The Newtown Pentacle

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prime strength

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It’s National Zucchini Bread Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself spent a rainy Earth Day in industrial Greenpoint, and our first stop was at the brand new Green Roof at 520 Kingsland Avenue. Our second appointment was with the NYC DEP, who were offering tours of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant pictured above. As a note, this was an abbreviated version of the tour, which only included an audience with the newly hired and immensely cool Deputy Commisioner Pam Elardo and the second Superintendent of the plant, Zainool Ali. A brief lecture on sewer operations and the DEP’s mandate was followed by a visit to the walkway that hovers over the digester eggs. The old version of the tour included a few other areas of the plant such as the electrical rooms and screening facility.

As you’d imagine – I’ve been on this tour several times over the years as a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee, my role as Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, and just out of my own puerile interest.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walkway above the digester eggs is encased in greenish blue glass, which always poses a bit of a challenge – photographically speaking. The glass tends to act as a neutral density filter and lends a color cast to the shots you can capture up there. Also, as mentioned, this isn’t my first rodeo up there – so I’ve developed certain countermeasures on both the capture and digital darkroom sides to deal with the glass issue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s nothing you can do about rain, however, so as my pal Bernie Ente used to advise – just use it to your advantage. One is quite enamored with the image above, which is one of the better atmospheric shots I’ve managed to capture so far this year. This is looking west, obviously, towards the shining city of Manhattan and over Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards, towards Maspeth and the Kosciuszcko Bridge project. You’ll notice that there aren’t rain or glass distortions present in this shot, or the one below. That’s due to my having visited the walkway multiple times in the past and knowing where there are lapses in the wraparound glass big enough to shove a camera lens through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s probably going to be the very last “birds eye” shot of the 1939 era Koscisuzcko Bridge seen above, doing the active duty it’s been engaged in for 78 years, that I am going to ever take. On Thursday the 27th, Governor Cuomo is going to officially open the new bridge and the NYS DOT is going to shortly thereafter reroute the BQE onto it. The demolition process of the 1939 bridge is meant to begin playing out over the summer and should be completed sometime this fall, whereupon the second half of the “K Bridge” project will start.


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

cultural tone

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It’s National Pigs in a Blanket day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saturday last, Earth Day April 22nd, was a misty and rainy day in the Newtown Pentacle. Regardless, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself attended a couple of Newtown Creek oriented events and one had a chance to get busy with the camera. The shots in today’s post were captured at the Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages Green Roof project at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint, a spot which you will have a few chances to visit with us (NCA) this spring and summer – notably on May 7th during our MAS Janeswalk event (details found at the bottom of this post).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The views from up on the green roof are pretty staggering. 520 Kingsland Avenue is right at the center of the “soup bowl” as I call it, which surrounds the incredible Newtown Creek. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the topography related to the waterway. The Queens side, until you get to about two and half miles back from the East River in Maspeth is flat as a pancake – literally a flood plain which was aboriginally a series of marshes, swamps, and tidal meadows. The Brooklyn side in the same area is also fairly flat, but there’s a few undulating prominences. Bushwick, Eastern Maspeth, and Ridegwood form a literal ridge of steeper elevations around the creek. The terminal morraine of Long Island, or actual non glacially deposited rock, starts in Maspeth at Mount Olivette cemetery.

That’s Long Island City, of course, with the astounding amount of real estate industrial complex activity along Jackson Avenue and Northern Blvd. on full display as it rises behind the Long Island Expressway truss over the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

520 Kingsland also lets you peek into a series of industrial properties normally hidden by security fencelines and see what’s going on in them. Pictured above is part of the Metro Fuel truck fleet. Metro is a biofuel company founded by a buddy of mine – Paul Pullo – which was purchased a few years ago by the billionaire John Catsimatidis, of FreshDirect and Gristedes supermarket fame.

Metro is a biofuel company, meaning that they recycle all sorts of waste like fryer oil and cooking grease, as well as feeding soybean and agricultural oils into their mix to produce various grades of fuel oil.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another buddy of mine, Mike Allocco, runs a recycling processing plant on Kingsland Avenue, and 520 Kingsland Avenue’s rooftop let’s you check out his family owned and operated operation at work from a safe distance. Allocco Recycling has been a generous partner with NCA on another project we’ve got going down there – the Living Dock. My pal Will Elkins, NCA’s project manager, has been working his fingers to the bone on “The North Henry Street Project” which includes the Floating Dock and plans for shoreline restoration work along a minor tributary of Newtown Creek called “unnamed canal.”

For more on Will Elkins’ efforts on the Living Dock – click this link to visit NCA’s page on the subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Commanding, and less common, views of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant are also available from 520 Kingsland Avenue. Those four cylinders in the center of the shot are actually gas jets which burn off excess methane generated by the sewer plant, making the City’s Department of Environmental Protection the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in Brooklyn. Dichotomous to their adversarial roles in the ongoing Newtown Creek Superfund situation, the DEP has entered into a partnership with the National Grid company to capture the methane instead of burning it off. The DEP calls this project “waste into energy” and it’s heraldic to the kinds of public/private partnerships which just might help ameliorate the devastating effect that climate change is going to bring to the maritime archipelago which NYC is embedded into.

The 21st century is going to see a lot of these kinds of partnerships, I believe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happily, one no longer needs to sit upon the good news that Governor Andrew Cuomo will be coming to Newtown Creek on Thursday to inaugurate and open the new Koscisuzcko Bridge, as the NY Daily News has already spilled the beans and press releases are already floating around with the news.

via the Governor’s press office –

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the grand opening of the first span of the new Kosciuszko Bridge. The Kosciuszko Bridge, which will be the first new bridge constructed in New York City since the Verrazano Bridge in 1964, will be open to traffic in both directions on April 27, 2017. The Governor will mark the grand opening with a spectacular light show coordinated to music airing on multiple iHeartRadio stations. The light show is the first performance in “The New York Harbor of Lights” that will illuminate crossings with multi-color LED light shows that will be visible for miles. The shows will transform New York’s already awe-inspiring structures into international tourist attractions to drive additional tourism revenue. The premier of “The New York Harbor of Lights” will also include coordination with the lights of the Empire State Building.


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

ominous gossip

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It’s International Safer Internet Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, one found himself wandering about in legend cloaked and shadows haunted Greenpoint when my footsteps carried me past the beacon like NYPD’s 94th pct. house. The bulls are penned up here, on Meserole, and they like to keep it nice and bright. There’s a real sense of solidity to this building, and it’s somewhat evocative of a fortress. One wishes that the 114th pct. here in Astoria enjoyed such lush and stolid accommodations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is preoccupied at the moment, given the recent release of the “Deck over the Sunnyside Yards” feasibility study by the NYC EDC at the behest of our Mayor – the Dope from Park Slope. It’s a massive document, and full of arcane detail to process and respond to.

Its arrival means that Western Queens has arrived at an existential threshold, and that my home is now threatened.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, posts such as today’s and yesterday’s are somewhat truncated. One does not have the luxury of wandering around the Greenpoint Historic District and marveling at times gone by and the architectural monuments to earlier times.

The battle for Queens is afoot. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 8, 2017 at 1:00 pm

auto hypnosis

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It’s National Patty Melt Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Y’know, after all this time, it feels like certain sections of my particular oeuvre are running a bit dry. I mean, how much more can I possibly say about First Calvary Cemetery at this point in time. Of course, that’s the way it “feels,” not the way it actually is. Accordingly, I revisit my search parameters periodically and see if anything new has popped up. To wit – this 2016 link from the NY Post.

I say it all the time, you never know what you’re going to find in Calvary Cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One cannot offer you any tales of goblins or phantoms harassing the 1933 vintage Court Square IND station, I just kind of like the shot offered above. I can tell you the place does seem pretty haunted, sometimes, but I know what lurks some fifty stories or so above this spot – in the cupola of the sapphire megalith of LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A shot in the dark, literally, I found a hole in a fence that my camera could rest in for the shot above and pulled off a near total darkness handheld thingamabob. That’s Bushwick Inlet at the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, for the curious. There’s a WHOLE lot going on at the moment, which I’ll be discussing later in the week, so forgive my brevity.

The battle of Queens, I’m afraid to say, is finally afoot.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

open window

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It’s National Police Day in the Arab Republic of Egypt.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing a wintry night time walk to Brooklyn, one prepared to surmount the Pulaski Bridge over Newtown Creek. As you’d imagine, one spends quite a bit of his time walking back and forth over this crossing. Not only does the bridge rise to a fairly high altitude which allows for spectacular views of Newtown Creek, East River, and the skyline of the Shining City of Manhattan – the Pulaski Bridge walk is actually pretty good cardio.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mentioned in yesterday’s post was the fact that I was employing my “night kit” lenses. Longtime and frequent commenter Georgtheatheist inquired as to the specifics of my kit, and wondered why I carried both the Sigma 50-100mm f 1.8 and a Canon 50mm f 1.8, given that they replicate each other’s range. Accordingly, I’m “lifting the hood” on today’s post, and talking a little bit about how the engine runs here at your Newtown Pentacle.

Short answer is this – the Sigma lens is BIG, and incredibly heavy. Being a large lens, it gathers a lot of attention to itself, which can be problematic when encountering baser members of the street population – that’s part of it. The other is purely ergonomic – as mentioned above it’s quite heavy, and gets in the way when I’m walking along at my usual brisk pace. George asked why I don’t just use an “extender” on the 50mm prime lens, and part of the answer is that I’d have to sacrifice some of the light gathering wide apertures of the lens if I did. The other is that I’ve timed myself and I can do a lens swap, from in the bag to triggering the shutter, in around 15-20 seconds.

There’s also a difference in the esthetic quality and rendering of the shots, as captured by the individual pieces of glass. The first shot in today’s post was captured using the aforementioned 50-100, while the one above was gathered using a wider angle Sigma lens – the 18-35 f 1.8. The one below is from the Canon 50mm. There are minor differences in exposure times on them, but shots 2 & 3 are within 1/75th of a second of each other, with identical ISO sensitivity and aperture. Just because two lenses have the same specifications doesn’t mean that the shots gathered with them look the same.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The whole point of what I’ve been working on for a while now is to capture a reasonable amount of image fidelity and quality in low light situations without using camera supports like a tripod. These are all hand held shots, gathered in the same manner which I would employ when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is bobbing around in the vault of the sky.

That “manner” is basically me walking along and saying “wow, look at that.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where things get weird with this whole night shooting business is in an area described as “color temperature.” The new LED luminaire heads that NYC DOT has been installing around NYC throw off a bluish light that’s officially “4300 Kelvin” but which the camera will render as orange if you set it to that. In Canon camera world, that 4300K is best reset to about 3100K. If you’re in an area which has a monotypical series of these LED’s, the developing scenario is simple.

It’s when you see the old school sodium lamps on the same street as the LED’s that things go “ass over tits.” Check out the blue LED light meeting the orange sodium lamps in Greenpoint’s DUPBO – Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A digital image is composed of three “plates” which mix and form a color image. RGB as the color space is known, the Red and Green plates are supplying most of the color information to the image above, and the Blue is where the shadows are being formed. Because of the orange sodium light mixing with the “Pulaski Red” paint color of the bridge, when this image came off my camera card it was practically flourescent.

A problem inherent with high ISO images, this one is 6400, is image noise. It’s produced by the sensor itself during the gathering process, and most of it manifests on the red and green plates. Finding the right balance between color temperature at the time of capture versus the time of developing the digital negative – or RAW format – file is important. Beyond the technical stuff, it’s also important to remember what the subject actually looked like while you were shooting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above, depicting a NYC DOT truck parked under the Pulaski, was a difficult one. It’s a yellow truck, bathed in orange sodium light, with blue LED street lights peeking in from behind the fences. The original RAW file was basically a study in orange and black. The color temperature was adjusted down, as was saturation and half a dozen other developing options.

Back tomorrow with something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 25, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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

furnace tendings

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Banal pedantry, Newtown Creek, and the Feds – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ever since the Simpsons movie came out a few years back, whenever the subject of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency comes up, Our Lady of the Pentacle begins to shout out “EEPAH, EEPAH, EEPAH.” Given the amount of time I spend at, on, and around Newtown Creek – Our Lady oft finds herself repeating “EEPAH, EEPAH, EEPAH.”

Last week, one found himself out in the rain with the EPA Superfund team. We were trying to help them site a series of warning signs, which will be installed at the handful of Newtown Creek “public access” spots which are hidden along the bulkheads and visited by anglers or lookie loos (that includes you kids from Apollo Street), signage whose missive would advise against the catching of or consumption of the fish who populate the lugubrious and heavily polluted depths of the Newtown Creek. “EEPAH,” indeed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The EPA team requested counsel on the placement of their signage from the Newtown Creek Alliance Project Manager – Will Elkins – who asked me to come along as well. We accompanied”EEPAH” on a somewhat grand tour of the Newtown Creek, hitting a bunch of spots where either Will or myself had seen people fishing over the years. The Feds figured out where they place their signage, marked stuff down, and generally did “EEPAH” stuff. I did my thing too.

Whilst at the Brooklyn side Maspeth Avenue street end, the tug Mary H. was spotted.

Mary H. services the Bayside brand oil tanks you’ll notice adjoins the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, barging in bulk product which is then distributed to their end customers via heavy truck. The amazing part of this – and it is somewhat amazing – is that the Bayside distribution facility is about 3.1 miles back from the East River, at the border of industrial Maspeth and Bushwick East Williamsburg.

Tugboats, barging cargo three entire miles into Brooklyn – it boggles.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Metropolitan Avenue was formerly known as the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike, and it connected Newtown in Queens with the Eastern District of Brooklyn – Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. The crossing of Grand and Metropolitan was also one of the stops on the New York and Manhattan Beach Railroad, its depot would have found at the foot of Greenpoint’s Quay Street in 1912.

The Brooklyn side of Maspeth Avenue follows the northern path of the Maspeth Toll Bridge Co.’s Plank Road, and I was standing on what was once known as Furman’s Island while I was shooting the Mary H. tug. The Plank Road bridge last crossed the Newtown Creek in 1875, during the Presidential Administration of Ulysses S. Grant. Connecting the colonial communities of Maspeth and Newtown via the hellish expanse of Furmans Island (home to Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal Dock, and Kalbfleisch and sons, amongst other notorious or malodorous occupants), the Plank Road today exists as a destination for Newtown Creek devotees and fetishists. Also, the Feds.

On the Queens or Maspeth side, Newtown Creek Alliance has a major shoreline rehabilitation project underway, which is being run by the aforementioned Will Elkins. There’ll be a “Don’t eat the fish” sign there too.

“EEPAH.”


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 5, 2016 at 11:00 am

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