The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘31st street

Project Firebox 74

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An ongoing catalog of New York’s endangered Fireboxes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Under the El on 31st street at 28th road in raven tressed Astoria, stands a firebox which has never long known quiet. It could tell stories, but they’d largely be in Greek.

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Want to see something cool? June 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull– Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 8, 2013 at 12:15 am

smoking gulf

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ask anyone who lives here and they’ll tell you- Astoria Queens rules.

It’s one of the last places in New York City that actually still looks like New York City, and people who live here are generally idiosyncratic and gregarious types who enjoy life’s simpler pleasures wholeheartedly. The ancient village has its problems- of course, too much traffic, a disturbing amount of public inebriation, and when “it hits the fan” around here- things quickly tend to get messy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our streets seem to be collapsing, our sewers back up routinely, everything costs too much, and the new neighbors are noisy. The kids have no respect for the older folks, and litter in a casual manner. The deli guys let bums drink in the back yards of their storefronts, and the social contract which dictates that one should find an appropriate commode for the elimination of bodily wastes seems to have been forgotten. We still haven’t forgotten about the “Great Astoria Blackout of 2006” or the week we spent in the dark while a proverbial “Emperor Nero” fiddled away in City Hall and claimed nothing was wrong.

City services are applied haphazardly (at best) here, except in the case of handing out fines to homeowners and businesses- something handled by the authorities in a fashion best described by the aphorism of “Russian Efficiency”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A background hum- caused by highways and rail yards and millions of air conditioners, automobile engines, and oscillating fan blades- colors the air. There is always some sort of yelling, invariably in some foreign tongue, within earshot. Alternatively- kids are playing and squealing with delight, old ladies shuck beans on their stoops, and old men gather in loose groups to complain about the Mets and Rangers or brag about their grandkids.

Everywhere, one might find sidewalk cafes and tavernas glistening with vibrant crowds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Indecent development by the real estate industrial complex crowds in on the older building stock, disillusioning long time residents and inflaming the passions of preservationists, but what are you going to do about it? People have a right to do what they want with their own property, and the Astoria way is to mind your own business, unless something directly affects you. The interesting thing about Astoria, as well, is that the whole “race thing” isn’t so much of an issue here. The kids in the neighborhood don’t run in ethnic packs like they do in other parts of the city, it’s more a block by block sort of thing. Brazilian, Irish, Italian, Greek, Korean, Egyptian, whatever- they’re all just “one of the boys” from this avenue or that block or those buildings. Doesn’t matter- as they’re all spoiled rotten, don’t know how good they’ve got it, won’t amount to anything, had it too easy, and all the other things that the old ladies say while making a “tsk tsk” sound.

This is what one might see on the streets, what it’s like to actually live here, and this posting is a response to something someone said to me a couple of weeks ago while I was over in the city- the actual quotation was: “Astoria, I love it there, it’s so diverse”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What does that mean? Every description I’ve ever heard of Astoria starts with the “diverse” thing, which connotes that the standard for the rest of the world is rigid social segregation along racial and ethnic lines, and that Astoria is some sort of gulag for foreigners who haven’t figured out that they should shop for clothes at JC Penny at the mall on Queens Blvd. and learn to lose the accent. Additionally, on the “diversometer”, do we score higher than Flushing or Ridgewood or Greenpoint?

If one more Manhattanite asks me if I’ve ever been to a) Elias’s Corner, b) the Bohemian Hall, or c) the Museum of the Moving Image- a humble narrator might just go screaming off into the night.

Anyway, Astoria Queens rules.

You got a problem with that?

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 31, 2012 at 12:15 am

weeds and creepers

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One would imagine multiple generations inhabited this place, celebrating dozens of birthdays and decorating scores of Christmas Trees. It’s only been a decade or so that I’ve been consciously watching this moose of a house sit abandoned, its windows gathering evidence on the actions of small boys, and it’s yard producing thousands of feral cats. There are several of these large homes sitting shuttered in a cluster on 31st Street and 37th avenue here at the borders of Astoria and Dutch Kills, so one would assume that the amalgamated combination of them will form the footprint of some ambitious real estate project in the future.

This house, this “shunned house”, just breaks my heart.

from allmediany.com

Astoria’s “Ghost House” at 31-01 37th Ave.

Ok, so this one is not a haunting—the house is just out of every scary movie, ever. Abandoned for decades, this eerie house has fallen into disrepair, with its siding removed and what little paint is left chipped into oblivion, making it the perfect setting for ghost stories. It’s even said to be on a toxic site! While no one is known to have died in the place, it is a mystery why the owner doesn’t want to sell it…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amongst the few friends your humble narrator has managed to acquire, one or two are Astoria natives who feel similarly about this house, but shrug their shoulders while pointing out sagging wooden beams and bulging walls. Speaking with certain authority, a sturdy Croat who has some familiarity with the arts of home construction and carpentry opined to me that it would be cost a small fortune to restore the place just to “livable status” let alone to restore lost glories. He suggests harvesting anything “made of old wood” within that has value, followed by a tear down and new construction.

A year or two ago, the roof was removed at this “shunned house”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m hardly the first person to mention this house, of course (it’s even been featured briefly in other posts here at Newtown Pentacle). Scouting-NY and Forgotten-NY have featured the enigmatic wooden structure before. Area wags speculate on its fate, and tell me that the abandonment of the structure might be as long as two decades.

Anybody out there have information on the place, and is it, as Scout suggests, a “ghost house” or has it merely been shunned?

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 26, 2012 at 3:53 am

An Iron Road, St. George, and the Copts

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from Northern Blvd. by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

When heading east along Northern Blvd. – after navigating and exiting the traffic choked Queensboro bridge complex of off ramps, elevated trains, and vehicular approaches – the elevated iron and steel tracks make a sharp screech of a turn, transiting along the centuries old borderline between those calloused declinations found in semi industrial Dutch Kills- and the tree lined hillocks of sun kissed and sharply tragic Astoria.

from nycsubway.org

The Astoria Line did not come into being until the era of the Dual Contracts, when it and the Corona (Flushing) Line were constructed to serve the northern part of Queens. These were perhaps the most cooperative portions of the project since both the IRT and BMT would share the routes and operate them jointly.
The original arrangement, beginning around 1920, was that the IRT (now the 7) ran through the Steinway Tunnel, and the Second Avenue El ran over the Queensboro Bridge, and met at Queensboro Plaza. From there, trains ran to either Flushing or Astoria.
Queensboro Plaza Station was built with eight tracks on two levels, served by four island platforms. The BMT operated the northern half of the station and the IRT ran the southern half. The north station had two platforms that fit the wider ten foot BMT subway cars and two for the narrower el cars. The southernmost pair of tracks connected to the Steinway Tunnel, while the next set north connected to the Second Avenue El. Both of these could serve either line in Queens via scissors crossovers west of the platforms on either level. The northerly pair of tracks curved to the Astoria Line and the southerly pair connected to the Flushing Line.

The Astoria Line did not come into being until the era of the Dual Contracts, when it and the Corona (Flushing) Line were constructed to serve the northern part of Queens. These were perhaps the most cooperative portions of the project since both the IRT and BMT would share the routes and operate them jointly.

The original arrangement, beginning around 1920, was that the IRT (now the 7) ran through the Steinway Tunnel, and the Second Avenue El ran over the Queensboro Bridge, and met at Queensboro Plaza. From there, trains ran to either Flushing or Astoria.

Queensboro Plaza Station was built with eight tracks on two levels, served by four island platforms. The BMT operated the northern half of the station and the IRT ran the southern half. The north station had two platforms that fit the wider ten foot BMT subway cars and two for the narrower el cars. The southernmost pair of tracks connected to the Steinway Tunnel, while the next set north connected to the Second Avenue El. Both of these could serve either line in Queens via scissors crossovers west of the platforms on either level. The northerly pair of tracks curved to the Astoria Line and the southerly pair connected to the Flushing Line.

from the Elevated Subway Platform by you.

31st street, Astoria Elevated Subway- photo by Mitch Waxman

A critical artery, the elevated tracks are also a loud, noisome, and exasperating neighbor for those forced to live near it. The tracks currently carry the N and W subway lines from their Manhattan duties back to the marble cloaked Ditmars section of Astoria, which hurtle along sounding like the chariots of hell itself. Interestingly, the stations along this mechanical Appian Way bear the nomenclature of old Astoria’s street names, – Beebe Avenue, Grand Avenue etc.- which are otherwise extinct and atavist usages. I’ll refer you, once again, to forgotten-ny’s excellent “Street Necrology of Astoria” page- which describes the perplexing maze of street designations far better than I can.

Click here to hear what its sounds like on the street, under the elevated train. (that’s me doing the voiceover time stamp at the end).

note: this is being served by my comics site, and is quite safe for work- its a quicktime movie around 500K, audio only.

Elevated Subway Tracks, Astoria by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

A movie or two have used 31st street as their location. I specifically have to mention one of my favorite NY flicks- A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints– which is a good representation of what New York street life used to be like in the 80’s and is a GREAT Astoria movie. The graphic and often violent action in the movie, however, is set on the Ditmars side of 31st street, not below Broadway- where these photos were shot. Seriously… rent it… it doesn’t suck.

g10_img_7487_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria “the other Shunned House” – photo by Mitch Waxman

Some of the buildings lining 31st street, like this enigmatic and quite large home which has been abandoned for years, have recently seen new fencelines erected and DOB permits affixed. If the normal patterns of destruction and construction observed in modern Queens play out over the coming months in predictable fashion, an enigmatic structure will be obliterated and replaced by some towering rectangular pile of rebar and cinder blocks.

Rare Political Statement from fence sitter Mitch:

We Plebeians can’t stop the money of the Patrician and Equestrian classes from pushing their plans along except in very rare cases- this is historically true.

The currency that the Political class trades in, ultimately, are votes. If chimpanzees voted, and did so “reliably”, we’d have a lot of bananas growing in Queens and a dedicated effort to bring more Chimpanzees into the neighborhood. The government would ignore the horrific realities of chimpanzee attack.

Community equals constituency. Constituency means that the Politicians will come to YOU, because you vote- reliably. If we can supply a torch bearing mob of angry constituents to a Politician to exploit- anything can happen- because the game rules have changed and the community can out “tweed” the other side. Only 15% of eligible voters went to the polls in the last democratic primary… during wartime.

Community equals constituency.

g10_img_7493_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

The Dutch Kills side of 31st street hosts a series of automotive service shops, collision remediation specialists, and large warehouses which offer glimpses of a more prosperous time in fading signage and ornate masonry. These grand structures testify to the wealth and prosperity carried into the area by the elevated tracks. Just a century ago, this was farmland.

31st street, Astoria by you.

31st street, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

All along the southern borderlands of 31st street, the shadows of the “El” part to reveal relict buildings which have been either been cross purposed to modern usage- or just abandoned. Near 36th avenue, there is an avian abattoir.

There are also many churches clustered along 31st street- including the notable St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox institution. The neighborhood I grew up in was Irish, Italian, Jewish, and African American, with a sprinkling of Boricua here and there. I went to a lot of communions, weddings, and confirmations as a result. This “Brooklyn experience”, and a lifelong fascination with diabolical oppression as represented by Hollywood, my perspective on Christianity is an intrinsically Roman Catholic one- but that might be because of Dio.

note: I was lucky enough to be allowed to take photos inside the St. Demtrios Cathedral back in May, and was given a tour of the place by a young priest. You’ll get to see the photos sometime this winter

As a result, I find the other branches of the cross fascinating- warning- I’m about to go off on a tangent here- might as well go get yourself a coffee because you’ve got links to click.

g10_img_7479_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

In the beginning -which in this case is around the 3rd and 4th century AD- there was a great civilization built around an ocean sea that spread out along the coastlines onto three continents.

This civilization had just spawned a new religion, based ultimately around three places
– the civilizations capitol city in the west,
– its intellectual heartlands in the east,
– and in its breadbasket to the south.

As is the case with ecclesiastical communities, disagreements over doctrinal practice and liturgical rites caused schisms to form between various camps. As time went by, and the civilization crumbled into constituent states at war with each other, these schisms widened. The branches of the roseated cross were separated and they became part of emerging nation states.

The western capitol- where the northern barbarians called Normans (specifically Lombards) would rule- was Rome, and its branch of the cross is called Roman Catholic. The intellectual heartland, and the eventual seat of the Greek Roman Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire, whose citizens called themselves Romoloi) was Constantinople. and its church became known as the Orthodox. The southern branch, which is based in Alexandria, is called the Coptic Orthodox. The people who grew up in this tradition can be referred to as Copts.

g10_img_7480_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

St. George was a noble born Roman citizen from Cappadocia (modern day anatolia) who joined the legions and made a name for himself during the reign of Diocletian. The emperor found it politically convenient to purge his ranks of noble christians, and George found himself in direct conflict with the world’s most powerful man.

from st-george-church.com

Diocletian gave orders for the issue of a formal edict against the Christians on February 23, in the year 303 A.D., being the feast of Termhlalia. The provisions of this edict which was published on the next day in the market place, were as follows: “All churches should be leveled to the ground. All sacred books to be burned. All Christians who hold any honorable rank are not only to be degraded, but to be deprived of civil rights. Also, All Christians who are not officials are to be reduced to slavery”.

from wikipedia:

Recognizing the futility of his efforts, Diocletian was left with no choice but to have him executed for his refusal. Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords in which he was resuscitated three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s city wall, on April 23, 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honour him as a martyr

g10_img_7477_trav.jpg by you.

31st street, Astoria- St. George Christian Coptic Orthodox Church – photo by Mitch Waxman

There is a large Copt community in Astoria (as well a large Egyptian Muslim neighborhood near Steinway and Astoria Blvd.).

Culturally similar (recipes, style of life, role of women) to the long habitated Greeks, the Copts own many shops and restaurants along Broadway. They often offer a version of the Greek Taverna– an inn which offers light meals and various beverages to weary travelers- but with the addition of Hookah pipes filled with flavored tobaccos and other aromatics. There really does seem to be a Mediterranean culture which crosses state boundaries, but never gets more than 200 miles away from that ancient waterway which was the navel of the world.

There are other ancient branches of the cross out there which also survived the fall of their Roman Empire. The Nestorians, The Chaldeans, The Monophysitists, amongst many others. I haven’t found them yet, however, I’m still searching for the Yazidi– who have got to be somewhere in Astoria.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 23, 2009 at 1:42 am

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