City was financially crippled and crime was at an all time high, and you couldn’t give away the waterfront land in Williamsburg or Long Island City. Twenty years ago, America had “won the Cold War” and it was the “end of history.” Rudy Giuliani was already a bit crazy, but not like now… Bill Clinton was President… you would have been hard pressed to get anyone to believe the sort of dystopic world we now live in, or the property valuations of Williamsburg, were just on the horizon. Donald Trump? What?

A lot can happen in 20-30 years, and there’s no time like the present for “getting it done.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, I had attended a tour of the plant on Sunday April 22nd, and these shots were captured on Wednesday the 26th. Anonymous informants who work at the plant informed me that some driver had not recognized the presence of the fence when traveling west from North Henry Street, and crossed Greenpoint Avenue at accelerating speed, and plowed into the fenceline without braking.

As a point of trivia, North Henry Street actually does continue through the plant, it’s just closed to non official traffic. I seem to recall seeing a street sign for it inside the fence quite a while ago, but I also might be imagining it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news, which came to me in another Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting on the 30th of March, is that DEP’s partners in the “waste to energy” project – National Grid – now prefer a spot deeper within the plant’s grounds to install their equipment to harvest the waste methane which is not on Greenpoint Avenue.

Ezekial, call me Ezekial, for I am a prophet.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


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prime strength

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It’s National Zucchini Bread Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself spent a rainy Earth Day in industrial Greenpoint, and our first stop was at the brand new Green Roof at 520 Kingsland Avenue. Our second appointment was with the NYC DEP, who were offering tours of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant pictured above. As a note, this was an abbreviated version of the tour, which only included an audience with the newly hired and immensely cool Deputy Commisioner Pam Elardo and the second Superintendent of the plant, Zainool Ali. A brief lecture on sewer operations and the DEP’s mandate was followed by a visit to the walkway that hovers over the digester eggs. The old version of the tour included a few other areas of the plant such as the electrical rooms and screening facility.

As you’d imagine – I’ve been on this tour several times over the years as a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee, my role as Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, and just out of my own puerile interest.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walkway above the digester eggs is encased in greenish blue glass, which always poses a bit of a challenge – photographically speaking. The glass tends to act as a neutral density filter and lends a color cast to the shots you can capture up there. Also, as mentioned, this isn’t my first rodeo up there – so I’ve developed certain countermeasures on both the capture and digital darkroom sides to deal with the glass issue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s nothing you can do about rain, however, so as my pal Bernie Ente used to advise – just use it to your advantage. One is quite enamored with the image above, which is one of the better atmospheric shots I’ve managed to capture so far this year. This is looking west, obviously, towards the shining city of Manhattan and over Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards, towards Maspeth and the Kosciuszcko Bridge project. You’ll notice that there aren’t rain or glass distortions present in this shot, or the one below. That’s due to my having visited the walkway multiple times in the past and knowing where there are lapses in the wraparound glass big enough to shove a camera lens through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s probably going to be the very last “birds eye” shot of the 1939 era Koscisuzcko Bridge seen above, doing the active duty it’s been engaged in for 78 years, that I am going to ever take. On Thursday the 27th, Governor Cuomo is going to officially open the new bridge and the NYS DOT is going to shortly thereafter reroute the BQE onto it. The demolition process of the 1939 bridge is meant to begin playing out over the summer and should be completed sometime this fall, whereupon the second half of the “K Bridge” project will start.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

cultural tone

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It’s National Pigs in a Blanket day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saturday last, Earth Day April 22nd, was a misty and rainy day in the Newtown Pentacle. Regardless, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself attended a couple of Newtown Creek oriented events and one had a chance to get busy with the camera. The shots in today’s post were captured at the Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages Green Roof project at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint, a spot which you will have a few chances to visit with us (NCA) this spring and summer – notably on May 7th during our MAS Janeswalk event (details found at the bottom of this post).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The views from up on the green roof are pretty staggering. 520 Kingsland Avenue is right at the center of the “soup bowl” as I call it, which surrounds the incredible Newtown Creek. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the topography related to the waterway. The Queens side, until you get to about two and half miles back from the East River in Maspeth is flat as a pancake – literally a flood plain which was aboriginally a series of marshes, swamps, and tidal meadows. The Brooklyn side in the same area is also fairly flat, but there’s a few undulating prominences. Bushwick, Eastern Maspeth, and Ridegwood form a literal ridge of steeper elevations around the creek. The terminal morraine of Long Island, or actual non glacially deposited rock, starts in Maspeth at Mount Olivette cemetery.

That’s Long Island City, of course, with the astounding amount of real estate industrial complex activity along Jackson Avenue and Northern Blvd. on full display as it rises behind the Long Island Expressway truss over the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

520 Kingsland also lets you peek into a series of industrial properties normally hidden by security fencelines and see what’s going on in them. Pictured above is part of the Metro Fuel truck fleet. Metro is a biofuel company founded by a buddy of mine – Paul Pullo – which was purchased a few years ago by the billionaire John Catsimatidis, of FreshDirect and Gristedes supermarket fame.

Metro is a biofuel company, meaning that they recycle all sorts of waste like fryer oil and cooking grease, as well as feeding soybean and agricultural oils into their mix to produce various grades of fuel oil.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another buddy of mine, Mike Allocco, runs a recycling processing plant on Kingsland Avenue, and 520 Kingsland Avenue’s rooftop let’s you check out his family owned and operated operation at work from a safe distance. Allocco Recycling has been a generous partner with NCA on another project we’ve got going down there – the Living Dock. My pal Will Elkins, NCA’s project manager, has been working his fingers to the bone on “The North Henry Street Project” which includes the Floating Dock and plans for shoreline restoration work along a minor tributary of Newtown Creek called “unnamed canal.”

For more on Will Elkins’ efforts on the Living Dock – click this link to visit NCA’s page on the subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Commanding, and less common, views of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant are also available from 520 Kingsland Avenue. Those four cylinders in the center of the shot are actually gas jets which burn off excess methane generated by the sewer plant, making the City’s Department of Environmental Protection the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in Brooklyn. Dichotomous to their adversarial roles in the ongoing Newtown Creek Superfund situation, the DEP has entered into a partnership with the National Grid company to capture the methane instead of burning it off. The DEP calls this project “waste into energy” and it’s heraldic to the kinds of public/private partnerships which just might help ameliorate the devastating effect that climate change is going to bring to the maritime archipelago which NYC is embedded into.

The 21st century is going to see a lot of these kinds of partnerships, I believe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happily, one no longer needs to sit upon the good news that Governor Andrew Cuomo will be coming to Newtown Creek on Thursday to inaugurate and open the new Koscisuzcko Bridge, as the NY Daily News has already spilled the beans and press releases are already floating around with the news.

via the Governor’s press office –

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the grand opening of the first span of the new Kosciuszko Bridge. The Kosciuszko Bridge, which will be the first new bridge constructed in New York City since the Verrazano Bridge in 1964, will be open to traffic in both directions on April 27, 2017. The Governor will mark the grand opening with a spectacular light show coordinated to music airing on multiple iHeartRadio stations. The light show is the first performance in “The New York Harbor of Lights” that will illuminate crossings with multi-color LED light shows that will be visible for miles. The shows will transform New York’s already awe-inspiring structures into international tourist attractions to drive additional tourism revenue. The premier of “The New York Harbor of Lights” will also include coordination with the lights of the Empire State Building.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

ultimate blackness

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It’s Al Capone, Betty White, and Andy Kaufman’s birthday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood, you’ll find the principal burying grounds of the Roman Catholic Church in 19th and early 20th century NYC, called First Calvary Cemetery. It’s called “First” Calvary, as there are three other properties found to the east in Woodside that the church refers to as “Second,” “Third,” and “Fourth.” First, or Old, Calvary has been in use since 1848. Calvary Cemetery is on a hill overlooking the Newtown Creek and is surrounded by the industrial zones of Long Island City and West Maspeth.

The majority of burials in First Calvary occurred between its founding and the Second World War, which means that the monuments found within its fence lines have endured the effects of the endemic atmospheric pollution typical of industrial America prior to the passing of the 1972 Federal Clean Air Act. Acid rain wasn’t a term used prior to that legislation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Granite seems to be the best choice for a monument able to weather the atmospherics hereabouts.

Marble rots away, obscuring the legend, iconography, and screed carven into the memorial stones. If you were to run your fingers across the surface of the stone pictured above, a sandy grit would transfer from it to your skin. To be fair, though, there used to be an acid factory right across the street from Calvary Cemetery.

That factory was opened in 1866, and was first known as “General Chemical,” then as “Nichols Chemical,” and then as “Phelps Dodge.” Phelps Dodge, of course, is one of the named “potentially responsible parties” or “PRP’s” in the ongoing Federal Superfund situation on Newtown Creek being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Phelps Dodge vacated its property long ago. Back in 1901, when the corporate entity was still called the Nichols Chemical Company, community complaints and a law suit by the cemetery forced them to build what was – at the time – the largest chimney in the United States to release their acidic waste gases high above the ground. It was supported by wooden piles driven into the landfilled Newtown Creek marshlands their factory was built on. These piles supported a 25 foot deep concrete foundation, which in turn provided a stable enough base for a 22,000 ton, 367 feet tall chimney.

Roughly translating that to modern day “building stories,” this was a 36-37 story tall chimney.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For comparison, the sapphire megalith of Long Island City is 53 stories in height, but three of those stories are below the ground. The Nichols/Phelps complex employed close to 1,500 people back in 1901. The acid factory was merely part of their production line, and the high grade sulfuric acid they were known for as a mere co-product for their true profit center.

The main focus of their business was the refining of copper. The company was producing some 517,000 tons of the stuff, annually, back in 1901 when that chimney went up. Most of the landfill that the company had used to build out the marshy shoreline of Newtown Creek, and upon which they built their factories, was material harvested from the refining processes – specifically slag from their redoubts and furnaces. The original shoreline of Newtown Creek was anywhere from 500-1,000 feet back from the modern shoreline, more or less where the Long Island Railroad’s Lower Montauk Branch tracks are found today.


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