The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Grand Street Bridge’ Category

peculiar erudition

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Neither Tea nor Tiger…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After Richard Croker and the Tammany crew in Manhattan managed to beg, borrow, and steal enough support and patronage in Albany and around the independent municipalities which they successfully consolidated into the City of Greater New York in 1898, they had bills to pay. Tammany paid its way by handing out open ended municipal contracts, and in 1903, one them was called the Grand Street Bridge. The slogans bandied about by the local politicians who were not playing ball with the Manhattan crowd was “Keep the Tiger out of Queens,” or “Neither Tea nor Tiger.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the run up to the consolidation, which was decided by a special election, a banner hung nearby this spot which admonished that were the Tammany crowd to gain control of Queens and Brooklyn they would create a wasteland of noxious industries, cemeteries, and trash heaps here. Back then, it was called Whites Dock, and the swampy wetlands were described as being thick with fish and mussels as late as the 1880’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first bridge here, a wooden drawbridge was erected in 1875, followed by a second wood bridge erected in 1890. The modern day Grand Street Bridge over Newtown Creek was opened in 1903, was built by the King Bridge Co. and is a swing bridge. A swing bridge is s structure that pivots 90 degrees on a mechanical turntable, allowing maritime traffic egress by opening an aperture. Grand Street Bridge is the frontline, the DMZ, of the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens.

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Want to see something cool? Summer 2013 Walking Tours-

Kill Van Kull Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

Project Firebox 78

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At the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Were open and armed conflict between the Boroughs to break out, the Grand Street Bridge would likely be a key strategic asset for either side to possess. The nearby MTA bus depot serves the transit fleet of Brooklyn, not Queens, and the Maspeth Militias would not be able to pass up such a key strategic target.

This centuried firebox, a member of that peaceful legion which desires naught but an absence of harm and obeyance to a strict fire code, would enjoy a front row seat at the literal and littoral frontline- should hostilities erupt.

Want to see something cool? Upcoming Walking Tours

Modern Corridor Saturday, July 13, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 6, 2013 at 7:30 am

argued absence

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Today’s post straddles the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens at Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Standing astride Brooklyn and Queens, your humble narrator is endlessly fascinated by the machinery adorning a concrete plant. Passing through and upon the Grand Street Bridge, a pause for reflection of the East Branch of the Newtown Creek was enjoyed. I like to wander up to spots on the Creek these days and try to remember everything I know about it, as a sort of test. While there, I look for anomalous or malign indications of everything that there might be, which is buried down there.

I also try to figure out how many security cameras might be recording me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Paranoid tendencies are just one of the many flaws which I have been accused of displaying, but as I am the terrible sort of person whom you would avoid if you could, they remain one of my better traits. Funny thing is that there are those who hope for my destruction, but they display an alarming lack of competency. “Judge a man by the company he keeps” isn’t my rubric, I judge you by your enemies.

My enemies are generally clowns, so what does that say about me?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What is a man? What has he got? If not himself, then he has not? Thats what I think some song I once heard says.

In the case of this poor specimen, all I’ve got are a couple of spots on a superfund site in the middle of New York City where I can reliably expect to find and or produce Cormorants. Sometimes. Do you suppose that they’re the same Cormorants? Have they been following me around? I’m probably just being paranoid.

Its not like the government secretly records all my phone calls or anything.

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Want to see something cool? June 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull– Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Sunday -the 26th of May- the Working Harbor Committee is producing and offering a boat tour of the Newtown Creek for any interested parties to attend. A special emphasis on the waterway’s storied history and maritime legacy will be made.

I’m going to be doing the history part, speaking in my capacity as the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, and am tasked with highlighting the various points of interest encountered along the route. Anticipated to be some three hours in length, this boat tour will be delving some three miles inland, proceeding to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge crossing English Kills in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Maritime History of Newtown Creek is one largely forgotten in these decadent times, but even now an odd tugboat and barge might be spied making their way down the waterway on any given day. Property owners were considered to have been blessed by some of the finest industrial bulkheads in the world a mere century ago, yet many of the businesses based along the Creek today ignore this invaluable resource, allowing their waterfront property to decay and decline.

Nevertheless, a staggering amount of maritime traffic is still observed here, and towing companies such as Reinauer, K-Sea, DonJon, and Poling and Cutler are regular visitors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast operations will be witnessed by those onboard, many of which are involved in the scrap metal and recyclables trade. Responsible for an enormous amount of cross harbor shipping, companies such as SimsMetal are heavily reliant on the maritime trades for their economic success.

Not all that long ago, Newtown Creek carried a greater tonnage of cargo than the entire Mississippi River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An active and thriving industrial zone in the center of New York City, from the water one can truly grasp the sheer scale of Newtown Creek’s busy waterfront. Normally hidden by high fences and obscured by street facing structures, the intensity of the Newtown Creek is laid bare before the admiring gaze of first time visitor and veteran urban explorer alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A tributary of the estuarine East River, Newtown Creek extends some 3.8 miles from its junction with the more familiar waterway, and provides demarcation for the currently undefended border of much of Brooklyn and Queens. Named to the Federal Superfund list, the Creek suffers from a history of environmental degradation and municipal neglect.

An era of great change is upon the Newtown Creek, and this trip will be one of your last chances to see it in its current form.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We will see four moveable bridges, and this year will be your last chance to see the static Kosciuszko Bridge as the NYS DOT has indicated that construction on its replacement will begin as early as the Fall of 2013.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along it’s banks, great fortunes have risen.

Amongst others- Peter Cooper (BO Railroad, Canton Iron, and Cooper Union), Charles Pratt (Astral Oil, and Pratt University), and ultimately John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil)– all grew richer than the dreams of avarice in this place. Alongside them, the darkest mills of the industrial revolution- rendering plants, yeast distilleries, bone blackers, and acid factories provided tens of thousands of jobs to the immigrant populations of Brooklyn and Queens. Today- National Grid, BP, Amoco, ExxonMobil, and a host of other multinational companies still maintain an enormous investment in this valuable industrial canal.

Upcoming tour: Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

On May 26th, Mitch shares his unique point of view and deep understanding of the past, present and future conditions of the Newtown Creek as the narrator and expedition leader for this years’ Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

Our NY Water Taxi leaves from South Street Seaport at 10 a.m. (sharp) for a three hour tour of the Newtown Creek. From the East River we’ll move into the Newtown Creek where we’ll explore explore vast amounts of maritime infrastructure, see many movable bridges and discover the very heart of the Hidden Harbor.

Limited seating available, get your tickets today.

Tickets $59, trip leaves Pier 17 at South Street Seaport at 10a.m. sharp.

We will be traveling in a comfortable NY Water Taxi vessel with indoor and outdoor seating. There will be refreshments and snacks available for purchase at the bar.

Other upcoming tours:

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley– Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

for a full listing and schedule of tours and events, click here

The 2013 Spring and Summer Tours Schedule

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Pana_NCA_CreekEDU_Boat_102311_013359_a

– photo by Mai Armstrong

Want to see something cool?

Odds are that a bunch of the folks who will be reading this might have no idea who Mitch Waxman is, why they should come along with him on a tour of some weird neighborhood in Brooklyn or Queens or Staten Island, nor what a Newtown Creek or Kill Van Kull are- let alone where. Who is this weirdo?

Check out the “bio” page here at Newtown Pentacle, or this profile of me from the NY Times published in 2012. My tours of Newtown Creek have garnered no small amount of interest from the fourth estate- whether it be DNAInfountappedcities.com, Queens Chroniclenewyorkview.net, the 22blog, photobycateblog.com, or Queensnyc, and I’ve turned up in a bunch of media reports, documentaries, and been interviewed for multitudinous reports on the lamentable history of the Newtown Creek.

Most recently, it was National Geographic and Curbed. Attendees on my tours come from a variety of backgrounds- photographers, history and rail buffs, maritime enthusiasts, and there always seems to be an odd and welcome concentration of elected officials and journalists about.

What is with this guy?

I’m the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, Official Photographer and Steering Committee member of the Working Harbor Committee, a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee and the Newtown Creek CAG, and am also a member of the Kosciuszko Bridge Stakeholders Advisory Committee. Newtown Pentacle, this blog, has been steadily published since 2009. I live in Astoria, Queens with my wife and our little dog, Zuzu.

In just the last few years, I have exposed thousands of people to the Newtown Creek, and its incredible history. This is where the industrial revolution actually happened, along this 3.8 mile long waterway that defines the border of Brooklyn and Queens.

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– photo by Mai Armstrong

In 2013, continuing relationships with Atlas Obscura, Newtown Creek Alliance, and the Working Harbor Committee (as well as friends like the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and others) allow me to offer the following schedule. Live ticketing links will be made available as they come online, and all dates are subject to cancellation or rescheduling due to weather or unforeseen circumstance. There are 6 unique walking tours listed here, and one boat trip in which I will be the principal speaker.

Private tours are possible, schedule permitting, and can be arranged by contacting me here. Last year, for instance, several private University classes engaged me for a day at the Creek, as did a few private groups. As mentioned, contact me and we will figure something out if you’ve got a meetup group, college class, or special request.

Here then, is my official schedule as it stands right now. There will likely be a few additions as time goes on, which I will let you know about as they occur. Best to subscribe to this blog (top right, email subscription)  or “follow” me on Twitter @newtownpentacle for news.

In April, 2013- There will be a brand new tour  of Greenpoint debuted, which I call “Glittering Realms.”

Glittering Realms Saturday, April 20, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

In May, 2013- We start off with 13 Steps around Dutch Kills, go to the Insalubrious Valley, visit DUKBO, and finish off the month with a Working Harbor boat tour.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

NCA Birdwatch Bus tour- June 24, 2012

– photo by Mai Armstrong

In June, 2013- We visit the Poison Cauldron, return to the Insalubrious Valley, and check out the Kill Van Kull.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

In July, 2013- We visit Queens’s Hunters Point with a brand new tour. I might have another offering or two for you, but nothing I can speak about quite yet.

Modern Corridor- Saturday, July 13, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

t3_MWA_COWD_071412_012314_a

– photo by Mai Armstrong

In August, 2013- We return to the Poison Cauldron, repeat the 13 steps, and the Kill Van Kull walks.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, August 24, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

There are a few other dates coming in the fall, and a couple of more summer events which are still being discussed, but I’ll let you know more about them in coming posts.

Also, I will definitely be onboard but not on the microphone during the Working Harbor Committee “Beyond Sandy” Hidden Harbor tours on Tuesday nights, all summer. Hope you can come along.

Click here for more on “Beyond Sandy.”

shallow mud

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Notice: the November 9th Magic Lantern Show with Atlas Obscura is cancelled for now. We hope to reschedule for sometime during the winter. Observatory, where the event is scheduled to take place, has been damaged by Hurricane Sandy and flooding.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hank the Elevator Guy and I next proceeded to the Grand Street Bridge in our survey of the Newtown Creek watershed, post Hurricane Sandy. Reports during the storm itself described the area as impassible, and knowing that the low lying areas around Metropolitan and Flushing Avenues are normally prone to flooding, it was with no small amount of trepidation that we approached DUGSBO.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the Brooklyn side of the Grand Street Bridge, there was evidence of washouts and sedimentation from the banks, and a pile of rubble and even a wooden staircase was piled up against the fence which separates the street from the bulkheads of Newtown Creek’s East Branch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally, the fire hydrant at the foot of the bridge was painted with muck and mire, indicating that the water overflowing the banks rose to at least its height. This is startling, as it is close to 15 feet over the normal waterline. However, given the presence of the enormous CSO back on Metropolitan Avenue, it would reasonable to assume that the surge rose from two directions here, one traveling eastward along the Creek from the East River, and another rising from the multiple vaults underlying Metropolitan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Clearly affected by the flooding, this low lying yard which houses a school bus company was hard at work. Most of the buses had their engine hoods open, and mechanics were seen tinkering with the machinery therein. Additionally, there were people inside the buses working with cloths and mops. Another one of the subjects which I’ll likely be called to task for in the future by political wonks and area wags, one only hopes that an enormous amount of bleach will be expended by these laborers, before children are allowed onto these buses when schools open next week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be noted, and admitted to you lords and ladies, that your humble narrator is embroiled by controversy and derision these days. Unsought but uncomfortably accepted notoriety has brought no small amount of joy to me, but there is a dark side to this as well. My notably unpleasant personality and aberrant disobedience to social norms, it would seem, is best taken in small doses. Fair enough, one must always remain and function as an outsider, for this is where I belong.

gleaming image

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be mentioned that under normal circumstance, the narration recited on board one of the Newtown Creek boat tours which I’ve been a part of in the recent past has been “the straight story”. By that, I mean that the normal narrative which readers of this blog have grown used to is toned down a bit, and a more mainstream presentation is offered. There are still plenty of “night soil and offal dock” stories, but as I have a relatively short amount of time to tell the story of Newtown Creek, a lot of the more… colourful… stuff gets trimmed out. Luckily, the Newtown Creek Alliance is producing a “spooky” Halloween tour this Saturday (October 27), and I get to go to town on this one.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In addition to weaving the Blissville Banshee, Maspeth Gypsies, and witch panics into my speech- there are two other factors which make this tour special. First and foremost is the price, subsidized by grant money from the NYCEF fund of the Hudson River Foundation – which allows NCA to offer the trip at an amazing price of just $25. Secondly, the time at which we will be embarking is late in the afternoon, which should offer spectacular sunset lighting of the Creek for photographers and sensitives alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is a two hour excursion, leaving from Manhattan’s South Sea Seaport on board a comfortable NY Water Taxi (which, yes, has bathroom facilities). NCA is encouraging the wearing of seasonal costuming to celebrate and acknowledge the Halloween holiday. Scheduled speakers include your humble narrator and NCA Executive Director Kate Zidar. Whatever there is, which cannot possibly exist, lurking in the Black Mayonnaise which underlies the cursed waters of that cataract of agony known as the Newtown Creek has refused to make an appearance sans ritual sacrifice- something NCA cannot have any involvement with due to the intricacies of its 501/3c non profit status. The thing in the megalith will be watching, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The question of what sort of costume I will be wearing is still up in the air. Attempts to borrow a death cloak have so far been unsuccessful, despite the fact that several people I know own such raiments. Click the banner just below this paragraph for ticketing information and fulfillment. Do you dare to enter this nightmare world of the Newtown Creek, or will you instead cling to the illusion of sanity which exists beyond its banks?

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

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