The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘DUMABO

formula filled

with one comment

My creek also puts on a show when I’ve been away from her too long.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my practices, developed over the last decade or so, is to take a Newtown Creek break periodically and “allow my liver to return to a normal size.” I’m joking about the liver, but one does enjoy a bit of detox occasionally, and allowing the poisons I’ve accrued a chance to leach out. This is a luxury one enjoys, as he doesn’t live along Newtown Creek, others aren’t so lucky. Pictured above is roll on/ roll off garbage truck carrying a bin, spotted at a waste transfer station owned by a friend of mine which fairly straddles the border of Brooklyn and Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marching along Metropolitan Avenue, one squealed with delight as the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge began to open. This used to be quite a frequent occurrence “back in the day.” These days there’s only one regular maritime customer back here on the English Kills tributary, which is Bayside Fuel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The timing of the bridge opening was bizarre, occurring at precisely the time of one of the heaviest traffic intervals in this section of North Brooklyn, about 6:30 p.m.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That odd timing, however, allowed one to stand in the middle of Metropolitan Avenue without getting squished.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I believe that the tug pictured above is the Mary H., which normally handles the Bayside duty, but it’s hard to say as I didn’t get any of its markings. I did manage to focus in on the captain in his wheelhouse, however, so “win.”

As a note, the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge spans the English Kills tributary of the larger Newtown Creek at a navigational mark 3.4 miles eastwards of the East River. Metropolitan Avenue was originally created as a private toll road about 1814, and was called the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike. The owners of the toll road, and the original bridge, were two brothers whose family name was Masters. That’s why you’ll occasionally see references to the road as the “Masters Turnpike” and the “Masters Bridge” in the historical record, if like me, you stay up until 4 in the morning reading old municipal journals and reports from the Chambers of Commerce of Brooklyn or Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My conceit is to call this area of Newtown Creek surrounding the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge “DUMABO.” That’s short for “Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge,” as I believe we need to be ahead of the real estate people on these sorts of things.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Advertisements

hidden laboratory

leave a comment »

It’s International Cheese Day, for the industrialized and lactose tolerant nations of this planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

3.4 miles from the East River is a spot which one refers to as DUMABO – or Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. The first bridge over the flowing waters of English Kills was erected here (slightly to the west, actually) in 1814 and was privately owned by the Masters brothers, so it was accordingly referred to as the “Masters Bridge.” Historic sources indicate this spot as being, during the colonial to civil war period, the demarcation point between salt and fresh water on the English Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek. Shellfish were described as being found in “great abundance.” It was once known as White’s Dock, for the vulgarly curious. The precursor of the modern day Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in the 1870’s, and the modern bridge (much altered) was erected in 1931.

The fresh water was being fed into English Kills by upland springs and streams in nearby Bushwick that flowed downhill into it, and by ground water entering it from the bottom. Back in 1814, Metropolitan Avenue was just a wooden plank toll road rising up from the swamps, and it was called the “Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike road.” The springs and streams of Bushwick are what attracted beer breweries like the Ulmer people to a then German speaking rural neighborhood to ply their trade, but I digress. The fat renderers and acid factories began to show up in the 1830’s and 40’s around these parts, and notably – Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory, where Jello was invented, was just a few blocks away. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DOT has been doing a bunch of work at this spot recently, some sort of construction that they attached to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything about the loose soil on the shoreline, nor the decaying wooden bulkheads holding that shoreline in place. Of course, not many people come back here, but it would have been fairly easy to fall into English Kills given the rotting shoreline when the shot above was captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Mary H. tug, tied up to the Bayside Fuel Depot bulkheads, just east of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. This is pretty much the extent of serious maritime access to English Kills given the black mayonnaise/sediment mound situation that gobbles up operational draught and depth. The green wall with all the kit on top is Waste Management’s Varick Street Waste Transfer Station. The Waste Management facility handles predominantly “putrescent” or black bag garbage for the NYC Department of Sanitation, which is processed on site and then loaded onto the so called “garbage train” which travels on the tracks of LIRR’s Bushwick Branch to Fresh Pond and then over the Hell Gate Bridge to points unknown.

Seriously, unknown. I’ve asked and was told “homeland security” precluded the dissemination of where NYC’s garbage is dumped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One headed up Varick Street towards industrial Bushwick from Metropolitan Avenue, where this spectacular salt dome structure was encountered. Seriously, no sarcasm is offered, this was a visually interesting and somewhat elegant solution to the problem. The rest of the neighborhood is dull, weathered, depressing. It’s nice to see a bit of color and style on display for something so pedestrian. It’s right next door to the Waste Management facility on Varick Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets in this section, just south and east of Newtown Creek, are industrial in the extreme. Heavy trucking, the garbage industrial complex… suffice to say that the roadways aren’t exactly bike or pedestrian friendly, and that they are in a sorry state of repair. Watch your step hereabouts, and never cross in front of a driveway without first taking a look. This part of the Newtown Creek watershed is what the band Metallica was likely describing with their “death magnetic” album. There’s “ghost bikes” everywhere you look, the air is a poisonous fume…

Yep, it’s pretty much Tolkien’s Mordor back here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turning off of Varick, I found myself wandering down Stewart Avenue and onto Randolph Street towards the undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens and that hazy industrial borderland which can either be called Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, or Bushwick – depending on whom you ask. Saying that, move quickly through this area, don’t talk to anyone, and certainly do not ask them questions if they speak to you. I would expand on why, but I’d again be told that I’ve seen too many movies, by some rich guy that moved to Hipster Bushwick from Connecticut less than six months ago who is trying to connect with a local art or club scene that they heard about on Instagram.

Of course, I couldn’t have more inconspicuous – the only person for about a square mile not wearing a safety vest and hard hat, and instead clad in a filthy black raincoat flapping about in the poison wind while waving a camera about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR, which carries the garbage train from Bushwick into Queens and its mysterious destination on the continent, it’s just beyond that fence in the shot above. It’s been a while since I wandered through here, and those corrugated fences you see are fairly new, as evinced by a near total lack of graffiti. Back to the implied presence of criminally inclined individuals who are organized into a structure which one might define as a “crew” or a “family,” I’d point out the total lack of graffiti on a visible fence line in North Brooklyn – the high end graffiti capital of these United States.

Go ask someone who grew up in Brooklyn or Queens what that means.

Nevertheless, as is always the case when wandering through the industrial zones surrounding the fabled Newtown Creek, that horrible inhuman thing with the three loved burning eye that cannot possibly exist in the sapphire megalith of Long Island City was watching. It sees all, owns all, knows all.

More to come, next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

tradition emphasizes

leave a comment »

Creek week continues, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As promised in yesterday’s post, a different perspective on the Creek is offered today. For the last few days, we’ve been on the DEP property in Greenpoint, and a birds eye perpective on DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp – was offered. In today’s post, the POV is from onboard a NY Water Taxi, and it’s the English Kills Tributary of the larger Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, as seen from the turning basin adjoining it, looking east towards Bushwick and East Williamsburg. I call this spot DUMABO – Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. In colonial times, this was traditionally the demarcation point between fresh and brackish water on the Creek, but back then English Kills was fed by dozens of upland streams and springs. The water bubbling up out of the earth up on the hills of Ridgewood and Bushwick are part of what drew the Germans out here, and a lot of them – like the Ulmers – were involved in the beer business.

The beer guys, who do the holy work of delivering sacrament to bars and bodegas, are still in the area but there’s mainly micro brew hipster stuff going on these days and it’s fed by the DEP’s croton water system rather than ground water. The big guys like Budweiser – pictured above – ship their product in from elsewhere. There’s a pretty big beer distributor nearby on Grand Street, whose warehouse backs up on English Kills, and that Bud Light truck is likely heading there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also on Brooklyn’s Grand Street is the former Charles J. King recycling company, which seems to have recently changed ownership. Luckily, the new owners continue to exploit their maritime bulkheads to ship their product out of the area, rather than truck it out. The sections of Brooklyn and Queens surrounding the eastern sector of the Newtown Creek have some of the highest concentrations of heavy truck traffic in the entire City of New York.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the NYC DOT’s Grand Street swing bridge in the shot above, a 1909 relic of the days when Tammany Hall came to Newtown Creek shortly after the consolidation of the City of Greater New York in 1898. It’s the titular ornamentation signifying the positioning of the currently undefended legal border of Brooklyn and Queens. On the Queens side of the bridge, Grand Street becomes Grand Avenue, which travels through Maspeth and several other communities. Despite a few interruptions in its path introduced by Robert Moses, Grand Avenue eventually enters Astoria and becomes 30th avenue which heads all the way down to the East River near Halletts Cove.

Of course – on the Brooklyn side – Grand Street more or less connects to the East River in Williamsburg.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Brooklyn side concrete company pictured above, called Empire Transit Mix, is sited on what was once called Furman Island. There used to be two islands found in the neighborhood of Maspeth Avenue, with the smaller one known as Mussel Island. Mussel was dredged away in the WW1 era, and its spoils were used to connect Furman Island to Brooklyn. This netted Brooklyn a bit of additional land mass and supposedly increased its legislative delegations by one seat.

Furman Island is the former home of Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, Martin Kalbfleisch’s Acid and Chemical works, and Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal dock.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The area where the Newtown Creek widens out is referred to as “the Turning Basin” and it’s where you’ll find the National Grid company’s LNG facility, which sits on a former Manufactured Gas Plant which was operated by the Brooklyn Union Gas Company. There’s a lake of coal tar under the National Grid property, and a wall of the stuff clinging to their property in the water.

As a note, I have made multiple attempts to formally visit the National Grid site, using institutional means. Polity and smarmy conviviality have been met with a brick wall of denial of entry. Every attempt to learn what goes on there has been met with obfuscation and a cry of “Homeland Security.” It’s a “no cameras” zone, National Grid says. It’s a “Marsec 1” zone, National Grid says.

It’s visible from above, via the Kosciuszcko Bridge, and from the water, and from the street sides – say I. I’ve got long zoom lenses, as well. I’ve also got access to documentation on the place via the environmental review process, State DEC oversight, and the Superfund investigations.

One wonders what they’re hiding back in there. I’ll find out over the course of time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Kosciuszcko Bridge, at the western end of the turning basin, you’ll find the 1939 span and the replacement span which the State DOT is currently working on.

These shots were captured just last week while onboard a pair of sold out Open House NY tours of the Newtown Creek which I conducted with my colleague T. Willis Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance. My practice on these tours is to narrate the excursion – discussing the past – in from the East River to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, then hand the microphone over to Willis – who discusses the future.

While he’s talking, one grabs the camera and gets busy.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

too acute

with 3 comments

The concrete devastations are nepenthe to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This past weekend was a rather busy one, with a trifecta of tours completed. On Friday, a short walk around Dutch Kills with a group from LaGuardia Community College, a Saturday tour with the Obscura Society explored the Insalubrious Valley, and Sunday found me leading a group from the Brooklyn Brainery through the Poison Cauldron. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again- to be seen by so many diminishes me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shots in today’s post were gathered while I was headed for last weekend’s excursion- a Newtown Creek Alliance sponsored event which was conducted as part of the Open House NY weekend event on October 12. This was a novel concept, a “surf and turf” wherein my walking tour met up with a party of rowers from the North Brooklyn Boat Club at the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road. Along the way, I noticed this Yeshiva bus parked in a bus stop. The driver must have literally interpreted what “bus stop” means. This was a Saturday morning, so the chances that this vehicle was still in place on Sunday morning are pretty high, but I wasn’t there to see it moved so I can’t comment authoritatively. As the saying in my old neighborhood used to go- now Hasidim, now ya don’t.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All over the upper Creek, there seems to have been some sort of bloom going on for the last couple of weeks, as the water had assumed a chalky green coloration. Last year, while onboard the Riverkeeper boat, just such a happenstance was witnessed. Captain Lipscomb, who operates the boat and scientific equipment onboard, investigated the phenomena and offered the theory that this was a bacterial bloom rather than the effects of an industrial spill or leak. It seems that there are lakes in upstate New York which also suffer from low oxygen levels in the water, and that they exhibit a similar coloration and turbidity as witnessed at the Maspeth Creek tributary in the shot above.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 21, 2013 at 8:02 am

life, matter, and vitality

with one comment

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Paramount in my apprehensions about this unremembered walk- which began at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, continued down Delancey Street, went over the Williamsburg Bridge, staged into Williamsburg, and continued up Grand Street in the direction of that assassination of joy called the Newtown Creek- is the ideation that something happened to me in the ancient church.

Remember, this unknown fellow from the interwebs offered me information which is dearly sought, the location of a certain interment lost in the ghoulish multitudes of Calvary Cemetery which I have spent too much time searching for. When my anonymous assignee walked into the church with two troglodyte ruffians, I panicked and fled… but a nagging suspicion that something else might have happened in there torments me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Could a mere intuition have sent me into this flaming paroxysm of cowardly flight, carrying me blind miles in a stupor? A delicate constitution and deep physical cowardice are my hallmarks, yes, but a multiple mile flight which propelled me across most of the eastern districts of Brooklyn? Nevertheless, according to my camera card, I had nevertheless returned to the loathsome lands of the Newtown Creek and was standing upon the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge once again.

The coincidental concurrence of my route with certain long forgotten street car (trolley) routes continues to intrigue me as I write this in the sober and controlled environment of Newtown Pentacle HQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tugboat which is often noticed here is the “Mary H.” which runs fuel barges from the outer harbor to the Bayside Oil depot located on Metropolitan Avenue itself, near it’s junction with Grand Street. The section of the Creek visible in these shots is actually a tributary, called English Kills. Two ancient pathways, which we call Grand St. and Metropolitan Avenue these days, cross each other here at a sharp angle.

Metropolitan 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.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A theory which guides me of late requires a paradigm shift in thought and perception, simply put- the older communities of western Queens and north western Brooklyn have more in common with each other than they do with the boroughs they reside in. In earlier times, before the bridges, intimate (and railroad) ties knit these communities together and Bushwick has more in common with Astoria than it does with Flatbush.

The unifying principal, the organizing principal in fact, was access to the waterfront not just at the East River- but all along the various creeks and kills which once penetrated inland. The culture which grew along Sunswick and Newtown and Bushwick Creeks is lost to time and shifting populations, buried beneath centuries of concrete and the remnants of long vanished industry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It would seem that your humble narrator continued down Grand Street from Metropolitan, toward the border of Brooklyn and Queens at the Grand Street Bridge, and area I dare to call DUGSBO- Down Under the Grand Street Bridge Onramp.

This section of the City of Greater New York, incidentally, is called East Williamsburg by modern cartographers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Fear exists in my heart for the noble little Grand Street Bridge, as modern traffic races across it’s delicate mechanisms. Long has it been since boat traffic has crossed it, the last official opening was in 2002. One misstep by a careless trucker and this historic structure would require replacement, no doubt by an economical fixed span.

Who speaks for it, save I? It deserves a better advocate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An oddity and relict vehicle appears next in this fever dream found on my camera’s memory card, which is most probably a 1940 Ford Deluxe Coupe. It appears to be a loving restoration, although a powerful and enigmatic auto like this should either be painted black or fire engine red in my eyes.

What do I know, after all, I’m some guy who gets scared of strangers in the City and then wanders around the boroughs in a haze of panic and all the while I’m taking pictures that I don’t remember taking…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually funny, considering that in this odd state which I was suffering from, that when seeking a safe haven my subconscious mind bought me here to the Newtown Creek. It has been some time since warnings and admonishments to newcomers about this place have been offered at this- your Newtown Pentacle.

Irresponsible of me, in fact.

This carrion relict of a forgotten age is not the world you know, and those rules and conventions which govern the City that encompasses it’s district do not always apply here. Trucks and railroads operate at high speed along these streets, the very air you breathe is a fume, and there are malign forces long thought dead or neutered which still thrive here. The ground is a broken minefield of powdered glass and tetanus tainted metal, and just below the surface is a writhing agglutination of the very worst stuff that the 20th century ever managed to conjure. Who can guess all there is, that might be buried down there?

Welcome to the Newtown Creek.

Note: apologies for the absent updates this last week, but the City of Water Day Newtown Creek Tour and Magic Lantern Show seriously drained my strength. To be seen by so many diminishes me.

%d bloggers like this: