The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Borden Avenue

low toned

with one comment

Holy smokes, the FreshDirect building is toast!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just at the point where one traditionally turns back towards HQ and begins the journey from the LIC Dutch Kills “zone,” I suddenly stopped in my tracks at the realization that I could see the sky. The gigantic building with yellow painted corrugated steel walls that used to house the FreshDirect operation here in LIC has been demolished. Tectonic!

This was a HUGE footprint building, five or six stories tall, with both refrigerated and shelf stable warehousing as well as several food preparation workshops. There were interior driveways large enough for multiple semi tractor trailers to reverse into, and smaller loading bays that could handle about ten or so of the FreshDirect local delivery trucks at the same time. Gone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just as an aside for the thousands of people who have interrupted me while photographing over the years to ask “why are you taking pictures of that” while looking at me suspiciously and asking if I like hummus, this is exactly the reason. Creating some sort of record of what was there prior to it being replaced by something new. The “new” thing will have all sorts of government and corporate effort attached to it whose singular goal is the obfuscation of the site’s history. Ask the people in Queens Plaza if they know about the chemical factory, or lead foundry, which used to occupy the site of their shiny new condominium building. That’s the FreshDirect facility pictured above, as seen from a few blocks east.

A big part of the mission here at Newtown Pentacle is to create a record of this era of transition and rapid change in Western Queens for posterity which is independently held and not beholden to the political or business order. Whatever goes up on the site of that FreshDirect building… well… what used to be there?

Glad you asked.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The big historic factory here was owned by the American Druggist Syndicate, who made pharmaceuticals – so essentially a chemical plant. There were a couple of varnish factories as well, so petrochemical processing. Then a few of the smaller lots were occupied by metal working and refining companies involved mostly in iron working, so that means heavy metals and coal retort residues. The statement above comes from a cursory scan of a 1919 fire insurance map in my possession. Did the 20th century bring in plastics? Garbage handling? Good questions.

Right behind the FreshDirect lot is a set of tracks used by the LIRR which have been liberally doused with rodenticides and herbicides over the centuries, and the soil they sit on hosts lakes of PCB’S, PAH’S and other electrical insulating oils beneath the surface which has bled out of their trackside equipment. Newtown Creek itself is about 2,000 feet away from the Borden Avenue sidewalk pictured in the first shot of this post.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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.

queer noises

with 2 comments

Newtown Creek is always fabulous, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dutch Kills splits off from the main stem of the Newtown Creek waterway about 7/10th of a mile from the larger water body’s intersection with the East River. Long Island City’s Dutch Kills is a fully canalized tributary, and proceeds on a generally northern trajectory. The water here is highly polluted with both industrial and sewage contaminants. Dutch Kills gets its moniker from the colonial era in NYC history. There’s another tributary of Newtown Creek in Brooklyn called English Kills. Simply, LIC is where the Dutch settled and Brooklyn is where the English put down stakes.

Dutch Kills used to have its own system of tributaries and tidal wetlands, and stretched back (as a navigable waterway) into Queens nearly all the way to Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The wooden structures you might notice around bridges are called “Dolphins” and they are usually constructed from creosote treated lumber and galvanized steel rope. The job of these items is to keep a vessel from getting into an allission with the bridge. “Allission” you ask? Yes. That’s when a moving “thing” interacts with a static thing. When two moving “things” interact it’s a collision, so if two vessels were to smash into each other they “collide” whereas if you were to run a vessel up against the dolphin or bridge they would “allide.” Maritime law is quite specific about this.

The dolphins pictured today vouchsafe the 1908 Borden Avenue Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Borden Avenue, and the “Empty Corridor” thereof which I’ve been walking you through this week, one resumed his westerly course and continued on. That’s when I noticed something missing. Holy Moley!

More on that tomorrow.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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.

alien shadow

leave a comment »

Seeing the big rigs in Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One encountered a lonely semi truck on my recent scuttle across a still quite industrial section of LIC. It’s a “class 8” heavy truck, and manufactured by the Kenworth company. “Class 8” are vehicles which serve vocational applications – heavy dump trucks, concrete pump trucks, and refuse hauling – as well as including long-haul 4×2 and 6×4 tractor units such as the one pictured above. Washington state based, Kenworth has been in the truck business since 1912. Don’t ask me to identify what model of truck this is, as I’m sure there’s a gear head reading this who can help with the ID (share in the comments section) and will know far more than I about it. Like taxis and tugboats – when you see a vehicle like this just sitting there parked on the street, the owner is losing money.

I have always been fascinated with this idea of perpetually moving vehicles. Certain vehicles are meant to be operated continuously by multiple crews of drivers, and meant to never stop moving. Police cars and ambulances, subways and trains of all types… cargo ships… all are meant to rest only when undergoing maintenance or changing work crews and operators. That’s interesting, no?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A graffiti crew had obviously taken fairly recent advantage of the expansive warehouse walls (a “building trade” lumber operation) on this particular block in LIC, but I was more interested in the sickly trees lining the sidewalk than the fairly inexpert tags. In these industrial zones, trees are scarce, and often fall victim to the hustle and bustle of getting things done. In this sort of area, the DEP and FDNY have to erect bollards around their fire hydrants to vouchsafe them from getting knocked over or down, and you’ll often notice utility poles which have had huge swaths carved out of them by careless truckers moving multi ton loads about. Stop signs and lamp posts are regularly snapped off their stanchions as well.

As I tell the people who have just discovered Newtown Creek – all the time – be careful, it’s easy to get dead around here if you don’t know the lay of the land. Luckily, I’ve been obliged to sit through literally days of the safety training which the “union guys” get in order to legally enter job sites and facilities with the camera, and I “sprech the deutch” of their acculturations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the Long Island Expressway in the upper left, and it’s been towering over Borden Avenue in LIC since 1939. The LIE rises from ground level at Greenpoint Avenue all the way to 106 feet over the waters of Newtown Creek’s nearby Dutch Kills tributary before beginning its descent into the Queens Midtown Tunnel in Hunters Point. I refer to the zone underneath the LIE as “the empty corridor,” but there’s actually quite a lot going on down here.

More from the empty corridor tomorrow, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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.

wide notice

with one comment

It’s National Prime Rib Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent afternoon found one wandering about the waterfront in LIC whereupon FDNY’s Tiller Ladder 175 truck was encountered. For those of you not in the know, Tiller Ladders are those “old school” fire trucks with a driver at both ends. This one was Ladder 175, which normally spends its time over in East New York, but based on the patches worn by the FDNY guys driving it, I’d say that Ladder 175 was in the possession of the Fleet Services unit that day.

Fleet Services have several properties in Maspeth and in Greenpoint, all within spitting distance of the fabulous Newtown Creek, and you can often spot interesting equipment awaiting mechanical or esthetic attention.

from wikipedia

In the United States, a tiller truck, also known as a tractor-drawn aerial, tiller ladder, or hook-and-ladder truck, is a specialized turntable ladder mounted on a semi-trailer truck. Unlike a commercial semi, the trailer and tractor are permanently combined and special tools are required to separate them. It has two drivers, with separate steering wheels for front and rear wheels.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As opined many times in the past, a historically minded fellow is a fool if he tries to fill in the blanks when the subject is the FDNY. Every firehouse has an active duty resident historian who can tell you EVERYTHING about the units therein and the pre consolidation history of the individual firehouse, and there are legions of retired firefighters who know literally EVERYTHING about the department in excruciating detail. When the City created itself in 1898, all fire units in Brooklyn and Queens saw their unit numbers raised by “100,” so… if there was a Brooklyn Fire Department ladder unit back then it would have been “Ladder 75.”

Saying that, I don’t know if East New York was part of the BFD, or if it was an independent operation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The design and purpose of the tiller models is built around turning the ladder unit around narrow street corners, which is accomplished through the use of the double steering mechanisms. The trucks are also quite a bit longer than the tower ladder units, which extend and telescope their ladders from a turntable. This means that the tiller trucks can carry more equipment and muster more firefighters than more traditional units.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the rear operators cabin, with steering wheel and other controls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As they drove away, I yelled out “are ya lost?” and “east New York is that way” while gesturing to the southeast.

You literally never know what you’re going to encounter in LIC, so it’s best to carry a camera, just in case.


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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 27, 2017 at 11:00 am

“The Street” by H.P. Lovecraft

with one comment

“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All text in today’s post from “The Street” by H.P. Lovecraft, courtesy wikisource

There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I will tell of the Street.

Men of strength and honour fashioned that Street: good valiant men of our blood who had come from the Blessed Isles across the sea. At first it was but a path trodden by bearers of water from the woodland spring to the cluster of houses by the beach. Then, as more men came to the growing cluster of houses and looked about for places to dwell, they built cabins along the north side, cabins of stout oaken logs with masonry on the side toward the forest, for many Indians lurked there with fire-arrows. And in a few years more, men built cabins on the south side of the Street.

Up and down the Street walked grave men in conical hats, who most of the time carried muskets or fowling pieces. And there were also their bonneted wives and sober children. In the evening these men with their wives and children would sit about gigantic hearths and read and speak. Very simple were the things of which they read and spoke, yet things which gave them courage and goodness and helped them by day to subdue the forest and till the fields. And the children would listen and learn of the laws and deeds of old, and of that dear England which they had never seen or could not remember.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was war, and thereafter no more Indians troubled the Street. The men, busy with labour, waxed prosperous and as happy as they knew how to be. And the children grew up comfortable, and more families came from the Mother Land to dwell on the Street. And the children’s children, and the newcomers’ children, grew up. The town was now a city, and one by one the cabins gave place to houses—simple, beautiful houses of brick and wood, with stone steps and iron railings and fanlights over the doors. No flimsy creations were these houses, for they were made to serve many a generation. Within there were carven mantels and graceful stairs, and sensible, pleasing furniture, china, and silver, brought from the Mother Land.

So the Street drank in the dreams of a young people and rejoiced as its dwellers became more graceful and happy. Where once had been only strength and honour, taste and learning now abode as well. Books and paintings and music came to the houses, and the young men went to the university which rose above the plain to the north. In the place of conical hats and small-swords, of lace and snowy periwigs, there were cobblestones over which clattered many a blooded horse and rumbled many a gilded coach; and brick sidewalks with horse blocks and hitching-posts.

There were in that Street many trees: elms and oaks and maples of dignity; so that in the summer, the scene was all soft verdure and twittering bird-song. And behind the houses were walled rose-gardens with hedged paths and sundials, where at evening the moon and stars would shine bewitchingly while fragrant blossoms glistened with dew.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So the Street dreamed on, past wars, calamities, and change. Once, most of the young men went away, and some never came back. That was when they furled the old flag and put up a new banner of stripes and stars. But though men talked of great changes, the Street felt them not, for its folk were still the same, speaking of the old familiar things in the old familiar accounts. And the trees still sheltered singing birds, and at evening the moon and stars looked down upon dewy blossoms in the walled rose-gardens.

In time there were no more swords, three-cornered hats, or periwigs in the Street. How strange seemed the inhabitants with their walking-sticks, tall beavers, and cropped heads! New sounds came from the distance—first strange puffings and shrieks from the river a mile away, and then, many years later, strange puffings and shrieks and rumblings from other directions. The air was not quite so pure as before, but the spirit of the place had not changed. The blood and soul of their ancestors had fashioned the Street. Nor did the spirit change when they tore open the earth to lay down strange pipes, or when they set up tall posts bearing weird wires. There was so much ancient lore in that Street, that the past could not easily be forgotten.

Then came days of evil, when many who had known the Street of old knew it no more, and many knew it who had not known it before, and went away, for their accents were coarse and strident, and their mien and faces unpleasing. Their thoughts, too, fought with the wise, just spirit of the Street, so that the Street pined silently as its houses fell into decay, and its trees died one by one, and its rose-gardens grew rank with weeds and waste. But it felt a stir of pride one day when again marched forth young men, some of whom never came back. These young men were clad in blue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

With the years, worse fortune came to the Street. Its trees were all gone now, and its rose-gardens were displaced by the backs of cheap, ugly new buildings on parallel streets. Yet the houses remained, despite the ravages of the years and the storms and worms, for they had been made to serve many a generation. New kinds of faces appeared in the Street, swarthy, sinister faces with furtive eyes and odd features, whose owners spoke unfamiliar words and placed signs in known and unknown characters upon most of the musty houses. Push-carts crowded the gutters. A sordid, undefinable stench settled over the place, and the ancient spirit slept.

Great excitement once came to the Street. War and revolution were raging across the seas; a dynasty had collapsed, and its degenerate subjects were flocking with dubious intent to the Western Land. Many of these took lodgings in the battered houses that had once known the songs of birds and the scent of roses. Then the Western Land itself awoke and joined the Mother Land in her titanic struggle for civilization. Over the cities once more floated the old flag, companioned by the new flag, and by a plainer, yet glorious tricolour. But not many flags floated over the Street, for therein brooded only fear and hatred and ignorance. Again young men went forth, but not quite as did the young men of those other days. Something was lacking. And the sons of those young men of other days, who did indeed go forth in olive-drab with the true spirit of their ancestors, went from distant places and knew not the Street and its ancient spirit.

Over the seas there was a great victory, and in triumph most of the young men returned. Those who had lacked something lacked it no longer, yet did fear and hatred and ignorance still brood over the Street; for many had stayed behind, and many strangers had come from distance places to the ancient houses. And the young men who had returned dwelt there no longer. Swarthy and sinister were most of the strangers, yet among them one might find a few faces like those who fashioned the Street and moulded its spirit. Like and yet unlike, for there was in the eyes of all a weird, unhealthy glitter as of greed, ambition, vindictiveness, or misguided zeal. Unrest and treason were abroad amongst an evil few who plotted to strike the Western Land its death blow, that they might mount to power over its ruins, even as assassins had mounted in that unhappy, frozen land from whence most of them had come. And the heart of that plotting was in the Street, whose crumbling houses teemed with alien makers of discord and echoed with the plans and speeches of those who yearned for the appointed day of blood, flame and crime.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of the various odd assemblages in the Street, the Law said much but could prove little. With great diligence did men of hidden badges linger and listen about such places as Petrovitch’s Bakery, the squalid Rifkin School of Modern Economics, the Circle Social Club, and the Liberty Cafe. There congregated sinister men in great numbers, yet always was their speech guarded or in a foreign tongue. And still the old houses stood, with their forgotten lore of nobler, departed centuries; of sturdy Colonial tenants and dewy rose-gardens in the moonlight. Sometimes a lone poet or traveler would come to view them, and would try to picture them in their vanished glory; yet of such travelers and poets there were not many.

The rumour now spread widely that these houses contained the leaders of a vast band of terrorists, who on a designated day were to launch an orgy of slaughter for the extermination of America and of all the fine old traditions which the Street had loved. Handbills and papers fluttered about filthy gutters; handbills and papers printed in many tongues and in many characters, yet all bearing messages of crime and rebellion. In these writings the people were urged to tear down the laws and virtues that our fathers had exalted, to stamp out the soul of the old America—the soul that was bequeathed through a thousand and a half years of Anglo-Saxon freedom, justice, and moderation. It was said that the swart men who dwelt in the Street and congregated in its rotting edifices were the brains of a hideous revolution, that at their word of command many millions of brainless, besotted beasts would stretch forth their noisome talons from the slums of a thousand cities, burning, slaying, and destroying till the land of our fathers should be no more. All this was said and repeated, and many looked forward in dread to the fourth day of July, about which the strange writings hinted much; yet could nothing be found to place the guilt. None could tell just whose arrest might cut off the damnable plotting at its source. Many times came bands of blue-coated police to search the shaky houses, though at last they ceased to come; for they too had grown tired of law and order, and had abandoned all the city to its fate. Then men in olive-drab came, bearing muskets, till it seemed as if in its sad sleep the Street must have some haunting dreams of those other days, when musketbearing men in conical hats walked along it from the woodland spring to the cluster of houses by the beach. Yet could no act be performed to check the impending cataclysm, for the swart, sinister men were old in cunning.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So the Street slept uneasily on, till one night there gathered in Petrovitch’s Bakery, and the Rifkin School of Modern Economics, and the Circle Social Club, and Liberty Cafe, and in other places as well, vast hordes of men whose eyes were big with horrible triumph and expectation. Over hidden wires strange messages traveled, and much was said of still stranger messages yet to travel; but most of this was not guessed till afterward, when the Western Land was safe from the peril. The men in olive-drab could not tell what was happening, or what they ought to do; for the swart, sinister men were skilled in subtlety and concealment.

And yet the men in olive-drab will always remember that night, and will speak of the Street as they tell of it to their grandchildren; for many of them were sent there toward morning on a mission unlike that which they had expected. It was known that this nest of anarchy was old, and that the houses were tottering from the ravages of the years and the storms and worms; yet was the happening of that summer night a surprise because of its very queer uniformity. It was, indeed, an exceedingly singular happening, though after all, a simple one. For without warning, in one of the small hours beyond midnight, all the ravages of the years and the storms and the worms came to a tremendous climax; and after the crash there was nothing left standing in the Street save two ancient chimneys and part of a stout brick wall. Nor did anything that had been alive come alive from the ruins. A poet and a traveler, who came with the mighty crowd that sought the scene, tell odd stories. The poet says that all through the hours before dawn he beheld sordid ruins indistinctly in the glare of the arc-lights; that there loomed above the wreckage another picture wherein he could describe moonlight and fair houses and elms and oaks and maples of dignity. And the traveler declares that instead of the place’s wonted stench there lingered a delicate fragrance as of roses in full bloom. But are not the dreams of poets and the tales of travelers notoriously false?

There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I have told you of the Street.

%d bloggers like this: