The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Williamsburg’ Category

varying antiquity

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And so doth Monday once more rise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Prepping for last Saturday’s NYC Ferry tour found me riding around on a few of their boats last week, which is where I spotted the MV Hunts Point “Sludge Boat” crossing under the Williamsburg Bridge. Originally built as “East River Bridge #3” the bridge opened in 1899, a full ten years before East River Bridge #2 (Manhattan Bridge). It was built to replace the old Grand Street to Grand Street ferry operated by the company which Robert Fulton had founded. The Williamsburg Bridge was considered an eyesore when it opened, and the Municipal Art Society was founded as a response.

The Astoria line of the NYC Ferry, from which these shots were gathered, has recently added a new stop to its service, one which goes into the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wallabout Creek was the first recorded site of European settlement on the Long Island side of the East River, in these parts. The Lenape word for the Wallabout, I’m told, was “Hemegacknock.” In 1801, shortly after the American Revolution, the newly minted Federal Government desired a ship yard along the East River. At the time, the busiest boat building center on the planet was found on the East side of Manhattan, and real estate prices for a property large enough for what the Feds wanted to occupy forced them to look towards the east. They purchased Wallabout Creek and Bay, and created the Brooklyn Navy Yard there in 1801.

By the American Civil War in the 1860’s, the BNY was employing over 6,000 people at the Wallabout.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By World War 2, there were 10,000 employees and the Brooklyn Navy Yard hosted five miles of paved roads, 2 steel shipways to launch new vessels, six pontoon and cylindrical floats, and 4 dry docks. That ship you see above is sitting high and dry in one of the dry docks (it’s actually called a graving dock, but there you go).

Between 1937 and 1953, amongst several other large vessels; the BNY launched the Battleships Iowa, North Carolina, and Missouri. They also built the first angled deck aircraft carrier here, which was called the Antietam. After the Federal Government began contracting its ship building and servicing in NY Harbor, the Navy Yard fell on hard times. These days it’s experiencing a bit of a renaissance, and has become a corporate industrial park of sorts. The FDNY and NYC Ferry maintain bases here, and there’s also a movie studio, the country’s largest urban farm, and several warehouse operations working out of the Navy Yard. Additionally, there’s a new museum here called “Bldg 92” which preserves the history of the place, accessible from the Flushing Avenue or landward side.


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

hysterical laughter

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It’s Edgar Allen Poe’s Birthday, Icelandic Man’s and Woman’s Day (Bóndadagur), and it’s also National Popcorn Day – here in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of my scheme to survive the cold this year involves a bit of a mix up on the normal routine. Rather than walk from Point A in Astoria to some distant industrial wasteland and then follow a completely different path back home (my normal “thing”), I’ve instead been taking the subway out a few stops to spots around three to four miles from home and then figuring out how to walk back home along an interesting route. On a recent day, my route involved taking the G out to Williamsburg. Not the shiny part of Williamsburg, of course, but the still crappy section that touches southern Greenpoint.

Whenever I’m in Williamsburg, I stare at the ground lest I catch the eye of a hipster who might find me novel or twee.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Leonard Street, this centuried access cover was encountered, bearing the screed “Catskill Water Chamber.” Now, I’ve asked the question “who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?” more than once at this – your Newtown Pentacle over the years… but in this case I don’t actually have to guess or wonder.

This is the sort of stuff that I know about which makes the folks at NYC DEP nervous about how I know it, incidentally. Short answer – while everybody else is reading about celebrity news or watching sports, I’m combing through the well hidden corners of NYC.gov. It’s a gold mine, I tell you.

Water Tunnel #2 is about 17 feet in diameter, and it feeds pipes which first stretch out under Long Island City, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg. A sixty inch trunk main pipe under Jackson Avenue in LIC connects to one on McGuinness Blvd. in Greenpoint after passing under the Newtown Creek. At Leonard Street and McGuinness, a seventy two inch pipe is connected to the main line, and that one feeds water all the way to Driggs Avenue.

At the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Leonard Street here in Williamsburg, where the access cover seen above can be found, there’s a series of smaller twelve inch mains which split off from the main flow and feed water to local customers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s likely that these access covers were forged sometime between 1905 and 1915, with the Catskill system beginning to come online in late 1915. The Catskill system was ultimately completed by 1928, forging one leg of the tripod of upstate reservoirs which supply NYC with drinkable water. It’s all very complicated.

The NYC Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity was the entity which the Catskill system would be handed over to, and was one of the many “wet work” agencies that were compressed into the gargantuan NYC Department of Environmental Protection back during the City Charter revision of 1983.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After congratulating myself on displaying another bit of my largely useless knowledge base, it was time to start moving again as a small crowd of hipsters were beginning to form and I feared ending up being posted about on Instagram again. One decided to continue up Metropolitan Avenue, following it to the Northeast, and inexorably approaching those loathsome existential realities which one finds lurking about the legendary Newtown Creek.

More tomorrow – at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

staves and axes

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Walking down Meeker Avenue, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First – a confession – I had something else planned for today’s post, as it was a rather exciting (and highly combustible) weekend in Astoria, but the photos aren’t ready for public consumption quite yet. As a result, what was going to be tomorrow’s installment of your Newtown Pentacle is offered in its stead.

Last week, occasion found me in Greenpoint to photograph a Newtown Creek related event in the afternoon. Having a few hours to kill, since my next engagement was in lower Manhattan in the early evening, a humble narrator decided to walk into the City via the Williamsburg Bridge. A medium sized scuttle ensued, and one found himself walking through and beneath one of the “House of Moses’s” more onerous creations – an elevated section of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway which over flies Meeker Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst my walk played out, several photos were captured, including shots of this charming bedroom set. One would guess that the Mayor can scratch one unit of affordable housing off of his “to do” list.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Signs of morbid habitation like this one drive me crazy of some reason. To begin with, it’s likely the unhealthiest environment upon the earth for a human being to exist in, here in the traffic choked House of Moses beneath the BQE. Secondly, it exposes the farcical realities of “homeland security” and the so called “security state” in the era of the Terror Wars. If you can set up housekeeping alongside the steel pillars supporting a roadway that carries nearly 200,000 automobiles a day… well… let’s just say you wouldn’t be able to get away with basing yourself in similar circumstance in Riyadh or Tel Aviv.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My path continued along Meeker Avenue, towards the home of the Artisinal Pickle in Williamsburg, which has become one of the most pedantically boring neighborhoods in all of New York City in recent years. Dispassionate and jaded esthetes were observed as they moved aimlessly about the place, searching for some sort of “authenticity” or diversion from the tyranny of the now, which seemed to be in short supply hereabouts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shimmering memories of the old Williamsburg, with its DMZ’s and danger, are hinted at here and there. The whores and the bangers are relegated to history, however, and after having walked from McGuinness to Metropolitan along Meeker Avenue, it occurred to me that not once did I feel danger. There were no hookers blowing truckers, no collections of scabby kids selling vials of death candy… just a rather well appointed homeless camp or two and construction workers eating lunch.

There were also grown men riding skateboards in the middle of a Thursday afternoon, incredibly thin women covered in tattoos that were ignoring them, and both sexes seemed to be staring into their smart phones while Brooklyn writhed incessantly around them unnoticed.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 22nd, 2015
First Calvary Cemetery – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
click here for details and tickets.

September 3rd, 2015
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Open House NY, click here for details and tickets.

amidst glare

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A few 4th of July shots, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are so many balls in the air at the moment, and so many more which one must work into the juggling act… best to focus in on the fireworks from July 4th in today’s post. Distraction abounds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the 4th itself, a friend with a river view invited Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself to his house. Obligatory for shots of this kind, a tripod came along with me. When the Macy’s show got started, one was ready.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Originally, one planned to be in LIC, the titular focus of the fireworks show… but the security theatrics which NYPD got up to scared me away. I tend to avoid areas in which snipers have been deployed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My friend’s place is in the crowded and tony section of Williamsburg, and when the show was over – Our Lady and myself managed to fight off a horde of hipsters in pursuance of a taxi to get back to Astoria. When we arrived there, however… in tomorrow’s post, I will describe to you horror incarnate.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms – Greenpoint, Brooklyn Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 9, 2015 at 10:33 am

staggered dizzily

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Sights from a recent East River excursion, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does not get to view Mighty Triborough from the water that often, although the Astoria Park perspective on Robert Moses’ great bridge is familiar and loved, so while onboard a boat carrying the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s annual conference, one ensured that a few shots were captured of its majesty. Moses was a gigantic jerk and a bit of a tyrant, of course, but on more than one occasion I have remarked on the particular esthetic charms his teams incorporated into their projects. The bath houses at Riis Park, and Jones Beach, the bridge pictured above – modern day planners are driven by economy and “design standards” which strip their civil works of the sort of visual panache that the depression era build outs offered. Far better than the brutalist crap of the 1960’s and 70’s which were inflicted on the public, of course, but modernity is not even close to being in the same artistic league with the earlier stuff.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of earlier stuff, the annihilation of the Domino Sugar site in Williansburg continues. Recently, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself were obliged to make an appearance at a 20 something year old’s birthday bacchanal at a bar in the former “Bushwick Strand,” and coversation with a member of the “Millennial” generation ended up being revelatory. This particular kid realized fully that the lifestyle and “scene” in Williamsburg was not just threatened but doomed by the large scale construction underway in the area, and she was wondering what life would be like in my beloved Astoria. One intoned that Astoria would make a great home for an older iteration of herself, when “going out” would indicate that you were going to have dinner at a restaurant rather than spending the night at a fashionable bar. Her section of North Brooklyn is for the young and unsettled transients struggling to define themselves, whereas Astoria is for families and is still very much a community of long term neighbors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of communities, the staggering growth of Hunters Point over the last five years is best realized from the East River. A humble narrator has been shooting the growing skyline here from the water for several years now, but with the Hunters Point South development finally becoming a reality, the “Modern Corridor” of Long Island City is beginning to reach critical mass. Any doubt as to why I refer to the East River frontage of LIC as “Tower Town” should be eradicated by the shot above.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 30, 2015 –
The Skillman Corridor with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

swept aside

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Conspiracy in North Brooklyn?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the FDNY’s Firefighter 2 Fireboat dousing the remains of a document storage warehouse at North 11th street right at the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. The building is likely a total loss and will be probably be demolished, as this was a seven alarm “all hands fire” which required the attentions of more than 200 Firefighters to control. It’s eerily similar to the Greenpoint Terminal Market fire, which “Grenperntners” will eagerly describe as an arson job designed to clear the way for real estate development. FDNY investigators described the Greenpoint Terminal Market event as an accident brought on by a homeless man’s campfire.

There’s a few conspiracy theories already forming around CitiStorage, which I’ll pass on with the caveat that these are “conspiracy theories” and nothing resembling the final analysis of what happened will be available for months until after the FDNY investigators pronounce judgement.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first conspiracy theory is alluded to above, and declares that the Real Estate Industrial Complex was hungry for this valuable piece of land on Brooklyn’s Gold Coast. Arsonists were sent in to get rid of the structure, which is why the fire had two distinct ignition events. To me, this one doesn’t hold water, as it’s far simpler for the REIC to legally gain possession of anything they want simply by pushing the right political buttons. Look at Willets Point, or Atlantic Yards, or Hudson Yards for examples of the vulgar display of their power. This “burn out” concept used to be a thing, during the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The second theory requires a bit of context to fully appreciate. The documents storage facility which went up in flames housed, amongst other things, court and hospital records for the City. The Albany scandal revolving around Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver accuses him of various improprieties regarding referrals to a personal injury law firms, from which he personally profited. The conspiracy theory is that somebody torched this place to protect the former “most powerful man in New York” from some revelation or “smoking gun” which Federal investigators might have found there. Again, a conspiracy theory, not a conclusion.

from nytimes.com

Those that said they had records stored in the warehouse, which occupies nearly half a square block, included the state court system, the city Administration for Children’s Services, the city Health and Hospitals Corporation, and members of the Greater New York Hospital Association.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whatever happened, the toxic plume of smoke from the fire has been painting the neighborhoods surrounding this spot at Bushwick Inlet for a couple of days. I was able to smell it in Astoria just last night, and as one approached the spot in Greenpoint where the shots above were captured, it was inescapable and somewhat nauseating. Pictured above is what the scene looked like in 2013, incidentally, sans conflagration.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 2, 2015 at 12:30 pm

fled absurdly

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Break time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A single image greets you this morning, as will be the case through the Thanksgiving holiday.

A humble narrator requires a break periodically, to recharge and reinvent. Worry not, however, for pithy commentary and puckish intent returns on the Monday following Thanksgiving – the first of December.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 21, 2014 at 11:00 am

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