The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Greenpoint Oil Spill’ 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.

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Upcoming Tours –

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

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

first ingress

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A Monday placeholder…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A day late and a dollar short best describes one today, and a single image is offered in the name of whetting your appetite.

This past summer, your humble narrator gained access to a certain spot on the Newtown Creek which has long been forbidden- the 400 Kingsland Avenue property of the Exxon Mobil corporation, former home of the Standard Oil Company of New York’s Locust Hill Refinery.

For the whats and whys, tune in tomorrow at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

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

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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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle


– 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, Queens, the 22blog,, 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.


– 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.


– 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.”

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