The Newtown Pentacle

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triangularly tapering

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Friday is urban bucolia day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marching, endlessly marching, one noticed that a bit of excavation has been performed on the former Mobil oil properties alongside the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge on the Brooklyn side of the fabulous Newtown Creek. This particular piece of American soil has long been owned by some third party, and it’s not a part of the modern properties which ExxonMobil’s tenancy is still extant upon.

Not sure what’s going on here, but I like a good hole, and the construction guys seem to have dug a truly ribald one. Huzzah!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

ExxonMobil is still working on the remediation of the semi legendary Greenpoint Oil Spill, along with their contractors – called Roux – for this particular situation. They maintain a large property at 400 Kingsland Avenue, which used to be the entrance to the Mobil refinery that operated here until 1966.

Just last year, the team at ExxonMobil invited a group of interested neighborhood people and activists to one of their offices to give us an update on the cleanup efforts, which are coming along nicely according to the their data. There’s a couple of recovery wells which are now bringing up ground water rather than petroleum, but they are still working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on cleaning up the historic mess left behind by their forebears.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hasn’t spent too much time on the Brooklyn side of Newtown Creek during the pandemic, given that my walks would have carried me through some rather populated areas that I wanted to avoid.

There’s a window of cautious safety right now, according to my perceptions, that I’m trying to exploit before things get weird again. Things are going to get weird again, and I’m saying by middle to late October probably, by Thanksgiving definitely. Enjoy yourselves while you can.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, September 21st. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates here, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

great purgation

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Greenpoint, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in prior posts, I have no idea as to how the medallion yellow taxi people are going to survive CoronAmerica. They were taking a real beating from the ride share business, as well as predatory financial speculators, before all this started. Here on Provost Street, nearby a taxi company’s HQ, there are hundreds and hundreds of these normally busy vehicles just sitting idle. At a similar facility closer to home in LIC, I noticed that many of the cabs had their medallions removed from the bonnet or hood plate, no doubt for safekeeping or possibly to oblige some obscure regulation.

One didn’t intend to spend much time here in Brooklyn, I was just looping through Greenpoint and circumnavigating the sewer plant on my way back to Queens after walking over the Pulaski Bridge. Incidentally, they’ve changed the name of the sewer plant again. It’s now the Newtown Creek Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility. Accordingly, from now on I’m just going to refer to it as “the sewer plant in Greenpoint” or something similar. Can you imagine being the person who answers the phone at someplace called “Newtown Creek Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility”?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Supply lines,” that’s what I was thinking while grabbing a shot of this semi tractor trailer truck parked opposite the sewer plant in Greenpoint. The “human factor” of our supply lines is something I worry about all the time. You can offer a long haul trucker all the money in the world to make a run, but he’s still going to have to convince his wife that it’s worth the risk for making the run into NYC. Our Lady of the Pentacle is British, and she receives a series of worried missives from friends and family overseas whenever a news report airs describing the center of the pandemic as being in Queens and literally two subway stops away from where we reside. The lurid newscasts are presenting us living in a war zone, here in the City. Can’t imagine how the rest of the country is reacting towards all of our bad news, and “supply chain” or “trucker’s wife” wise, what the effect of that will be.

Will our supply of Soy Milk be interrupted?

The truck carries the corporate branding of a company called Sunland Distribution, a Florida based company specialized in temperature controlled shipping.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One continued back towards Astoria, marching across the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge into LIC’s Blissville section. There seems to be a bit of bulkhead reconstruction going on at what was once part of the Mobil refinery on the Brooklyn side of Newtown Creek. ExxonMobil still maintains an operation or two just up the Creek from here, which are dedicated to operations revolving around the recovery of the Greenpoint Oil Spill.

More of the outside world tomorrow, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the end of the week of Monday, April 6th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

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

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