The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Applesauce Cake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was out of the house early today, to attend a meeting sponsored by the Queens Chamber of Commerce which invited a team from the NYC EDC to present their feasibility study on the Sunnyside Yards at the Bulova Corporate Center found on the border of Astoria and East Elmhurst. I’m happy to say that this was a well attended meeting, and that the attendees included members of the Queens activist community as well as the usual and expected representatives from the Real Estate Industrial Complex. A breakfast meeting, bagels and coffee were offered, along with those very sweet little danishes which are typical of corporate catering.

The EDC presentation was offered by one of their many Vice Presidents, a charming fellow named Nate Bliss. I inquired after the meeting, and there was no relation to the Neziah Bliss family of Greenpoint, just as a note.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The EDC presentation was a roadshow version of the executive summary report found at their website. The presentation glossed over several seminal objections to the project which have been offered by various community organizations such as the gargantuan size of the deck itself (at 43rd street and Barnett Avenue in Sunnyside Gardens, for instance – 109-110 feet above street grade, or at Northern Blvd. and 39th/Steinway – 65-70 feet), but did acknowledge the transit and environmental issues associated with creating a new development that would require between 10 and 19 new schools to be built, and which would install a new population in LIC that would number about half that of Boulder, Colorado – on the 180 acres found between Queens Plaza and 43rd street, Northern Blvd. and Skillman Avenue.

I asked them what they’re planning on plugging the deck and city of towers built on it into, electrical wise. I threw some shade at the fact that their report says that’s it’s not feasible to bring construction materials to the job site, which is a rail yard, by rail. Pointedly asked them, as well, about how they intended to route the thousands of daily trucks which would be carrying in steel and concrete since they won’t be using the railroad to do it.

Ultimately, there’s two efficient routes, and both feed in through Manhattan from the continent – George Washington Bridge down 125th street to Triborough and then through Astoria, or Lincoln Tunnel across 42nd street to Queensboro. Guess which one they’ll pick?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To be entirely clear, despite the fact that the Sunnyside Yards is literally “in my back yard,” my resistance to the plan has nothing to do with the dismissive term “NIMBY” thrown about by the Real Estate Industrial Complex and the bureaucrats of Lower Manhattan. Western Queens is suffocating for lack of infrastructure given the construction boom which has been underway for the last decade and a half. The MTA is overwhelmed, we’ve been closing power plants instead of building new ones, the sewer system is overburdened and outdated. Somebody in the meeting asked me “where are people going to live?” which is the sort of thing that a real estate developer always throws out as if they’re doing us some sort of favor or good deed with the condemnation of whole city blocks and the subsequent erection of mirror glass skinned towers.

Short answer is this – if we improve our transit system, people can live anywhere they want to. Before the ABC and 456 lines reached into northern Manhattan and the 123 lines went to the Bronx, those areas were typified by farmland. So was most of Queens and Eastern Brooklyn, prior to the arrival of the Subways a century ago. Transit expansion equals an opportunity for rapacious profiteering on the part of the real estate industrial complex, and since greed seems to be the only thing that motivates us these days… Imagine the possibilities of an elevated track that crossed from the 103rd Corona Avenue stop on the 7 south across the transit deserts of Queens and Brooklyn all the way to Broadway Junction.

The mind boggles. 


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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been keeping an eye on the panel truck pictured above, which often parks on 43rd street alongside the Sunnyside Yards, which has been covered in increasingly literate graffiti over the last year. One was taken aback by the appearance of “The Federalist Papers” on it recently. It is my belief that Alexander Hamilton very well might have risen from the grave and picked up a can of krylon. Burr will likely be next to rise and begin a graffiti campaign. 

It would just like Hamilton (or Madison for that matter) to rise from the grave, just in the name of proving a point and pointing out how far we’ve strayed. Freaking Publius. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the sixth of June, a hilariously scheduled meeting with the NYC EDC is being hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce at the Bulova Center which will concern itself with the latter entity’s Sunnyside Yards decking proposal and feasibility study. A humble narrator will be waking up with the sun to be able to attend, and for those of you who care about things which Queens residents think about as being good for Queens, versus those things which Manhattan real estate interests think of as being good for Queens – I’d hope to see you there, at eight o’clock in the morning, on a Tuesday, in East Elmhurst. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The LA punk band Fear don’t exactly have “hits” as far as the pop music standard goes, but one of their catchier ditties is “New York’s Alright.” The choral segment of the late 70’s arrangement involves a growling rendition of the song’s title followed by “if you like saxophones.” Just last week when I was moving through the West 4th street station over in the City, on my way to the Waterfront Alliance annual conference, some fellow across the platform was honking out the Fear song on his sax. There were probably less than ten people in the station who recognized the song, or the irony.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


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dull acquiescence

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


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restoring shadow

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It’s global Rare Disease Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Can you hear it yet? I mean the thunder. It’s hard to hear, I know, over the sound of the drums and bagpipes.

The NYC EDC recently released their feasibility study for the decking over of the Sunnyside Yards, and as a humble narrator predicted some 24 months ago – they believe it to be “doable.” The scale of the project, as described in the two documents they’ve released – one a twenty page “executive summary,” and the second a whopping two hundred and change page “full report” – is brobigdagnian. In essence, they propose building the Death Star along Northern Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One will be writing and speaking about this proposal extensively over the next few months. Study of the document is part of what was occupying my thoughts during the last couple of weeks when archive shots were being presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle. I’d recommend that you read the longer “product” rather than the executive summary, if you’re interested in existential issues which threaten to overwrite the way of life enjoyed by those of who live in southern Astoria, Dutch Kills, LIC, Sunnyside, and Woodside in the name of building luxury housing. The project, rolled out in the name of “affordability” actually discusses the fact that rents in the neighborhoods surrounding the Sunnyside Yards would go up instead of remaining static. Isn’t reducing scarcity the whole point of bringing new stock into the real estate market?

I will offer compliments to the EDC team, as this is a very well put together and thought out plan. Saying that, adding 14-24,000 apartments (70% Luxury/market and 30% “affordable”) with 5,300 parking spots and building 19 schools up on the deck isn’t going to address many of the issues familiar to Western Queens. The height of the deck is staggering – between three to seven stories over street grade along Northern Blvd. and nearly eleven stories along 43rd street in Sunnyside Gardens. The towers built on top of the deck would be another matter, and if a series of sixty story buildings are planned (they are), EDC would count the height of those stories starting at the deck – so a sixty story apartment house would in fact be seventy one stories were it built on the eastern side of the project (43rd street).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Can you hear it yet? The thunder, I mean? I can tell you that they are going to be hearing it in the air conditioned offices of lower Manhattan, where this land grab was conceptualized by Michael Bloomberg’s right hand man Dan Doctoroff and then proposed by a feckless quisling, and unpopular populist – the Mayor of NYC, whom the children of Queens know as the Dope from Park Slope – Bill de Blasio. That vainglorious opportunist… don’t get me started on this throwback to the failures of the Dinkins administration, this fraudulent national aspirant, progressive in name only, his clueless and tone deaf Manhattancentric policies that are bought and sold by the Real Estate industry, or the echo chamber of vast personal and political hubris which he operates within.

Can they hear the thunder? Something wicked this way comes, they must be telling themselves, over in Manhattan. The bedroom communities of Western Queens have been awoken.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 28, 2017 at 1:00 pm

baffling lack

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It’s Setsubun Day, in the nation of Japan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in yesterday’s post, the 21st of January was a pretty foggy day, which is something I consider pretty. One made it a point of visiting several distaff locations around Long Island City to capture the scene. The shot above is something that all of you reading this will be able to personally enjoy sometime in the very near future, when the Smiling Hogshead Ranch expands its operations up to the abandoned trackway of the Montauk Cutoff.

The photo above depicts the most photogenic of NYC’s subway lines – the IRT Flushing, or 7 line – exiting the elevated tracks of the Court Square Station and traveling on its way to Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spent a bit of time up on the tracks, as I ran into an old friend while making my way up there and we spent some time catching up while I waved the camera around. The cutoff is brutally bare during the winter months, as all of the self seeded vegetation surrounding it is deep in hibernation. During the warmer months, it’s positively verdant up here – an island of green amidst the concrete devastations of Western Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Disturbingly, the Queens Cobbler seems to have visited the Cutoff recently, leaving behind one of the totemic “single shoes” signaling that he or she was here. The “Queens Cobbler” is the name I’ve assigned to a likely serial killer who claims human lives all around the Newtown Creek watershed, leaving behind a single shoe to announce that their latest hunt has been successful.

Someday, the NYPD will happen upon a hidden warehouse room in LIC or Maspeth filled with footwear and gore, and on that day – the metaphorical and literal “other shoe” will truly fall. Back next week with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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It’s National Peanut Butter day, here in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Occasion carried me towards Brooklyn recently, at a chronological interval during which the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself had already dipped behind the mysteries of New Jersey. Accordingly, I packed up my “night kit” and headed south from “Point A” in Astoria and down to the flood plains of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

My night kit, as previously mentioned, are my two Sigma zoom lenses – the 50-100 f1.8, and 18-35 f1.8, as well as a trusty Canon “nifty fifty” 50mm f1.8 prime lens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My path was simply scouted. Heading south along Steinway and across the “Carridor” of Northen Blvd., west on Skillman and then south to the Pulaski Bridge, across Newtown Creek, then west on Greenpoint’s Franklin Avenue, and then south to my destination on Williamsburg’s north side near Berry street.

This somewhat photogenic route resulted in the crossing of wonders and landmarks like the Sunnyside Yards, the Skillman Avenue Corridor, and the legendary Newtown Creek. I could have just taken the train, but then you don’t get to see the wonders of Western Queens and North Brooklyn on your way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Couldn’t help but utilize one of the many “holes in the fence” at Sunnyside Yards which I’ve mapped and catalogued over the years ,and grabbing some shots of a passing rush hour Long Island Railroad unit heading towards Woodside and points further to the east. Gotta love the interlockings, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One turned right (or west) onto the Skillman Avenue corridor, and the incredible horizon of rampant gentrification it displays. In pre industrial times, just a block or two away, you’d have been able to visit a “pest house” where suffers of contagious diseases were quarantined and left to die by their loved ones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Skillman Avenue took me to Queens Plaza, where one crossed under the tracks of the 7 Line and across one of the worst pedestrian intersections in all of NYC. Drivers here exhibit the same sort of behavior as stampeding cattle in this spot, moving from the feedlot to the abattoir.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In my opinion, should the large scale decking of the Sunnyside Yards, as proposed by our Mayor – the Dope from Park Slope – happens, it will encompass the area pictured above will be first, an acreage which spans the area between Thomson Avenue and Queens Plaza. There’s a triangular section found at Jackson Avenue and 21st street which will happen initially, but that will merely be an air raid siren signaling the coming of the Luftwaffe over London. This is where the blitzkrieg will happen.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once the “Subway Building,” which housed both the offices of the Borough President of Queens and those of master builder Michael Degnon, the Paragon Oil building is being converted from a documents storage building over to office space as you read this. This seems to be “stage 2” of the LIC buildout, the construction and conversion of former industrial buildings over to commercial – rather than residential – usage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Subway Building overlooks the Hunters Point Avenue stop of the LIRR, and sits astride the Hunters Point stop of the IRT Flushing – or “7” – line. The LIRR station is criminally underused by the MTA, IMHO.


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hidden laboratory

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It’s International Cheese Day, for the industrialized and lactose tolerant nations of this planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

3.4 miles from the East River is a spot which one refers to as DUMABO – or Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. The first bridge over the flowing waters of English Kills was erected here (slightly to the west, actually) in 1814 and was privately owned by the Masters brothers, so it was accordingly referred to as the “Masters Bridge.” Historic sources indicate this spot as being, during the colonial to civil war period, the demarcation point between salt and fresh water on the English Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek. Shellfish were described as being found in “great abundance.” It was once known as White’s Dock, for the vulgarly curious. The precursor of the modern day Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in the 1870’s, and the modern bridge (much altered) was erected in 1931.

The fresh water was being fed into English Kills by upland springs and streams in nearby Bushwick that flowed downhill into it, and by ground water entering it from the bottom. Back in 1814, Metropolitan Avenue was just a wooden plank toll road rising up from the swamps, and it was called the “Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike road.” The springs and streams of Bushwick are what attracted beer breweries like the Ulmer people to a then German speaking rural neighborhood to ply their trade, but I digress. The fat renderers and acid factories began to show up in the 1830’s and 40’s around these parts, and notably – Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory, where Jello was invented, was just a few blocks away. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DOT has been doing a bunch of work at this spot recently, some sort of construction that they attached to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything about the loose soil on the shoreline, nor the decaying wooden bulkheads holding that shoreline in place. Of course, not many people come back here, but it would have been fairly easy to fall into English Kills given the rotting shoreline when the shot above was captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Mary H. tug, tied up to the Bayside Fuel Depot bulkheads, just east of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. This is pretty much the extent of serious maritime access to English Kills given the black mayonnaise/sediment mound situation that gobbles up operational draught and depth. The green wall with all the kit on top is Waste Management’s Varick Street Waste Transfer Station. The Waste Management facility handles predominantly “putrescent” or black bag garbage for the NYC Department of Sanitation, which is processed on site and then loaded onto the so called “garbage train” which travels on the tracks of LIRR’s Bushwick Branch to Fresh Pond and then over the Hell Gate Bridge to points unknown.

Seriously, unknown. I’ve asked and was told “homeland security” precluded the dissemination of where NYC’s garbage is dumped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One headed up Varick Street towards industrial Bushwick from Metropolitan Avenue, where this spectacular salt dome structure was encountered. Seriously, no sarcasm is offered, this was a visually interesting and somewhat elegant solution to the problem. The rest of the neighborhood is dull, weathered, depressing. It’s nice to see a bit of color and style on display for something so pedestrian. It’s right next door to the Waste Management facility on Varick Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets in this section, just south and east of Newtown Creek, are industrial in the extreme. Heavy trucking, the garbage industrial complex… suffice to say that the roadways aren’t exactly bike or pedestrian friendly, and that they are in a sorry state of repair. Watch your step hereabouts, and never cross in front of a driveway without first taking a look. This part of the Newtown Creek watershed is what the band Metallica was likely describing with their “death magnetic” album. There’s “ghost bikes” everywhere you look, the air is a poisonous fume…

Yep, it’s pretty much Tolkien’s Mordor back here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turning off of Varick, I found myself wandering down Stewart Avenue and onto Randolph Street towards the undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens and that hazy industrial borderland which can either be called Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, or Bushwick – depending on whom you ask. Saying that, move quickly through this area, don’t talk to anyone, and certainly do not ask them questions if they speak to you. I would expand on why, but I’d again be told that I’ve seen too many movies, by some rich guy that moved to Hipster Bushwick from Connecticut less than six months ago who is trying to connect with a local art or club scene that they heard about on Instagram.

Of course, I couldn’t have more inconspicuous – the only person for about a square mile not wearing a safety vest and hard hat, and instead clad in a filthy black raincoat flapping about in the poison wind while waving a camera about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR, which carries the garbage train from Bushwick into Queens and its mysterious destination on the continent, it’s just beyond that fence in the shot above. It’s been a while since I wandered through here, and those corrugated fences you see are fairly new, as evinced by a near total lack of graffiti. Back to the implied presence of criminally inclined individuals who are organized into a structure which one might define as a “crew” or a “family,” I’d point out the total lack of graffiti on a visible fence line in North Brooklyn – the high end graffiti capital of these United States.

Go ask someone who grew up in Brooklyn or Queens what that means.

Nevertheless, as is always the case when wandering through the industrial zones surrounding the fabled Newtown Creek, that horrible inhuman thing with the three loved burning eye that cannot possibly exist in the sapphire megalith of Long Island City was watching. It sees all, owns all, knows all.

More to come, next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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