The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘East Branch’ Category

local impressions

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East Branch, Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Geography indicates that I don’t hit the eastern sections of Newtown Creek as regularly as I do the western side. It’s quite a walk from Astoria to Ridgewood, after all. The East Branch is absolutely disgusting all the time, due to the presence of a gigantic seven vaulted sewer which drains parts of Brooklyn as far away as Canarsie. There is virtually zero laminar “flow” back here due to tidal influence, and the water instead exists in a vertical column with the poison sediment suspended in gradient horror.

God, how I love it all. The smell… it’s like rotting ham floating in watery mayonnaise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is constantly amazed at the willful littering encountered all over Queens. People standing next to a corner trash can will opt to toss garbage in the street rather than using the bin. Got a tire or two you’re done with? Why dispose of it properly when you can just haul it up to chest level and then throw it over a fence into an area waterway?

Don’t take my chides the wrong way, I’m no saint, but doesn’t it take more effort to get rid of your tire this way than it does to just leave it in the corner by the DSNY bin? Both are illegal, of course, but seriously… it takes a lot more effort to toss the thing in the water than it would to roll it to a corner.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That structure on the right hand side of the shot is the MTA’s counting house, a fortress like building where they process all the cash from bus boxes, metro card machines, and subway fare control booths. All those armored cars and armed guards you see in the subway? Yup, this is one of the places they report to work.

I’ve actually met people who work here. They described what life is like inside. It seems that to ensure nobody pockets any of MTA’s cash, a pocketless jumpsuit with a padlock on the zipper is worn by the workers. If you need to use the bathroom, your supervisor has to unlock your coverall and you are searched before and after using the facility. My reaction to this was to ask if it was anything like the drug operation in the movie “New Jack City” in there.

The answer was “yes.”


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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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 27, 2020 at 11:00 am

monstrous fruit

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Better late than never, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apologies, single shot today. One from the archives of the Grand Street Bridge. Back tomorrow with more substantial messaging, complaints, and shaking of fists against the moon.


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Come on a tour!

With Atlas ObscuraInfrastructure Creek! My favorite walking tour to conduct, and in a group limited to just twelve people! December 14th, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Click here for more information and tickets!

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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 12, 2019 at 2:00 pm

adhered to

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Grand Street Bridge, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before you ask, no, I won’t be talking about Amazon HQ yet. Suffice to say that everybody I know is talking about the news co-announced today by the Dark Prince of Albany and the Dope from Park Slope that the internet giant will be based in LIC at future superfund site Anable Basin, but at this point in time I don’t have enough information about the plan to speak intelligently about its ramifications. Instead, a few night time shots of the venerable Grand Street Bridge connecting Maspeth with East Williamsburgh/Bushwick are on offer.

People argue with me about the Bushwick thing all the time, claiming that the section of Grand Street between Newtown Creek and Vandervoort Street is either Greenpoint or “East Williamsburgh,” to which I respond that it’s not. East Williamsburgh does have historical precedent, but it’s a term popularized by real estate interests. According to the old Ward maps of pre consolidation NYC (prior to 1898), Greenpoint ends at Meeker Avenue which is nearly a mile to the west of Grand Street. Yes, Greenpoint Hospital is indeed in Bushwick. Remember that “Bushwick” is synonymous with 1960’s racial unrest, 1970’s era riots, and a 1980’s crime hotspot during the Crack Wars to certain generations (Ridgewood residents fought like wildcats to have their own zip code that they didn’t share with their Bushwick neighbors, for instance, as their home and car insurance rates were higher than they should have been due to endemic crime). When gentrification came to North Brooklyn, “Bushwick” was not a “desirable brand,” hence the Real Estate Industrial Complex popularized the “East Williamsburgh” moniker for this area instead. That’s changed now, and Bushwick is now a “hot” neighborhood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is paying a bit more attention to the Grand Street Bridge these days than formerly, as the NYC Department of Transporation has announced their intention to replace it with a more modern structure purpose built to handle current traffic needs. The current Grand Street Bridge is the 1903 model, and the third iteration of a crossing between Brooklyn and Queens on this spot. The section of Newtown Creek it crosses is considered a tributary, and it’s called “The East Branch.”

Once upon a time, the East Branch flowed into Ridgewood, where it was fed by freshwater streams and springs trickling down the “ridge” which you’ll discern when walking along Onderdonk Avenue and other eastern destinations. Ridgewood is the beginning of actual geologic rock formations, with all the land west of it being elluvial fill deposited by glacial and riverine flooding. That’s why the zones around Newtown Creek are so flat, if you were wondering. The actual terminal morraine of Long Island begins a bit to the north east at Mount Olivette Cemetery, in proper Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been attempting to get as much night shooting around Newtown Creek in as possible before the weather turns bitter cold, which is why you’ve been seeing so much of it lately. I’ve been noticed by a few people wandering around the concrete devastations with a ridiculous yellow safety vest draped over the filthy black raincoat, setting up the tripod and all the other necessary gear needed for the pursuit. With the exception of few encounters with bored but zealous security guards, it’s been a fairly solitary pursuit, although in a couple of locations I opted to bring somebody along with me to watch my back. Frequent commenter and persistent curmudgeon Don Cavaioli was with me at English Kills last week, for instance, but for the shots in yesterday and today’s posts I was on my own.

I’ve been asked about personal security by a few people, but it’s not something I worry too much about. My biggest safety concerns have been centered around not getting squished by a truck, or snapping my ankle on a hidden sinkhole or fallen branch while picking my way around in the dark. If I had to call 911 for help in an emergency, I’d likely have a devil of a time describing where I am to them as I don’t think “Maspeth Plank Road” or “former Phelps Dodge” is necessarily reflected in the municipal system. My plan for such an eventuality would actually involve first calling one of my colleagues at Newtown Creek Alliance, beseeching them to aid in sending rescuers to a humble narrator.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

scarcely be

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The world is an increasingly scary place, stay home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunday nights, and in particular the hours directly before the midnight boundary with Monday is breached, are the only time that the Newtown Creek industrial zone slows down and takes a breath. For a few hours the constant river of vehicular traffic, industrial activity, and omnipresent noise ebb. Any other day or time, and you literally would not have the thirty seconds required for some of these night shots at the Grand Street Bridge to be recorded, due to the vibrations of passing traffic shaking and cavitating the 115 old swing bridge.

The shot above looks southwards towards Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking roughly westward, you can see the glowing eidolon known as the new Kosciuszcko Bridge about a mile away, the crane district of Maspeth on the right, and the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek’s intersection with the main waterway and the East Branch tributary at center and left. At the bottom of the shot, in the unnaturally green waters of the East Branch, a tepid current was pulsing out from under the bridge which was – from an olfactory point of view – obviously carrying sewage towards the main stem of the Creek.

As a note, the water is lit up at the bottom of the shot by the street lamps of the Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As intoned in a previous posting, concern about just how bright the light from the new Kosciuszcko Bridge is has been a subject of conversation of late – and more than once – amongst the Newtown Creek crowd. Light pollution, as it’s known, is meant to confuse the heck out of migratory birds. There’s actually initiatives at the “big” environmental groups to get Manhattan office buildings to dim their lights during certain times of the year in response. Given that Newtown Creek is part of the Atlantic flyover migratory route… well… who the hell cares – it’s Queens.

I guess we’re just going to wait and see what sort of evidentiary observations emerge regarding its effect.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Pentacle HQ is about two miles away from where the new K bridge crosses the water, and I can see this pillar of purple light punching into the clouds from there. I’ve seen reports on social media outlets proclaiming “lights in the sky” from Bushwick and Vinegar Hill and even Manhattan. Nobody in Queens can be bothered to pick up the phone and call either 311 or 911, as somebody else will do it or they just don’t want to get involved. Admittedly, these reports were offered by people who thought they were seeing UFO’s, but…

Just saying… if I don’t know what something is and it’s flying, it’s a UFO. I’d suggest an Internet rabbit hole term for you to follow, by the way, which are “USO” or “unknown submersible objects.” Seriously, google that. Hours of fun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I’ve always gravitated towards more home grown and provable horror. Like the mugger gang that used to operate at the Brooklyn side of the bridge back in the 1910’s, using black jacks and billy clubs to induce unconsciousness in their victims. After emptying the stricken of the contents of their pockets, the gang would toss them into the creek. This is the 1903 version of the Grand Street Bridge pictured above, which the gang is associated with. This bridge replaced earlier models, as discussed in this post.

In 1896, the cops found a Catholic priest name Leonard Syczek floating in the water alongside the 1890 version of the bridge, and wearing the sort of full ceremonial vestments required for conducting a Mass. There’s a story there which has never been fully revealed to me, but I suspect some sort of exorcism related tale will emerge eventually. Or, at least I hope one will. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Due to my weird imaginings and remembered tales, a growing state of panic set in and I realized that one of my spells was coming on. Drops and spikes in cerebral dopamine levels began to occur, and suddenly I had to pee really bad. My feet grew cold, my nose flushed full with snot, and a single tear formed in my left eye bitterly.

While composure was still mine, a phone app was engaged, and a driver was dispatched to shepherd me back to a place where doors can be firmly locked and vouchsafed against the outside world. I left my shoes in the hallway that night, lest I track something in which I had picked up along the banks of the Newtown Creek on a foggy and unusually warm night in February.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 20, 2018 at 11:00 am

so shunned

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Like sand through the hour glass, so too are the sewers of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finishing up the presentation of several long exposure shots gathered around a foggy Newtown Creek, on an uncharacteristically warm February night following a soaking two day rain event, today’s post finds a humble narrator at the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens at the Newtown Creek tributary known as the “East Branch.” For two thirds of the walk, my colleague Will Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance was hanging out with me, but he had to split and a humble narrator found himself in a familiar territory known as “alone.”

Sort of like that tree in the shot above, looking north down Metropolitan Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The East Branch is, to say the least, environmentally compromised. The sidewalk I was standing on is actually a walkway, slung atop a seven vaulted open sewer, the twentieth largest in terms of materials vomited into the water in the entire City of New York, called “CSO NC-083.” This pipe allows somewhere’s in the neighborhood of 586 million gallons of untreated sewage egress into this shallow industrial canal annually. You should see it during the day at low tide, I tell ya.

Across the yard is a large lumber yard whose street address is along East Williamsburgh’s Grand Street, and I literally had one foot in Brooklyn and another in Queens while recording its presence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets were deserted of all but occasional vehicle traffic. Because of the fog and the absence of people in what is normally a bustling and fairly dangerous to move through traffic corridor, a real sense of “spooky” permeated the air. An occasional passerby would stumble past me, offer a nod or some throaty greeting sound, and move along shaking their heads.

What? It’s not normal to be standing on a giant sewer in an industrial zone, along a Federal Superfund site in the middle of the night, taking pictures in the dark? Sheesh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above was set to a higher sensitivity in terms of aperture and sensor ISO than the others in this post, as a note. I’m sort of interested in the light gathering power offered by allowing the camera to stare for long periods of time into darkness. Unlike the high ISO shots, however, there could a Bigfoot walking through the shot and the camera wouldn’t record it unless said Sasquatch was to stand stick still for around 35-40 seconds.

I’d recommend using a flash for Bigfoot photos, anyway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I got creeped out by a carload of teenagers at one point and hid behind a mailbox before cutting through a parking lot to get to the other side of the East Branch without having to walk back into Brooklyn where they were headed. Welcome to Queens, by the way. If you head up the hill to the right, you’re going to Ridgewood, stay on Metropolitan to the left and you’re heading towards Maspeth.

Those kids were scary. Teenagers… brrr…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After cutting through my little shortcut over to Grand Avenue (it’s Grand Street in Brooklyn, Grand Avenue in Queens). The final spot I wanted to shoot from was arrived at, the 115 year old Grand Street Bridge.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 19, 2018 at 11:00 am

dull acquiescence

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It’s National Candied Orange Peel Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week was quite a busy one, with the new K bridge opening and the Governor coming to Newtown Creek, and then riding over the thing with the NY Times and all, but my fun didn’t end there. After the green cab ride with Emma G. Fitzsimmons, the NY Times transit reporter who wrote the article, one found himself in Williamsburg where I got to observe the insane amount of traffic typical of the Metropolitan Avenue corridor. I had to get to Maspeth to meet up with Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY and a couple of other friends, who had asked me to conduct a Newtown Creek walk for them. I had a full day of scuttling in front of me, so I wanted to conserve my energy.

Luckily, the Q54 bus replicates the route of an old trolley line which connected Williamsburg to Maspeth, so I whipped out my Metrocard and headed for the Clinton or Goodfellas diner. Traffic was horrible all the way there, and I ended up being about a half hour late for the endeavor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walk I took the small group on was a “half Creekathon” which proceeded eastwards from industrial Maspeth through Bushwick and Ridegwood and then west towards Greenpoint. As this was the first truly warm day of the year (and quite humid) our stamina was challenged and we didn’t quite make it all the way, but the roughly five mile walk around the Newtown Creek was – as always – fascinating. The view above is from mid span on the Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Slouching roughly across a footbridge that spans the Bushwick Branch lead track of the LIRR, we crossed the Brooklyn Queens border and entered into industrial Bushwick. This is an area undergoing tremendous amounts of transformation, but it’s still quite horrible, thankfully.

Waste Transfer stations, heavy trucking, the most heavily polluted section of Newtown Creek, visiting the destination for about a third of NYC’s putrescent trash… ahhh… home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch, we spotted this double engine setup crossing Varick Street from the Waste Management facility which processes and handles the trash which will fill up the garbage train. Those green box cars on the left are the containers for the stuff, and it was a bit surprising seeing a bright blue GATX unit back here – normally it’s the black and emerald color way of the NY & Atlantic company you see.


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.


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awestruck party

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It’s Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, in the states of California and Virginia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Throw your hands in the air, like you just don’t care.

That’s what most of the residents of Queens do when the subject of Newtown Creek comes up. That’s Brooklyn’s problem, not ours. Then I tell them about how the decisions affecting Queens are being made by the “transplant hipsters of Brooklyn” whom they revile, and that whereas Brooklyn is going to be getting new parks and other municipal goodies out of this Superfund thing… Queens is largely being left out of the equation. That riles the north shore peeps up a bit, but they still don’t get involved. Since the people of Queens are disinterested, so is elected officialdom.

Fish, or cut bait. If neither, then get out of the way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always chalked it up to topography. If you’re in East Williamsburg, or Greenpoint, Newtown Creek is part of your life whenever you open your window. The Brooklyn, or south side, of the Newtown Creek hosts residential properties which are literally across the street from the bulkheads. The Queens, or north side, communities generally have a buffer zone of industrial buildings and highways separating them from the water. Newtown Creek is a half mile from residential Sunnyside.

In Queens, they complain about truck traffic, hipsters, and gentrification.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We are at a critical juncture, Newtown Creek wise. The science from all parties involved in the cleanup is beginning to be compiled. The DEP, in particular, is about to lock itself into a quarter century long program of construction and strategic maneuvering. Around a year or so from now, the oil and gas people will be doing the same and committing to a strategic course.

Ultimately, EPA will be doing the same thing and deciding on their course of action, but given the current political crisis in the Federal Government there is no real day to day guarantee that there will be an Environmental Protection Agency which resembles the current one.

What do clean and accessible waterways mean to President Trump and Steve Bannon?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is going to be a meeting, the latest of many, of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) on the first of February. If the shot above looks good to you, and you’d like to see more of the same – don’t come. If you care about not having a billion and a half gallons of raw sewage a year spilling onto mounds of poisonous and century old industrial waste, do come. Pipe up, we need voices and perspectives from outside the echo chamber.

Details on the meeting – time, place, etc. – can be accessed at this link. We could use some Queensican bodies in the room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shots in today’s post were gathered on the eastern side of the Newtown Creek, in Ridgewood and Maspeth. The environmental conditions in these industrial buffer zones are off the charts bad. You don’t have to look far to find dead birds, rats, all sorts of unlucky critters who innocently wandered in here. It wasn’t the Creek that killed them, it was the hundreds of heavy trucks.

As a note to Maspeth and Ridgewood residents – this is where the trucking you complain about comes from.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a vision of what the future can hold for generations unborn that we have all been working for and towards. An industrial canal which also welcomes recreational boaters. An industrial canal which was the most significant job creation engine NYC has ever seen and which can be so again. A mixed use waterway in which business and the ecology operate hand in hand.

Ever heard of the “Maspeth heat island effect”? It’s the reason why your energy bills are so high during the summer, and it’s caused by the complete lack of green space in these industrial neighborhoods, which causes temperatures hereabouts to be ten or more degrees warmer during the summer than in surrounding communities. Is that Brooklyn’s problem? What about the trucks, or the garbage trains?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This post is meant to scold, and compel. Get involved, whatever your point of view is. The political elites of our City will not care unless you care.


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