The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘400 Kingsland ExxonMobil’ Category

horrors and marvels

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My beloved Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above, Newtown Creek.

This is a section I refer to as DUGABO, or Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp. On the left side of the shot is the Allocco family’s aggregates recycling yard in Greenpoint, on the right is the SimsMetal recycling facility in Long Island City’s Blissville section. Today’s post will be taking us eastwards from DUGABO into oil country.

Technically speaking – all of the Brooklyn side of the Newtown Creek, from the Pulaski Bridge east to Meeker Avenue was once oil country, home to a series of Standard Oil (SOCONY) refineries and distribution facilities. The industry’s footprint in the area began to shrink as early as the 1950’s, and refining on the Creek literally stopped in the middle 1960’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Literally “DUGABO,” the Greenpoint side on the left shows the tanks of Metro Fuel, a bio fuel company which actually performs some refinery operations in the modern day. On the Queens side, you’ll notice the Tidewater building. Tidewater was a pipeline company that challenged Standard Oil’s monopoly on shipping petroleum using the railroads. Tidewater was destroyed and taken over by Standard. The Standard Oil company then bankrupted the railroads by switching its nationwide distribution system over to pipelines rather than rail cars – despite having spent a couple of decades trying to convince Congress and everyone else that pipelines were inherently unsafe and uneconomical to operate.

You’ve really got to love John D. Rockefeller.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit further east, you’ll notice the tanks of the BP Amoco yard nearby Apollo Street in Greenpoint, which sit on part of the footprint of the Locust Hill refinery.

This is roughly the dead bang center of the Greenpoint Oil Spill, the second largest such event in American History. The BP Amoco yard is a distribution hub, with its product brought in from refineries in New Jersey and beyond by articulated Tug and fuel barge combinations like the Crystal Cutler, which is pictured above. The digester eggs of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant are visible in the shot above as well, as is Manhattan’s iconic Empire State Building.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit further back, that’s Meeker Avenue’s street end on the left or Brooklyn side, and Blissville’s Calvary Cemetery is just out of frame on the right. The former site of Penny Bridge, which looms large in the memory of long time residents of both boroughs, would have been right about the center of the Newtown Creek. Penny Bridge, of course, was replaced in 1939 by Robert Moses. Moses had to work around some pretty big land owners when building it.

On the right hand – or Queens side of the photo – that brick building is part of the former Queens County Oil Works of Standard Oil. The Petroleum facility in Blissville is actually a bit older than Standard, believe it or not. That’s where Abraham Gesner erected the first large scale petroleum refinery in the United States, the North American Kerosene Gas Light company, which imparted to “coal oil” the brand name Kerosene.

When Standard Oil bought Gesner’s operation, the company made the brand name “Kerosene” so ubiquitous that it became an American colloquialism, and it defined the product in the same way that Xerox or Kleenex define photocopies or facial tissue.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

September 20th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets

human organism

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Something older than me!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted recently over in hoary Greenpoint, on Kingsland Avenue across the street from the former Mobil/SOCONY refinery, was this cool car. Its been a fixture in the neighborhood for a few weeks, but I finally crossed its path when the light was just right. I’m fairly sure that this is a customized Ford Galaxie 500 Four Door Sedan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s always a bit of an intellectual challenge for me, figuring out make and model of some late model random auto. Registration tags list year and maker, and what sort of unit it is – coupe versus sedan, for instance. The deal isn’t sealed for a humble narrator until I can compare photos. The one below is from Wikipedia and it illustrates a Ford Galaxie 500 Sedan which has all the original chrome and ornamentation. Looks pretty similar to me.

1920px-Ford_Galaxie_500_Sedan_(Centropolis_Laval_'10)

from wikipedia

The 1965 Galaxie was an all-new design, featuring vertically stacked dual headlights in what was becoming the fashionable style in a car somewhat taller and bulkier than the previous year’s. The new top-of-the-line designation this year was the Galaxie 500 LTD. Engine choices were the same as 1964, except for an all-new 240 cu in (3.9 L) six-cylinder and 1965 289 cu in (4.7 L) engine replacing the 50s-era 223 “Mileage-Maker” six and the 352 being equipped with dual exhausts and a four-barrel carburetor.

Suspension on the 1965 models was dramatically redesigned. Replacing the former leaf-spring rear suspension was a new three-link system, featuring all coils. Not only did the ride improve, but handling also got a boost, and this system was used for NASCAR in the full-size class. Interiors were like the 1964 models, but a new instrument panel and two-way key system were introduced.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The 1965 Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price for this car was $3,233 – $3,872, I’m told. That’s around $23,569.25 in modern coine.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, September 27th, 13 Steps Around Dutch Kills
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, September 28th, The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek
Walking Tour with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for tickets and more info.

calmly gazing

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Wrapping up the 400 Kingsland Avenue posts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in earlier posts, Kate Zidar of Newtown Creek Alliance and Kevin Thompson of ExxonMobil created an opportunity for artist Jan Mun (pictured above) and her collaborator Jason Sinopoli to work on an installation at the 400 Kingsland Avenue ExxonMobil property in Greenpoint that would demonstrate the efficacy and possibilities of mycoremediation- the usage of oil eating mushrooms as a bioremediator on contaminated sites. The project took the form of earth work “fairy rings,” a play on European mythology, which would act as a platform for the fungus. I was there to photographically document the project, which played out over the summer of 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The earthworks were arranged around defunct well heads, and hosted two specie of mushrooms. A growth medium of “inoculated” hay stuffed into burlap bags hosted one specie, while the other fungal family was installed directly into the soil. Jan Mun was building on the concepts and work of a fellow named Paul Stamets, who is a leading authority on the subject. The mushrooms took root, as it were, and by late August and early September, we began to see the literal fruit of Jan Mun’s efforts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The mushrooms began to fruit, as they absorbed nutrients from the soil. Interestingly enough, the bags of fungus also began to host a colony of what the kids in my old neighborhood would have referred to as “curly bugs.” That’s the sort of critter which curls up into a ball when you poke them with a stick, which I believe those outside of Canarsie refer to as “Potato Bugs.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fungi weren’t the only thing that grew here in the summer of 2013. The NCA and ExxonMobil folks began to form a working relationship and friendship, an organic and unplanned consequence of close contact. Your humble narrator, in particular, found a friend in the site manager of the property- Vito- who is also a bit of a history buff. He exhibited some of the artifacts which his crew had dug out of the ground over the years, leave behinds from the long tenancy which the Standard Oil Company of New York enjoyed at this location.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The vernal project concluded, for me at least, with Jan Mun presenting the work to the team of engineers who labor at the site during a “toolbox talk.” Some of these folks worked directly for ExxonMobil, others for the larger company’s subcontractor Roux. The workers here are the men and women who are directly laboring on the remediation and cleanup of the Greenpoint Oil Spill. We shared a meal with them, and then went out to Jan’s work area to discuss the project and the concept of using fungus organisms in the pursuit of our shared organizational goals- achieving a restored and revitalized Newtown Creek environment.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Jan Mun and Jason Sinopoli continue to care for and work on their garden, here at 400 Kingsland Avenue. My documentation of the project is over for now, and I have returned to my solitary wanderings through the concrete devastations. The darkest of the hillside thickets awaits, and I turn away from this brightly lit and illimitable corridor found along the insalubrious valley of the Newtown Creek.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

different place

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More goings on at 400 Kingsland Avenue with Jan Mun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For one such as myself, the simple fact that I was occupying a spot on the property of ExxonMobil in Greenpoint during the summer of 2013 was a spectacular and unheralded surprise. As a member of an environmental and community advocacy group whose devotion to “reveal, revitalize, and restore” Newtown Creek is taken quite seriously, being the invited guest of the ExxonMobil corporation on the former SOCONY (Standard Oil Company of New York) property- which stands at the very center of the remediation efforts aimed at cleaning up the Greenpoint Oil Spill- was startling. I was thrilled, frankly.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in earlier posts, this was the navel of the oil business on Newtown Creek, part of an economic machine which was once called Standard Oil. This is where an industrial revolution occurred, right on the spot where artist Jason Sinopoli was placing a burlap bag of sterilized hay and mushroom spores (as pictured above), was a gargantuan oil refinery complex which by 1911 had occupied some 50 acres of Greenpoint. So much of the history of North Brooklyn and Western Queens revolves around the energy industry, it was staggering to be on this spot which has always been forbidden to inspection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 1882, lightning struck and the whole complex burned down.

In 1919, the rebuilt refinery operation completely burnt down a second time, and at the time this property stretched from Kingsland Avenue to Sutton, Norman to the Creek. Standard Oil was able to rebuild the entire operation in just 90 days that time. Between the two fires, Standard reported losses exceeding 140 million gallons of petroleum products- according to contemporaneous accounts published at the NY Times. Pictured above, for the curious, is what a bag of the mushroom spores which Jan Mun and Jason Sinopoli were working with looks like. This is the stuff which was combined with the inoculated hay mentioned in yesterday’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While pondering the lucky fate which had carried me here (a destiny which had been engineered by NCA’s Kate Zidar and ExxonMobil’s Kevin Thompson), Jan Mun and Jason Sinopoli toiled away in the terrible heat and humidity suffered on our work days. It was pretty rough, I have to say, and all I was doing was standing around and taking pictures. Zero cover from the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself coupled with the sort of high humidity one would expect to encounter in a low lying spot next to a slow moving water body, and all the while clad in a mandated “safety” costuming of hard hat, vest, long sleeves and pants, steel toe boots, and rubberized gloves. My little dog Zuzu wouldn’t come near me, upon returning home, until after I had a shower.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We were of course there to work, not muse about the Greenpoint Oil Spill, ponder the dichotomies inherent in the relationships between the oil industry and Newtown Creek, or worry about heat stroke. The hardship was made worth it, of course, when the mushrooms began to grow.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

shadowy groves

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More on how I spent part of the summer of 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As discussed in yesterday’s post, Newtown Creek Alliance’s Artist in Residence- Jan Mun- proposed an art installation centered around the concept of mycoremediation (hydrocarbon eating mushrooms) and the mythology surrounding “fairy rings.” The project intrigued Newtown Creek Alliance, whose directors reached out to the ExxonMobil folks who oversee the remediation of the Greenpoint Oil Spill. ExxonMobil graciously invited Jan and NCA onto their property at 400 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint (and supplied budgetary support for grounds shaping as well as mushrooms) and I was asked to document the project. This week’s posts all emanate from the venture, and feature shots from “behind the wall.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

ExxonMobil representative Kevin C. Thompson was with us every step of the way, here he is helping Jan Mun sketch out the outlines of the fairy rings which formed concentric circles around inactive well heads. One thing which I can definitively say about the experience is that it was hotter than blazes just about every Tuesday this summer, which was our designated work day, and it would be an understatement to say that the site requirements for long sleeves and gloves was a cumbersome but ultimately necessary burden.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even though we were working on something “soft,” an art project ultimately, the 400 Kingsland property is an active industrial site full of machines and busy engineers. The safety training we were asked to attend at the start of things informed us to the hazards of the site as well as the mores and conventions of such places. This is pretty standard stuff for industrial areas, as it is extremely easy to get extremely hurt in such places.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s Jason Sinopoli, Jan’s collaborator and partner on the project, walking out of one of the sketched out fairy rings. ExxonMobil uses a landscaping contractor to maintain the grounds here, and Mr. Thompson arranged for them to come in with a bobcat and crew to install and shape the soil to Jan and Jason’s wishes. The contractor came and went, and they left behind spiral mounds for the two J’s to work with.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The plan Jan laid out for all was to use two forms of mushrooms in the rings, one which would interact directly with the soil and another which would spawn within bags of “inoculated” hay. By inoculated, she means boiled and sprayed with alcohol to kill off any other fungal organism which might already be on the hay. This process was accomplished at the Smiling Hogshead Ranch over on Skillman Avenue in Queens, which is run by Gil Lopez – another of our Newtown Creek Alliance chums.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The hay, along with heaps of mushroom spores, was loaded into burlap sacks and placed atop the earthworks. The bags would require regular watering, and to be covered by tarps to protect it from the effects of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself. Fingers crossed, we would leave the ExxonMobil property one Tuesday, then come back the next to see what weird sort of life might be sprouting there.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

elysian realms

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Here’s what I did this summer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To begin, one must discuss the context of the 400 Kingsland Avenue site. Formerly the home of the Standard Oil Company of New York’s Locust Hill refinery, this is one of the primary operational sites wherein ExxonMobil and its subcontractor Roux work on remediating the Greenpoint Oil Spill. The primary occupation of the 400 Kingsland site (there are several locations around Greenpoint) involves the removal and control of “VOC’s” (volatile organic compounds) which would otherwise be outgassing from the soil. There is a small structure with a battery of activated carbon filters attached to it visible in the right hand side of the shot above. The site is in DUGABO, which is my abbreviation for “Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp“. It is across the street from the Miller Building, and was where one of the greatest conflagrations in Newtown Creek history occurred.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The refining of oil ceased on Newtown Creek by 1966, and today its all about distribution. The petroleum industry, in the form of Kerosene manufacture, was very much in place here just a few years after the civil war. Independent producers ruled the roost until the 1880’s and 90’s when John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil company arrived. By 1900, Standard had gobbled up all the competition. The Standard Oil Company of New York (SOCONY) was based here, and after the Federal Government broke up the national “Standard Oil Trust,” SOCONY continued on at this and other properties in Greenpoint. Through mergers and acquisitions, SOCONY eventually became known as Mobil oil. Mobil eventually merged with the former Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, which had come to be known as Exxon by the time of the merger. The composite corporation inherited the sins of its parents, and that’s how ExxonMobil ended up on the hook for the oil pollution which underlies Greenpoint and parts of Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is Jan Mun, an artist who proposed a project to both the Newtown Creek Alliance and to ExxonMobil wherein she would be investigating and demonstrating the usage and viability of mycoremediation (hydrocarbon eating mushrooms) in the Newtown Creek watershed. Jan consistently reminded everyone that this is an art project, an installation, and not a scientific experiment- which bears repeating. She proposed the project to NCA’s Kate Zidar, who then approached ExxonMobil for permission, and the company agreed to allow us on site and participate in it financially. All participants would need to attend a perfunctory safety class which instructed and informed all in the mores and methods of their safety culture. After ExxonMobil agreed, enthusiastically I would add, Kate asked a humble narrator if he would be interested in documenting the project for NCA.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Every Tuesday during the summer of 2013, nearly, a group of us would head over to the ExxonMobil property and get suited up in safety gear- glasses, gloves, steel toe boots, hard hats, and vests. The mushroom spores came from a supplier in California, Paul Stamets, and Jan had an aesthetically pleasing plan to install the mushrooms in the form of “fairy rings” around the former well heads which once fed oil into those oil tanks which would be very familiar to longtime residents of Greenpoint.

In subsequent postings this week, the production of the fairy rings and the fruit they bore will be discussed.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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