The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Queens’ Category

moulder through

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It’s National Pepperoni Pizza Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Positively cinematic, First Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville of Queens is. The Roman Catholic Church acquired Laurel Hill, found along the troublesome Newtown Creek, from the Alsop family back in 1848. The Alsops had held the land since 1648, when a fellow named Thomas Wandell acquired it from the Dutch colonial authorities. Wandell, an associate of Oliver Cromwell’s who had fallen out of favor with the Lord Protector, died in 1691 and the land passed to his nephew Richard Alsop (who died in 1718). The last Alsop who actually worked the land died in 1837, and it was a distaff member of the family who was a member of Manhattan’s “Knickerbocracy” that sold it to the church.

The Church sent armies of laborers to Blissville, who altered Laurel Hill into its current shape, installed a drainage system, and by 1860 or so there were as many as fifty interments a day taking place here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are a few simply gorgeous structures in First Calvary Cemetery (ultimately, there are four Calvary Cemeteries in Queens, with the other three found over in Woodside) such as the Almirall Chapel.

Archbishop Farley had returned from a visit to Rome in 1908 with the intention of creating a new funerary chapel at Calvary which would also host an ossuary for the nuns, monks, and priests of his diocese. Architect Raymond Almirall designed the structure pictured above, which is one of the earliest poured concrete buildings in New York City. The dome of the chapel is forty feet across and eight eight feet high. Atop it is a statue of “Christ the redeemer” designed by a female sculptor (her sex is mentioned as it is quite significant that a female was chosen for this commission during the particular time period) named Merro Beatrice Wilson. The Almirall Chapel sits atop a shaft which leads down a hundred feet to a partially completed cruciform vault where the bones of Farley’s priests and nuns lie.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The real show stopper at Calvary Cemetery is the Johnston Memorial. Erected in 1873, at a cost of $200,000 (that would translate to about $4 million in modern terms) the Johnston Memorial, like the Almirall Chapel, forms a centerpiece of the section it’s found in. There were three Johnston brothers, who operated a very successful milliners business on Manhattan’s “Lady’s mile,” specifically on Fifth Avenue and 22nd street. Brother Charles died in 1864, and brother John left the world in 1887. The remaining Johnston brother, Robert, went mad with grief and fell into poverty. He died in a barn on the grounds of a an upstate nunnery, during a thunderstorm, in 1888.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Johnston memorial is well appointed with some exquisite carvings, and luckily the brothers sprang for granite rather than marble. The marble monuments all over Calvary Cemetery have the appearance of melting ice cream, due to the former presence of an acid factory in nearby Maspeth. A marble frieze over the entrance to the mausoleum, however, displays the characteristic damage from exposure to Newtown Creek’s corrosive atmospherics which one can see all over the cemetery’s acreage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Calvary sits upon, and in, Laurel Hill. A natural prominence left behind by the glaciation process, Laurel is one of the foothills which lead through Maspeth towards the beginning of the terminal morraine of Long Island, which truly begins at another Roman Catholic cemetery called Mount Olivette. This “Y” shaped ridge of actual bedrock is what the elluvial shoals of the landform of Long Island are supported by, and they continue all the way to eastern shore with the the two branches of the Y terminating at Montauk and the Hamptons.

The view from Calvary is astounding, and I always remark that “you can see the whole soup bowl” of NYC’s inner harbor from up here. You used to be able to see a lot more, but… y’know… luxury towers and the real estate guys.

As a note, burial in First Calvary is quite desirable for Roman Catholics. Accordingly, the price of a grave hereabouts is astronomical, making this – from a square footage vs pricing ratio POV – the most valuable real estate in all of Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Adorning the dome of the Johnston Mausoleum, in addition to the statue of Jesus at its top, are granite renderings of four angels who gaze out at the sky from the cardinal points of a compass.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east, the industrial zone of West Maspeth is hard to miss. The Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the Koscisuzcko Bridge are just out of frame in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Calvary Cemetery is positively cinematic. It’s where Bruce Wayne’s parents, and Spider Man’s Uncle Ben, were buried in the movies. It’s also where Vito Corleone was interred in the Godfather movie. The place is seen regularly in television and movies as a set piece when you need a New York City backdrop for a funeral.

You never know what you’re going to find at Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville section of Queens, along the fabulous Newtown Creek, I always say. Bring a camera, and wander around the place without a plan, see what Calvary wants you to see. It’ll still be there the next time you come back, this history book etched in stone.


Upcoming Tours and events

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 23rd, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Join us on the wrong side of the tracks for an exploration of the hidden industrial heartlands of Brooklyn and Queens, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Saturday, October 7th, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

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? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

deliberate effacement

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It’s National Double Cheeseburger Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often, it seems as if all of Western Queens is a “work zone,” and it’s impossible to go more than a few blocks without seeing the telltale “high visibility” orange vests and barriers of one work crew or another. The folks in the shot above work for a company called “Hecla,” and they were doing some sort of street work that involved setting down a large concrete pad into 48th avenue, adjoining a bus stop.

As a side note, I associate the word “Hecla” with a very active Icelandic stratovolcano (a volcanic ridge, actually, which rises nearly 5,000 feet high) which medieval Europeans believed to be the entrance to hell. The Icelandic spelling is actually “Hekla,” but both spellings are apparently used for this subarctic fire mountain. The most active part of the Hecla stratovolcano is a fiery fissure called “Heklugjá.” “Hekla Fell” is where witches are still meant to gather at Easter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that Queens sits nestled in a combination of elluvial deposits and post glacial rubble piled up around a “Y” shaped ridge of Manhattan schist and other hard rocks that form a very long island, we don’t have to worry too much about magma exploding out of the manhole covers anytime soon, but one thing I’ve learned over the nearly two decades I’ve lived hereabouts is to not take much for granted. You never know what’s going to happen next.

Would not be surprised one little bit – for instance – if a group of witches gathered at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and 43rd street, pictured above, on Easter. Occult tradition states that between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the throne of Heaven is empty and that the elder devil Satan is free to do his thing. People confuse Satan and Lucifer all the time, by the way, which annoys me.

As above, so below. Satan is the “adversary” to Yahweh the father (Old Testament), as Lucifer is to Jesus the son. The whole Holy Ghost trinity thing is what gives heaven’s armies their edge, and why Christians fear the coming of the antichrist, which will even the odds between the two sides.

But I digress. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I think all of the construction Orange is pretty cool, visually. I wish that instead of the sapphire glass which will inevitably be clad around the tragically named – and branded – 5ptz residential luxury tower in LIC, they’d design in some nice orange motifs.

Orange reminds one of hell, and fire, and the consequence of embracing one or more of the seven deadly sins – greed, avarice, and so on. Christian scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell posits that the devil’s incarnation in the modern age isn’t the Bronze Age Satan, nor the medieval Lucifer – rather it’s either the lord of lust called Asmodeus or the demon God of greed called Mammon.


Upcoming Tours and events

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 23rd, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Join us on the wrong side of the tracks for an exploration of the hidden industrial heartlands of Brooklyn and Queens, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 15, 2017 at 11:00 am

mute clue

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It’s National Chocolate Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, one seems to have been hanging around in Astoria quite a bit recently. The long walks from the ancient village which a humble narrator is known for undertaking, carrying one from Astoria in North West Queens to all sorts of distant locales, require a bit of time to undertake and a variety of factors have limited the open windows of time needed to commit them. Fear not, for vast overland crossings through the concrete devastations are being planned and will be embarked upon shortly, whereupon description of said events will be presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

Just in the name of getting some exercise, for myself and the camera alike, I’ve been perambulating about in a roughly two mile circle from HQ for the last few weeks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The world is a scary place. It’s full of wildly unpredictable people, some of whom just might be a part of some sadist doomsday cult who seek the world’s end. Others are just stupid, and you can see it on their faces when they try to think about something. The other day on the train, I sat there watching some woman visibly thinking. Her brow beedled, she silently mouthed words, and was apparently either rehearsing or reviewing an argument she either had lost or will lose when she has it. Occasionally, she would pull out her phone and fire off a text missive, which was angrily stabbed out with her digitus tertius or “curse” finger. Lip reading informs that she was upset at somebody she knew who had said hello to her “ex.” She kept on mouthing the word “ratchet.”

She had her two kids watching the display, one of whom was licking the subway seat. There really is no hope.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria is decidedly carnivorous, as a rule. Don’t get me wrong, “we gots our vegans ’round here’s,” but most of the people you meet in the neighborhood talk about some kind of meat when you ask “what’s for dinner?” I know I do, but when I came across this display of half pig in a butcher shop window, one became entranced by its gruesome spectacle and the illusion of some monstrous face screaming in terror.

Pareidolia (/pærɪˈdoʊliə/ parr-i-DOH-lee-ə) is what it’s called when your brain perceives facial structures in inanimate objects. According to studies of the psychological phenomena, if you’re like me and you see “faces” in a LOT of inanimate objects and every cloud reminds you of some esoteric critter, it’s sympomatic of a highly neurotic personality type. Me, neurotic?

Who knew? 


Upcoming Tours and events

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 23rd, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Join us on the wrong side of the tracks for an exploration of the hidden industrial heartlands of Brooklyn and Queens, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

mental complexity

with 2 comments

It’s National Chocolate Milkshake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My daily walk for the last few weeks, due to certain constraints on schedule and other obligations, has been decidedly local in nature and a humble narrator has seldom found himself less than an hour from HQ before its time to turn around and head back. As I enjoy the distinct pleasure of living on the southern side of Astoria, Queens – this isn’t that big a burden. Lurking, in fear – after all – around Western Queens is one of my favorite activities.

There’s always something interesting happening here in the ancient village.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Steinway Street’s intersection with 34th avenue, there’s a mid sized construction job going on. A former one story furniture store is being converted over to a multi story residential dealie. The iron workers have been busy at this corner all summer, doing their thing, and a whole crew of local lords and ladies have been observed entering and leaving the job site in their bright yellow vests since last winter.

I know that to some calloused eyes this is “gentrification” occurring, but it’s hard to argue against creating both a bunch of construction jobs and some new housing units that are so close to the 34th avenue side of the Steinway Street stop on the R and M lines. Y’know, no form of housing is “affordable” unless you’ve got an opportunity for gainful employment and the chance to earn a living from it. That is, unless your idea of “affordable” involves the redistribution of earned wealth from someone else’s pocket into yours.

Just saying. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this particular day, a crane was delivering steel beams and the union guys were crawling all over the skeleton of the new building. I can tell that they’re Union, as you’ll notice all of the safety equipment they’ve got on display. If this was a non Union job, these cats would be sporting baseball hats instead of hard hats, and the safety harnesses they’re wearing would be absent or made of duct tape.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They seemed to know their business, these fellows (I think they’re fellows at least, as I wasn’t close enough to discern sex), and after snapping out a few shots I moved on. My half way point destination for the afternoon walk was set to be Queens Blvd. in Sunnyside, where an easterly turn would be undertaken towards Roosevelt Avenue and a return back to Astoria’s Broadway in the 40’s would be accomplished via Woodside Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking south down Steinway Street, where it transmogrifies into 39th street at Northern Blvd., one encountered this little assemblage of compound signage. It somehow fit my mood, and current worldview.

You people scare the hell out of me. 


Upcoming Tours and events

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 23rd, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Join us on the wrong side of the tracks for an exploration of the hidden industrial heartlands of Brooklyn and Queens, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 12, 2017 at 1:00 pm

increasingly rigid

with 3 comments

It’s National Date-Nut Bread Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hunters Point is a section of Long Island City. Most modern people refer to it “as” Long Island City, but LIC – as in the “independent municipality of” – includes the neighborhoods of Astoria, Sunnyside, Blissville, Ravenswood, Dutch Kills, and Hunters Point as well. Hunters Point is pretty much defined as the zone sitting between Skillman Avenue to the east, the East River to the west, Queens Plaza to the north, and Newtown Creek to the south. The independent municipality of  LIC’s old borders ran eastwards to what’s now the Kosciuszcko Bridge and Woodside Avenue to the east, Bowery Bay on the north, Newtown Creek on the south, and by the East River to the west.

The Dutch arrived in this peninsular area, sparsely populated by bands of the Lenape, back in the 1640’s. The first European land holder was a Dutch Priest named Dominie Everardus Bogardus, and back then LIC was referred to as “Dominie’s Hoek.” Bogardus, whom the historical record is not kind to, died in a shipwreck in 1647. Hunters Point, as defined above, came into the possession of a Dutch Sea Captain named Peter Praa, and the land stayed in his family until just before the American Revolution. At that time, the deed was in the hands of a Praa descendent named Anna Hunter. That’s why it’s called Hunters Point.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Anna Hunter had three sons, and in the name of family unity and amity, her will stipulated that the land be sold off to avoid them fighting over the inheritance. By the time of the Civil War, the land had been divided into lots and sold off to a number of different concerns. The village, or town, of Hunters Point was a part of a county municipal organization called “Newtown” whose borders stretched all the way into modern day Nassau County. Newtown was a relict of the Dutch civilization’s “Nieuwtown,” whose function and borders were continued by the British and later the American governments long after the Dutch. The British first called it “Nieuwe Stad,” and at the time of the Revolution it was “Newtown.”

In the early 19th century, NYC was a ship building colossus. Manhattan shoreline properties along the East River were dearly held, and massively expensive to acquire. Ship yards, carpentry shops, iron foundries, coal yards, and rope factories were moving their operations over to Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn and moving steadily north.

Industrial piers began to appear along the busy East River in Hunters Point, and along Newtown Creek. In 1848, the Roman Catholic Church bought the Alsop farm in Blissville in pursuance of creating Calvary Cemetery. Vernon Avenue was created and paved, and a plank road was built connecting to agricultural Blissville. The plank road was named for its destination, at the Borden Dairy Farms in Maspeth, and it was erected out of the swampy lowlands adjoining the Newtown Creek in 1868.

In the 1860’s, railroad tracks were connected to the east river by a company that would soon call itself the Long Island Railroad. Industrialization got its footing in LIC, due to easy access to the railroad AND to the water. Speculators began buying up dismal tidal swamps, filling them in with garbage, dead animals, human waste, and other fill materials. The Borden Plank road was paved and became Borden Avenue.

In 1870, a group of ambitious and notorious politicians, railroad operatives, and robber barons were successful in their bid to secede from agricultural Newtown and the independent municipality of Long Island City was formed.

The first land grab in what we call Queens got underway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over twenty nine years of glorious misrule and an infamously corrupt political environment, LIC grew into the workshop of America. Enormous factories opened, and the waterfront in Hunters Point became a maritime industrial center, with nearly all of the freight traffic carried by the Long Island Railroad moving through it. Sugar factories, steel mills, oil refineries, chemical plants, fat renderers, pickle factories, fertilizer mills, manure yards, dead animal wharves – you name it – it was here. The City of Greater New York consolidated itself in 1898, incorporating LIC into its now familiar five boroughs, all under the guidance of the notorious Tammany Hall leader Richard Croker. Manhattan began to convert its industrial shorelines over to residential districts, and started to export all of its dirty industries to its new holdings in Brooklyn, and to the newly named Queens.

Manhattan began a process which modernity would describe as gentrification, displacing the working class poor and encouraging them to move to newly constructed row housing in the “outer boroughs.” The row housing was constructed by political insiders like Cord Meyer. Mr. Meyer and his fellow real estate speculators like Michael Degnon had inside information from the politicians of Tammany Hall about where the roads and subways would be created and they began to buy up agricultural properties all over the former Newtown. Entire neighborhoods were created, seemingly overnight. Call it Elmhurst? That’s Cord Meyer Sr. you’re echoing.

In 1909, the Queensboro Bridge was opened for business. Hell Gate Bridge opened in 1917. The Sunnyside Yards opened in 1919, made possible by the Pennsylvania Railroad company, which also created the East River tunnels that LIRR and Amtrak use to this day. The subways made gradual appearances in the first, second, and third decades of the twentieth century. Notably, what we call the 7 line – which already had three stops connecting Hunters Point to Manhattan as of 1915 – opened the Corona extension in April of 1917.

The second land grab in Queens got underway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Manhattan’s infamous tenement slums began to empty, and the working class hordes of immigrants began to populate into the new residential neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Hunters Point had a relatively small residential population, which was centered not in the industrial zone but rather in the neighborhoods surrounding it. Sunnyside Gardens was created as an early example of “affordable housing” and as a planned community in the late 1920’s, in response to the multi story apartment houses which began to rise in Dutch Kills and Astoria along the new subway lines. At the same time, Robert Moses had appeared on the scene, along with his Triborough Bridge project.

Mighty Triborough opened in 1936, and the highways that feed into it like the Grand Central Parkway soon followed. The age of the automobile arrived in Queens, which allowed for heavy residential construction in previously rural areas. Forest Hills and Rego Park, Bayside and Douglaston, even Jamaica were now connected to Manhattan. For those who supported Mr. Moses, the routes and off ramps of the new high speed roads were revealed. In 1940, the Long Island Expressway and Queens Midtown Tunnel appeared in Hunters Point, which effectively blighted and cut the ancient community in half.

The third land grab in Queens got underway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the Second World War, things began to change in Hunters Point. New York City began a process of de industrialization that wouldn’t become truly apparent until the middle 1960’s. Heavy industry began migrating to the American south and west, where industrial campuses of collossal size could be constructed. The political establishment of NYC, still married to the industrial labor unions, realized that they had to do something to try and protect their base. In 1961, The Department of City planning (which was controlled by Robert Moses) issued a decree that Hunters Point was now an “M1” zone – the land was reserved exclusively for heavy manufacturing use only.

For the homeowners and residential community in Hunters Point (and in Dutch Kills as well), what that meant was that no bank would advance them credit for a mortgage, or loan them money for renovation projects on existing residential properties. The fly in the ointment this time around, however, was that because of a general decline of manufacturing activity in the entire Northeastern United States the industrial base was seeking to vacate New York City. By the 1970’s, you couldn’t give the land away in Hunters Point. The residential community dwindled, but narrow strips of habitation persisted. The political establishment was heavily involved in “urban renewal” projects, and floods of federal money enabled developers like the Tishmans, Trumps, and Lefraks to build massive commercial and housing projects in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. This is when the big landlords and the politicians first really got to know each other, and the current alliance between big real estate and the political establishment of Manhattan was cemented.

It’s also when, in an attempt to revive a moribund local economy, the City began giving away land to developers. This process really kicked into gear in the 1980’s, under Mayor Koch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 1981, NYC City Planning rechristened Hunters Point as a “mixed use district.” The first large scale development that occurred after this was the Citigroup tower, which opened in 1993, a 53 story structure which was built on land formerly occupied by a hospital. In 1995, 2001, and again in 2004, City Planning opened up zoning restrictions on height in LIC – particularly along the Hunters Point waterfront. As restrictions were loosened, and residential corridors were created, there was some construction activity but it was a lot of smoke with very little flame. The New York Times and other cheerleaders for the real estate interests began to refer to Hunters Point as “LIC” and started calling it “the next big thing.” (City planning is currently working on further loosenings of zoning in Hunters Point, and preparing the “LIC Core” rezoning which will make it possible to build high density residential towers as far east as Steinway Street, along Northern Blvd.) The currently underway Hunters Point South development is billed as the largest “affordable” housing project in the United States, but it’s not affordable by many of the current residents of LIC.

The so called “Brooklyn miracle” happened instead. From the post industrial waterfront of Williamsburg all the way south to what is now referred to as “DUMBO,” high density towers rose and created the new “Gold Coast” of Long Island. In the last decade, financial speculators and globalist investors have driven the price of Brooklyn real estate so high that financiers have begun to focus in on Hunters Point and Astoria instead, looking for a “good buy.”

The fourth land grab in Queens is underway, as you read this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All of this development has avoided upgrading the municipal infrastructure which the new population would require – cops, fire department, sewerage, hospitals, schools. If you’re walking through one of the glorious new waterfront parks in Hunters Point, and you suddenly grab at your chest, where the FDNY ambulance will take you is either Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, the Mount Sinai hospital on Crescent street in Astoria, or out to Elmhurst hospital. FDNY’s fire fighting apparatus in western Queens was designed for industrial fires, and the 108th precinct is housed in a tiny 19th century building which still has horse stables. The sewer plant servicing this gargantuan residential population was opened by Fiorella LaGuardia in 1936. Our transit needs far outweigh current capability. There are not enough school desks. Don’t get me started on the environmental legacy of all that industry which used to be here. The buildings being erected in the photos in today’s posts are on the site of a former chemical factory in Queens Plaza, for instance.

Simply put, “gentrification” is nothing new in Western Queens and it’s been going on since at least the Civil War. The “G bomb” has already been dropped, and it has gone off. A looming infrastructure crisis is just beginning.


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 9th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 8, 2017 at 11:30 am

true conditions

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It’s National Salami Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this day, in 70 AD, the Romans sacked Jerusalem. In 1776, the very first submarine attack on a warship occurred in New York Harbor when the Turtle attached a time bomb to the hull of HMS Eagle. In 1860, Garibaldi entered Naples and began the process of creating the modern day Nation of Italy. In 1921, the first Miss America pageant was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Over in San Francisco back in 1927, inventor Philo Farnsworth demonstrated the first television signal. Benjamin, the last of the thylacines, died alone in a Tasmanian zoo in 1936. In 1940, the Nazis began the London Blitz, and in 1978 Rock and Roll drummer Keith Moon kicked the bucket.

The cool car pictured above was spotted in Greenpoint, incidentally. I was out one night conducting a walking tour of Newtown Creek and happened across it. The graffiti is what drew me in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After conducting the walking tour, one set upon his path back towards the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria, but had to pass through the concrete devastations of Hunters Point and Queens Plaza in order to do so. It was a nice night, and I decided upon walking home. On my way, I passed by the Queens Midtown Tunnel and captured this shot.

The funny bit – to me at least – about the current efforts by the State of New York to elimate toll booths in favor of electronic tolling is that no one thought about what happens on the Manhattan side of the tunnel. I’ve been noticing massive traffic backups on the Long Island Expressway since they instituted the new system, which was meant to ease traffic and smooth the commute for the 80,000 or so daily vehicle trips through the tunnel. The toll booths had the effect of causing traffic to pulse through the toll plaza four or five at a time, but now the traffic just snakes into it. The head of the snake emerges into the City and is met by traffic lights on second avenue. Those traffic lights are now the de facto governors of how fast traffic can flow through the tunnel, and on the 71 miles of the Long Island Expressway found to the east of it.

The military guys and gals have a word for this sort of thing – it’s “FUBAR.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in Astoria, it was preternaturally dark when I arrived home, but this sort of thing doesn’t bother my little dog Zuzu. She operates by smell and sound, my dog, and as we engaged in her evening saunter and as she performed her investigative sniffing, I was growing increasingly apprehensive for some reason.

My pineal gland was twitching with latent horror.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As we swung back around onto Broadway and made our way back towards HQ, a large group of teenaged men were riding their bicycles down the block in a pack. According to a report I saw on the local CBS TV news, events such as this are to be viewed in a menacing light and feared. I found it menacing simply because they’re all teenagers. Darned kids, with their bicycles and the hip hop, engaging in group activities without first obtaining police permits or parental approval. Chaos!

There should be a curfew for anyone under the age of thirty, I tell ya. Damn kids.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bicycles such as the ones pictured above are a fairly modern invention, but some scholars attribute the first bike design to a sketch by one of DaVinci’s students in 1534. The first verified appearance of bicycles was in the 19th century, specifically in 1817 Germany with the “dandy horse.” These were “running machines” which were operated sans pedals or chains. The velocipede era saw the addition of pedals to the front wheel, but it wasn’t until 1863 that a french engineer came up with what we’d recognize instantly as a bike – with pedals and a chain driven rotary crank. What you’re looking at in the shot above are 21st century variants of what was introduced as the “safety bicycle” back in 1885. John Dunlop introduced the pneumatic tire in 1888. In 1889, the diamond shaped frame of the modern bike was introduced, in a model that also folded. The modern multi geared bike, which included a “Derailleur” mechanism on the chain, came on the scene at the start of the 20th century. Everything since has simply been refinement of the design.

Teenagers, however, have always been dangerous and unpredictable. Curfew!


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 9th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 7, 2017 at 1:00 pm

unmentionable allies

with 4 comments

It’s National Cheese Pizza Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the adage goes, when one gazes into the proverbial abyss, there’s always something staring out of it at you. In the case of the Sunnyside Yards here in Queens, that’s usually a bored Amtrak cop whose eyes have glazed over in front of a bank of monitors connected to security cameras.

Me? I know where every hole in the fencelines can be found, and which one of my lenses will fit through it. In the case of the shot above, the hole is around twenty five millimeters, and I haven’t got anything in my kit that can be inserted through the hole. Luckily, there’s a lot of holes in the fence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One attempted to use the downtime last week in a productive fashion, wandering about whenever the weather permitted. Saying that, I didn’t get too much done – on purpose – in order to vouchsafe a bit of time to just sit and think. I did have a couple of things to do that interrupted my reveries, however.

I was asked by Councilmember Van Bramer’s office if I would write a response to an “Op Ed” by the Queens Anti Gentrification Project” aimed at Jimmy and offered at the citylimits site. QAGP seems to have taken some umbrage at my response and published this post at their own site addressed towards me. I’ve known Jimmy Van Bramer for a while now, his Mom lives a couple of blocks away from me here in Astoria, and I emphatically support his reelection campaign. Jimmy has been, and I’m sure will continue to be – an effective advocate for his district.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One shall be responding in my usual manner – next week – to the QAGP folks, but allow me this:

As I’ve said in the past, “gentrification” is not an apropo term for what’s happening in LIC (or North Brooklyn). The proposal to deck over the Sunnyside Yards, the rezoning of the LIC industrial districts and consequent residential tower construction by monied interests based and interested only in short term benefits to Manhattan offered by this build out, the complete blindness towards the municipal infrastructure costs associated with this process… we haven’t got a word for it yet.

This POV will be crystallized in a post offered next week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does stand ready to be accused of being a shill, again.

When I first “stepped out” in public and began discussing Newtown Creek and the environmental issues affecting our community the accusations were waiting for me. New York City Planning asked me “who do you think you are”? One well known activist openly described my efforts at building awareness of these issues as a shell game initiated by the real estate developers, whom I was obviously a clandestine agent of. My willingness to converse with and try to find common ground between the community and the historical corporate polluters of Newtown Creek – ExxonMobil and the like – saw me accused of being an agent of the petrochemical industry sent amongst the environmental community to sow chaos. When I became involved with transit issues, more recently, accusations of being a Democratic Party operative emerged. The kayakers, the bicycle people… don’t get me started.

I wish my life was that interesting, and that the monies people presume I’m receiving for my activities were actually in my possession. Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself barely scratch by, just like everyone else these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking as the first person in Queens to throw down the gauntlet to City Hall regarding the Sunnyside Yards mega development, and one of the principal flies in the ointment of the people planning it, one finds all of these accusations amusing. Ask the NYC DEP if I’m in their employ, or ExxonMobil, or any of the other entities who’ve I set my focus on over the years. I’m quite popular with the MTA establishment at Jay Street as well, and as far as the BQX goes… let’s just say that when I walk into a meeting room the staffers from EDC collect up in a quiet corner and discuss how to handle the fact that I’ve shown up.

My resume and activist credentials which have defined my life over the last ten years have not been gained by throwing around a bunch of meaningless slogans. Instead it’s been “showing up” to nighttime meetings with bland officials at a sewer plant during snow storms in January, and sweating in the July heat to build consensus and constituency amongst my fellow citizens. I’ve put my name on everything I’ve done, as well. When I’ve been wrong, the first person to bring it up has been “yours, truly.”

This is real life, not some intellectual game, and a looming infrastructure crisis is about to hurt us all.


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 9th, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 5, 2017 at 11:30 am

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