The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Astoria

spreading crypts

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The other way!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the newly reopened Broadway stop on the Astoria line N/W elevated. I spent all week describing a walk heading northwards along 31st street towards Astoria Blvd., so I decided to do one today describing the walk southwards from Broadway towards Northern Blvd., just in the name of completeness. The station has been rebuilt and reimagined, as one of the new “Enhanced Stations,” by Governor Cuomo, who does and does not run the MTA with an iron fist. It’s the Dark Prince of Albany who decides on when and if he’s in charge, so ask him if today is one of those days.

The enhanced stations bring some amenities to the table like station wifi and new security cameras, and Broadway in particular has seen a new exit only stair way (no fare control) installed which really has been a game changer in terms of expediting exiting of the facility. The big change, most noticeable from the street, has been the amount of new lighting systems installed, which has really altered the “feel” of the corner.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of the 31st street corridor lives in perennial and centuried shadow, and even during the day, it’s dark. The street lamps are generally miniatures, with smaller than normal luminaire heads sitting on midget sized poles directly over the parking lane except at the intersections. There’s no lighting system in the middle of the street, suspended from the trackage, which lends an ominous “noir” to 31st street.

Personally speaking, given my proclivity towards darkness and skillful street camouflage born of living in 1980’s NYC, such lack of ambience holds no terror. Were I a lady or looked like I had money in my pockets, however, I’d likely be clutching my pearls while walking down this street given the lack of street life and darkness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lighting schemes of the new stations spurt ambience all over the place. That’s the 36th avenue stop in the shot above, if you’re curious. It’s one of the “angles between neighborhoods” spots here in Western Queens, with LIC’s Dutch Kills and Ravenswood neighborhoods found to the south and west of 31st street and the “Astoria/Not Astoria” triangular shaped neighborhood between 34th avenue and Northern Blvd. to the east and slightly north. It’s also one of those interesting spots in Queens where you’ve got a soft geographic boundary between two wildly different ethnic populations, mostly Pakistani and extremely religious Muslims to the west and Brazilians to the east. There’s lots of other people mixed in there, of course, but dominant population groupings are what makes a neighborhood distinctive.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The remnants of “mixed use” industrial zoning can be observed on the dark parts of 31st street as you proceed south, but these buildings and businesses are doomed by the aspirations of the affordable housing crowd and the Real Estate Industrial Complex. It’s already started, there’s more than a few of these old warehouse and factory buildings which have been demolished to make way for cookie cutter glass box residential buildings. In the distance, you can see the high rise residential buildings of Queens Plaza and “next big thing LIC” rising alongside the boundaries of the Sunnyside Yards.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nearing 39th avenue, where another of the enhanced stations is nearing completion, and the luminance of said station making a real difference in the “feel” of the street. Across the street from where this shot was taken is a Coptic Christian church and pastorate house which serves a mostly Egyptian community, or so I’m told. A large group of apparnetly Egyptian men were gathered in front of a new Dunkin Donuts on the corner of 39th, drinking take away coffee in paper cups and smoking cigarettes while debating something in their native tongue.

It was growing colder by the minute, and I decided it was time to start winding up my “constitutional” and head back home to Broadway in the 40’s via Northern Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Progress? One still wonders about the lack of street life, storefront businesses, and ambient light on 31st street. It’s a traffic thoroughfare ultimately – 31st street – connecting Queens Plaza with the Grand Central Parkway and Triborough Bridge in its 20th century incarnation. There are, in fact, homes and businesses along its route, but personally I wouldn’t want to live along it. One thing I haven’t mentioned, whether in this series of posts or the ones from a couple of weeks ago describing Roosevelt Avenue and the streets of the Flushing Line corridor, is noise. Train noise, specifically.

Famously, I’m always listening to something on my headphones while out on my little jaunts, and when the train is passing overhead the noise overwhelms the speakers which are plugged directly into my ears. Can’t imagine what it’s like living next to those tracks, it must be hellacious.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 1, 2019 at 11:00 am

popular opinions

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Darkness and cold, it’s all darkness and cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So far this week we’ve established a few things – the physical dimensions of a size 18 EEEEEE male foot, that Astoria’s 31st street used to be call Debevoise Avenue prior to the 20th century, and the convoluted and confusing history of the Astoria line elevated tracks which have defined the street since at least February of 1917 (I have no idea when construction on the “El” began, whether in 1915 or 1916 or whenever) have been explored. My “constitutional” stroll, which is how I refer to a short 90 minute walk “around” the neighborhood, found me turning north on 31st street and heading towards Astoria Blvd. from Broadway.

Along my way, I kept on wondering why it is that for the last century or so seemingly everybody over in Manhattan who has had a bright idea about how to “fix” Queens has been handed de facto Carte Blanche to explore and build their scheme. You don’t find a “Utopia Parkway” in other boroughs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From a city planning perspective, Astoria Blvd. can easily be analogized as a “municipal sacrifice zone.” First, however, I have to state my perception of Astoria itself being composed of three distinct neighborhoods. Two of them are divided by Astoria Blvd., with the commercial strips of 30th Avenue and Broadway defining the southern one, and the commercial strip along Ditmars Blvd. defining the northern one. The remaining section is defined by and found west of Crescent Street. Again, that’s my perception, and unfortunately the Real Estate Industrial Complex is constantly trying to redefine the ancient village with names like “Eastoria,” “Westoria” and so on. Sigh.

In 1922, a group of Queens based planners proposed the creation of a “scenic drive” which would start at Astoria’s East River waterfront, travel along Astoria Blvd., and hug the northern shoreline of the borough all the way east to the Nassau County line. Robert Moses liked that idea, and especially so when he began working on the Triborough Bridge. The first nine miles of the Grand Central Parkway, between Kew Gardens and Glen Oaks, opened in 1933. Moses has to find a way to pay for and build what he called “the missing link,” however. The missing link would connect Long Island’s Nassau County to his bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

July 11th of 1936 is the day that the Triborough Bridge opened for traffic. Moses made a deal with the Federal Public Works Administration allowing him to spend $44 million – that they allocated for the approach roads to the bridge complex – to construct the seven and a half mile long “missing link.” The Grand Central was dug into a trench through Astoria, coming back up to the surface at East Elmhurst, where it runs to Flushing on a shoreline extension into Flushing Bay composed of landfill sand (which Moses brought in from his various beach projects in Rockaway). The parkway has been widened and deepened multiple times in the eight decades since, but the blighting divisions in Astoria have remained constant.

Last time I checked, some 180,000 vehicles a day exit and enter the Triborough Bridge complex via the Grand Central Parkway. As a note, the reason it’s called a “parkway” as opposed to a highway or expressway is because the shoulders of the road are planted. Once upon a time, there were apparently pedestrian pathways in those planted shoulders.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 31, 2019 at 11:00 am

ritual nature

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Walking up 31st street, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always wondered about the usage of “up” and “down” when referring to local destinations, since such determinations should logically be circumstance based. Saying that, I know people who say “up on Ditmars” that actually live there and everyone in Astoria refers to Queens Plaza and Long Island City as “down there.” It’s weird. Additionally, you ever notice that most people will say “I HAVE to go into the City” versus “I WANT to go into the City”? Manhattan is the place for “have to” I guess. If you live in Astoria, and you “have to” you either need to go down to Broadway for the R/M subway, or over to 31st street for the N/W elevated.

As mentioned yesterday, 31st street in Astoria used to be Debevoise Avenue prior to the consolidation of the City of Greater New York, during and before the time that Astoria itself was part of an independent municipality called Long Island City which existed from 1870 to 1899. Before 1870, Astoria was officially a “village.” Shortly after NYC consolidation, and the opening of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909, the aforementioned subways started snaking out of Manhattan and off the bridge into Queens, and later on through underground and underwater tunnels. It’s hard to imagine today, but a century ago, Astoria was considered to be a suburb.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First off, the government did not build or design the entire subway system. This is a really complicated subject, btw, and I’d recommend talking to the actual historical experts at the NYC Transit Museum about it if you’re interested.

NYC underwrote and facilitated a lot of the system, but the subways were built largely by two private companies – the IRT or “Inter Borough Rapid Transit Company” (which had already merged with and devoured the BRT or Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company) and the BMT or “Brooklyn Manahattan Transit Corporation.” There was also an IND or “Independent City-Owned Rapid Transit Railroad,” which was – in fact – a governmental entity. IRT (MTA “A” division) and BMT (MTA “B” division) built lines have different car widths and specifications, meaning that even today – more than a hundred years later – you can’t run one Division’s train set through another’s station due to the width of the cars and platforms. Same sort of thing is true for LIRR and Metro North, believe it or not.

The BMT Astoria line tracks were originally part of the IRT system, just like the Flushing or 7 line. Both use a platform at the Queensboro Bridge, but they split up after that station to work their different routes. The Astoria line opened on the 1st of February in 1917, and its station specifications were built to IRT (Inter Borough Rapid Transit Company) standards. In 1920, the 60th street tunnel opened, which allowed BMT (Brooklyn Manahattan Transit Company) trains to reach Queensboro, where you could transfer to the local bound IRT Astoria line trains. In 1923, BMT had figured out how to run their rolling stock as shuttles through IRT stations on the Flushing Line, but that didn’t last too long. In 1940, both BMT and IRT were bought by NYC from their shareholders and merged with IND into one entity owned outright by the City of New York. About 1949, as far as I’ve been able to figure it, the platforms on the Astoria line were altered to allow the wider BMT train sets to operate along it, and the Flushing line became IRT only. The Astoria line ended up becoming the northern terminus of the BMT’s Brighton/Broadway local service with the equivalent of the modern day N and W lines running up 31st street to the terminal stop at Ditmars Blvd.

Whew!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, I have assiduously avoided writing about the Dual Contracts era for nearly a decade now. Finally trapped myself into talking about it, so mark your calendars.

One thing which always occurs to me when walking up 31st street is the relative lack of street level retail activity along it. There’s shops and all that sure, but you don’t see the sort of thriving commercial activity which you do along Roosevelt Avenue under the 7 line. I’ve always wondered why.

More tomorrow.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 30, 2019 at 11:00 am

vague hints

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Astoria, will thy wonders never cease?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other night, a brief respite from the stinging cold occurred and I stumbled out of HQ into the looming dusk. My ideation involved no destination, rather it was just a desire to give my internally lubricated parts a chance to operate. There’s so much sitting and hiding from the cold this time of year that a man of my age finds himself stiffening up without a regular scuttle. During warmer climes, I’m out and about all the time, but this is the time of year for which I build a pile of books to consume and address long standing projects. That means that when I do start moving around again, it hurts, and there’s sounds traveling along my skeleton which I do not like. Stretching my leg the other day created a resonance that sounded like hitting the strings of a Cello with a sack of oysters.

You’re about to see the big project I’ve been consumed by for the last few months at the start of Februrary, incidentally, which is what a lot of this sitting in front of my desk has revolved around. It’s the start of a whole chain of “stuff” which I’ve been working on, which will be revealed over the coming months.

My path carried me down Astoria’s Broadway, and at the corner of 35th street, my eye was caught by the signage of Dave Shoes. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this subject in the past, but I’m fascinated by the offerings of this small business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit of quick research revealed that a man’s foot requiring a “size 18” shoe can be expected to display a heel to “big” toe length of thirteen and five sixteenth inches, and that a six “E” shoe width translates out to a foot of some six and one eighth inches across. That’s a pretty big foot. Apparently the average American male can be expected to wear a “size ten” and “d” or “m” width shoe.

I’ve experienced a certain foible of human biology which younger readers probably haven’t, as of yet. That’s the tendency of the human foot to spread out and its arch to become more shallow as you grow older. In High School and early college, already fully grown, I wore a size nine and one half shoe. By the time I was thirty, a size ten was required. These days, an eleven is what I buy at the shoe shops. Presuming I somehow make it through another twenty years, my shoes will likely look like swimmer’s fins with my toes extending several feet out in front of me, and it’s likely I won’t be scuttling but instead flopping along the bulkheads like a seal by then. I’ll probably be a much better swimmer, so there’s a silver lining. Saying all that, barring some cartoonish interaction with a steam roller, I doubt I’ll ever be shopping for a size 18 6E shoe.

A humble narrator will likely need to forgo the usage of escalators in this dire future.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Modernity is so boring. 31st street? Really? Can’t we just go back to Debovoise Avenue, which is what 31st used to be called in Astoria’s 19th century? I’ll admit that the old system, when 31st avenue was Jamaica Avenue and 30th was Grand Avenue, was a bit confusing to outsiders but at least Astoria was safer in case of an invasion. The north/south streets and east/west avenues and using numbers instead of names are some times called the Philadelphia plan. The “Commissioners Plan” rules the roost in Manhattan, where the streets are east/west and the avenues north/west, as a note. Post NYC Consolidation, the new powers that be in City Hall created the modern day street grid of Queens by renaming all of the hodge podge street names offered by all the independent towns, cities, and villages that predict dated 1898.

That’s why you’ll encounter those corners where time and space bend in on themselves like 31st avenue at 31st street.

More tomorrow. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 29, 2019 at 11:00 am

meagre documentary

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Mind your yum yums, it’s cold outside.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Intrigued by some of the sights observed and recorded at Flushing Bay recently, a humble narrator decided that a return to the premise was required. My goal destination was the corner of 31st drive and Ditmars Blvd., where the NYC Parks Department offers free passage over the Grand Central Parkway via a pedestrian bridge that terminates at the entrance to their “Flushing Bay Promenade” facility. Of course, waking up in Astoria introduces a lot of “how do I get there” questions when discussing the north eastern shorelines of Queens. I could always take the just walk or use the 7 line to get to Main Street in Flushing and then walk back in westerly direction thought I, but remembrances that I had publicly vowed to ride a variety of bus routes offered by the MTA here in Queens came to mind.

A short interval later, I had my route and schedule figured out and accordingly set off into the crisp January cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walking to the bus thing could have been alternatively accomplished by using another bus – the Q101, I believe – which proceeds along Steinway Street. The bus which I was planning on traveling to East Elmhurst’s border with Flushing was the Q19, which stops at Steinway and Astoria Boulevard. Quite a pleasant walk through the neighborhood HQ is found in, however, involves the diagonal path of Newtown Road, which supposedly predates the street grid surrounding it.

Newtown Road intersects Steinway Street at 30th avenue, and from there it’s a three block walk to the bus stop. All told, it was about seven blocks from door to bus. Three if I’d taken the 101, of course, but seven blocks away is “around the corner” for one such as myself and it was quicker to just walk. I arrived at the correct spot with five minutes to spare for the arrival of a Q19 meant to arrive at about 4:12.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Roughly thirty minutes later, I was still waiting for the Q19. The printed schedule on the box thing mounted on the pole dictated (as did the MTA site) that there should have been two Q19’s passing this stop during that half hour interval. The 4:36 was there just about on time, but was packed with throngs of people. Other than the unpleasant jostling you’d expect in a crowded bus, the ride went smoothly and seemed to be on schedule. Apologies again, unknown lady, for the tripod incident.

At least I arrived at my destination just when I expected to do so at 102nd street and Astoria Blvd., about two and half miles from Steinway Street. More tomorrow.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 21, 2019 at 11:00 am

husky whisper

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Back in session.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the fabulous Newtown Creek, and the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens. A humble narrator had multiple errands to run the day this shot was captured, including recoding a pretty neat moment in the history of the Greenpoint side of DUKBO (Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp), which I’ll describe in a later post. In consideration of my too tight scheduling that particular day, and a sudden urgency evinced by my landlord to gain access to HQ in order to conduct a nebulous series of repairs, one found himself in a for-hire vehicle heading towards Brooklyn from Astoria on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and upon the Kosciuszcko Bridge over the aforementioned but still fabulous Newtown Creek.

I figured that since I was paying for the ride anyway, I might as well get something out of it other than mere conveyance, so the window was rolled down and… you know the rest, there it is up there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bored and overwhelmed by the schedule of holiday events one found himself attending recently, a rare night at home revealed an NYPD car sitting on my corner for a couple of hours, which caught my attention. Since I was bored and the cops didn’t seem to be doing anything particularly interesting other than sitting there, I decided to get artsy fartsy and use my tripod to get a portrait shot of the scene here in Astoria. This was the night of that day when it stopped raining like a week ago – you remember, that time when it rained buckets for about nine thousand straight hours? Yeah? This is that night when it had just stopped raining.

Seriously, cannot tell you how bored I was at this particular point in the last week and a half, with not a lot of adventure to report – but it was nice to be around people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just yesterday, with my holiday obligations done, a humble narrator skittered forth with the camera and out into the night. My feet just started kicking along, and soon my path had carried me from Astoria to the Degnon Terminal in Long Island City, where the fabulous Newtown Creek’s astonishing Dutch Kills tributary is found. Even after it got dark, one continued along and was soon cruising through Blissville. Nearby Blissville’s border with Industrial Maspeth, the southern – or Penny Bridge – gates of First Calvary Cemetery are found, and that’s where one found himself just last night whilst stabbing at the shutter button.

Who can guess, where the heck it will be, that Mitch goes tonight?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 27, 2018 at 11:00 am

decaying fringe

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Merry merry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking this week and the first half of next off, so singular images will be greeting you through the week. Have a joylessly laconic Festivus, a Merry Christmas, and a Kwazy Kwanzaa.

Be back on the 27th to finish up the year at this. your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 18, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Astoria

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