The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Dutch Kills

sprightly cleric

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Up Dutch Kills, with a paddle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal T. Willis Elkins, who’s the Project Manager of Newtown Creek Alliance and the co chair of the Newtown Creek CAG, sent out an invite recently inquiring whether I might have any interest in taking an evening paddle with employees of the NYC DEP on my beloved Newtown Creek – specifically up the Dutch Kills tributary in LIC and a couple of other points of nearby interest in Booklyn.

How could I resist? 

T. Willis is also one of the show runners at North Brooklyn Boat Club, found in Greenpoint under the Pulaski Bridge, so that’s where our little crew met up. We donned life vests, listened to Will’s safety speech, and got into canoes. I chose to go out in the smaller of the two boats, presuming that it would be a better spot to take pictures from than the enormous version that everybody else would be in.

The only condition which T. Willis set down for the trip was that everybody would have to row, but… cardio, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

T. Willis had timed our trip to coincide with low tide on the Creek, which is required to pass beneath the MTA’s non functional Cabin M railroad swing bridge which is – at best – just a few feet over the water. We headed into Long Island City along the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and pictured above is the second of the bridges you’ll find along the tributary – Cabin M – which is a truss bridge that can actually open and close.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above looks east along Cabin M towards the SimsMetal dock. DB Cabin services the Lower Montauk branch of the LIRR’s freight operations, connecting the Wheelspur and Blissville yards. The Long Island Railroad tracks follow the main stem of the waterway eastwards into Blissville, Maspeth and eventually turn north towards Fresh Pond. This traffic is maintained and operated by LIRR’s contracted freight partner, the NY & Atlantic.

Cabin M is part of the now defunct Montauk Cutoff tracks, which provided access to the Sunnyside Yards from the freight tracks along the Creek. The Montauk Cutoff itself was detailed in this post last year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We proceeded along Dutch Kills and passed under the venerable Borden Avenue Bridge, one of only two retractile bridges in the City of Greater New York. The sections of Borden Avenue it connects were swamp land until the Army Corps of Engineers blew through in the decade following the Civil War, creating first a “plank road” through the already despoiled wetlands, then a few decades later laying macadam roads and filling in the swamps with landfill. It wasn’t until 1909 that this area kicked into high gear, after the Queensboro Bridge opened. With the construction and creation  of the nearby Sunnyside Yards, and the Degnon Terminal industrial zone which surrounds Dutch Kills, this section of LIC soon became known as “America’s Workshop.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The head of Dutch Kills sports a “turning basin” built for shipping, which isn’t used in modernity due to that non functioning rail bridge – DB Cabin – found at its intersection with the main stem of Newtown Creek. The turning basin is nearly a mile back into Long Island City, and you can really get a sense of how much new construction is happening in LIC from back here.

There’s also a couple of pretty large combined sewer outfalls – CSO’s – back here, which everybody’s friends at the DEP whom we were paddling with are actually responsible for. The pipes here are connected to the Bowery Bay Sewage Treatment plant in Astoria, for the vulgarly curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve shown you before – lords and ladies – the abandoned fuel barges found back here, which have been allowed to rot away into the water – in previous posts. I’ve also described to you the “situation” which the American Warehouse company has found themselves in during the early 21st century – wherein the undermining of their site by the waters of Dutch Kills have cost them a pretty penny to shore up. Many, many million pennies, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way out, we passed under the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. All of the NYC DOT administered bridges on the Newtown Creek and its tributaries are maintained in working order, and I’ve witnessed this single bascule drawbridge being opened and closed.

Heck, I was a parade Marshall for its centennial, and we even had a parade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our little group visited a couple of other spots nearby, Unnamed Canal and Whale Creek, then rowed out to the Creek’s intersection with the East River for a bit. Along the way, I spotted this feral fellow in Greenpoint.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
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illegitimate assertion

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Once, you’d tell the operator you wanted to speak to Hunters Point 3342.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walter E. Irving opened for business along Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC back in 1907, but at first his operation was just another iron and steel works. It wasn’t until 1914 that the company became commonly known as either “Irving Subway Grating” or “Irving Iron Works.”

Their honeycomb steel walkways were offered to both the Subway (as the name would imply) people and to maritime customers. It was the maritime world which made the company rich. Irving, a structural engineer, actually started his business in Astoria in 1902, but it was here on Dutch Kills in “America’s Workshop” that he had both rail and maritime access, and that’s why the company centered its operations in LIC.

Here’s a shot of the place from back in 1915.

IMG_1393

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back then, and by then I mean 1914, 51st avenue was called Third Street, and 27th street was called Creek Street.

There was no Long Island Expressway or Midtown Tunnel, and railroad freight tracks snaked around on every street. If you’re in the neighborhood today, you can still find a lot of those old tracks blistering up through the modern day asphalt. There’s “Belgian Blocks” paved streets here in what I’ve long referred to as “the empty corridor” as well. Belgian Blocks are colloquially referred to as “cobblestones.” 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At its height, when their patented honeycomb steel lattice plates were being installed on merchant and naval ships, and into factorys and industrial boiler rooms, Irving’s facility commanded some 22,000 square feet of the most valuable industrial bulkheads in America here in LIC.

It remains one of the largest properties along Dutch Kills to this day, but as you’ve noticed by now, Irving Subway Grating has left the proverbial building.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the early 20th century, Irving employed a staff of about 300, and the facility produced something like 50,000 feet of the honeycomb flooring material a month. The value of the grating was that water, light, and air could move through it – making it perfect for the exterior decking and ladder steps on ships – and that while it had the same strength as a plate of steel, it weighed a significant amount less. It was also appropriate for use in boiler rooms and other industrial applications due to its permittance of ventilation.

Irving also found a place for his products in the steel decking on vehicle and rail bridges, and the United States military would lay his grating down into sand and soil to create stable runways for aircraft in battle zones. Irving received accolades from the War Dept. for his industrial contributions to the Aliied forces’s victory during the Second World War. The NY Subway system, as the name of the product would imply, ate Irving’s products as fast as he could make them. If you work in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, the Tenderloin, or Herald Square, you’re probably already familiar with Irving. 

Build a better mouse trap, I guess.

IMG_1394

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Mexican conglomerate called HARSCO bought Irving, and its portfolio of patents, back in 1966. Irving continues as their IKG Industries division today, and they still manufacture those steel grids. I cannot seem to determine exactly when the Irving Plant at Dutch Kills was shut down, nor accurately ascertain the current owners of the property beyond some LLC holding company. There was an enormous fire here in 2009, which burnt away a lot of what was left of the site.

Here’s what I saw of the pre fire Irving Works back when I first starting getting into this whole Creek thing, in a post that clearly illustrated my neophyte status back in 2009.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the last seven years, I’ve watched the Irving site being slowly harvested by metal collectors – The Crows – who have grabbed every inch of copper and aluminum that they can reach. There’s a security fence with a giant hole cut in it along 27th street, but the chained up shopping carts and well fed cat colony nearby the hole indicate that somebody is living here in the ruins.

As I was by myself when these shots were gathered… well… let’s just say it’s not a great idea to barge into a homeless camp in LIC when you’re all alone, so I stuck to the front of the site nearby the hole in case I had to exit quickly. Next time I have a chum along with me, however, I plan on doing a bit more exploring – mainly because there is a lot of cool graffiti in there I want to check out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scenes familiar, and loved, in Long Island City.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

potential responsibility

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Creek Week continues, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After visiting the Kosciuszko Bridge project, 57th avenue, and then Railroad Avenue, a humble narrator’s dogs were barking and a generally homeward course was adopted. As usual, that meant swinging down Borden Avenue and cutting over to Skillman Avenue on the way back to raven tressed Astoria. 

My favorite sections of Newtown Creek to photograph are found in LIC, along this particular tributary of the troubled waterway – called Dutch Kills.

It’s something about the light, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I haven’t been around here in a few weeks, and I discovered that a formerly fenced in section of the shoreline adjoining the Borden Avenue Bridge had been cleared away, which offered a few points of view which would have formerly required illegal trespass to capture.

Given such an opportunity, a humble narrator will always take it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking west, towards what I call the “empty corridor” found under the Long Island Expressway truss.

The LIE is some 106 feet high in this spot over Dutch Kills, and was built so to accommodate the stacks of ocean going vessels which were headed for the Degnon Terminal Turning Basin which is about a half mile away. The Federal War Dept. also required this particular height for the possibility of installing warships in the canal in order to protect the industrial sector in case of foreign invasion forces entering New York Harbor (a real worry, prior to the Atomic Bomb).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards, you see the sort of scene most life long Queensicans would associate with the words “Newtown Creek.” Still, check out that tuney old truck – cool, huh?

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excellent notion

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Water Pollution can actually be quite lovely.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above was captured before the cold waste section of the year descended upon us all, with its crappy light and chill air. It depicts the Borden Avenue Bridge in Long Island City, which spans Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary. You’re looking west in this one, and you can just make out the Empire State Building over in the Shining City of Manhattan on the horizon.

The following shots aren’t at the level or perspective of the water, instead they were captured recently from the deck of the Borden Avenue Bridge itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Knowing the sort of things I know isn’t pleasant. I’ve actually had some casual training in recognizing the various things you’ll notice on the surface of Newtown Creek. Your humble narrator can distinguish between fresh petroleum and old, the difference being the sort of “sheen” which it effervesces.

Saying that, this olive colored snot pulling along on the tepid currents of Dutch Kills may – or may not – be petroleum.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If it is petroleum, it’s probably a subaqueous deposit of historical pollution which has worked its way up to the surface having become “moussed” on its way and has formed a sort of aerated foam. It can also be grease, or something that floated out of the open sewers found along Dutch Kills. Heck, it can be a whole series of unpleasant things, only a chemist would be able to tell you for sure.

Whatever it is, it’s fairly interesting from a visual point of view – no?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Y’know, we’re moving into an era in which the Newtown Creek will be cleaned up and many of its environmental issues are going to be sorted out. I’m terrified by this, as the place is going to end up being “all niced up,” which will make it boring as heck. I’ll miss the oil sheens, condoms, dead rats – all the variegated crap which is defined as “floatables.”

I guess there’s always Luyster Creek, or Anable Basin, or the Kill Van Kull… luckily, there’s a long list of polluted waterways and future superfund sites here in the City of Greater New York which are splendidly filthy.

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could furnish

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As mentioned yesterday, while you’ve been sleeping, I’ve been out working.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This happens every so often to a humble narrator. Circadian rhythms short circuit somehow, and a distinctly nocturnal phase occurs. Desire to record scenes observed remains, however, and specialized kit is required. Queens looks so interesting at night, as the concrete devastations are generally well lit. Above – the Long Island Expressway’s 106 foot trussed apex over the Dutch Kills tributary of the fabled Newtown Creek.

This sort of shot is tripod country, of course.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking north along Dutch Kills in the direction of the Sunnyside Yards and Queens Plaza, a scene familiar and loved, for it depicts the waterway’s turning basin which once fed maritime traffic into the Degnon Terminal via a barge to rail facility. These shots were all captured using my trusty old Canon G10, btw, mounted on a magnetic tripod. This particular bit of camera support allows a secure connection to ferrous surfaces via the use of multiple rare earth magnets, which in the case of the shot above was the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge itself. The magnet tripod, in effect, transforms the bridge itself into a tripod via its electromagnetic grip.

These are ISO 80 15 second exposures, captured with a narrow aperture – f8 – for those of you who are curious shutterbugs. Additionally, the light meter was set to the “tungsten” temperature, which caused the light captured to favor the blue side of the spectrum rather than the oranges and reds which street lighting normally produces. The camera was outfitted with a remote release cable, and I just had to time out the sequence of traffic lights on either side of the bridge to ensure that passing vehicle traffic didn’t introduce a ruinous vibration to the bridge which would transmit up to the lens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking back to Astoria in the darkness along Skillman Avenue from Dutch Kills, certain apertures in the fence lines of the Sunnyside Yards allowed me to secure and trigger the camera fortuitously. The 7 train, notorious for its multitudinous and unexplained delays, was just sitting there waiting for a humble narrator to record it.

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Upcoming Tours –

September 20th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets

shore road

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As detailed in this recent post, my camera was destroyed in an accident.

For those of you who have offered donations to pay for its replacement, the “Donate” button below will take you to paypal. Any contributions to the camera fund will be greatly appreciated, and rewarded when money isn’t quite as tight as it is at the moment.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In addition to every thing else going on in a humble narrator’s life, a full on kitchen renovation project is playing out in Newtown Pentacle HQ. Our landlord graciously decided to upgrade the physical environs hereabouts, and budgeted for new cabinetry and the services of my upstairs neighbors – who are construction guys. They are actually doing a fantastic job, but since our little dog Zuzu is the curious type, one has been stuck indoors for the better part of the last week in pursuance of her not getting built into a cabinet or something.

Last weekend, Our Lady of the Pentacle assumed the duty, and one was free to wander about in the concrete devastations for a short interval. Of course, my feet carried me to my absolute favorite of Newtown Creek’s tributaries – Dutch Kills in LIC. That’s where I observed a family of Snowy Egrets working the waterway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were a couple of juvenile egrets there, so one presumes that this was a family. Shortly after the shot above was acquired, a Red Tail Hawk appeared. Startled, the Egrets scattered, and I decided to head over to Hunters Point Avenue to see if they were still hanging around Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The adult Egret had relocated to the west side of the waterway, and was hunting from atop a sediment mound. Believe it or not, there’s a ton of fish and other critters in the water here, all of which would make a nice snack for one of these latter day archosaurs. One such as myself is easily bored, however, so I moved on.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Crossing the Hunters Point Avenue bridge, and looking south towards the Long Island Expressway and infinite Brooklyn, I noticed that there was a bit of a hub bub down in the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like a pack of tiny sharks, a school of fishes were ripping bits off of some dead thing floating in the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Probably, this critter was once a bird. Possibly a rat, but it kind of looks “birdy” to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A near “100%” crop of the shot doesn’t reveal too much about the dead thing, I’m afraid, other than that it had become fish food. Nature is lovely to behold and all, but don’t forget that the singular goal of every thing that lives is ultimately to digest every other thing that lives. A waterway is in many ways a giant open stomach, or in the case of Dutch Kills – a giant open lower intestine.

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Upcoming Tours –

July 18th, 2015
Newtown Creek City of Water Day Boat Tour 
with Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

stinking shallows

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The Turning Basin, and exit from Dutch Kills, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Turning Basin of Dutch Kills here in LIC is something I like to show photos of to my harbor pals who hang around in Manhattan. Usually, their jaws drop open when they witness the neglected bulkheads and ask me “where, exactly, is this?.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The west side of the Turning Basin abuts the property of a concrete company called NYCON. There’s an Elevator Mechanic’s Union Hall just across the street behind it on 28th, but life’s all ups and downs for those guys so the less said the better.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of the stuff you see floating around in the water here is actually deposited by the two large Combined Sewer Outfalls at the head of the canal, but there’s a significant contribution to the murk coming in from roadways and industrial properties. The LIE, for instance, drains directly into Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the east side of the canal is found a significantly undermined maritime bulkhead.

Said bulkheads are ones which whose owners – The American Warehouse Self Storage on 29th street – are anxiously attempting to repair, or so I’ve been told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the past, I’ve referred to these rotting apertures as “grottoes” and the term is apt. There’s a whole set of hidden chambers and voids beyond these openings which are cast in a permanent and quite sepulchral shadow. There are pale things which wriggle and flop and slide around inside of them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The former U.S. Crane building is currently owned by the Broadway Stages film production company, and my guess is that they will have to institute some set of repairs to their firmaments before too long. There are grottoes here as well, but one suspects that this is where the Hollywood agents commune with Father Dagon and Mother Hydra while sound stage production is underway within the structure. These agents are just a part of the population of wriggling, flopping, sliding things mentioned above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The creeping vines covering the water facing walls of the Broadway Stages building remind me of varicose veins, although ones which display a decidedly necrotic character. Notice the relict bollard up on the bulkhead, which would have once been used to tie off vessels of substantial size. Presumptively, the maritime ropes dangling from the structure are how the Hollywood Agents get up and down out of the grottoes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned at the beginning of this series, our presence on Dutch Kills was to ensure the delivery of a floating dock and the timing of the excursion was governed by low tide. Tick tock, tick tock, and it was time to exit stage south if we didn’t intend on waiting for the next water cycle to occur.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The distance between the water ceiling and the DB Cabin rail bridge was beginning to narrow, and we made for it with some urgency.

Lynne Serpe, who was providing motive power for our canoe through most of the trip, allowed me to take over for a while and we paused briefly for the shot above when the Freedom Tower came into view.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While exiting back into the main stem of Newtown Creek, a humble narrator again put the paddle down for a moment to capture the fact that the guardian gaggle of Dutch Kills had degenerated down to a singular goose, and that some speciation had occurred while we were on the canal.

Perhaps the afternoon shift had arrived?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some sort of blue headed duck had arrived, which I’m sure the biology department of LaGuardia will describe in some detail in the coming months now that they have the dock which HarborLab prepared and delivered for them. Personally, I don’t trust any bird with a blue head, but that’s me.

Me and Lynn Serpe? We beat it back to the Vernon Avenue Street end which HarborLab calls home, and went our separate ways after exiting the canoe. For my part, a hasty trip to HQ in Astoria was enacted, whereupon a hot shower was immediately employed. My bathing ritual this time around, after Our Lady of the Pentacle found out what I had been doing, was reminiscent of certain scenes from the movie “Silkwood.”

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

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