The Newtown Pentacle

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A few shots from Penny Bridge, along Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a busy weekend for a humble narrator, and had to show my face in public for a couple of events. Had a bit of time afterwards that was productively spent, as a photographer friend and I hit a couple of “sweet spots” along that troublesome cataract of municipal neglect called the Newtown Creek whereupon I got busy with the tripod and the clicking.

Pictured above, the Koscisuzcko Bridge project is moving along nicely.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One seems to be obsessed with longish exposures of rotting piles these days, can’t tell you why. Give me a centuried mass of lumber groaning with ship worms and wood lice sticking out of the water and I’m happy.

Other people like seeing family or friends, I’ve got decaying maritime infrastructure. What can I tel you, I’m all ‘effed up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking westward, towards the Shining City.

See y’all tomorrow, and check out the offer for the “Infrastructure Creek” walk I’ll be conducting on October 1st.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Monday, October 1st, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Atlas Obscura.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as he leads an exploration of the city’s largest sewer plant, tunnels, draw and truss bridges, rail yards, and a highway that carries 32 million vehicle-trips a year over flowing water.

Tix and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 24, 2018 at 11:00 am

well marked

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Nana nana nana, Batboat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, Sunday last, my pals at Newtown Creek Alliance and NYC Audubon set up an event which would see a group of three dozen Brooklyn bat enthusiasts climb into canoes at dusk and ply the lugubrious waters of the Newtown Creek in search of urban bats. How, I ask, could a humble narrator not want to come along?

Bat Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was in one the two gigantic canoes maintained by the North Brooklyn Boat Club for such endeavors, and since I make great ballast, was sitting up front in the bow of the thing. All told, we had seven canoes out on the water.

Bat Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Audubon people were all geared up with electronic bat detectors (ultrasonic microphone doohickeys) and other frammistats. Bat experts were on hand to answer questions, and copies of “Bat International” magazines offered.

Bat Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, I know what you’re thinking here, but at the 520 Kingsland Avenue Green Roof nearby the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, they’ve got bat detecting equipment installed and have – in fact – detected bats.

Bat Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was onboard mainly for the opportunity to shoot some shots from the water at night. Our original plan was to head into Dutch Kills and bat hunt there, but an unusually high tide precluded that option so we headed down the main channel for a couple of miles. No need to go to the gym on Monday for the bat crowd, as rowing is great cardio.

Bat Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the end we didn’t see or ultrasonically detect any bats, for which the bat experts offered several reasons. It’s my belief that, just like everybody else in NYC during the last week of August, the bats were probably on vacation and taking advantage of the coming Labor Day weekend to extend their time off.

Bat Boat!


Tours and Events


Canal to Coast: Reuniting the Waters Boat Tour. Only $5!
Thurs, August 30, 2018, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM with Waterfront Alliance

Learn about the origins of Brooklyn’s Erie Basin as the Erie Canal’s ultimate destination, and its current role as a vital resource for maritime industry on this guided tour of Red Hook’s Erie Basin and the Brooklyn working waterfront, departing from and returning to New York Water Taxi’s Red Hook Dock. Tickets here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 29, 2018 at 11:00 am

was nightlocking

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Who can guess, all there is, that might be lurking down there?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In industrial Maspeth, where I spent last Sunday afternoon, are the relict maritime industrial bulkheads of a corporate outfit called Phelps Dodge, which has long since “left the building.” The Phelps Dodge property has been divided up, sold off, and developed separately. The company, which was in the copper refining trade along Newtown Creek, is one of the “PRP” or “potentially responsible parties” originally named in the EPA’s 2010 Superfund declaration for the waterway. Although there isn’t even a sign indicating they were once here, Phelps was one of the largest employers on the Queens side of the Creek for more than a century. The first incarnation of what would become the Phelps Dodge plant on the LIC/Maspeth border planted heir stakes here in 1872 as “G.H. Nichols and Co.,” later becoming “Nichols Chemical Co.” in 1891 and then “General Chemical Company” in 1899. In 1930, the so called Laurel Hill plant was purchased by the Phelps Dodge corporation. At it’s height, the plant directly employed 17,000 people.

They manufactured several chemicals here, but their main product line centered around sulfuric acid. The Phelps Dodge people were copper refiners, ultimately, and used the acid to free metal ore from the rock it was embedded in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Laurel Hill Plant declined, and in 1984 it was shuttered. The United States Postal Service purchased the site from Phelps Dodge in 1986, hoping to use it as a truck storage yard, but it was soon determined that the property was too contaminated for use as a parking lot and a judge ordered Phelps Dodge to buy back the property in 1996. In 2001, the old factory and acid mill buildings were torn down, and the property was subdivided into lots. At one of these lots, the Restaurant Depot wholesale chain erected a location. On another, the Koscisuzcko Bridge replacement project is playing out, and on yet another a brand new Federal Express shipping hub has been created.

The shots in today’s post depict the last vestiges of Phelps’s long occupancy, the remains of heavy piers which carried terminal railway trackage on them, allowing for barge to rail operations at the acid factory and copper refinery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Phelps Dodge property is found just to the south of the LIRR’s Lower Montauk tracks, along a section known as “deadmans curve.” The nickname for this section of the tracks is due to the Berlinville Rail Disaster in 1893 (two LIRR passenger trains collided at speed, engine to engine) and the habits of Phelps Dodge workers who would routinely attempt to run in front of and outpace the trains when crossing the railroad tracks, resulting in a lot of squished employees.

Modern day 43rd street used to be a colonial era pathway that crossed modern day Queens from the forbidden northern coast of Queens’ Berrian and Riker properties at Bowery Bay in Astoria, then ran south and across the swamps at modern day Northern Blvd. and then over the hills of Middleburgh (Sunnyside) and then down to Newtown Creek through Maspeth. This path was paved with crushed oyster shells, and hence was called “The Shell Road.” It’s a little hard to visualize this in modernity, because y’know… Robert Moses. The Long Island Expressway, BQE, Queens Blvd., Northern Blvd., and the Grand Central Parkway all conclude this ancient pathway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a couple of other businesses on the former Phelps properties, but none of them look towards the water. I can’t speak intelligently about who owns what, but from observation it seems that since Superfund when a property changes hands on the creek the original owner holds on to the sections that directly touch the water. My presumption is that this insulates the new owners against liability for the cleanup costs, but that’s an assumption and you know what “they” say when you “assume” something. It makes an “ass” out of “you” and “me.”

What I can tell you for certain is that these collapsing and rotting heavy piers look pretty cool and make for good lens fodder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That water pouring out of the pipe you see is a permitted “SPDES” outfall, and connected to the Kosciuszcko Bridge project. It was a late afternoon low tide period when these shots were captured. With all the rain we’ve been getting, the “eau de Creek” was particularly strong and inescapable, amplified as it was by a dew point humidity up in the 75% range.

A humble narrator was also cooking in the early August emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, and there were a few times when touching the camera that I was concerned about how hot it was getting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before any of you accuse me of heavily retouching or manipulating these shots to make things look surreal and weird – here’s how I got them:

These are deep focus, narrow aperture tripod shots accomplished via the usage of a ten stop ND filter. This allows for exposure times of (in the case of today’s images) twenty to thirty seconds. This smooths out the water, and renders the specular highlights of sun and wave invisible. It also allows the camera to peer into the shallows and depths alike, offering a chance to observe and answer the oft asked question of “Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

neighboring alcove

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Kosciuszcko Bridge project in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A couple of weekends ago, I decided to take the camera out for a walk and we headed on over to the Queens side of DUKBO – Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp. Most of what’s going on at the work site right now, which will result in the second half of the new bridge, seems to involve foundation and structural work. Laurel Hill Blvd. is largely closed to traffic due to the construction, as you’d imagine.

The shot above looks south along Laurel Hill Blvd. towards Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The steel piles above are the firmament which will carry the approach ramp for the bridge, which in turn carries the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. These will be the southbound lanes, which are also meant to host the bicycle and pedestrian lane that I – for one – am pretty excited about. I’ve seen renderings of the planned bike and pedestrian section and it promises to be a photographer’s dream come true.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszcko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year. Here’s one from August of 2016the December 2016 one, one from March of 2017 which discusses the demolition of the 1939 bridge.

Here’s a post showing what I saw during a pre opening walk through in early April of 2017, and the fanfare surrounding the opening of half of the new bridge in April of 2017, a walk through of the Brooklyn side job site in June of 2017. Here’s some night shots from early July of 2017. A series of posts focused in on the removal of the central truss of the 1939 bridge from the summer of 2017 – a timelapse, some stills, and the barging out of the truss.

Most recently, in late September of 2017, a final series of shots of the old bridge were captured in this post. Acquisition of a souvenir chunk of steel from the 1939 bridge was described in this post, and a video of the “energetic felling” of the approaches on October 1st was offered in this one. Still shots and views of the aftermath from the waters of Newtown Creek from later in the day on Oct. 1 are found in this posting, and the aftermath of the demolition as seen from Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville section in this post from October 5th. This post from December of 2017 closed out an event filled year in DUKBO, and a visit to the site at night is described in this March of 2018 post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the first section of the new bridge, which opened last year, and as seen from 43rd street in industrial Maspeth.

The NYS DOT has committed to making the currently dirt and equipment filled lots along 43rd street available to the NYC Parks Dept. for conversion to public “green space.” There’s other spots around the project which will turned into publicly accessible areas, but most will be shadowed by the onramps.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One scuttled across the Lower Montauk tracks of the Long Island Railroad to get a better view of the progress at the construction site. The land in this spot used to be the home of a company called Phelps Dodge, which acquired it from the original tenant – General Chemical. General Chemical manufactured sulphuric acid hereabouts, and Phelps Dodge incorporated the GC campus into their operations, which was mainly copper refining.

This section of the LIRR tracks used to be known as “Deadman’s curve” for all the factory workers who were struck by speeding locomotives hereabouts. It’s also the site of the Berlinville Railroad disaster, where two LIRR trains collided in 1893. Check out this contemporaneous NY Times piece for more on that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After having crossed the tracks and a byway formerly known as “Creek Street the still forming concrete towers which will support the “cable stay” roadway of the second bridge came into view. Having followed the project so closely as the first half of the new K-Bridge went up, it’s actually pretty interesting to watch them working on it this time around, given that I know how the story plays out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above, depicting the teeny tiny construction workers moving around on ladders, is included for scale. Down on the ground, these guys are HUGE, six + footers who weigh a couple of hundred pounds each and who tower over a humble narrator. On the K-Bridge site, they look like action figures.

I continued along my southern path and headed down to the bulkheads of that lugubrious cataract of urban neglect known as the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszcko Bridge is found 2.1 miles from the East River, and overflies the Newtown Creek. It carries the Brooklyn Queens Expressway from the border of Sunnyside/Blissville/Maspth in Queens to Greenpoint/Bushwick/Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Newtown Creek itself is an inland tributary of the East River, and extends 3.8 miles eastward of the larger waterway. There are multiple tributaries of Newtown Creek itself which extend into Long Island City, Bushwick, and Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having satisfied myself with a “check in” on the bridge project, one began his trek towards home and HQ in Astoria.

Sometime during this week, I plan on heading over to Greenpoint to see what’s doing with the K-Bridge project over there. I’ll let y’all know what I find.


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all pervasive

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Always late, always going somewhere, but never welcome.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A couple of weekends ago, I helped out on conducting a tour for the Newtown Historical Society, but to my chagrin discovered that the MTA had negated any chance of me getting to the meetup location in Williamsburg via mass transit, due to track work and I had to use a taxi to get to the location.

I would have walked, of course, but like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland – I was running late.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does not spend much time in automobiles, so when I do, the window is open and the camera is getting waved about. The driver opted to throw the dice on the route and chance the BQE, which crosses my beloved Newtown Creek via the Kosciuszko Bridge, as pictured above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from Ridgewood, specifically from within Linden Hill Cemetery.

For some reason, probably since I spend all of my time on the elluvial flood plains surrounding Newtown Creek and the East River, a humble narrator is fascinated by the altered perspectives offered by even minor changes in altitude.


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

mephitic flood

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Enduring mystery, thy name is Newtown.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, one attended several shoreline cleanup gatherings along the infamous Newtown Creek on Saturday, and the last one found me at the Meeker Avenue Street End in Greenpoint at the site of the former Penny Bridge crossing. There was lots of shoveling and digging going on as there’s about 80-90 years of illegal dumping and junk to be explored and excavated thereabouts.

Something curious was found in one of the middens of garbage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A fragment of an animal skull came out on the end of some fellow’s shovel. Unfamiliar to me, as I’m a city boy, the general consensus at the site was that this very well might be the upper jaw of a goat. It was definitely an herbivore, whatever this critter was, as evinced by the molar dentition’s setup for grinding.

The problem with the goat thing is that goats are only supposed to have six molars, and this one has seven. Also, North Brooklyn ain’t exactly lousy with feral goats.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally, there were sockets for front teeth in the fragment, which goats aren’t meant to have either. Anybody reading this who might be of the Veterinarian bent who might want to jump in and identify this critter?

If so, use the comments panel below to share your smarts with the rest of us. If not, I’ll add it to the list of anomalous Newtown Creek factoids maintained back here at HQ.


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

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 8, 2018 at 11:00 am

odours occasionally

with 4 comments

DUGABO, or Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In yesterday’s post, we explored the darkened streets of industrial Blissville along Railroad Avenue to the west of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. Today, we head eastwards along this seldom examined lane. That car with the headlights on was a private security guard that was vouchsafing the various industrial locations in DUGABO, but since I was wearing my construction worker high visibility vest of invisibility over the filthy black raincoat, he just waved at me and drove away.

Under normal daylight circumstance, wherein the vest is not worn, private security would normally hassle one such as myself. “What’s you takins pickchas of” and “whose youse workins for” are the usual queries.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The concrete block fenceline to the right of the shot guards a parcel currently occupied by the NY Paving Company, who maintain a large fleet of construction vehicles therein. It’s part of the former home of the Van Iderstine rendering company, mention of which usually sends a shudder up the spine of any longtime resident of Greenpoint or Blissville. The railroad tracks on the left side of the shot are the LIRR’s Lower Montauk branch.

Van Iderstine was, and is, a rendering company (they moved to Newark about 20 years ago). Van Iderstine boils down organic material (spoiled meat, rotten eggs, butchers blood, animal bones) in pursuit of manufacturing tallow and agricultural fertilizers. The way they do it nowadays is fairly innocuous compared to the manner which the historical record talks about here in Blissville.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A private waste carting company hosts a smallish facility next door to NY Paving, one of the several waste transfer stations found along Railroad Avenue here in Blissville. There are a few street lamps on this side of the bridge, unlike the western side detailed in yesterday’s post. The good news is that it’s the “old school” sodium lamps here, rather than the bluish hued LED ones. I miss the oranges.

Van Iderstine’s had a contract with the City stipulating that if any large animal (horses, oxen, even circus elephants) were to die in the city limits, it would be sent to them for processing. Their grinders had a special rig to handle the elephants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Until recently, Railroad Avenue terminated a few hundred feet from the spot where this shot was captured, a somewhat private road and cul de sac. That all changed when the City’s Solid Waste Management plan came into effect. The Waste Management Corporation built a facility down here to handle putrescent or black bag garbage, and then cut a new and unnamed road through the former Van Iderstine properties which connects to Review Avenue opposite First Calvary Cemetery.

The industrial scene in this section of Blissville has always been somewhat macabre, and disgusting to modern tastes. Yeast distilleries, swill milk dairies, bone blackers, slaughterhouses, neet oil manufacturers – all part of the historic story around these parts. When the petroleum people began to arrive in the late 19th century, it was considered a godsend as they were displacing the former lessees who took their stinks with them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also demanded by the Solid Waste Managment plan, a so called “Green Asphalt” plant was created here (as well as other places). When the City regrades or just digs out a street, the asphalt they scrape up might be brought to Blissville and recycled. They accomplish this by heating the stuff up and mixing it with fresh materials, and on humid days during the summer you can smell the scent of asphalt cooking all over Blissville, Laurel Hill, and the north side of Greenpoint.

Still better than Van Iderstine’s, longtime residents of both communities will tell you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Waste Management has two waste transfer stations along Newtown Creek, the other is in East Williamsburg/Bushwick along the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. The one in Blissville is the smaller of the two, but they both accomplish the task of handling the black bag garbage collected by the Department of Sanitation. Waste Management packages the collections up in those green box cars you see in the shot above, which form up the garbage train.

Like Green Asphalt, on hot summer days, you can smell this facility from almost a mile away. I’m told that the Van Iderstine works, and the old Manhattan Adhesives company glue factory (in the Miller Building on the Brooklyn side), were worse. Lord only knows what sort of poison there is lurking in the ground.

So, Mr. Mayor, back to that homeless shelter you want to place less than a half mile from here…


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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