The Newtown Pentacle

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A few more shots from industrial Maspeth, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a section of Maspeth which one refers to as the “crane district,” which is distinct from the hammock district. Actually, there no hammock district, just cranes. Whenever I’m waving the camera around at the sort of thing pictured above, I set it to a fairly narrow aperture and slightly overexpose the shot. The goal is to get a super saturated set of colors and to have every screw, lug, and rivet render in sharp relief. For those of you who have asked, that’s the difference between a snapshot and a photograph. The former is when you say “hey look at that” and the latter involves a visualized goal and thought process about how to achieve what you want the final product to look like.

Ultimately, I wanted the crane truck to look a bit like a kids die cast metal toy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is a stunning amount of litter in industrial Maspeth. A lot of it is quite dangerous, as in the case of the tempered glass windows I encountered that someone had the good sense to shatter when they were abandoning them. Illegal dumping is a city wide phenomena, but it seems that the industrial zones are particularly good places to abandon unwanted items. The comedy of it all is that Maspeth is the destination point for a significant amount of commercial and municipal waste by statute, and the folks handling said cargo are pretty responsible as far as how they handle the stuff.

Saying that, there’s shattered and powderized glass everywhere you look around these parts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m hardly a saint in this category, but a humble narrator is the sort of fellow who pockets his personal waste products while moving around the great urban hive, carrying them until a proper receptacle is discovered. You don’t have to look too long, in my experience, before a municipal waste basket or a dumpster will appear. Others, it seems, are less patient than a humble narrator.

I mean, you’ve just drank a half gallon of milk, why not just pitch the empty container to the curb?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is one of the many, many municipal solid waste trailers parked in the industrial zone around Newtown Creek (and elsewhere, if you’re anywhere near a sewer plant, you’ll see or scent them) that stink of sewer solids, which the (now) NYC Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection tells me I’m imagining. This particular one has been parked here in industrial Maspeth so long that the steel legs of the thing have begun to bend.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All winter, I was commenting to myself (and I think I even mentioned it here, at your Newtown Pentacle, not long ago) that the abundance of “dead things” normally encountered around the Newtown Creek’s watershed districts had leveled off. That trend has reversed in recent weeks, with an abundance of dead birds encountered on area streets.

Newtown Creek is kind of “death prone.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Anyway, that’s the sort of stuff you encounter in the crane district of industrial Maspeth, back tomorrow with something entirely different.

Also, check out the tour offers below, they’re both being offered at special low rates. Greenpoint and the 520 Kingsland Green Roof this Friday, and a Skillman Avenue walk with Access Queens on Saturday the 30th.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 22nd – The Birthplace of Mobil Oil: A Walking Tour
– with Newtown Creek Alliance.

Join NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA’s project manager Willis Elkins for walk through the birthplace of Mobil Oil, past the DEP’s largest Wastewater Treatment Plant and to the Kingsland Wildflowers green roof. The tour will also visit NCA’s Living Dock on the way; showcasing restoration efforts adjacent to major industrial operations and in the wake of legacies of pollution and neglect.
The tour will end at the 22,000 square foot Kingsland Wildflowers project, with panoramic views of the Newtown Creek and Manhattan skyline at sunset.

Tickets and more details
here.

June 30th – The Skillman Avenue Corridor
– with Access Queens.

Starting at the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue, we will explore this thriving residential and busy commercial thoroughfare, discussing the issues affecting its present and future. Access Queens, 7 Train Blues, Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and Newtown Creek Alliance members will be your guides for this roughly two mile walk.
Skillman Avenue begins at the border of residential Sunnyside and Woodside, and ends in Long Island City at 49th avenue, following the southern border of the Sunnyside Yards for much of its path. Once known as Meadow Street, this colonial era thoroughfare transitions from the community of Sunnyside to the post industrial devastations of LIC and the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek.

Tickets and more details
here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 21, 2018 at 11:00 am

muttered formulae

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Deadman’s curve and the Pratt Oil Works, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Normally, one would not be seen marching along the LIRR tracks in Blissville, but I had my reasons. It was a Sunday afternoon, anyway, meaning that the chances of there being any rail traffic at all on the Lower Montauk would be slim to none so I decided that it would be a good time to throw the dice and hope that I wouldn’t get squished by a passing locomotive. There’s plenty of places to dive out of the way, if I were able to discern an approaching train, but that’s kind of the issue – trains move pretty quickly and the physics of how sound moves around the air dam created by the engine as it’s moving seriously reduce the “early warning” time. Saying all that, I didn’t get squished, but do not recommend you chance it yourself. It is illegal trespass, after all.

Me, I was scoping out the latest wrinkle in the environmental story around the fabled Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I went to a meeting a couple of weeks ago at the NYS DEC offices in Long Island City, which discussed the “Pratt Oil Works Site” or as I’ve been referring to it for several years – “The Queens County Oil Works of Charles Pratt” or alternatively “The Blissville Seep.” ExxonMobil has taken responsibility for the site, which ultimately used to belong to its corporate parent Standard Oil, and has (under DEC guidance) begun the process of siphoning “product” out of the ground. Said product, the ExxonMobil folks said, is distinct from the liquid product which has been oozing from the Creek side bulkheads into the water. The modern day owner of the site is largely the Waste Management company, which operates a waste transfer station along Railroad Avenue that handles DSNY collections and loads up the Garbage Train. Said garbage train provides framing in the shot above. The Queens County Oil Works was in operation from 1842-1949, whereupon the property was subdivided and sold off. ExxonMobil representatives described the materials their contractor Roux will siphoning out of the ground as “Lube Oil and wax” and the petroleum product oozing into the Creek as “LNAPL” or Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid. LNAPL is lighter than water and floats on top of ground water.

ExxonMobil’s contractors, Roux Associates, who handle the Greenpoint Oil Spill for them directly across the Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, has been activated to handle the Blissville situation. Roux has installed 62 wells on the property, 42 of which are recovery wells and the other 20 are monitoring wells. Waste Management, separately, has several issues they’re dealing with on the site, including a high level of acidity in the soil and the presence of toxic chemicals – specifically Toluene and Chlorinated Volatile Organic Compounds. Waste Management will be aerosolizing these chemicals, meaning that they will be using a process called “SPARGing” which will release them into the open air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

ExxonMobil representatives were cagey about the quantity of “product” in the ground, even after I confronted them about specifics. Saying that, I’m certain they know exactly what’s down there, as engineers who have installed 62 wells don’t just do so randomly and hope for the best. Waste Management claimed that their timeline for remediation of both the soil ph conditions and the presence of “chemicals of concern” would be four to eight years, whereas the ExxonMobil folks said it’s an open process and wouldn’t commit to a timeline.

Oddly enough, a review of the combined project’s boundaries corresponds neatly to the property lines of the former Queens County Oil works. Luckily for Blissville, here in Queens, subterranean oil deposits respect above ground political and property lines. If you are technically minded, or just curious enough to “get it straight from the horse’s mouth,” follow this link for the NYS DEC fact sheet.


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Scuttling, always scuttling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whenever I mention the 1980’s to those who grew up in Long Island City and Astoria, a shudder seems to go through them. I’ve always wondered if that shudder has anything to do with why all the trees are in cages.

I’ve asked a few of the lifers, but boiling down the answers offered by them reveals one singular truth, which is simply expressed by describing the Croatian people as being remarkably tight lipped. There’s some gesturing involved in their answers, and sometimes a few words in a language which I can never understand (I’ve tried). Regardless, something motivated several of them to build iron cages for the street trees around here. I’ve learned to just accept things over the years which I’ve dwelt here in Astoria, Queens. 

Such is my lot. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is in a weird place, in terms of his mood. Feeling increasingly obsequious, and often wondering who the old fellow staring back at me from the bathroom mirror is, a humble narrator nevertheless sallies forth. Like the trees here in Astoria, there are iron bars and fences all around me. Often it feels as if one is juggling chain saws, and that one slip up will result in disaster. The whole “angry young man” thing is no longer a valid posture, as I’ve instead found myself cast as a broken old man. Such is the wheel of life, however, and there’s no point in moaning about it.

There are still battles to fight, and wars to win.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of, that’s the Sunnyside Yards (est. 1909) pictured above. The shots in today’s post, from this point onward, were all captured along 43rd street while walking south. 43rd street, once you cross Northern Blvd. from the blessed rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria, used to be called Laurel Hill Blvd. It connected the eastern side of LIC’s Blissville over by Newtown Creek and Calvary Cemetery with Middleburgh, which modernity calls Sunnyside. That was before the Long Island Expressway and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and even before Queens Blvd. and the IRT Flushing Line were created in the 20th century.

Referring to old maps of Western Queens requires the usage of three distinct sets of documents, as they’ve (a shadowy cabal, probably) renamed and reoriented the streets so many times in Queens that it’s confusing as all get out figuring out what something used to be called. There’s a few “landmark” lanes which you can use to figure out relative positioning, like Jackson Avenue or Steinway Street, but even then…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

43rd street, as a pathway to Newtown Creek, has been off my radar for the last few years due to the Koscisuzcko Bridge construction project. Just this last winter, the newly rebuilt pedestrian bridge spanning the onramp to the BQE from the LIE was opened. It replaced an older iteration as part of the bridge project, and I’m in the process of reinstalling this pathway as part of my mental map for “where do I want to go today” usage.

The scaffolding in the shot above obscures the Celtic Park apartment complex, so named for a former beer garden and complex of athletic fields which the development is named for. The Celtic Park, as it was known, was designed and situated to take advantage of the huge numbers of Irish Catholic New Yorkers who came to Queens to visit loved ones in the various properties maintained by Calvary Cemetery found nearby in Blissville and Woodside.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One improvement which hasn’t occurred, and I plan on getting after the K-Bridge team about it next time I see them, is the approach to the pedestrian and bicycle bridge that joins 43rd street with the stubby three block stretch of Laurel Hill Blvd. found on the south side of the LIE. The trestle seen above carries the Long Island Expressway, and acts as a seldom mentioned approach to the BQE and Koscisuzcko Bridge itself.

It’s fairly terrifying walking along this stretch of sidewalk, with traffic ramping up to highway speeds alongside of you. A series of jersey barriers would cheaply and effectively address the issue. I’m on it, don’t worry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Aforementioned, that’s the extant section of Laurel Hill Blvd. mentioned above. To the west (or right) is Blissville’s Calvary Cemetery, to the east (or left) is the BQE and industrial Maspeth. This is also more or less the legal border which once existed between the independent municipalities of Long Island City and Newtown, prior to the consolidation of the City of Greater New York.

Tomorrow – so, what’s going on with the Kosciuszcko Bridge project?


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Friday odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A sudden explosion of cast off gloves, observed, makes one wonder if the Queens Cobbler has been joined by a new fiend whom I’ve been referring to as the “Queens Gaunter.” The name “Gaunter” is derived from a fairly archaic English, incidentally, and it’s from the same root of the word which “Gauntlet” comes from. In the Industrial Age, the name of the profession became the rather plain “glove maker” in the case of male oriented hand coverings, whereas lady gloves were prepared by milliners. That’s a work glove pictured above, which is unisex, and it was found in Maspeth. Perhaps the “Maspeth Milliner” rather than “Queens Gaunter,” with the latter having a bit more of a salubrious “roll off the tongue” should be used for this recently discovered companion to the Queens Cobbler? You can record your preferences in the comments, Queensicans.

One doubts that this red handed glove is in anyway related to the Ulster based “Red Hand Commandos” of West Belfast, incidentally, but you never know.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Down at my beloved Newtown Creek the other day, one grew fascinated by these derelict piles along the former Phelps Dodge property’s waterfront. One whipped out the tripod, lowered the camera’s ISO and narrowed the lens’s aperture to its absolute in pursuance of “slowing the shot down.” This is the exact moment when I decided that I have to buy an ND filter next time I’m at “beards and hats” over in the city, incidentally. I really, really wanted to turn the water into a milky smear with perfectly glassine reflectivity here.

These piles supported a heavy pier which had rail tracks on it, once. Most of the property which Phelps Dodge used to operate on is fill. There’s a congressional act, whose name escapes me at this writing, which allows for corporate entities to buy underwater property along industrial waterways like Newtown Creek as long as they “improve” it by filling it in. This process was usually accomplished by building heavy timber box frames that were then submerged and loaded up with whatever material the industrial concern wished to use. In the case of Phelps, it was industrial slag from their copper refining operation mixed with rock and soil.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Industrial Maspeth, which one has repeatedly described as being his “happy place,” seldom disappoints the wandering mendicant and itinerant shutterbug. Encountered at the Kosciuszcko Bridge construction site, this array of spent coffee cups embedded in the chain link of a hurricane fence entranced me.

Next week, I’ll update y’all on the progress that the NYS DOT is making on phase 2 of the bridge project, so there’s something to live for.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – 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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 8, 2018 at 11:00 am

business section

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Everything backfires, all the time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After crossing over that primal mystery through which even thought cannot penetrate which are the waters of New York Harbor, and arriving on… Staten Island… one got busy with the tripod and camera. I was in pursuit of some iteration of the shot above, which I would mention I’m not 100% satisfied by, depicting the whole shebang visible from St. George. Jersey City in the left of the shot, Manhattan in the middle, and the East River on the right. This is just about twenty minutes after sunset, incidentally. I plan on heading back out there when the skies, and the stars, are right.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot I was most happy with, and which sort of made the entire journey to… Staten Island… worth it was the one above, which is a long exposure looking westwards towards the Kill Van Kull. That concrete thingamabob is the 2004 “Postcards” 911 memorial, if your curious, commemorating the memories of the 274 Staten Islanders who lost their lives in the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Center attacks. The Postcards monument is shaped like a combination of two wings and a pair of hands praying, and there are profile sculptures of the victims inside it with their names, birth dates, and where they worked.

I, for one, don’t want to be remembered for where I worked but rather for where I lived.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Arriving back in Manhattan, my pathway home involved the MTA, and wouldn’t you know it… It took close to forty minutes for this work train to clear itself out of the South Ferry station, which in turn allowed the “R” line to transit through from Brooklyn and get me back to Astoria. Life is a joy, in a city which never sleeps.

As I’ve said many times, the “A” in “MTA” is for “Adventure.”


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – 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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

frightened servants

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So above, so below.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst riding a big orange boat across the harbor, one recent and banal evening, litanies of wonder rolled past the lens. A United States Marine Corps V-22 Osprey was flying circuits around Governors Island, tugboats frolicked about in the warm light offered by the unoccluded burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, and the Shining City of Manhattan glowed. Onboard the Staten Island Ferry, riding towards its terminus at St. George on… Staten Island… one was surrounded by European tourists. Many of them bore an aspect which I did not like, as they seemed sly and sinister, and several showed the scars of old world pestilences. The chorus of languages they spoke all seemed guttural and base, not lilting or wholesome as in the manner of English spoken with a Brooklyn accent. Overall, their choices of clothing were mainly what offended me… the cargo shorts and polyester shirts… the bandannas… the knap sacks with too many zippers and cords to be functional…

A humble narrator was, of course, wearing garments nearly indistinguishable from rags. My garb was not unlike that of some exhumed corpse – threadbare, smelly, torn, battered. Just like me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Marines were flying circuits, as mentioned, no doubt as some sort of display during the annual Fleet Week event during which examples of the military might of the Nation is displayed in NY Harbor. The V-22, as I understand it, has vertical take off capabilities. When the propulsion units are in the orientation pictured above, the plane operates in a manner similar to a helicopter, but the pods can be rotated ninety degrees to provide thrust during conventional flying postures. Apparently this has been quite an engineering and operational challenge for the folks who work with this first of its class model of plane, but they seem to have worked out a lot of the kinks.

Whether there was any esoteric machinery in the V-22 scanning the bottom of the harbor for signs of those said to lurk down below, who can say?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You’d have to imagine that were there a group of amphibian fish/frog men living in the sediments of NY Harbor, they’d likely have neighborhoods down there somewhat analogous – class distinction wise – to the ones you find up on the islands. The upscale Deep Ones of the Upper East Side, the working class population of those who dwelleth in the below at Hells Gate, the tragically hip battrachians of North Brooklyn, the shimmering horrors at Coney Island Creek, and so on.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – 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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 6, 2018 at 11:00 am

merciful deletions

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War Planes in Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has recently learned that the mature human body’s largest organ – the skinvelope or integumentary system – weighs approximately twelve to fifteen percent of your body weight – and it also really depends whose skinvelope we’re talking about when weighing the dermis. Personally, I’m naturally pallid and spotty, and a humble narrator’s skinvelope is delicate. I’m highly vulnerable to sudden tears and punctures, blistering, abrasions of all sorts, and at any given time there’s at least a few microbiotal blooms going on somewhere in the roughly twenty two feet of skinvelope which I keep onboard. One is also given to receiving painful radiation burns, if paused too long in the emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, so I like to keep moving and walk in the shade whenever possible.

The Marines were in town for Fleet Week, as I discovered while in pursuit of shadowed cover. They had v-22 Ospreys with them, which were pretty cool. The Marines are famously thick skinned and leather necked, skinvelope wise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My path had an intended destination on this particular evening, an anomaly for one such as myself, which was on… Staten Island…

The big orange boat at the Lower Manhattan Whitehall Terminal was, as in most encounters with it, well – the big orange boat was absurdly on time as always (which is actually true, The Staten Island Ferry has a 96% on time rate). In an ever changing world of disturbing social trends and the constant braying of news reports describing horrible urgencies and dire portent, the very last thing which a humble narrator clings to as efficacy of some possible future in which everything isn’t horrible all the time anymore is that the Staten Island Ferry still runs on time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It would seem that the current occupant of the White House was in town as well, a theoretical dictum advanced by the presence of a phalanx of cops, soldiers, and tough looking guys wearing ear pieces, sunglasses, and black suits guarding one of the Presidential helicopters in Lower Manhattan. Two of the V-22’s were present as well.

The big orange boat offered a nice view of the scene as we slid greasily out of dock in Lower Manhattan and began the journey to… Staten Island…


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – 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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 5, 2018 at 11:00 am

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