The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Sunnyside Yards’ Category

cylcopean blocks

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not just having the titular cake, nor the eating of it too, ever seems to satiate the lustful aspirations of the Real Estate Industrial Complex here in Long Island City. Population loading – despite intensifying the looming infrastructure crisis surrounding transit, electrical, and water systems – just continues. The backdrop in the shot above represents a not insignificant number of the approximately 13,000 new apartments added to LIC in the last decade. NYC City Planning is about to unveil a new rezoning plan called the “LIC Core” which will change current regulations and make it legally possible for about another 20,000 apartments to be built. Hospital beds? Not so much.

LIC Core, btw, brings the eastward march of these glass shrouded monstrosities to just within throwing distance of Newtown Pentacle HQ. Couple that with the monstrous Sunnyside Yards development proposal, which would bring half the population of Boulder, Colorado into the mix? As a note, while capturing the shot above, my back was turned to the former Paragon Oil building on 49th avenue and 21st street – once known as the Subway Building and or Queens Borough Hall.

Bugs Bunny, who is another Brooklyn kid, said it best. Batman says it well too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whose fault is all of this runaway development – devoid of some overarching governance plan that demands some municipal payback from these Manhattan based developers that sow and reap hereabouts?

NYC’s real estate economy is not exactly set in the 1970’s anymore, as far as there being a excess of undeveloped land which the City had to beg developers to do something with, offering sweetheart deals with reduced taxes and lots changing hands for a dollar. Why does the Real Estate Industrial Complex still get to operate in the manner that they did during the Koch administration? Why can’t we get a Subway station or a few hospital beds out of them? Who is responsible?

The Mayor, City Planning, Councilmember, or the NYC Economic Development Corporation? The Governor, or the Assembly member, or the State Senator? What about the Congressional Representatives, or the Senators? What about the Borough Presidents? Is it all of them, or is the horrible truth actually that there’s nobody steering the wheel at all?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a related note, I’ve been reading up a bit on the Borough Presidents of Queens recently. Interesting group, and reminsescent of early Norman history.

1) First up was the City Consolidation era BP Frederick Bowley, from 1898-91.

2) “Curly Joe” Cassidy was BP from 1902-05, and the sewer situation on the Queens side of Newtown Creek is pretty much his fault. Cassidy was accused of 47 different counts of financial corruption during his terms, 24 of which were proven but he was never brought to trial. In 1912, however, he did a year in Sing Sing prison for trying to sell a seat on the NY Supreme Court.

3) Joseph Bermel ran as reformer against the corruption of Curly Joe’s administration, and was in office from 1906-1908. He effectively resigned as BP by skipping out of the country – on an ocean liner to Rome – during the lunch break on a day in 1908 that he was testifying in court – at his own corruption trial. BP Bermel’s final statement to tthe press was “I have nothing to say except to leave good luck for my friends and enemies alike.” He died in 1921 in Czechoslovakia.

4) Lawrence Gresser was Borough President of Queens from 1908-11, and was removed from office by the Governor of New York State for abusing the BP office’s power, and for being incompetent.

5) Maurice E. Connolly was BP from 1911-28, and is my 2nd favorite political character in Queens history, after BattleAx Gleason. Connolly resigned in 1928, then brought to trial for a sewer construction graft scandal. He was fined, convicted, and did a one year stretch in prison.

6) Bernard M. Patten stepped into the office for seven months in 1928, filling in for Connolly in the same way that David Patterson filled in for Elliot Spitzer as Governor a few years back. This sort of thing is common in the history of the Broough President’s office in Queens.

7) George U. Harvey was the first Republican Borough President, serving from 1929-41. Harvey was deeply involved with a series of Robert Moses’s projects, but the 1939 Worlds Fair is the one most closely associated with him.

8) James A. Burke put the Borough Presidency back in the hands of the Democrats, and he served from 1942-49 when he resigned the office.

9) Maurice A. FitzGerald was Borough President of Queens from 1950-51, and died of a heart attack while on vacation.

10) Joseph F. Mafera served out the remaining four months of FitzGerald’s term in 1951.

11) James A. Lundy was the last Republican Party Borough President, from 1952-57. He was an energy industry captain, and had a long public career ahead of him after leaving office.

12) James J. Crisona was BP in 1958, a members of the Democrat Party which has claimed the office since. Crisona was a real climber, having previously been elected to the NYS Assembly and Senate, he resigned as Borough President in 1958 and assumed a seat on the NY Supreme Court.

13)  John Thomas (Pat) Clancy stepped into the office from 1959-62, resigning to become a Queens County Surrogate Judge.

14) Mario J. Cariello was Borough President from 1963-8, was a former State Assemblyman, and also resigned to take a position on the NYS Supreme Court.

15) Sidney Leviss was BP from 1969-71, before resigning and following his forebears to the NYS Supreme Court.

16) Donald Manes was BP from 1971-86. In 1986 he was under investigation for various charges when he first attempted to commit suicide in his car. He succeeded in killing himself a few months later, after stabbing himself in the heart with a kitchen knife. As a note, during Manes’s term, a City Charter revision occurred which neutered the power and influence of the Borough Presidents in favor of a “strong Mayor.”

17) Claire Shulman took over the office, and served from 1986-2002. The first female BP title goes to her.

18) Helen M. Marshall came next, and was in office from 2002-13.

19) Melinda Katz was voted into office in 2014.


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unseen eyes

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It’s National Eat Beans Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those of you who received a post update last night from Newtown Pentacle, oops. Guess I have to pull back the curtain a bit to explain, but suffice to say that I’m working off an iPad and I fat finger published a template document rather than hit “save draft.” It’s happened before. Reason for the template? Lots easier to format remotely on the iPad, which is pretty decent for writing, but absolute shit for writing HTML instructions as it keeps on trying to spellcheck everything. Like I mentioned above, “oops.”

At any rate, that’s a mysterious jack of hearts I found laying on the street near my house one afternoon, all by itself. As to the disposition of the rest of the deck, who can say? It did make me think of that great Bob Dylan song, though.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been observing a different perambulatory schedule of late. It has been increasingly difficult over the last few months to set aside the time for a day or half day long walking excursions, which has meant that one is not getting as much exercise as is salubrious. My remedy for this has been to scuttle my feet a bit faster than I would on a long trek – say, Red Hook to Astoria, or Astoria to Flushing – and ensure that I make it out for at least an hour and change a day, but by staying in the “neighborhood” I’m saving some time.

Generally – this sort of “quicker” trek will be something like a walk from Steinway Street to the East River and back, or from Astoria’s Broadway over to Queens Plaza and back via Sunnyside’s Queens Blvd. and over one of the truss bridge roads spanning the Sunnyside Yards. Since I know where all the holes in the fences are anyway, I’m often chasing a shot of the LIRR or Amtrak as they move through the Harold Interlocking, so at least I’m doing something useful beyond getting some exercise. And, yeah, before you ask, I can walk pretty fast when I want to if I’m working above the railroad.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One recent afternoon, while on one of my “quickies,” a gentleman’s clothing emporium on Steinway Street had positioned some of their wares outside to lure in potential customers. Of the two display items, I actually find the one on the right the most distasteful. The floral number on the left might come in handy if I ever had to judge a child’s beauty contest or appear in a Bollywood dance scene, but… just ain’t my style, yo.

Dean Martin could pull that one off, however, but… Dino, right?


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tentative measures

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another day, another commute. One’s life is odd, and each day brings its own sort of challenge.

I didn’t have any paying work one recent weekday, so when a Manhattan based anti gentrification activist emailed and asked if he could meet up with me to discuss the DEP and their CSO’s in Greenpoint and LIC… well, how could I say no to something like that? We met at Dorians in LIC, I had a cheeseburger and a cup of black coffee. On the way home, I had to stop off in Sunnyside to see a guy about a thing, so I hopped on the 7 across the street from Dorians at Vernon/Jackson.

As a note, I sometimes use “Vernon Jackson” as an alias.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m trying to come up with a term to replace “gentrification” at the moment, as I don’t think it’s apropo to describe what’s happening in Long Island City and the East River coastline of Brooklyn (et al) in modern times. According to the dictionary people, gentrification is defined as – “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

That’s not what’s happening in Long Island City. At all.

Gentrification is something that “happened” in East Harlem and the Upper West Side, Bushwick and Williamsburg and Park Slope, but back in the 1990’s. What’s going on now… we don’t have a name for it, yet. Longtime Newtown Pentacle commenter and reader “Cav” has suggested “development rampage.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, let me qualify my statements with this – unlike normal people, I don’t exactly have “feelings.” Rather, and especially when behind the camera, I try to be some sort of extraterrestrial thing recording the antics of you drunken man beasts in a quite separated, sterile, and utterly emotionless manner. When not shooting, I don’t run around waving signs, chanting chants, or spouting sophomoric “poli-sci” nonsense about “the youth” or “verbal activists.” If I need to get something done, or fixed, I “show up” and get involved in the process of fixing it.

I don’t think that what’s in your pockets is somehow mine by natural right, and I wouldn’t dream of telling you what to do or not do with your own property. Like most Americans, I want to be left alone to mind my own business without input from you, the government, or anybody else.

Saying all that, I may not like what you do with your personal property, but just as I would insist regarding my own “stuff” – it’s none of my business what you do. Key word in that statement is “business.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It always pisses off the officialdom types when I refer to “my property” and question them about their stewardship or management thereof. A good political operator working for the Government will respond positively to me when I refer to them as “my employees,” whereas others will sneer at me and adopt a tired expression. When we’re talking about Sunnyside Yards, that’s the very definition of “our collective property,” however. Amtrak and MTA don’t own the yards, the public does, and the two agencies are meant to represent our collective interests. The only part of the yards which are in private hands is on the 43rd street side, and it’s owned by General Motors. With a phone call and a quick Wall Street transaction, I can own some “buy in” of General Motors too.

Ultimately, if it’s government land, WE own it. Maybe… just maybe… before any sort of deck thingamabob is built on our property, there should be a vote about disbursing it for the usage of the real estate industrial complex?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It always makes my fellow riders a bit uncomfortable when they see me pressed up against the window of a subway car, furiously working the shutter button on the camera. This is something I’ve never quite understood. People often react to the presence of a camera in the same manner as if I was carrying a firearm, and God forbid you get a shot with some random person in it who has decided that you’ve just stolen their soul or something. The odd thing about this, to me at least, is that half the train population seem to be taking “selfies” and it’s fairly common for people to use their phones to take shots of every amusing or wry thing they see these days.

Me? I’m just the guy taking pictures out of the dirty windows on the 7 train, trying to make some productive usage of the otherwise wasted time as I travel from Hunters Point – where I met a guy to talk about a thing to Sunnyside – so I can go see another guy about a different thing before heading home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maybe I’ve just gotten used to being photographed and videoed over the last decade, but it really doesn’t grind my gears if someone takes a photo of me – especially if I’m doing something outlandish in public.  It’s something that happens all the time during my tours of Newtown Creek, and I do turn up in newspaper articles periodically, commenting on this event or that so I guess I’m used to it. My understanding of things, law wise, is that if you’re in public you have no basic right to privacy. It’s the pretext which the cops and others use when installing street facing security cameras, and the only “rule” surrounding the photography of the public sphere is that you can get in “libel” trouble for assigning an editorial meaning to an image that isn’t inherent. There’s also a whole set of rules about private property, but that’s a different tale.

Example – you’re coming out of a pharmacy and pop a physician prescribed pill you just purchased, and I present it with a caption saying “well known drug addict Joe Blow popping pills again.” That’s libelous, and bad journalism, as I don’t know for certain what sort of pill it is and whether or not it’s habitually consumed, nor whether or not Joe Blow is an addict. All I actually know is what happened in the 1/500th of a second when the shutter was open.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Deep existential wandering, such as that contained in this post, is also one of the ways a humble narrator passes the time during the random series of subway connections which allow one to maintain his odd lifestyle. The bullet points of this post are “wow, look at all this construction and we have a looming infrastructure crisis on the horizon,” “must come up with a term to replace gentrification,” “what’s up with all these communists wackos suddenly emerging from the woodwork in Western Queens who have been emboldened by Trump’s surprising victory,” “must oppose the decking over of the Sunnyside Yards in every possible way,” “people are staring at me on the train while I’m shooting,” and so on.

What can I tell you, I’m all ‘effed up.

I was also a bit gassy after eating that cheeseburger at Dorians in Hunters Point, and had been suppressing the emergence of a colossal fart for the entire ride on the 7. Here at 40th street, as the next 7 was pulling in, I let it rip. It would have been bad form to do so in the confines of the subway car.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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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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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

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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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